From Firefighter To Blockchain Start-Up Founder: How did she do it? | Founder’s Story Ep. 01

       Dunja is a true entrepreneur. After more than 13 years of fighting fires, she decided it was time for a career change. She has gone from firefighter to blockchain start-up founder in record time. How did she make the jump to the fast-paced world of blockchain start-ups? 

In this first episode of this new series by the blockchain incubator Block Dojo, she shares her story explaining what her start-up Pickle is changing for the tradespeople and homeowners. 

Discover what Dunja has learned along the way and how she uses her determination and work ethic to make her start-up successful.

Who’s Dunja Rombouts?

Block Dojo’s Cohort Two founder, Dunja Rombouts, was a first responder, a London firefighter who loved to help people out. She saw all kinds of emergency situations as well as a lot of people who were simply ‘in a bit of a pickle’: people who needed their locks changing after a burglary or locked out of the house or with a leak of water.

Dunja also saw that large companies were taking advantage of people in these situations with hugely expensive, out of hours call out rates. It felt so unfair, especially to the elderly. Because she hated to see anyone in a pickle, Dunja decided to do something about it.

What is Pickle and what does it do?

Pickle is a platform to help people that are in a pickle. It’s an easy-to-use app that connects people in trouble with people that help them out.

It is like Uber for tradespeople. If you find yourself in an emergency, Pickle has the tradespeople on board (that are also firefighters) to come and help you out.

How was your life before you started your start-up?

A lot different.

Before we started Pickle and before we got into Block Dojo Incubator, I was a firefighter for the London Fire Brigade, but also a qualified locksmith. Because as firefighters, we don’t get paid enough. Most of us have a secondary income as a tradesperson. So, my life was a lot different than running a tech start-up.

From 2016 becoming a qualified locksmith to 2022 joining a tech Incubator?

It is a big change. I do have a little bit of an IT background. I studied IT when I was young and worked in the sector for about two years. But, yeah, that was it. I’ve got a good idea about tech. But did not work in the industry for quite some time.

What are the main challenges of that change? Has it been difficult?

Well, if I can do it, anyone can do it. I think one thing that the fire brigade showed me through the 13 years that I was there is that you just have to face  every challenge and learn from it. And as long as you’ve got to drive and you’re motivated and you’ve got the end goal in mind, you really want to make a difference, then it all falls into place.

What are the main struggles that you specifically faced as a founder?

I have the passion, and I know what needs to be done, but I don’t have all the skills. What was really interesting about joining Block Dojo is they push you really hard to get the right people involved because, for example, financial modelling and planning my whole project finances was definitely my weak point. But then we found Claire Byrne, who was a former head of finance for Checker Trade for nine years, and we’ve her knowledge, expertise, and being a great person. she joined Pickle, so we’re a stronger team now.

What are the main benefits of joining Block Dojo and how did it help you?

focusing on what needs to be done, but also cut out all the crap that you think is important.

I think the main bit that we got out of it is get us investor ready. We built pitch decks in and it’s not just put a PowerPoint slides together, it was well planned. They Teach you how to speak in public on big stage. Completely out of my comfort zone. But yeah, they drove you too. They push you hard.

How was the vibe there? Did you make any friends?

We were so lucky that all the nine start-ups we got on with really well.

Although we came from completely different backgrounds, we couldn’t be further apart. Different cultures, different languages, completely different up bringing. But everyone was really supportive, which helped a lot.

Where are you now with Pickle and where were you before joining Block Dojo?

Pickle won the award for the best pitch, which is very funny. Because I had to do breathing exercises before I go on stage. I was so nervous. And to actually win the best pitch was just so unexpected. But great. So we are investor ready and we are in conversation with a couple, but it’s all conversations for now. Well, let’s hope we sign a deal pretty soon.

And where were you before joining Block Dojo?

It was just an idea. It was not even a fully-fledged concept. It was just an idea. So yeah, the twelve-week incubator brought us from the idea stage to an MVP.

 

       Fires can be unpredictable and dangerous, but so is the world of blockchain start-ups. It takes a lot of courage to make a career change, especially into something as fast paced and uncertain as the blockchain industry. We hope you’ve enjoyed this first episode of our series with Pickle founder Dunja Rombouts. If you know any founders who have made a similar career jump, please share their story with us.

Presented by Aziz Ben Allala 

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