After years of working at leading brands as a digital project manager, Amy De-Balsi decided to go out on her own and start her own business. Her punt paid off and her company – Herd – is now a successful technology platform that works to connect brands with the talent they are searching for. Here she explains why Leeds is such a great place for a business like hers, and why she herself decided to buck the trend and stay in Yorkshire after her degree.
Tell us about your business.
It all started as a job board. I came to Leeds university and I found it really difficult to stay here. I had loads of people asking me when I was going to move to London, there was no understanding of the companies or opportunities here. We kind of suffered a bit because of all the back-office functions we create. We have lots of different companies doing amazing stuff but it’s not the sort of thing you see when you walk down the street.
So I wanted to change that. Initially it started as a job board, then a job fair and now I’m collaborating with a company in London to grow it even more. It will mean that Leeds will have a spot in a really hot job fair and allow people to see Leeds as a city they could work in.
What inspired you to start up Herd?
I started the job board because I was frustrated that nobody knew what was going on in the digital-tech scene and it was really difficult to find any jobs. It was just really obvious that by putting all our jobs together, acting as a community and really showcasing what’s here, we could lift the profile of Leeds and be seen as a really good place to build a career.
Herd doesn’t allow recruiters on it because they hide the brands, and I’ve been much more about showcasing the brands we have in Leeds. Tech is now an integral part of most companies, there’s opportunities with big organisations as well as smaller start-ups, but we have people that are doing mind-blowing stuff but we don’t talk about it. It frustrates me like nothing on earth but the lovely thing about what I do is I keep finding real gems every day.
It’s very much a Yorkshire trait, stick your head down and crack on. But now there’s a confidence in the city so we can actually go away and talk about how great we are.
Why does tech interest you / How did you get into tech in general?
My parents were techies. My mum was a programmer and my dad was a program manager so we were always surrounded by technology and new technology way before other people. My degree was in geography, which may sound like a huge leap away, but they teach you a lot about data and statistics.
I bluff my way through a lot of the more in-depth techy stuff, I just repeat the words back and find a way to solve whatever problem it is they have. That’s stood me in good stead. I run my businesses like a project and that seems to have worked well so far.
What does Leeds have to offer, as a city, to tech businesses?
We have a really great meetup scene. There’s about 27 different tech meetups that happen, all with different disciplines. Some really big ones like Northern UX – which goes across the whole of the north – to smaller Dev Ops groups that have around 30 to 50 members who get together regularly. So that’s a major part of it and they’re all now collaborating and becoming much more visible.
What do you see happening in the future of Leeds’ tech industry?
I think we are on the cusp on a big boom and I can just see it growing. There’s a lot of infrastructure here for start-ups and I spent quite a lot of time at Sky Bet and I’m one of about five start-ups that has spun out of that culture. I wouldn’t be surprised if more and more techies look and find opportunities to use their skills elsewhere. Having things like Future Labs there to support is brilliant.
What advice would you give for people looking to start up a business in this sector?
There’s so much. I’ve learnt more than I could imagine. Take it slowly, talk to as many people as you can, and build your network. My network is so important to me and I’m one of those people who will always share and help people make connections because then you can pass on the help you’ve had.
It’s also about knowing where your strengths are. I collaborate with a lot of businesses and that works well for me and fits my skill set. Bringing people where you have a gap, bring in a freelancer because actually it’s never as expensive as you think and it takes a lot of stress off.
Favourite Yorkshire eatery/bar?
Viva Cuba in Kirkstall. The food is amazing and they do good cocktails too.
What tech do you use?
I’m Apple through and through. It’s so easy.
Top 3 films?
Strictly Ballroom, Pitch Perfect, The Imitation Game
What do you drive?
Nothing exciting these days as it needs to be practical. I miss my Mini!
Perfect Sunday Breakfast?
Waffles and maple syrup.