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with Karen Barrett, Founder & CEO, Unbiased

Disruption Diaries

with Karen Barrett, Founder & CEO, Unbiased

In our sophomore Disruption Diaries, Jo Dalton shines a spotlight on Karen Barrett, the visionary Founder & CEO behind Unbiased, the UK's number one B2B SaaS fintech platform connecting consumers to the best financial advisors and products.

Founded in 2010, Unbiased has gone on to empower over 10 million people seeking financial support. In the last year alone, the business has brought in £15 billion worth of assets under management into the industry, 75% of which has originated from investors who are new to financial advice.

We sat down with Karen to talk about her entrepreneurial journey; from building a business with purpose to scaling into the US. Her story epitomises resilience, foresight, and an unwavering commitment to create something valuable and impactful for society.

The origin story

Karen's journey into entrepreneurship wasn't the spark of a single moment but a convergence of experiences. While working in the financial services industry - from mortgages to savings and investment at a retail bank - she had become disillusioned with life in the corporate sector.

“You start out and have dreams of working for the big blue chip names. When I got into corporate life I realised it wasn't for me; I felt things were slow, lots of people to get onside before you could get something actioned.”

At the same time, a life-changing diagnosis and a stint in hospital for her son, Dominic, had her take stock of her own financial position.

“Despite a career in finance, I had not taken my own advice and was not prepared. I had first hand experience of what it feels like to have a pressing financial concern that you need some expert help with.”

It was a pivotal realisation: there had to be a better way for individuals to navigate their financial decisions. Unbiased was the tool to do just that, leveraging technology to facilitate seamless connections between consumers and financial advisors.

“I wanted there to be a brilliant, quick, easy way for people who are looking for financial support to find an advisor who could hold their hand.”

Success and socio-economic impact

“When I started the business I didn't really have a vision for the growth that we would achieve now. It's a slow, sort of gradual process.”

Reflecting on Unbiased's success, Karen finds pride not in specific milestones but in the collective growth of the team. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the business saw rapid expansion of its workforce during this time. This growth, and a deep sense of pride in her people, is what makes it all worthwhile.

“I remember seeing the amount of people we had employed in one place, in our gorgeous new office, and I felt really proud of that team. I look at every single employee we have and understand their unique contribution to the business.”

She believes the positive socio-economic impact of the business is another crucial factor underscoring their success, with the platform empowering individuals to make informed decisions, and fostering a sense of financial security and confidence among its users.

Feet in the here and now, head in the future

Like all successful entrepreneurs, Karen has one eye on the future. Although deeply competitive, she is driven by a desire to focus on the needs and wants of her customers rather than the distractions of what others in the space are doing.

“I am driven by a fear that someone is going to do something that we should have done. I have to be really conscious of that and focus on our ideas. I have to be talked off the ledge. You've been here before, focus.”

Networking, your own way

“You get told to find a mentor or get a network. It's not something I've found has come easily to me. I've learnt a lot from a lot of different people.”

Karen rejects conventional networking and mentorship, and has instead forged her own path to learning and growth. From relying on independent research to valuing the business relationships that give the most honest market feedback, her approach is about understanding how you work best even if that leads to unexpected ways of working.

Hiring for ambiguity

“People are the biggest thing in any business. Not just in terms of what they can deliver and the successes but also the pain - and getting them aligned; it's difficult.”

With hindsight, Karen emphasises the importance of hiring individuals who embody the right attitude and adaptability in those early stages, and the differences in hiring strategy as the business matures.

“Those from a corporate background with great experience might struggle to fit into a fast-moving, startup environment because you don't know where you're going to be in 3-6 months. You don't know what's coming, you have to turn your hand to anything.”

Make space for those imperfect hires; proactive, self-sufficient candidates who don't require too much definition around their role. As the company scales, expertise and experience become increasingly important, requiring a shift in recruiting strategy.

Win first, trailblaze second

For every £1 of equity investment in the UK, all female founder teams received just 2p. Navigating the investment landscape as a female founder clearly continues to present unique challenges, yet Karen approaches it pragmatically.

She advises startups to learn what investors are looking for and have the financials and data to present a robust business model. If you don't speak the language of investors, partner with someone who does. For Unbiased, that meant hiring for that skill set before heading out to raise finance.

“I'm driven by results. I knew that life would be harder as a single, female founder, so I hired a guy who understood exactly what investors were looking for. You have someone who looks and talks like you, selling you something, and you get it. It's not a leap of faith.”

Investors are now being targeted on their own diversity and inclusion, with female and mixed founders more valuable to them, so what might have presented as an obstacle in the past, could be your open door.

“I'm not here to be the trailblazer to change those stats. I'm here to win in my business and I will do what's needed to do that. I say take that opportunity and when you have a platform, you can get the world to work more in the way that you'd like.”

Global ambitions

Last year, Unbiased launched into the US. Applying their UK playbook to a market ten times its size has had its challenges, but has proved to be an exhilarating return to the startup mindset.

“Some things have worked, some haven't. It's taken me back to that chaotic, unknown phase which I find really exciting. I'm loving having a more mature UK business, but then you've got a scrappy, startup experience in the US.”

Closer to home, Unbiased is looking to build upon existing brand recognition in the UK to reach even more consumers in need of financial support. Their mission is as important as ever, with a nation navigating a cost of living crisis, increasingly complex tax structures, and more baby boomers facing retirement.

Resting and resetting for optimum performance

How does an entrepreneur balance body and mind with the fast-paced demands of a global business?

“I recognised a long time ago that you're going to spend a long time working, so I wanted to earn money, make it as purposeful as possible, and enjoy it. If you're going to spend hours every day doing something, I want to enjoy those hours.”

As Unbiased has scaled, Karen has onboarded a team that complements her skill set; she can more effectively delegate, and safeguards the aspects of the business she is truly passionate about. This, and a combination of rest, exercise, and spending time with family and friends, is how she balances the inevitable stresses of entrepreneurship.

“It's vitally important that you find some way of switching off because you can't always be on. You go through phases of hitting it out of the park but sometimes you need a reset.”

Reflecting on the journey

“Some of the things I really thought I wanted, for one reason or another didn't come to pass, and what a blessing that has been.”

Rather than dwelling on regrets, Karen embraces lessons learned with each experience having contributed to Unbiased's ongoing success.

“I don't regret those early years; it allowed us to really focus on what was right for the business and to put down solid foundation blocks with brand and understanding our customer base.”

Taking control of your finances

What about current market insights for those looking for financial advice? Karen insists there is no better time to get a handle on your finances. Start small with budgeting and saving toward your rainy day fund and it will snowball, taking you on a path from investing to retirement plans.

“Don't be embarrassed. Lots of people compare themselves to their peers and think I'm way behind. You shouldn't feel like that. The fact that you're thinking about taking financial advice is an amazing first step.”

With optimism, she underscores that the current hold in inflation and interest rates - with likely relief for house buyers and the remortgage market - is a great time to initiate financial planning.

“Hopefully things are going to be a bit more steady, so that people can actually take that time to plan and know what the future is going to hold for them.”

Karen's wise words for aspiring entrepreneurs:
  • Keep your cards close to your chest “Be careful who you tell. I'm a firm believer of keeping your powder dry until you've got some activity.”

  • Do and you will learn “The first step would be: take the first step. Whatever it is, do something.”

  • Have a big vision “I've seen many people go to investors, but it's just not big enough. Plan out the biggest vision you can possibly think of for your business. And everything else is just taking those steps day-by-day to get there.”

Interested in being featured in our next founder spotlight? Get in touch at

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