Meet-up with Kate Starkey (CheltenhamMaman)

On Monday 20th November we had the second Social Butterflies meet-up with guest speaker Kate Starkey, founder of CheltenhamMaman, the online platform and events business for parents. Kate’s business is going from strength to strength and she has won two awards recognising her achievements: UK Blog Award winner in the 2017 Parenting category and Digital Woman of the Year at the Gloucestershire Women of the Year Awards 2017. Who better to discuss business, the power of social media and represent the South-West?

The event was hosted by me, Amy White, founder of Social Butterflies, a website and online community committed to celebrating and connecting women seeking professional inspiration and wanting to expand their career horizons. We talked about running a business, digital marketing, social media and the tricky balance of being the face of your own brand. Below are photos from the evening, taken by Bristol based photographer Jessica Siggers, AKA @porthjess.

Demystifying the blockchain

You’ve probably heard the terms bitcoin and blockchain but have no idea what they mean. Don’t worry, when I met up with Helen Disney, founder of Unblocked Events, I had to politely ask her explain it to me (really simply). In layman’s terms bitcoin is a digital currency and blockchain is a public ledger listing all bitcoin transactions. Helen is a female entrepreneur in an industry dominated by men, but she’s on a mission to make blockchain technology accessible for a non-technical business audience with her new company Unblocked Events, which is a hub for events, education and information.

Tell us about your career and how you became interested in blockchain technology

My career has been largely based around influencing ideas and generating public debates. I started off working for a think tank in Westminster, looking at how to reform public services like the NHS, education and welfare to try to make them more responsive to their users. I then used that experience to go into journalism as a leader writer for The Times and a contributor to other newspapers and magazines. I wrote about everything from pension reform to the MMR jab, drug courts and the ‘Metric Martyr‘. After leaving The Times I took the leap into launching my first business which was a pan-European hub connecting think tanks and policy institutes. But after I had my children I started to crave a change into something new so I took a break from being a full-time CEO to think about what I wanted to do next. Into this gap, fell an opportunity to work on content and fundraising for a major European conference about the digital currency, bitcoin. It was during that project that I first started learning about what blockchain was and becoming excited about its innovative potential.

Can you explain to the uninitiated what blockchain is and what it can do?

Blockchain is the technology that underlies digital currencies like bitcoin. But it’s also more than that. You can think of a blockchain as a bit like a gigantic secure, decentralised database – imagine a Google spreadsheet shared by multiple users all able to access an accurate, real-time shared version of the information. This is useful because it allows many different sorts of innovations and improvements in existing business operations, but also opens up the chance for completely new business models. Imagine, for example, that you could access a hotel room using a smart key and never need to check in at the front desk or that you could trade excess energy from your solar panels automatically with local neighbours who need it and earn money from doing so, or that charities could automate responses to humanitarian crises and get money or supplies directly into the hands of those who need it at the touch of a button. All of these applications will become possible thanks to blockchain in combination with other new technologies like smart devices and smart contracts.

What prompted you to setup Unblocked Events and what are your plans for the future?

Three years after first learning about bitcoin, I founded Unblocked Events to share my learning and connect with other professionals wanting to gain an accessible understanding of this technology and build the new business services of the future. I felt that I had experienced a steep learning curve, as someone who is neither a programmer nor a financier and that most events out there about blockchain were aimed at these two groups. I see blockchain as too important not to be talked about at a level that the so-called average person can understand. By creating Unblocked I am building a wider community of interest in blockchain outside of simply financial services and acting as a bridge between the technical and non-technical worlds. Blockchain has a variety of applications in different sectors from healthcare, to energy, to philanthropy, to provenance of goods and so on. To me, it makes more sense to bring in real world examples and help people to understand what this technology can do for them, rather than getting overly bogged down in jargon.

Which women in business inspire you?

I’m particularly inspired by women who are pioneering in traditionally male-dominated fields, especially those who are honest about the difficulties of managing a personal and professional life, and having an online presence in the era of trolling. I tend to prefer Twitter for technology and political news and Instagram more for the creative side of life.

In tech, I follow Meltem Demirors who is an expert in the digital currency and blockchain field.

In politics, I love the ever-ballsy Jess Phillips MP.

On Instagram l I follow Type Tasting which was founded by my friend Sarah Hyndman.

Helen’s work

Healthcare Unblocked Event: 13 October in London. It will look at how blockchain is set to transform healthcare in a whole variety of ways from improving the integrity of clinical trials, to changing the way healthcare insurance operates and allowing us to take charge of our own medical data.

How one Cheltenham mum is connecting the Cotswolds

Kate Starkey is the woman behind CheltenhamMaman – a website that not only publishes articles and information for the trendy mums of Cheltenham and the surrounding Cotswolds, it also connects them by hosting a range of live events. It’s hard to believe Kate only started the company last year and its appeal is growing rapidly. Recent notable events have included the book launch of Clemmie Hooper’s ‘How to Grow a Baby and Push It Out’ (@mother_of_daughters). It’s inspiring to hear the back story to a business which from the outside might appear effortlessly glamourous. Clearly a lot of hard work goes into producing the content and running the events, so with that in mind we asked Kate to share her story and explain what it’s really like to run an online business whilst juggling family life.

Kate Starkey Cheltenham maman
Kate with her youngest child. Credit: Gill Thomas Photography

Tell us about yourself

My journey to a career in journalism was rudely interrupted by the surprise (but ever so wonderful) arrival of my first child at the tender age of 20 swiftly followed by his brother just eighteen months later. I spent the next decade working my way up the career ladder as a multi tasker and manager in the NHS before trading it all in again for a new baby and the search for a life that needs to work around my family. I needed a way to make staying at home work financially and in the middle of one of those long nights you have far too many of with a newborn I came up with my big idea. I launched CheltenhamMaman a blogzine and events site for the super cool Mums of glorious Gloucestershire in June of 2016 and I’ve been trying to keep up with it ever since.

How has digital technology and social media changed the way you work?

It’s not just changed the way I work – it has enabled it. I firmly believe that a business like mine wouldn’t have had a place without social media. My social media platforms are really the foundations on which the main site, the blog and the events are built upon.

Having been a new mum before the digital revolution I can state first hand that the likes of Instagram and Facebook have completely transformed my pregnancy, childbirth and mothering experience. That first year of motherhood is one of the most lonely times a woman can experience and stepping into a virtual world that connects you with other Mums who have had just as little sleep and are feeling just as overwhelmed as you is so empowering.

But of course there’s a flip side. Lots of mums out there have built up rock solid relationships via their mobile phones with people they have no intention of ever meeting in the flesh. That’s where I come in – I provide opportunities for Mums to build on these virtual communities, get outside, get some fresh air and feel better about themselves on and offline.

Mums pushing buggies Cheltenham Maman

What advice would you give to aspiring business women?

  • If your business is based online be prepared to spend a lot of time sat behind your laptop and be open to finding more sociable ways to do that and also to control it as you’re never far away from work and it can end up taking control of your life. Your website is your shop front so make sure it is well presented at all times. Spend money on a decent logo and web theme and schedule a monthly reminder to edit your ‘about’ page and read all of your content. It’s really easy to spot a site that’s not cared for and refreshed.
  • You’ll be in one of two camps and will either spend time fussing over every image and every article or you’ll be a little more decisive like me and just publish it and see where it goes. Always make sure you test out the pathways that you are shouting about on social media – don’t tell your audience to click on this link if it’s not going to land on the right page – as an end user there is nothing more likely to make you switch off.
Kate Starkey Cheltenham Maman and Mother Pukka
Kate invited Mother Pukka to speak at her launch event before she had a strong following – looks like it paid off! Credit: Mouse About Town.
  • On the events front you need to be fairly ballsy as the costs for venues and catering can be really high and the day you release tickets is always terrifying. I invited Mother Pukka (above) to be my main speaker at my launch event before I had any followers at all at a time when I was really undecided about the site and where it was headed. I told myself that if she accepted my invitation to speak it was destined to be and I would just get on with making it work. She did and so did I!
  • It’s also worth remembering that events are seriously labour intensive and I guarantee that you will work harder and earn less than you did in your old day job – its’ easy to watch other people doing it and think it’s all glamour and huge profit margins – not true! If things go wrong there’s no-one to hide behind and every hiccup eats in to any profit you might have built in (which is your reward!) When the Scummy Mummies came to Cheltenham for a sell out evening of comedy the lift to the venue broke and at midnight it was just me and the sound man lugging the staging and PA equipment down a spiral staircase. More recently I hosted Clemmie Hooper (@mother_of_daughters) as part of her book tour and included a copy of her book in the ticket price. Two days before the event there was still no sign of the books and that was nobody’s problem but mine.
Kate Starkey Cheltenham Maman and Clemmie Hooper
Hosting events like the book launch for Clemmie Hooper can be stressful – particularly when the books offered in the ticket price don’t show up on time! Credit: Felix & Fox.
  • On the flip side it’s great to be the one that is bringing together groups of women who have so much in common. You can feel the collective sigh of relief in Cheltenham right now from mums who are so pleased that at last they have somewhere to congregate and just be themselves free from judgment and restrictions to behave a certain way just because they are mums.

Kate’s following…

dee campling

Locally I’m loving following Dee Campling (@deecampling). She’s a Cheltenham mum of three too but is busy showing us all how to get the cool back into our homes when the children are a little older and we have fewer sticky fingers to contend with. Dee and I are hoping to work together later in the year on an interiors workshops for Mums at one of our favourite design inspired venues, No 38, The Park.

Nicola Redman

I’m forever inspired by Nicola Redman, aka @life_of_pea on Instagram. I followed her first pregnancy journey with her son Winter Wolfe (who passed away after just one day in her arms) whilst pregnant with my baby daughter. I’m inspired by how much good she has brought about as a result of her suffering and I was further inspired to launch a charity of the month initiative on the site. You can read Pea’s story in our interview here.

clemmie hooper

I also have a massive Insta crush (along with half of the UK) on Clemmie Hooper (@mother_of_daughters) and sitting alongside her at our event was one of the greatest CheltenhamMaman days to date. Sometimes you meet your Insta crushes only to realise they’re not as genuine as they come across online. Not so with Clemmie – she is a warm, open and honest person so to all those that follow her and eagerly await the next instalment in the Hooper household (rest assured) she’s a goody.

Kate’s work…

Things are definitely busier than ever at CheltenhamMaman HQ. We now host monthly MumBoss club events for freelance Mums to meet and network and learn something new at each event. We’re developing Maman Moon Meets where we celebrate ourselves at a health or wellbeing event once a month under the light of the full moon. We’re constantly striving to bring fascinating mothers to Cheltenham to share their stories and we’re also looking at events where we can all just let our hair down together for no reason at all – no justification needed. Add that to our weekly Push It Real Good walks in Pittville Park with private antenatal provider The Bump to Baby Chapter and we’re pretty busy really – as are the mums of Cheltenham now!

On the blue sky front we’re just about ready to roll out a franchise for anyone out there looking at developing something similar in their area.

cheltenham maman logo