💡 Founder Spotlight: Nellie Wartoft
This week is Cloudflare's Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, featuring dozens entrepreneurs from across the tech industry and beyond!
This session features Nellie Wartoft, founder and CEO of Tigerhall, a social learning platform that enables professionals, teams and enterprises to reach their goals by learning directly from the most successful business leaders and subject matter experts in industry.
Nellie Wartoft started as a young entrepreneur in her early teen years in Sweden. After winning several trophies in skeet shooting, Nellie turned her attention to educating the elderly on the internet and digital literacy to improve their qualities of life. This social enterprise was more than a passion and purpose for her - it sowed the seeds of her journey in Social Learning.
At the age of 18, Nellie booked a single ticket to Singapore, to build her career and business in what she refers to as “the most buzzing and happening part of the world”. In her first foray into the corporate world at Michael Page, Nellie rose through the ranks and was the youngest executive in the company to be appointed Practice Lead and become a Top Biller at age 23. She’s placed over 150 executives into Sales and Marketing roles in Fortune 500 companies within the financial, legal, consulting, technology and media sectors.
It was during her time as a recruiter that she spotted a stark skills gap that she was determined to fix. She saw that there was a need to refresh the way business professionals leveled up through actionable insights from industry experts. This led to the launch of Tigerhall in March 2019, a mobile Saas platform for social learning, revolutionising how professionals learn from one another.
Nellie challenges mass education formats that fail to prepare future leaders for success in the real world. Her vision and execution are taking the corporate world by storm. Tigerhall’s clients include HP, New Relic and BNY Mellon. She’s raised over $10 million in funding from visionary investors such as Monk’s Hill Ventures, Sequoia Capital and the XA Network.
Fueled by the mission, “where you come from should never get in the way you want to go,” Nellie continues to lead Tigerhall in Fundraising, Sales and BD while scaling the team across APAC and the U.S.
Visit the Founder Spotlight hub to find the rest of these featured conversations — and tune in all week for more!
Hello and welcome. Hi, I'm João Tomé. I'm a content writer at Cloudflare. So welcome to Founder Spotlight.
We try to shine the spotlight on the stories of startup founders all over the world.
Today, we have the founder of Tiger Hall, Nellie Wartoft.
Thank you for coming on our show, Nellie. How are you? Thank you for having me.
Good to be here. I'm good. How are you? Fine, thank you. So I usually start with this because I think it's always funny.
I'm in Lisbon, Portugal. And where are you?
I'm currently in Orlando, Florida. Yeah, I was just wrapping up a conference here yesterday in Orlando.
But Tiger Hall is a Singapore-based company, right?
You are trying to get the company to the US also in terms of awareness, right?
So we're headquartered in Singapore, and that's where I've lived for the past 12 years.
And that's where we have most parts of our team. But then we've also launched Malaysia, India, earlier this year, Australia.
And in July, we launched the US.
So we've started working with clients in the US. And that's why I'm now spending three months here in the US to meet our current customers and also to onboard new customers and so on.
So three months at the moment in the US to manage our expansion here.
Makes sense. Can you tell us briefly what your startup does, really?
What is the mission? Access to success, right? But in what way do you achieve that?
Yeah, exactly. So Tiger Hall is a social learning platform where you can learn directly from senior executives, business leaders, industry experts.
So it's a group that we call think influencers, because they are influencers that influence the way you think.
So they are the ones that are teaching and sharing knowledge on the platform.
And they do that through a range of formats, including podcasts, live streams, power reads, which are like long form articles, videos, and also different types of mentoring sessions and one to one mentoring.
So the purpose of the platform is to allow everyone to learn from the best in industry, and really democratizing access to the most successful leaders, the most knowledgeable experts and ensuring that everyone can have access to that kind of knowledge.
So because it's something that is right now very much dependent on which family you're born in, which university you went to, and a lot of areas that are sometimes out of your control as well.
And we want to ensure that everyone could have access to learning from the very best people.
So that's what we're aiming to provide. It's interesting in terms of the way someone can access your services, how does that work?
You have apps, of course, you have all this content that you put available to them, how someone can enter your network, let's say like that.
Yeah, so it's an app like this one here.
And it's something that anyone can download on App Store, Google Play, so anyone can access it.
And we are available for direct customers, like B2C, so anyone can download and use it.
But we also work a lot with enterprises.
So actually around 90% of our business is working with large global enterprises, and giving their employees access to it.
And then we work with them on upskilling within leadership development, sales, digital skills, and many other areas to help their employees learn and get better at different skills.
And there's a payment, right?
When someone access these services, there's payments that could be made in terms of the way they have access to things, right?
So it's per user per month. So both for consumers and enterprises, it's around 29 US dollars per user per month.
In terms of your sort of adventure, how far are you along this adventure?
In terms of when did you start, the investment you already have, the employees you already have?
So we launched in March 2019. So about two and a half years back.
And that's when we launched in Singapore. And the same year, we branched out to India, Malaysia, and then this year, Australia and the US.
We've just concluded our Series A. So we just raised the $7 million Series A from a fund called Monks Hill Ventures, who was leading that round.
Thank you. Thank you. So that news was out just two weeks ago. And before that, we've also raised a round from Sequoia Capital and their surge program in Asia.
So that was in 2019, just six months after we launched. So that was our seed or pre-seed round.
In terms of growth, you already said that you're growing, you're in the US to grow.
You're already outside Singapore and India and a lot of countries.
In terms of that growth, how are you measuring it, really, in terms of where you are right now, you want to be in the next two years?
So we look at, of course, like growth of the network and of the number of influencers, and then, of course, revenue.
And revenue-wise, we've grown about 8x in the last 12 months. And out of those, we've doubled in the last four months.
So it's very rapid growth right now.
And a lot of that is coming from the US market and global companies as well.
And that's something that we're looking to continue to grow. And we're looking at how do we onboard more thinkfluencers and getting them across all markets.
Right now, we have 850 thinkfluencers, of which about 100 are in the US, 100 in Europe, and the rest in Asia-Pacific.
And that's something that we're continuously focusing on growing in the US and in Europe and in all parts of the world where we have users.
Because we have users in 32 countries. And those are the 32 countries that we also want to mirror to have thinkfluencers and leaders in, so that anyone can learn from people who know their markets and know their local environment and can support with knowledge in those areas that might be very market-specific.
So number of thinkfluencers is also something that is important to us.
Of course. How many users do you have right now? So I'm not able to disclose exact user numbers or investor clauses and so on, but we have thinkfluencers in 32 countries and growing about 30% month-on-month.
That's very interesting.
In terms of the startup adventure, what was the biggest, bigger lessons you learned?
Because you were born in Sweden, you go to Singapore, you create a startup in Singapore.
What are the biggest lessons you took from this experience in this startup?
I think a lot of different things that we're learning all the time and along the way, right?
I think if I think of some of the key things that I think are really, really important is to one, hire really good people.
I'm coming from a recruitment background.
So I spent four years of my life doing recruitment full-time and was leading the sales and marketing practice for a recruitment firm called Michael Page in Southeast Asia.
And that's when I was interacting with a lot of candidates and saw the different needs that they had and the questions that they had around topics like, how do I coach my team?
How do I manage upwards?
And so on. And that's what led me to think of the concept of Tiger Hall, but also really appreciate the value of recruitment and having good talent on board.
And I've been running different businesses before. And in one of those, I was optimizing, I would say optimizing more for costs perhaps when it comes to people.
So a lot of junior people and like focus rather on quantity and having a lot, a very big team that could execute quite quickly, but was not a very senior team.
So one of the things that I've changed in Tiger Hall is that I've hired more, more experienced, more senior people.
And I don't mean people with like 20, 25 years experience, but at least like eight to 10 people have been like out there and like done their roles before and like seen the movie before in that sense.
So some more senior hires is something that I've really valued.
And also then you can learn directly from them.
Like they would have a lot of insights and knowledge that you can learn from, right?
So, so that's really valuable and not like investing a little bit more in talent and not like really optimizing for costs when it comes to talent, but invest in really good people.
People have done the job before people as a New York day, people are really, really strong.
So, so building a good team is, is number one.
The second thing that I've focused on all this culture and getting a culture, getting the culture right from the beginning.
This is something a lot of people speak about and it's very like common in startup land to talk about culture and how important it is to get it right early on.
And I do think it's, it is really hard to change once, once you've crossed a certain point.
And that's again, why your early employees are so important.
And something that I thought a lot about when I hired is not only like all culture fit and like they can do the job, et cetera, but also how well would these people like to work with each other?
Because actually my relationship with them might be the least important relationship because they would see the least of me, but they would be working together every day, collaborating all the time.
So I was focusing a lot on how will, how well would these people enjoy working with each other and getting that team fit, right?
So you can call that culture fit.
I call it team fit, but having people actually enjoy working with each other and getting that right.
And then having fun, like allowing people to have fun and like not, not taking ourselves too seriously.
Of course, we have goals and targets and so on, but at the end of the day, like we're not saving lives, right?
So being able to have fun at work is something that I value very, very highly.
And that's across our culture as well. So people actually enjoy coming to work is very important to me.
I was curious because you had other projects before, even in terms of company, you were a co-founder of another company.
What, in those transitions of something that went bad in another company and this new one, what did failure in some sense brought to you in terms of lessons?
I can give you the example.
Yesterday I was talking with other founders and they were saying to me, how is it important to fail fast?
If you're going to fail, fail fast to start a new thing, to learn from those things that didn't went well.
And it's all part of the startup story.
You, you, sometimes you fail in the product, sometimes you fail in the company, but failure is part, a part of it.
How do you see that transition between companies?
Yeah. I'm not sure I agree with like the fail fast. Cause you can't really impact how quickly you fail.
Like it's not like, Oh, we're starting to fail a little bit.
Let's fail intensely and really fast. I'm not sure this fail fast is, is an advice I would give them rather like analyze and learn from the failures.
Right. And being very like, really like sometimes like not, not having these rosy glasses on.
And I think that's sometimes the most difficult part of, but being a founder in general, cause you constantly have to like sell your product and sell your vision, sell your idea.
And like being like 10 or 10 about it at the same time, as you have to be very aware of its limitations and like where you're not going right and where you need to improve and things like that.
And I think where fail fast might come in is if you're too much in the former camp, like you're so in your head about your idea that you can't see why people wouldn't buy it, then that's, that's, that will probably lead to an even faster failure.
If you think that your product is great, but no one else thinks so.
So in that sense, yes, fail fast, but having both of those glasses on at the same time, I think is very important.
And for me, in terms of the lessons from my previous businesses, a lot of that was around the business model in terms of like scalability of business model and even things like, so one of the businesses I was having before was like, I hate to use the Airbnb equivalent, but like education, like for like the education, like an Airbnb model where you had private individuals who could host classes in their own homes.
So instead of like sleeping in someone's guest room, you would actually come and take a lesson from them in personal finance and similar.
So you would have private individuals hosting their own sessions.
And we would be like ticketing platform in that sense.
So people could go in and say that I want to learn personal finance from Joe.
And this is like, I buy my ticket and then the expert who hosted that class would get 75%.
We would take 25%. So very much like a pure like ticketing platform.
And I learned a lot of things around that business model that, for example, it's hard to get people to host their own classes in that sense.
Like they would like more to be invited. And in terms of like selling tickets, like I was always optimizing for like, can we do more of a subscription model?
I think subscription is a better model to do it. And also more media, because people were like, oh, I want to attend this, but I have something else at the same time.
And I was like, okay, how can we make this on the go and ensure that people can access it at any time rather than like having to show up for a specific event.
And so there are a lot of those like small things in business model that I thought like, okay, this is, we could do it in a different way.
We can make it media, subscription, selling to enterprises, like all of these different things around the business model.
So I think you need to be very open to those things.
And even with Tiger Hall, right? Like I was always very acutely aware of the problem in enterprises of low engagement in learning.
So if you look at enterprise learning, it's very, very low engagement.
Like you roll out a platform to a hundred people, you might have like one or two that end up using it.
So in most enterprises, it's this white elephant that no one really cares about.
So I was very aware of that problem.
But when we launched, we launched entirely for B2C, for example.
So we wanted to prove the thesis that this is something that people actually want to use on their own, that they really engage with, that they're willing to pay their own money for.
We never wanted to build for HR or learning or talent.
We wanted to build for the end user. So, and then we didn't know that people were going to have, like be so engaged on the platform.
And many of those who joined in the first months when we launched B2C two and a half years ago, they're still using the platform every day, every week today.
So, and when we saw that level of engagement that people are spending about an hour on the platform every week, it was with that thesis that we then went to enterprise and said like, Hey, we know that no one is using your learning platforms.
Why don't you try Taggle instead?
But that like so-called like pivot in a way was not something that I was like aware of when I started the business.
Like it was more like, okay, let's build something that end users would love.
And then figuring out like, is this a B2C model?
Is it an enterprise model? Is it a partnership model? You waited for the feedback to, to add another strategy to the company.
So feedback data from, from what you took for, from those engagements that you had, and then you build up on that new services, new products, right?
Yeah, exactly. And especially like when it comes to like channels, because I was very clear on the problem that we wanted to solve.
Like we want to solve for this problem that people don't have access to the right people, access to the right knowledge, et cetera.
But that problem is like with both consumers, with enterprises, with teams, like you see that problem in a lot of different shapes and forms.
So that's why the choice of exact business model and channel and how we're going to like take it to market.
That's something that we decided along the way when we saw like, where's revenue, where do we have engagement and so on.
Makes sense. But I'm also curious to, to know the story of when did you start a company with whom and why?
You already told me that your previous company on the learning space.
So you were already getting there to this point.
But when did you decide to create Tiger Hall and why really? So it was really when I was in recruitment.
And so all of these candidates that asked me all of these questions around, like how do I coach my team?
How do I manage upwards? How do I get that next role?
And realizing that they didn't really have access to the people who have that knowledge.
And it was when I was sitting down with my clients who were the ones that I was recruiting for.
And they were senior business leaders, head of sales, head of marketing, and just having a coffee chat with them.
I realized that I learned a lot more in that coffee chat than I did in my entire university education.
So that's when I started thinking like, okay, we should be able to scale this.
Like having one-to-one mentoring is not scalable at all. And it's, again, not accessible.
Like you need to be usually part of certain networks or have certain access to get access to those kind of like mentors.
But how can we make that accessible to anyone?
And also being able to scale like for one senior leader who might be doing mentoring, he or she might be able to reach like five, six people might be the max that they can mentor.
And it was also that proposition for them that I wanted to change like, hey, through TigerHall, you can actually mentor tens of thousands of people and they can all learn from you in a much more scalable format.
So I started thinking around that when I was with Michael Page. And I started thinking about like, how can we scale learning from each other in more scalable and interesting formats?
And then I was doing this other business with a co -founder.
And at the same time, I was thinking about TigerHall and so on. And then launching TigerHall in May 2018 was when we founded it.
And then launched, we spent 2018 building the app, building the initial team recruitment, and then launched the platform in March.
March 2019 is when we went live. Any lesson from those previous days before launch that you took that you want to advise someone who is starting a startup?
Product development takes twice as much time and twice as much money as you think it will.
It's very, like we were thinking, okay, building this MVP is going to take about four months.
I think in the end, it took, yeah, pretty much eight.
We were planning to launch in Jan, and we ended up launching 1st of March.
And that was even then I was like, we just need to launch what we have, like whatever we have built until now, we just need to launch it.
It's the deadline. Yeah, exactly.
So we just need to like put it up on the app stores then. So that was one, but it always takes a lot longer.
And yeah, a lot more like money. So we raised like our very early seed round of 1.1 million, like before we started building.
So it was basically me and a PowerPoint deck.
And I raised that to be able to build that initial team and launch the product.
Yeah, raising twice as much money as you need is probably a good idea to be able to have that margin for taking twice as much time in product development.
Interesting. In that regard, I was curious also, if you have a peculiar story of those beginnings that you have those down moments or those euphoric moments, do you remember a down moment or a euphoric moment in these three years already?
Before we even launched, when I was recruiting the team, that was when like we didn't have an app or like we didn't have anything.
So we didn't have an office, we didn't have an app, we didn't have like a team, nothing.
It was all in a PDF file. So I just showed everyone a PDF file of like, this is what the app at some day will look like.
And I was recruiting the initial team of 10 people.
So 10 people was the initial setup. And that was a mix of mostly content, so content production, but also marketing and some other people.
And to recruit those initial 10, I remember I interviewed around 350 people across two months.
So I spent like first I was full time in product development for two to three months, getting the initial like concept and so on.
And then while the engineers were building that, I spent too much as full time recruiting.
So I think I met anywhere between 10 to 12 people every day for several weeks to be able to find those initial 10.
And that's a recommendation to 12 founders, like spend a lot of time interviewing, just meet tons of people.
And I had an advantage there because of my recruitment background.
So I kind of had this bar set, like you have this caliber, what do you call it?
Like when you can, yeah, calibrate what different people look like and so on.
But meeting volumes, meeting lots of people is something I would always recommend.
Makes sense. And it's really important, even in our company, you can see that.
I'm also curious in terms of you were born in Sweden.
How did you took that decision to go to Singapore? What led you to do that? It's not everyone does that, right?
In Sweden. Yeah. Yeah. No, not everyone in Sweden moves to Singapore.
Some of them are still in Sweden. So I was always obsessed with Asia.
I was very obsessed since I was like 10, 11. And I think that started when I started studying English and realized that, OK, I want to work internationally.
I want to work abroad to be able to do that. I need to speak fluent English.
So I wanted to study faster because in school it was like Thomas is one pair, John is one apple.
And I was like, I need to study this faster. So I started reading more international magazines and newspapers just to pick up the language.
And that's when I started reading a lot about China, Japan, India, all of these very interesting countries that are not really written about in Swedish media.
Swedish media is very focused on the EU and the US. And those are the two geographies that matter.
So when I was starting to read about all these, I was like, this is so interesting.
There's a whole continent called Asia and this is where everything is happening.
And it was like it came across to me that Westerners were very ignorant because we only had like our Western world, whereas in Asia they knew both worlds.
So actually they had like twice as much knowledge as their Western counterparts.
Like that is something that really made me curious, like, oh, they have their own culture, but then they also know like the global American culture and similar.
So I decided that I wanted to live in the capital of Asia.
And this was when I was maybe 13, 14. So I spent all of my school projects researching Asia.
I decided that, OK, Singapore is probably the capital of Asia.
I'm going to move there.
So on my 18th birthday, I went to Singapore.com. I booked a one-way flight to Singapore without telling anyone.
So no one knew what was coming up. My parents were not too happy.
They're going to isolate the trunk, which is like the biggest bag you can find, and packed it with everything I had.
And then I boarded this one-way flight and never returned to Sweden.
So that's how I ended up there. Amazing story, actually. In those terms, you build a company there.
What challenges did you discover building a company there and trying to get a company from Singapore to the world?
Was that difficult to start there or was that good in terms of the advantage in that area of the globe?
So I don't really know because I haven't started anywhere else and I have nothing to compare with.
So my entire adult life, my entire career, all my work has always been in Singapore and across Asia now, of course, more globally as well.
But it wasn't I started a business in Sweden than I started it in Singapore.
But I think Singapore is one of the most business-friendly nations in the world.
It's super easy to get started, super easy to set up a company, very easy to get started in hiring people.
And I'm comparing this with Sweden, who have a lot more stricter laws around hiring and firing, and stricter laws around starting a business.
And it takes a lot longer time and tricky with taxes and so on. Singapore is very easy.
So that's really, really good for startups to get started and get it going early on.
And that's really lowering the barrier for people and entrepreneurs in Singapore to start businesses.
And then you have a lot of capital in Singapore.
That's the other advantage. You have a very big community of venture capitalists and people are just like, yeah, it's a lot of money on the island, so to speak.
I would say one thing that might have been a little bit difficult for us from a starting in Singapore perspective is that a lot of the VCs and the capital in Singapore is very Southeast Asia focused.
So people invest in Southeast Asia, for Southeast Asia.
And those business models are usually around fintech, lending, ride hailing, food delivery, logistics, e-commerce.
So it's very much those business models that are now rapidly growing in markets like Indonesia is super hot still.
Philippines is getting really hot as well. And then you have Thailand, Vietnam upcoming as well, buzzing.
So all capital or not all, but a vast majority of capital in Singapore is very much focused on those markets and those business models.
And that's been a little bit of a challenge for us because we want to be a global company.
And I think we can build a global company out of Singapore.
And you don't have to be in Silicon Valley to build a global company.
You can do that out of Singapore. But getting that understanding and just like, cause the funds are dedicated to Southeast Asia, right?
So that's been a little bit of a challenge.
And then the business model that we have is very sophisticated.
Like it's a content business. It's B2B SaaS. It's more of a like developed market model in that sense.
And we have pretty high price points and things like that.
So our model is not yet very suitable for markets like Thailand and Vietnam, for example.
It's probably going to be in a few years, but not right now.
So right now, investors are still very focused on logistics, e-commerce, food delivery, ride hailing, those types of sectors, whereas we're a little bit higher on the muscle's hierarchy of needs.
So I think that's been like, they're probably the only challenge about starting out in Southeast Asia with a kind of business that we have.
But you saw, for example, doors opening without asking where you are from, because we live in the global world.
And if you're in iOS and Android apps, you can communicate in the world, even if you're in a remote part of the world.
The only problem there is the Internet connection. But if you have a good Internet connection, you can communicate with the world.
In those terms, you saw advantages to communicate from to all the world being in Asia also.
Yeah, yeah, definitely, definitely.
And I've spent recently, I've spent some time in Europe to be able to just get the time zones right, like since our US launch, being able to cover the US hours as well.
But I really haven't seen any disadvantages, rather the opposite, like this conference that I just did here in Orlando.
It's like people, like when everyone is American except for you, it helps you stand out as well.
So then people remember, oh, the Swede in Singapore.
That's something that people remember. And I've never found it an issue to be like a foreigner in that sense, like rather the opposite, because people remember you.
The only thing that we have is, I mean, everything is in English at the moment on the platform.
So all the content is in English, the app is in English, and so on.
And that's why it's great for markets like India, Australia, the US, UK and global companies.
But what we're introducing next year is we're also launching Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Bahasa, Spanish, French, and also Portuguese, actually.
So we're going to add some more languages to the platform. And that's going to help grow that global audience even further.
But personally, like having been like an outsider coming from Singapore to the US, for example, I've almost seen it as a benefit because it makes people remember you.
We're almost out of time.
I would like to ask you in terms of future, where do you see the company going throughout the next years?
So right now, very focused on capturing the growth here.
We've seen really, really good response from the US market and lots of large companies are onboarding here and rolling out globally, etc.
So that's the key focus now.
And then growing to more markets to be able to reach more people and giving them the opportunity to learn from the very best in their markets.
So geographical expansion is definitely key.
We're also going to introduce new things on the platform, like, for example, even more personalized mentor matching, micro mentorship, we can do it in like 10, 15 minutes, things like authoring tools where we can allow people within a company to also share their knowledge on the platform.
So there are quite a few really cool product things coming up. And then we're always expanding the team.
So right now, if anyone is listening to this and is in customer success, sales or content, we just spoke about journey.
Sorry, we're out of time.
Thank you so much.