OW Spotlight Chris and Will Donnelly

Beresford '09 and '12

Entrepreneurs and Founders of Lottie

Can you tell us about yourself?  

Hey! We’re Chris and Will Donnelly, two brothers from London, and amongst a family of children that attended Wellington College (and Beresford House) from 2001 through to 2012. In July 2021, we launched Lottie (lottie.org), a free service that helps families and retirees find the UK’s best care homes and retirement living communities. Today, Lottie consists of a team of over 50 and is backed by leading US venture investors including Accel and General Catalyst, as well as many OWs. Before Lottie, Chris founded and sold Verb, the UK’s leading digital performance agency for luxury brands, while I spent 5-years at CBRE in the company’s healthcare team, and founded/sold my student events business, Fever. Outside of work, we both love playing sports, travelling and socialising with friends and family.  

What inspired you to start Lottie? 

In all honestly, the birth of Lottie happened as a result of probably one too many beers during a COVID-19 (socially distanced) family picnic. However, what really led to the idea of Lottie was a combination of our own Mum’s negative experience searching for care on behalf of our grandmother, Momma, as well as my personal involvement in the health and social industry, where I learnt just how broken the industry is. Not only in terms of the experience for families and residents, but also being so behind in terms of digital and technological innovation. Together, Chris and I believed there was a better way of doing things, and that our combined experience in the healthcare and digital industries, positioned us well to deliver much needed innovation in the later living market, while also just generally helping to bring more fun and positivity to the sector.     

 How did you get to where you are today? 

Having grown up knowing nothing else apart from Dad running his own business, I think the Donnelly Brothers were always doomed for a life in entrepreneurship. It suits our ambitious and competitive natures, but also presents so many amazing opportunities for personal growth and having an incredible impact on the world around us. As well as Nick, our older brother, Chris and I have always been involved in buying and selling projects from a young age, but it wasn’t until university, where both of us really discovered our love for starting businesses. For me, I personally feel incredibly lucky today to work on Lottie with such a talented group of individuals, which combines my love of business, with my passion for healthcare and driving long-term positive change for the industry, which in time, I believe will allow for better health outcomes of our elderly generation and an industry that is sustainable in the long-term, against the backdrop of our rapidly ageing population.  

What advice would you give to students/young OWs who would like to set up their own business? 

I think together, Chris and I, are perfect examples that there’s no right pathway to founding a business (despite what social media would have you believe). While Chris has never worked for anyone and started Verb straight out of his university bedroom, I instead joined a large corporate following graduation from Durham University. Ultimately, experience and learnings are the most important thing for any young person, and whether that’s achieved at a start-up, or a medium-large business, it really doesn’t matter. Despite knowing entrepreneurship was my long-term goal, the experience, network and industry knowledge I gained at CBRE, has been crucial to Lottie’s success, while also combining that with Chris’ digital know-how and his previous experience in growing a company to 100+ employees. Together, we’re a much more formidable force, then we would be alone, which really emphasises just how important it is to surround yourself with incredible individuals. Building a successful business is extremely tough, and it is very much the result of a collective team effort of diverse individuals, rather than any one person’s single contribution.  

 What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given? 

I’m not sure it’s necessarily the advice people want to hear, but I really do believe consistent hard work and patience are incredibly important traits of any aspiring entrepreneur. In contrast, I think in today’s world, there’s an unrealistic expectation on young adults to achieve so much in their early 20’s, when in reality, it’s a brilliant time to explore, fail lots and learn from what you’re good at and truly passionate about. While at Lottie, we’ve achieved a lot in 12-months, in all honestly, the initial business success was the making of the 3 co-founders, who had very different experience and technical skillsets, which were developed over 10+ year periods. Ultimately, all three of us would openly admit that it’s our past failures and consistent hard work over the years that has allowed us to achieve what we have done at Lottie. For example, despite personally wanting to start a business straight out of university, I am so thankful I didn’t, but instead spent 5-years at CBRE gaining real-life working experience, which no doubt has contributed enormously to the success of Lottie, but equally tackling the tough challenges along the way that come with growing a business.  

 What are your career highlights to date? 

For Chris, I know selling Verb in 2021, the business he started in his university bedroom, was an incredibly special moment for him, after what had been an incredibly challenging 8-years of building that business organically and with zero outside investment. For me, other than what’s happened at Lottie, I had the privilege of being part of the property team that supported the Government and NHS during COVID-19. At the start of the pandemic, when resources were incredibly low and property demand high, we collectively sourced thousands of vacant properties and set-up a matching tool that allowed NHS and Social Care workers to access hotel beds, car parks, storage units and much more. A very high-pressured project, but one that helped the NHS to continue to operate during incredibly difficult times.    

 Where do you see yourself in 5/10/20 years? 

At the moment, I think Chris and I both really struggle to look beyond 5/10/20 days, let alone years. However, I know for Chris, he’s just about to get married to his long-term girlfriend and is incredibly excited to move into their new converted house, and will no doubt look to start a family of their own, very soon.  

Personally, I’d love for both of us to still be leading Lottie in 10-years’ time, as I’m just so incredibly excited by the opportunity ahead and passionate about redesigning the later living industry from the ground up, so that in years to come, it’s an industry that works for families and is truly sustainable in the long-term. Equally, I’d love to change the perception of later life, and for Lottie to become a true global household name, as big as something like Airbnb. 

Beyond that, who knows! Maybe spending our weekends together watching some more young Donnelly’s playing on Big Side 1.  

 Do you have a fond memory from your time at Wellington that you would like to share or perhaps a particular teacher that really stood out? 

Chris and I were both very lucky to have lots of fond memories from our time at Wellington, many of which are probably best left unshared…  

Personally, I absolutely loved being head of house in my final year, and was very fortunate to be part of the college team that toured South Africa in 2011. For Chris, I know he always speaks so highly of Round Square, which he led in his final year and was involved in several trips around the world with the charity.  

In terms of teachers, I think both of us had huge respect for Dr Seldon and for what he achieved at Wellington. Anthony was so ahead of his time with his innovative approach to education, and really opened our eyes to the importance of a well-rounded college experience, not just being solely focused on studies!  

Thanks to Chris Donnelly (Bd 09) and Will Donnelly (Bd 12)  for this spotlight piece.