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Why You Should Swap Your Lie-In for a Dose of Chutzpah

10/03/2016 10:04 | Updated 10 March 2016

Mushy Christmas romcom The Holiday may have failed to impress critics (and many audiences, too), but it has one redeeming element. Not its stellar cast, who could have been waxworks for all the chemistry they displayed on screen; nor its script, which was devoid of a single decent line or convincing characterisation. The home-swap movie's saving grace is that inspired one viewer to create a business which now has global reach and over 60 staff.

And it has thousands of beneficiaries: Love Home Swap, launched in 2011 by serial entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow, now has over 100,000 members. For what Brit wouldn't love to switch their shabby Surrey cottage for a sprawling LA pad, just as Kate Winslet's Iris did in The Holiday? And what family wouldn't opt for a cost-effective home swap over a claustrophobic hotel room? Perhaps we should be surprised that more people didn't decide to launch businesses after viewing the film.

But for Wosskow, the timing couldn't have been better. Sharing is now a big, big business: there are currently 17 billion-dollar companies in the sharing or collaborative economy. Five sharing economy sectors alone could generate a whopping $335bn in revenues by 2025. And Time has ranked the sharing economy among its "10 Ideas that Will Change the World".

Like the booming sector in which she operates, Wosskow is a force to be reckoned with. "Chutzpah," "determination," "focus" are her mantra, and she's never let her age nor gender stand in the way of her ambition. "If you're a young woman [Wosskow set up her first business at 25], you will always achieve stand-out in a room. It's down to you to create your persona - to convince people that you will get the job done. People knew I would get my head down and do it - and I did."

I first met Wosskow three years ago, when Love Home Swap was still staking its place in a market "ripe for early adopters". Since then, the company has expanded in multiple directions: its membership has grown (from 40,000 to over 100,000), it has received investment from hotelier giant Wyndham, and in December Love Home Swap acquired one of its largest European competitors.

As the business has grown, so too has Wosskow's profile. She is currently the UK government's adviser on the sharing economy, having authored its independent review on the market model. She is an angel investor (to companies including Vinaya), founder of the Collaborative Consumption Europe network, and a member of the Barclays/Entrepreneurs Network's Female Founders Forum - which aims to tackle why so few women-led businesses scale up.

And yet, she still finds time to see her two kids for breakfast and tuck them into bed at night. She's a trustee of Hampstead Theatre, a role she takes seriously enough to see a different play every week. Oh, and she also works out every morning. "It gets my head in the game," she says. "Entrepreneurship is all about mindset. The best solution to the glass ceiling is to be the boss. That way, you make the rules. But if I could offer aspiring founders one piece of advice, it would be to get up early. If you're not a morning person, train yourself to be one."

Her knowledge and advice extends beyond budding entrepreneurs. She believes a crowdfunding website "by women for women" will plug the aforementioned gender funding gap. To the UK government, she proposes a crèche in the heart of Tech City, with subsidised childcare. To women, she says: "Have a thick skin. Recognise that it's easier for people to tell you all the things that are wrong with your business than all that are right."

Back when we first met, Wosskow alluded that she would sell the business once it had scaled to pursue a career in private equity. Today, that future is less certain. "I'm having a lot of fun here. I have a government role. And I still find time to angel invest." It's hard to know where her skills would best be utilised: growing the world's largest home swap business, or sharing her expertise on startup boards? Regardless, I hope her profile continues to soar. As they say, you can't be what you can't see: the more role models out there, the more our female entrepreneurs will thrive.

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