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By Florence Robson
f you’re one of the 26 million people worldwide using Depop, then you’re already a fan of Maria Raga’s work – whether or not you know her name.
In her five years as CEO, Maria has helped the Gen-Z peer-to-peer social shopping app and community grow to 300+ employees in five offices worldwide, and has raised close to $100M in funding for the app. And if her appearance on the 2021 TIME100 Next list is anything to go by, Maria’s influence extends far beyond the tech sector.
Read on for her thoughts on taking career risks, putting ego aside as a leader and why fundraising is ultimately about people.
On knowing when an opportunity is worth the risk
Joining a startup can feel very risky – particularly when, like Maria, you’re coming from a more traditional corporate world. How did she know to take the leap? “It is so important to trust your instincts”, she says. “When I joined Groupon, my interview was on Friday and they asked me to move to Paris on the coming Monday! On paper it sounded crazy but I could sense the business had huge potential.” It’s also vital to look at who is running the show. “If you believe in the people in charge, that makes a huge difference.”
‘There have been so many times where I felt that everything was too difficult and there was no way I would get through it... Slowly, one day after another, you learn and grow in confidence...’
On faking it until you make it
From conducting hundreds of interviews in broken French to building a sales team from scratch with no previous experience, Maria is no stranger to feeling the fear and doing it anyway. “There have been so many times where I felt that everything was too difficult and there was no way I would get through it”, she says. “But if you pay attention to what other people are doing, you start to think ‘If that works for them, it might work for me’. Slowly, one day after another, you learn and grow in confidence.”
On making the mindset shift to CEO
After two years as VP Operations at Depop, Maria became CEO in 2016. Although she might seem like a natural leader, it took her a while to adjust to running the show. “It was a massive change”, she admits. “I was used to trusting someone else’s vision so I felt a sense of vertigo, like I was getting into something bigger than myself.” After encouragement from her husband, Maria decided to throw herself fully into the role. “I needed vocal support from someone who knows me well to be able to say ‘Okay, let’s do it. I’ll take it step by step and if I fail, I know I’ll be ok.’”
On putting business before ego
While some CEOs feel that business strategy is their sole responsibility, Maria quickly realised that she couldn’t achieve everything she wanted to without help. “Not being the founder, I didn’t have the knowledge to create the company mission and vision myself”, she explains. Instead of struggling through, Maria invited Depop’s founder, Simon Beckerman, to step in and provide guidance. “We worked together for about two years to hone our vision and make it clear for our team and users. Asking for his help in that process was one of the best decisions I’ve made.”
On the power of connections
While Maria has raised close to £100 million for Depop, the fundraising process wasn’t easy. “For our Series B raise, I met about 50 investors and I only got two term sheets.” Her top tip for pitching? “Fundraising is about people. You need to go in with all your energy and conviction, and that’s easier when you already have connections with the people in the room”, she says. This approach paid dividends when it came to the next funding round. “For Series C, I only met with people that I already knew and liked. In the end, I had 10 meetings and got four term sheets.”
Understanding the value of people, her teams and human connection (alongside a lot of perseverance) have helped Maria Raga build one of the most powerful fashion apps in the world.
By Florence Robson
More people than ever are opting for the flexibility and freedom that going freelance offers - 6% of the national workforce to be precise, or just over two million people, according to a recent survey. Here’s how to successfully go it solo.