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.
- The moment that prompted a spark of inspiration
- Changing brands’ narratives
- Her biggest victories and successes
Hello Selma! Tell us a bit about you.
I started my career in the arts as a theatre/dance producer. I’ve always had a passion to support the learning and participation of young people in the arts industries, especially young people from deprived communities.
Tell us about your business, Looks Like Me.
Looks Like Me is a talent and casting agency raising the profile of underrepresented groups. Providing exceptional talent, models and extraordinary diverse campaigns represented and featured in fashion and advertising content.
What was the moment that everything changed for you and made you realise how needed Looks Like Me is?
“Mummy, she’s beautiful… And she looks like me,” said my three-year old daughter Riley-Ann, excitedly pointing at the screen. Captivating her attention was Quvenzhané Wallis, a young black actress playing Annie in the remake of the classic Eighties musical.
That moment five years ago prompted a sigh of relief and a spark of inspiration. My daughter, still only in nursery, had recently begun coming home and asking for straight hair and not to be brown – she wanted to look just like her favourite cartoon characters.
Watching Annie, Riley-Ann had for the first time identified with a positive image of a young black woman on screen. It prompted me to set up talent and casting agency Looks like Me in 2015, we launched in 2016. The business aims to get more black and minority ethnic (BAME) children into advertising and film in order to combat the problem of being confronted with largely white role models on screen.
What were the initial challenges you came up across and how did you overcome them?
Initial challenges I came across included:
- Agencies and brands becoming receptive to changing the narrative and celebrating untold stories, considering Looks Like Me talent for these roles.
- Agencies and brands realising Looks Like Me is having a meaningful impact, on our children that resonates with audiences and using us to cast their ad campaigns.
- Agencies and brands understanding that we are improving the inclusiveness of popular culture with Looks Like Me and partnering with us will make great business opportunities.
I overcame the above challenges by:
- Remaining consistent with the visual content we produce.
- Collaborating with exceptional partners and creatives.
- Looking at my child every day and thinking I’m doing this for your generation – a platform to be seen and heard in the most enjoyable way possible.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
There are several real big wins that come to mind:
- Our first child artist being featured in a Next campaign 2016 – thanks to Lindsay Hunt Casting
- Casting for #ChristmasSoWhite 2016, followed by Easter and Summer So White.
- Casting for Tesco – back to school ad 2017
- Casting for Sainsbury’s Christmas 2017
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?
I took a £7K start-up loan from Virgin Start-up then Self-Funded.
I decided I needed a start-up loan to launch my business, which was definitely needed from audiences and it took some time for advertising agencies to view as a casting agency and offer them something slightly different which is all in the experience.
What has been your best investment?
Selling my flat to create passion projects I know the world has been waiting to see. Such as our Black Panther-inspired project and working with Director Ryan Coogler.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
I don’t believe I have made any mistakes – I am prepared to sacrifice everything for what I believe in as success is in the journey, we are being the change we want to see.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Running a business for me has been like planting fruit tree seeds, you have to plant the seeds very deep, nurture, water, change the soil and embrace the slow process. It takes time for seeds to grow, especially when you’re creating something for the first time. Mastering the art of patience and consistency is key. The people I have around me are extremely important – beautiful people that do not get offended by my limited attention towards them.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
I have had many role models and mentors along the way. One stands out and that is Karen Blackett (OBE, WPP UK Country Manager and Chairwoman of MediaCom UK & Ireland) – this woman taught me the power in cheerleading other women, the importance of opening doors for other women, the beauty of giving without wanting to receive and through belief in self matching really hard work through all the noise anything is possible. This woman has been a phone call away throughout this whole journey and now I am opening doors for others and sharing this special gift.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
My experience of being a woman start-up is you have to remain focused on your focus – this is a marathon and there are no excuses, just have to see it through to the end.
What can we do to support your business?
Let advertising agencies and brands know we are here and want to work with them!
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
Buddhism – The practice found me during the early stages of starting Looks Like Me. The strength of remaining still and silent to remove noise and remain focused.
The Seed Handbook – The Feminine Way to Create Business, by Lynne Franks.
Podcast – Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations – “The Oprah Winfrey Show: Toni Morrison (OWN)”
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
If you are launching a business that has never been done before – create time and space for your business to blossom. Patience and gratitude are instrumental in the process. Lastly, Authenticity.
Looks Like Me was initially supported by Virgin StartUp – who recently announced public pledge to commit to a 50/50 funding target for women and men entrepreneurs by the end of 2020, becoming the first business funder in the UK to make this promise.
The pledge represents a crucial step towards achieving gender balance for start-up investment in the UK but Virgin StartUp will also address the nationwide barriers faced by many women in business, such as childcare and gender-based discrimination, including unconscious bias.
How can readers get in touch with you?
Facebook: Looks Like Me, Child Talent Agency
Thank you Selma! – Lara
About the Author
Indiana Julian is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Co-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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