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.
Franchesca Vella on…
- Thriving as a young female founder
- The challenges of working with your family
- The importance of finding the right work/life balance
Hello Franchesca! Tell us a bit about you.
I’m Franki or Franchesca, depending on how professional I’m feeling! I’m 23 years old and live in Kent. I love all things fashion and beauty that make me feel happy and confident in myself and am an advocate for spreading girl power, supporting and inspiring other young women to be the best version of themselves. I am also the proud female founder of U Furniture Ltd.
Tell us about your business, U Furniture Ltd.
U Furniture Ltd is a father and daughter run business (me being the daughter!) and we design, manufacture, spray and install all kinds of bespoke and built in furniture for storage purposes. Anything from kitchens, wardrobes, media units, alcove cabinets, bookcases, home offices, under stairs storage, in all different styles and with a variety of features.
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.
I started working with my Dad, who was self-employed at the time, as a pit-stop out of the unsociable and discouraging retail life. I just did his admin to begin with while I was trying to work out what I wanted to do with my life and was slowly being given more responsible tasks. I shadowed Joe on design visits, got taught how to use a tape measure properly, how to draw furniture to scale, writing up quotes and before I knew it I was evolving into my role of a bespoke furniture designer.
The more projects we did and that I was witnessing, experiencing first hand, the impact our built in furniture designs had on a space in a home as well as the reaction from the client once it was installed and it was something I knew I had to be a part of. So I turned a self employed cabinet maker into a limited business and here we are 2 years later!
What were the initial challenges you came up across and how did you overcome them?
Working with family is difficult, even more so if you live with them (which I do) and so trying to find a balance between a work and parent relationship was, and sometimes still is, challenging. Despite working with my Dad, we carry out very different tasks within UFL so we don’t actually see each other that often. Communication is mainly voice notes, phone calls and then when we do see each other, it’s at home, so we’d have conversations over the dinner table and then it felt like we was working 24/7. We now make a conscious effort that when we are at home, and unless it’s urgent or scheduled work, then we don’t talk about it.
It has worked for most of the time, sometimes we slip up because it’s such a big part of our lives, running a business can be so exciting and it’s also what we have in common. We do now tell each other off so it’s a continuous battle!
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
Working with our first interior designer felt like a huge success and it still does every time we work with a designer. Collaborating with someone else and the service that they provide makes me feel so honoured because it feels like more of a partnership. The relationships I’ve had with designers has also made me more aware of the importance in the design for bespoke and built in furniture and I now want to develop my own community within this industry to support designers with their bespoke and built in furniture design, to educate and inspire with my expertise and knowledge which is really exciting.
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?
We are self-funded because that was the only way at the time we were able to start up our business. It’s a risk, takes a lot of time and dedication with a lot of pressure to succeed but with the right mindset and strategy it makes business really rewarding.
What has been your best investment?
Education post school. Even though I have a Business A Level, I have barely applied anything I learnt to running a business today. I knew what the difference was between self-employed and a limited company but otherwise I’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort into investing in my personal and business development. At the beginning I was taught by Joe (my dad), and now I am a part of a business academy, I go to events (Found and Flourish PR Masterclass was fantastic), I network, read books, listen to podcasts, watch youtube tutorials, so much to ensure I’m constantly learning and being the best I possibly can be for me and the business.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Oh plenty! But that’s all part of the journey isn’t it. As long as you learn from a mistake and don’t make it again then it’s a great learning tool and should never be regretted. That’s what I try to live by and think to myself instead of stressing out too much.
We’ve hired staff that turned out to be unreliable but continued to rely on them due to their (empty) promises. We’ve struggled with time management, taking on too much work and then having to reschedule and delay project installs.
We make mistakes all the time, we’re only human and instead of getting stressed about them, we resolve them and continue with the task at hand.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
How to handle my time wisely, to be more focused and productive rather than in a stressed state of “I didn’t have enough time to do this.” My time management has evolved from that panicked state to now where I understand that I have to sacrifice some of my personal time in order to achieve certain things. But I’ve also learnt that it doesn’t mean I have to be a slave to my business and get up at stupid o’clock every morning and go to bed at stupid o’clock every night with no social life. I’ve learnt how to balance that quite well and that the balance is essential to a happier life. Being a run down, rushed off my feet exhausted mess isn’t going to help myself, my business, my Dad, my employee’s, my clients, my friends so taking care of myself is a priority.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
I am so lucky to work alongside my role model every day. My Dad is a huge inspiration to me and has taught me a huge amount. I wouldn’t be where I am today without his belief in me and his support. His motivation and positive attitude despite what life throws at him inspires me to do the same.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
I’m always being underestimated for being a woman running a start-up business as well as for being a woman in the construction industry and on top of that, being a young woman too.
The stereotype needs to be put in the bin and recycled into a view that men and women can do the same, succeed in the same way and that age isn’t a restriction on what we can achieve. We need to have more women speak up and speak out about our successes, share their experiences to inspire others and also encourage more men to support the women in their industries and even personal lives to ensure we’re not being left behind.
This is why I love the Found and Flourish community, it’s what young women in this new generation need to be a part of on a greater scale and be made aware that success, independence and freedom isn’t just for men but for everyone, no matter who you are or where you come from.
What can we do to support your business?
Supporting any small business doesn’t mean you have to buy from them. I appreciate that bespoke and built in furniture is expensive and not many have it in their budgets, but if you like a business, their values and content they produce then a quick like, comment and/share goes a long way, especially with the social media algorithms nowadays.
There’s a saying; every time someone purchases from a small business, an actual person does a happy dance. And that is me, I do a happy dance for not just every project we get awarded but also for every like, comment and share we receive because the support truly means so much.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
The Secret. On a personal level but I’ve applied it to my business mind too, it completely opened up my perspective on how I react to negative situations and now I move on from them quicker and with a more positive outlook.
Found and Flourish podcasts obviously. And I’m not just saying that. The podcasts are so different from other business orientated ones, it feels less formal and more like a informative conversation. I always take so much away from them.
Big Business Events are events for business owners and I am a member of their academy, attending monthly events with other like-minded business owners learning about the different areas within business. It’s helped me enormously and the community that comes with it too is very powerful.
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Stay in your own lane. Forget about what other people are doing or saying, if you know what your goal is and what you want to achieve then go for it and also, JUST DO IT. Ignore that little voice in your head putting you down, delaying your ideas because you ‘think’ they’re not good enough or not perfect enough. You’ll be more proud of yourself for putting your idea out there to the world than avoiding it and never doing it. There’s always time to test, tweak and experiment and that’s all part of this wonderful world of start-up business!
How can readers get in touch with you?
u-furniture.co.uk is our website featuring our previous installations over on the case study page and up to date news on the blog too.
@ufurnitureltd handle for Instagram and Facebook for what I get up to daily and direct messaging is a super quick way to ask any questions or you can book in designs visit by emailing me too firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you Franchesca! – 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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