Paulina Tenner
Founder of GrantTree

In this show, I interviewed Paulina Tenner, founder of GrantTree. Paulina is a serial entrepreneur, investor, keynote speaker, writer, and burlesque performer. During this interview we discussed Paulina’s novel Holacracy based organisation, GrantTree, which has arranged over £200m in equity-free R&D funding from the government, to help SMEs. In this fascinating interview you will hear:

  • Insights into how a “no bosses’ culture can help a business thrive.

  • How allowing staff to curate their own career unlocks true potential.

  • The benefits of having a completely transparent, open culture, where staff set their own salaries.

  • The highs and lows of investing in small tech businesses.

  • How a burlesque persona and a business persona can complement each other.

Paulina Tenner
00:00 / 01:04

1:42 | Alan welcomes Paulina to the show and invites her to introduce herself and her company. She establishes herself as a start-up investor and a founder of GrantTree, a company that focuses on obtaining funding for start-ups and larger companies in research and development.

4:57 | Alan asks why GrantTree adopted a holacratic approach. Paulina reveals that previous experiences as an employee encouraged her to create a workplace culture of respect and equality.

5:55 | Paulina gives an insight into the process of creating a holacracy. She reveals an inspiration for initiating a self-set pay system, and the gradual progression into self-set pay. She compares the difficulties in creating a holacracy versus self-set pay.

10:37 | Paulina shares the benefits of a holacracy for both employees and clients. She identifies trust and transparency as two positive features of the culture a holacracy creates.

11:42 | Paulina identifies that a holacracy is not for everyone, and describes how an “open culture” interview aids them in the recruitment process in finding “self-authoring” employees.

15:07 | Paulina details the ways in which operating as a holacracy gives GrantTree a competitive edge. She explains how the employees adopt the company culture and approach clients with the same respectful values, strengthening profits in the long term.

17:40 | Paulina recalls how her and her partner Daniel started GrantTree from scratch. She explains how previous experience in start-ups led them to discover the market opportunity for a company that focuses on obtaining grants for companies.

20:20 | Paulina describes what R&D tax credits are, and which companies qualify for the scheme.

23:23 | Paulina reveals GrantTree’s business model and clarifies why the company’s fees are different for tax credits and grants.

24:22 | Paulina discloses how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the company’s culture. She shares some of the ways in which the company has tried to maintain a strong culture.

26:17 | Alan and Paulina discuss how a holacratic culture may have helped to tackle difficulties presented by the lockdown, due to its resilient nature.

28:22 | Alan asks Paulina about her hobby in burlesque.

30:10 | Paulina follows on from burlesque into the subject of her book, describing how her business persona and burlesque person interweave, and the lessons she learned from both.

31:16 | Paulina reveals how having a little extra income led her into “angel investment”, and the emotional benefits she receives from investing. She discusses a scheme that she hopes to become involved in that aims to invest in under-represented founders.

32:38 | Alan asks Paulina to share some of the successes and failures in the start-ups she has invested in. Paulina discloses qualities that will lead her to invest in a start-up.

33:58 | Paulina describes a few ambitions she has for the future, including a further involvement in public speaking.

34:42 | Alan and Paulina discuss the potential for consultancy and other methods that would allow companies to benefit from the learnings Paulina has experienced in developing a holacracy.

35:18 | Paulina shares her hopes for GrantTree.

36:07 | Paulina describes the process and the difficulties she and Daniel faced in extracting themselves from GrantTree. She reveals that the CEO of GrantTree has a lot of autonomy in deciding the direction of the company, whilst they maintain little control as executives.

37:59 | Paulina and Alan discuss the issue of control. Paulina explains that her and Daniel relinquished control when they created a holacracy.

39:15 | Paulina shares her learnings, which include establishing values and a company culture, staying focused in specific projects and strengths, trust in employees, and the benefits of diversity.

43:17 | Alan thanks Paulina for appearing on the show. Paulina shares the ways in which listeners can keep up to date with her.

43:57 | Reflections section. Alan expresses his admiration for Paulina.

44:32 | Alan considers how GrantTree’s value driven culture has given it a competitive edge in a saturated market.

45:36 | Alan reflects on his impressions of companies that have a self-set pay policy.

47:02 | Alan contemplates the advantage of an open-culture interview process in establishing a company culture. Alan discusses the plethora of advantages that a holacracy offers.

51:12 | Alan reflects on Paulina’s process of investment in start-ups and the decision making involved.

52:07 | Alan touches on Paulina’s interest in burlesque and her book.

52:42 | Alan reflects on Paulina’s learnings and identifies his favourite, an importance in a strong company culture and creating values. Another area he deliberates is “staying focused”. He considers the strengths that diversity can bring in a company.