Chantal Cummings of Donate The Change – Pro-Triathlete and Fintech Startup Entrepreneur

Chantal Cummings of Donate The Change – Pro-Triathlete and Fintech Startup Entrepreneur

GROW is as much a vibrant community of individuals as it is of startups and small businesses; some of our residents do amazing things the other side of work and we wonder how they do it all!

Chantal Cummings manages operations for Donate The Change, an innovative fintech startup with a social mission, at the same time as being a world class professional triathlete, regularly competing internationally in Challenge and Ironman events.

We caught up with Chantal to find out what it means to be a pro-triathlete and how the discipline of athletic training translates to running a fast-paced, disruptive startup.

Photo: JAMES MITCHELL / ActivImages

Photo: JAMES MITCHELL / ActivImages

Hi Chantal, how did you choose triathlon as a sport? Why triathlon?

Well I’ve always been really competitive! I loved sports even from primary school and my family always encouraged me to be active. I want to get best from myself, I don’t want to look back and think I could have done more or have any regrets. I think this is also partly why I’ve always been attracted to working for startups.

I started my sporting career as a junior rower for the GB squad with the aim to compete at the Olympics but a back injury meant that it was no longer possible to continue.

I went on to do a Management and Leadership degree at The University of Exeter and one summer while at University, my Dad saw a triathlon competition and suggested I enter. I had still been running and cycling, but hadn’t swum for years. Despite this, I had a feeling I could do it so I entered the competition.

When I got back to University I was keen to set up a Triathlon Club, and undeterred by the lack of Athletic Union funding, we started with a membership of fifteen in the first year. Since then the club has grown from strength to strength and now has upwards of eighty to one-hundred members.

In my final year, I met some Durham University grads who wanted to start a triathlon coaching and training company in the Algarve in Portugal and invited me to join them. I became a Partner of the business and headed up the marketing, managing sponsorship and the race team as well as some of the coaching. We ran one to two-year programs and weekly training holidays back to back over a six-month period each year. Working seven days year-round took its toll on my enthusiasm for triathlon and I reached a level from a career perspective where I needed the next challenge and came back to the UK.

Photo: JAMES MITCHELL / ActivImages

Photo: JAMES MITCHELL / ActivImages

So, when did you decide to become a professional triathlete?

Once back home, my passion for triathlon revived. It took about six months to get back into the groove and I started to get consistently strong results as an amateur athlete, regularly achieving times within the professional athletes’ range. I decided to take it seriously and race professionally, which meant I could compete against the best in the field and challenge myself to become a world-class athlete. Becoming a professional athlete allows me to take part in more races and even race for prize money for achieving podium positions.

What does it take to race at a professional level?

The rules of the Federation of British Triathletes are that athletes must be within 8% of the fastest women in the world – and aiming for top 3%. The rules change often but currently these timings must be achieved in two events within eighteen months.

Once you have a professional licence you have to race within twelve months, in a professional field, and achieve times within that 8% without being beaten by amateur athletes.

Racing at the professional level requires having a solid support team of professionals, from sports psychology, nutrition and physio to coaching, all of whom are invaluable in helping me continue to progress and perform. My coach,  Perry Agass, is a vital part of developing me as an athlete, setting challenging goals and motivating me to push towards the goal we have set. Perry works under the Trisutto brand, which has produced numerous world class triathletes including Chrissie Wellington MBE.

How do you manage your training schedule around Donate The Change?

I get up early between 5.30-6.00am and go to the pool to swim for one-and-a-half to two hours, and after work I’ll either bike or run for one to two hours. I’ll be completely honest and say that it is a challenge to fit everything in but the passion to excel in both my sport and business drive me on to make both work.

About 90% of professional triathletes don’t work and either have sponsorship or prize money as income. Some might have part-time jobs, but not in the same magnitude as my work for Donate The Change; the challenge is less about training time and more about the time needed for recovery.

Which races do you take part in and where do you race?

I mainly race internationally in the two largest triathlon brand events – Challenge and Ironman. My coach manages the races I enter based on which will present the greatest challenges depending on my development and improvement needs. Ironman runs two main Championship events around the world and my objective is to get to and perform in the top percentage at these World Championships.

I currently compete in the in the Middle Distance or ‘70.3’ races, which comprises a 1.9km swim, 90km bike ride and a 21.1km run, also known as a ‘Half Ironman’.

Next year is more serious and I’m planning to focus on racing more and possibly looking to compete in my first Ironman Full Distance event which is a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and 42.2km run. To give an idea of comparative race times, it takes roughly four to five hours to complete a Half Ironman and nine to ten hours to finish a Full Distance race.

Chantal running sportograf-126614734_lowres.jpg

Have you found any key crossover skills learned from sports training which transfer to business, especially startups? And vice versa?

There are huge crossover skills from sports to business. I think one of the greatest ones for me as been the grit to follow something through all the high and low points to achieve goals you have set out. This has been a skill which has regularly been put to the test in my business life where working in an entrepreneurial startup business requires you to navigate the seas to reach success.

Sport requires you to be organised, excel at time management, strategise and problem solve. Success in sport is certainly not a straight line, you can feel like you have made a fundamental step forward only to then feel like you have taken three steps back. I think all entrepreneurs/startups would agree that a life in the day at work for them is not a straight line either and therefore like sport you need to learn to adapt and stay focused whatever is thrown at you.

 Ultimately, success in sport is determined not by anything special but by being consistent day in day out in training and learning to take setbacks as they come and, instead of dwelling on them, work on strategies to overcome them or avoid them next time. One of the beauties of triathlon racing is that there are many elements that can go wrong so every race is a school day which requires you to stay on your toes and react quickly.

These skills are greatly transferable to my role in Operations in a startup which is often very much like a race day - planning for the best and worst cases and reacting quickly when something happens which you aren't expecting. 

Tell us about Donate The Change and what it’s like working for an innovative fintech start-up with a social mission?

Donate The Change’s mission is to create a social impact revolution, using innovation to drive more regular donations whilst reducing the charity’s cost of fundraising to zero. Its fully managed online service is free for charities and ensures charities receive 100% of donations and Gift Aid raised, so that they can focus on achieving their goals. The aim: to reduce barriers and provide charities of all sizes access to a fundraising method that can be leveraged immediately and adapt to an increasingly cashless society.

I have worked in startups my entire professional career so far after being attracted to the pure challenge that they offer. Working for Donate The Change allows me to work in an incredibly fast paced disruptive market which pushes the boundaries and, questions all elements of normal practice. It is an incredibly rewarding startup to work in and I love the pace and daily challenge.

Like all startups it is not all sunshine and roses, there are many times where you have to put in a lot of extra hours and overcome serious hurdles but when you are working with a great team of people towards a mission which will ultimately benefit society as a whole, those hard times are more than worth it.

As an athlete, what do you think of Green Park’s landscaping and fitness amenities as a beneficial environment to integrate fitness and fitness training around work life?

I think that Green Park does a fantastic job of providing opportunities for people to integrate fitness training into work/life balance with their events such as the Open Water swims, runs and triathlons which are open to everyone.

It is definitely a good place to spend time outside doing fitness in the mornings, lunchtimes and evenings and with a gym and pool onsite it caters for fitness activity year-round. 

Thanks Chantal for sharing what it takes to be a pro-triathlete and the crossover skills between athletic training and working for Donate The Change - and good luck next year in your Ironman pursuits – we’ll be cheering you on!