This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
My name is Caroline, though I was born in Zimbabwe I have been living in London for majority of my life. I graduated with a degree of Events Management but struggled to secure a job in that field. A year later, after attending an interview and being offered a job for the role I was not interviewed for I finally secured my first full time employment. In this job the idea of my business was birthed.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
TravelEatSlay is an apparel brand and community of travel enthusiasts. The community mainly consists of millennials with disposable income, a healthy appetite for travel, food and trying out new experiences.
My job allowed me to travel around the world and stay in fancy places. I wanted to take a piece of me along my travels (like a souvenir) and document the lifestyle while sharing tips with others. Once I got those three words that evoke feelings of power, independence and a really good time a brand was born and sparked the interest of fellow travellers.
Each year the brand keeps growing and adopting new sub-functions with the fluctuating demands of the travel community. We offer merchandise, host group trips around Europe, networking events in London and content creation for brands.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
Feeling unfulfilled in my full-time job, the first step I took was to quit my job with the plan to focus on business development for my brand. This was a tough decision as that job enabled me to fund my business. However, I understood that staying any longer in an environment where I was not happy would impact on my productivity and how far I can go with my “side hustle”. After leaving the job I took some months to travel, start a blog, connect with other travel bloggers/ travellers in general. This action also helped me to promote the brand actively both online and in person through events and social activities.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
As a self-funded entrepreneur finances are always a hurdle however the real challenge while working on a tight budget is prioritising on what to invest in and what can wait. As an apparel brand a big challenge I found was sourcing a credible printing company to get my merchandise. I definitely had to kiss a few rotten apples before I found a printing supplier I could work with. That relationship was going smooth for a year until I wanted to expand my collection and add swimwear which are garments, they do not provide. This meant going back to square one.
Having no previous experience of running an e-commerce business I practically learnt my mistakes and overcame them as I went along. From the offset understanding that I had to wear all the hats in order to get this vision off the ground like creating my own website (it is functional but due for an upgrade), being my own model to showcase the merchandise until I got some sales and pictures from customers.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
My first purchase felt amazing, the thought of someone believing and investing in my product gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. Having my brand worn by the likes of Sherrie Silver (African Dance Choreographer) or social influencers like the Hermon and Heroda @BeingHer twins, Eulanda and Omo of @DipYourToesIn and Cassandra of @CoachCassFit. That fuzzy feeling still occurs and brings a smile on my face till this day.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
The brand has always been self-funded however with growth I am looking at the investment route. Something that I am researching and need some guidance on. The decision to be self-funded seemed right at the initial stage as I had allocated my savings to kick start and just wanted to get the brand off the ground.
What has been your best investment?
Aside from the adulting responsibilities of mortgage and a car I would say creating this brand along with international travel have been an investment. As a teen I romanticised the role of an air hostess, being in a different country each day and getting paid was a win-win situation. Investing in travel has given me to appreciate different cultures, allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and connect with a variety of people.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
What is life without mistakes, just remember it is the recovery that matters. At a previous job I once sent an email in error copying in the whole company and half of the database including clients in the US and some in Europe. Lucky enough there was nothing offensive in the email, consequently I spent the rest of the day responding and apologising to our clients and my colleagues.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
Not only being a woman, but being a black woman starting up a company can be a struggle- there were times I felt like I was not taken seriously. From personal experience when I was starting there were not many doors or opportunities readily available for advice, funding or support which can be disheartening. However, I feel it is a different case nowadays there are different communities like Found & Flourish, Foundervine to name a few that are readily available with first hand advice and fellow entrepreneurs as mentors.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Collaboration is key- whether it is with influencers or entrepreneurs that you admire and have a mutual voice with. If done right this will help elevate your brand.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
In terms of mentors I seek advice from my sisters and closest friends. I am lucky to have created a community of travellers that I can also confide in and seek guidance and advice.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I am launching a travel subscription service called The Travel Boxx which will feature travel essential items helping travellers save money and time. Launching such an initiative during a pandemic and while travel is the last thing on most people’s mind is already a challenge. The aim for the future is to have a team as I am currently working alone and secondly to launch into long haul group trips focused on giving back to communities.
What’s your biggest learning from 2020 so far?
Pivot, pivot, pivot. I used to think that travel was the only thing my brand stood for but when the world shut down and we couldn’t travel I had to reanalyse and think of other strategies to keep the brand voice alive while waiting for travel to resume. Connecting with other travel brands to network and cultivate collaboration opportunities
What can our community do to support your business?
Follow us on social media, subscribe to The Travel Boxx and spread the word to your friends that like travel. I am always open to collaborating with other start up businesses within travel, food or lifestyle.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
For resources I would recommend apps like Canva (for building and designing your own brand) Inshot for (editing video content) social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) are great FREE resources that some people do not pay attention to when it comes to building/promoting their brand.
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Make sure you start something you are passionate about.
Be creative, think outside the box and always seek opportunities to have a seat at the table.
Rejection will come but it is not the end of the world, take it with a pinch of salt and come back harder!
Where can we find you?
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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