Meet Albert of UnderPinned…
Albert Azis-Clauson is the CEO and Founder of UnderPinned, a media and tech platform for freelancers and creative entrepreneurs. After starting out as a freelancer and helping to create a small collective for emerging creatives, Albert realised there was a problem with the way flexible work is handled in the UK.
He subsequently launched UnderPinned in October 2018, a start-up which supports freelancers with every aspect of their career management and progression, providing them with a Virtual Office and careers hub, an engaged community and an informative freelancer magazine.
Albert is a born and bred Londoner who has always been passionate about using social enterprise to cause change in urban environments, as well as being a keen advocate of the flexible economy and better regulation in this area.
1. Can you explain to us how the idea for your business came to you and how the whole process kicked off?
Before starting UnderPinned, I ran a small media and arts business that was attached to an arts charity. The primary focus for both was helping young and emerging creatives get their careers off the ground through developing frameworks to help organise and manage themselves as a business. At the same time, I was also consulting as a business development and PR specialist on the side.
While it might seem that these two roles were quite different, the fundamentals of starting and building a successful business are the same of a painter as they are for a thousand-strong software company. The big issue was that if you’re an individual working as a freelancer, there are no support structures to help you do it unless you engage an individual like myself to coach you.
The idea for UnderPinned was born because I wanted to offer this support, and at scale. Most simply there are three problems that I wanted to solve: first, creating an engaging platform that people from all sectors can identify with freelancing; second, improving access to education around building a business; and finally, creating infrastructure to support network building, portfolio development, contracts, payments and project management – all in one place.
2. What were the biggest challenges you faced when bringing the idea to market?
The thing I’ve found hardest is never being able to switch off because there’s always something more to do. There’s always a problem that needs solving, or an email that needs to be followed up. It becomes incredibly difficult to stop: when things are going well, you want to ride the momentum, and when things are looking tough, you need to buckle down. Starting a business is a process of continuous improvement – both personally and for your fledgling business – and so you want to stop at nothing on the path to achieving your ambitions.
3. Where do you think good ideas come from and what inspires you?
I think it is a total misconception that people come up with brilliant ideas and then simply build them; it’s never that linear, any start-up is a journey. While the general vision and problem that you are trying to solve might stay roughly the same, good ideas come from everything that happens on the way to building your solution. Often the best ideas come from the place you least expected. I get inspired by everything, I am a very excitable person, and I assume everyone I meet and everything I read is an opportunity to learn and expand on what I’m doing. It can sometimes lead you down a rabbit hole, and you have to be careful to prioritise your time, but don’t be afraid to explore. No matter how good your idea is now, it will be different and better if you keep yourself open to change.
4. What are your company’s values and why are these things important to the business?
UnderPinned is founded on inclusion, support and creativity. From day one we made a very conscious effort to focus on building a company that works for everyone. In the freelance market this is a big problem because most companies rely on the client side of the equation for the revenue and so the freelancers can often get a raw deal. We have focused very closely on our community being at the heart of our solution, that’s why we have a dedicated media and community arm to our company that runs with the sole purpose of creating an engaging and supportive brand.
5. What is next for your UnderPinned?
As a brand we are going to keep growing and learning. It is very had to know what we will look like in a year because the nature of culture in the freelance sector is so fast paced. One thing that will remain unchanged is our attitude towards staying as creative as possible. Our main product is a tool which helps you do your most boring admin tasks, so it is so important that our brand remains vibrant and creative to keep our audience engaged, helping them make the most of their futures. We are definitely going to keep building out our events schedule to showcase our communities work and make our brand a gallery for the work of others.
6. What one piece of advice would you have for someone just starting out on their business journey or currently going through a setback?
The single best piece of advice I can give – which is by no means revolutionary – is to surround yourself with inspirational people who are incredible at what they do. While you have a responsibility to work hard and become an expert in your field, if you surround yourself with good minds and you have the vision and work ethic to drive them, it’s makes the path to success easier to navigate.
7. What resources and tools do you use to remain productive or up-to-date on industry trends etc?
Due to the nature of our work, we do a lot of research in-house. We even produce weekly news summaries for our community to keep on top of trends. There really isn’t much of a central media hub for the freelance world, which is a huge opportunity for us, but it also means a lot of extra work to keep our fingers on the pulse.