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 Ada Obi, and I am a mum to 4 amazing but very energetic kids, which means I don’t have any time for myself.
I’m based in West Sussex, and I am the founder of ADAVIRTUAL – we partner with startup businesses and help them scale.
Asides from running my business, most of my time is spent catering to the demands of little humans; however, when I do get some ‘me’ time, you will find me curled up in bed and getting lost in the pages of a good book.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
ADAVIRTUAL Business Support provides the ultimate virtual administration and operational support for fast-growing businesses who need to manage their time and business operations efficiently. Our goal is to give small businesses back time from admin and business-critical (but non-revenue generating) tasks so they can focus on their products or services in order to evolve and scale.
We are currently a team of 6, and as we work virtually, we can help businesses all over the UK. We are a friendly team here, and we believe that the success of our clients is also our success. We put in all the hard work, and we do anything that is needed for startups and small businesses to succeed and grow.
I used to work as a consultant in a company in London and whilst I was working there I saw that bigger companies actually outsourced all their administration to experts and this gave them the leverage and expertise to focus on their products and services and offer that to their clients better.
When I had my second child, like many parents, the cost of childcare didn’t let me go back to work. I had a couple of friends who ran small businesses, and they always complained to me about having so much work to do and also trying to deliver their products and services. So, I thought I could actually take my experience as a consultant in these bigger companies and package it in a way that would be helpful to small businesses and the things that they needed doing most.
I packaged that into services, and I started offering it to businesses within my local area. But the work that we do speaks for itself, and now we serve most of our clients regardless of location.
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 always knew I would become an entrepreneur and over the years I’d find myself reading business books, following business news and generally just intrigued by the thought of starting something from zero, doing what I love and making an impact somehow.
But when I found out I was pregnant for my 2nd child whilst still on maternity leave, I started taking the entire thing more seriously. I set up as a virtual assistant the day after and secured my first paid contract one month later. It all took off really quickly, and three months later, I employed my first staff.
The first day the staff walked into the office, I realised people’s livelihood now depended on this business, and there was no going back.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge was just trying to get small business owners to believe in me.
I started out as a mum just coming out of maternity leave, and I was trying to tell businesses to give me their admin, and I will take care of it.
That was such a challenge because they thought, “Who are you? How can you prove that you can do what you say you do?”
That meant I had to give out a lot at the start of the business. I like to say ‘I planted lots of seeds when I started’. It was mostly me giving up lots of my time for free, just showing the companies that I was genuine.
That was a huge stepping stone for me to get to where I am now.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
It was clear to me when I started out that business owners were really trying to wear so many hats and this meant they were not focusing on the reason they started their business, their products and services.
My third client started with a few hours a month, but that quadrupled so quickly to the extent that I had to employ another person.
When they saw how our services freed up their time, it was a no-brainer for them. I was also certain that my mission was to help small businesses gain back their time and support them to really achieve their goals.
We like to say that their success is our success.
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 entirely self-funded, and our services can be delivered remotely, so we didn’t really need the startup capital.
We did have an office, but that was pretty much the only overhead we had to pay for.
As a small business, we do count the pennies; and profits from what we do is reinvested back into growing the business.
What has been your best investment?
Definitely all the time I invested at the start.
As a business owner, it is really easy to give up at the onset just because of all the work that is required to get a business off the ground. There is also the aspect of rejection where everyone you approach just tells you ‘No’ and it is so easy to pack it all up.
I was also raising a toddler at the time, so it was really tough.
But I’m glad those sleepless nights and early mornings paid off and the seeds I planted five years ago are just starting to bear fruit now.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Oh yes! I’ve made lots of mistakes, but one that always sticks out for me was when I started, I would literally say ‘Yes’ to every client and to every type of work. This was draining. I wasn’t really confident in my abilities, and I just wanted to please everyone.
But over the years, I’ve learnt that the business is not meant to serve everyone; and if we partner with people who we aren’t meant to serve, it doesn’t end very well.
Now, we are not afraid to vet our clients, and if their business goals and vision don’t align with ours, we won’t take the business on.
It’s important to understand your company’s values and ensure that all you do aligns with your values and purpose as a company.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the startup ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
My experience has been a positive one. I absolutely love what I do, and I always knew I would be an entrepreneur.
The mindset shift I had to make was getting myself to realise that I can raise a family and build a business at the same time. It was really difficult, but I am a testimony that it is doable.
I love that we are also starting to see more women step up to the plate which is amazing and I look forward to what can be achieved when we partner with each other and collaborate in this space.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Allow yourself to make mistakes.
Being a perfectionist, I always wanted to get it right the very first time, but as any other business owner will tell you, being an entrepreneur is a rollercoaster.
Some days you get it right, some days you get it wrong, but I’ve come to realise that the mistakes you make or those things that you think you haven’t done correctly, help you do better in the future. You look at them, and you learn from them.
So, I would say to myself from 5 years ago, don’t beat yourself up. It’s okay to fail but make sure you learn from your failure.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
Yes definitely, I have a business coach that keeps me accountable for goals that I set for the business.
Also, just working closely with founders in the tech startup space has really helped me understand the intricacies of building a business in a fast-paced environment.
I have learnt business strategies that are helping me continue to grow my business with the confidence, grit and the know-how that is required.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
In 5 years time, I’d like to see the business continue to grow and become the go-to for startup companies who want to scale their businesses.
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
This year, one of our goals is to increase the awareness of our brand and get ourselves noticed by startup businesses.
What can our readers do to support your business?
We have been lucky enough to have been selected by Small Business Saturday to be one of their Small Biz 100 in 2020. Our day will be Wednesday 11th November, and it would be great if people can like, share, retweet and generally shout about us so we can get our name out there and hopefully help other small businesses to grow.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
Scaling up by Verne Harnish (this is full of great advice on how to grow a business)
The Effective Execution by Peter Drucker (for productivity advice & getting things done)
The BizChix Podcast: For Female Entrepreneurs & Women in Small Business
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
I would say get ready for the hard work!
It does involve lots of time, lots of dedication, lots of commitment, but it is the hard work that does pay off.
When you start to see something that you started from your bedroom begin to grow and flourish and actually help people, it’s a really good feeling, and it does pay off.
I would also say that you need to continuously learn. Things are changing within your industry, so it’s important to keep up-to-date so you can remain that go-to person.
This way, your clients can trust that you’re actually providing them with the best advice for whatever problem they bring to you.
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.
Do you ever wish you could go back in time and tell your younger self some wonderful kernel of wisdom that you know now?
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