Tessa PetersTessa Peters is the Founder & CEO of the charity Been There, and she’s incredibly inspiring.

Taking her own personal battle with bulimia, she’s transformed her experience to create a pioneering new support system that is helping people across the UK who are struggling with body image issues.

Having built an app that connects a community, Tessa has teamed tech with real and relatable Mentors who support, empower and listen to those in need. Tessa’s mission is to encourage self-acceptance and self-worth in everybody. Here, she explains how she came up with her vision for Been There and made it a reality.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m 30 years old and from Buckinghamshire.  If I’m not working, I’ll usually be found on my bike or playing sport. One of my biggest passions is operating the charity I founded that supports people battling body image issues, called Been There.

Been There provides free, confidential support for people aged 18 and over via a custom-designed app. We have created a safe and secure platform to connect those in need with vetted, trained Mentors (all of whom have experienced issues with negative body image).

The charity is still relatively new but we’re growing at pace and I’m so incredibly proud of the work we are doing. It was a vision inspired by my own personal journey with body image issues and my desire to speak to someone who had been through something similar and inspire hope that recovery is possible. With every person who joins our community, either to seek or show support, it evolves and becomes even more impactful.

I started my career working on a yacht as a sous/crew chef, which I did for six years, whilst struggling with an eating disorder. While at my lowest point battling bulimia, I realised that I never want anyone to feel the way I did – alone, ashamed, scared, judged and deeply unhappy in my own skin.

I came up with the idea of Been There during a solo walk in August 2019 and it was probably the first time my mind had been quiet in a long time. Once I’d created the concept, I started developing it and figuring out how it would work. There was a lot of trial and error. At the same time, I had taken a new job working for a Formula 1 team in hospitality, so I was scrambling for opportunities to invest in the charity around a demanding day job.

To lead my start-up, I wear many hats. I am involved in everything from fundraising to marketing and recruitment to Mentor management. I’m developing our brand and outreach programmes and I also do 1-to-1 mentoring in and outside of the app. As many other Founders may have experienced, it is a varied, demanding but highly rewarding experience.

How did you turn your vision into a reality?

Every opportunity I had, I would vigorously scribble notes and devise plans. I felt like I was shooting in the dark, trying to work out the right steps to take, when I had no idea what I was doing.  I had to decide whether I wanted to create a business or charity and learn how to understand technology. I sought help from people and did extensive research.

To help build up funding, I went back to work on a yacht in the short term until I had saved enough to launch the charity. Then, in June 2021, I quit this job, and committed to working at Been There full-time.

I asked for a lot of advice along the way, and if I didn’t know something, I would find someone who did and contact them. This unparalleled advice from experienced leaders and kind-hearted people, helped me shape Been There and take it forward to the support system it is today.

Here we are one year in, and we have developed an app, vetted and trained 10 founding Mentors and launched a pilot with universities. We’ve tested and trialled the service to make sure it’s effective and accessible and we continue to gather feedback to shape the future of Been There.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I suppose in some respect, yes. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to have my own business. I have a notes section on my phone titled ‘ideas’ and every few days or so, I’d have something new to add to the list. None of my ideas felt right, until this one formed and I decided to aptly name it Been There.

Body image issues were a problem in my life that I wanted to solve but I would try and tackle it while I was in the thick of my eating disorder. No matter how hard I tried; I couldn’t find a solution. It felt like something was blocking me. I then had an epiphany that this was because I hadn’t healed, and I needed to help myself before I could help anyone else. I sought out support from Eating Disorders Anonymous and through this I found my wonderful Mentor.

Helping people struggling with body image issues and eating disorders is my deepest passion and purpose. I don’t want anyone to feel alone or ashamed. I want everyone to feel able to accept themselves for who they are, where they are and what they look like. Seeing the charity now, and the impact it makes, it feels like it was always meant to be.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Taking the plunge to leave my well-paid job and take a leap into the unknown, running Been There on a full-time basis, was probably the biggest challenge. The lack of financial security and uncertainty of my future felt scary, but I knew this could be the start of something potentially life-changing for others, so I launched myself into it with vigour and determination.

A charity like this needs all your attention but, in the early days, I found myself picking up jobs in the events industry again as it offered that financial security. The trouble was, I was making myself so busy that I wouldn’t have time to complete the tasks I wanted to progress for Been There.

It scared me to commit to the new role entirely, knowing that I wouldn’t have any income and starting from nothing, but Been There was the concept that I was most passionate about, that I would talk the most about and that I knew the world needed. So, something had to change.

I managed to overcome the barrier of fear, and ride the bonkers world of start-ups, by having an incredible support system. Having people who are willing to invest in you, guide you and listen is invaluable. I was incredibly fortunate to have a kind partner who took the risk with me and paid for the roof over our heads, reducing the immediate financial worry for me. Emotionally, my family, friends and people in the industry offered a wealth of advice, support and encouragement.

What advice would you give to someone starting out on their own career or business journey?

Firstly, talk to people and don’t be shy about sharing your vision. When we decided that Been There would mainly focus on battling body image issues, I immediately called The Body Image Clinic in Harley Street. Thomas Midgely answered, and I told him my plans. He set up a video call immediately, offered his support and told me that there was a colossal influx of people needing help in this area.

Hearing his perspective cemented my belief in what I was doing and helped provide clarity as I developed my mission with my four incredible Trustees. Having extremely credible individuals in the industry advocating my idea gave me strength, courage and motivation to continue.

You also need to keep the faith. I believe that if you’re meant to do something in life, and you can visualise it clearly in your head, that is what you are meant to do. If you can believe in this vision and articulate it with passion, you’ll be able to take others with you. That type of drive is infectious!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Launching Been There and giving people the opportunity to find relatable, beneficial support. Seeing the questionnaire responses and testimonies that we receive from our community really does blow you away.  I recently met one of the Mentees and seeing first-hand what Been There has done for her was astounding, emotional and solidified the beneficial impact of the service. It actually makes me well up as I type this.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

My insatiable determination. I have a very good work ethic (granted, maybe too enthusiastic at times) but people see that and have supported what I’m doing. I have a lot of self-belief and I know that I can do anything I put my mind to. I’m lucky that finding motivation, grit, and resilience feels second nature to me but I understand it’s not like this for everyone.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Always build yourself up with self-belief. As long as you believe you can do it, everyone else will, and if they don’t then it doesn’t matter, because it’s your own path, no one else’s. Stand strong in your power and take on any challenge. There will be closed doors along the way but you can handle them, you can get back up and keep going. You may not ‘know’ how to do something straight away, but with self-belief and determination you know you can learn it. There are of course times when you self-doubt or need to ask for help, but by having a good support system around you, you can achieve anything.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I think there are still barriers, particularly as in some industries it’s still believed to be easier to hire a man as they may not take as much time off for family. However, society is changing and we need to keep up with our business practices and not make outdated assumptions. Otherwise, we’ll risk missing out on talented people.

I’ve also come across those who think men are stronger in many ways too, when women can clearly have the same resilience and strong work ethic. Unfortunately, I think we just have to keep proving that mindset wrong and celebrate the shining examples we have of women in tech.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I think this starts from an early age, at school, making tech more known and accessible as an option for a career path for girls. We also need to give women the opportunity to lead in the industry, as generally we don’t have enough women leaders in tech. If there were more female tech role models and more opportunities, this may inspire younger generations to enter the field.

There is currently only 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I’d love us to have, and celebrate, more women leaders in the industry for females to feel encouraged and inspired by.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I mostly read lots of personal development books, I think it’s important to be self-aware and empathetic towards others. I can recommend ‘Come As You Are’ by Dr Emily Nagoski and ‘Signs: The Secret Language of the Universe’ by Laura Lynne Jackson.  The podcast ‘The Diary of a CEO’ also has some great content and allows you to learn from other leaders.