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?
We are sisters who have both always had a passion for the environment as well as animals. Neither of us have eaten meat for over 30 years (gulp! that’s a long time!) and we both live with a menagerie of rescued animals. We have talked about setting up a business together for a long time but never really knew what to do. So, when the opportunity came about, we were super excited to start to work together, which we hadn’t ever done before so it was a real venture into new beginnings. We’ve always been very close so never questioned how we would get along, and we are both really happy with how things are going so far.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
18 months ago, I was reading an article in a local French newspaper and read about a female entrepreneur in France who was producing environmentally friendly shower cremes which sounded super interesting, so we decided to call her. We chatted together and agreed to meet up at her offices.
We all had an immediate connection as we all shared the same values and shared the same concerns about the environment and so it was agreed that we would bring these products to the UK market.
What was the moment that everything changed for you?
We loved the product and had confidence in it from the outset, it just seemed to cover so many of the eco-credentials we were looking for: vegan, reduced waste and no plastic, reduced carbon emissions as no water is transported, cruelty free and 99% natural. What’s not to love?
The first few steps were finding a name & logo then registering our business, opening a bank account and all the other necessities for starting a business. We really did take a day by day approach and did things as we discovered they needed doing (maybe not the best way?!)
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
Andrea was still working at the time and so she was busy juggling work, family life and setting up the business. I was a little freer so was able to dedicate a little more time at the outset to get things started. One of the biggest challenges for us was that everything was new to us: social media, accounting, setting up of all the systems etc so we were both feeling our way through everything. One aspect which was fantastic, is that we had each other to bounce ideas off and still do in our everyday work. We’ve found a really great split of work where we both seem to be most comfortable with and so we really complement one another.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
We were approached quite early on by the Dragon’s Den (which we decided not to proceed with) but it was very exciting and flattering to be approached (although Sissy was absolutely horrified at the idea of being on TV). We were also delighted when some of the high street retailers decided to list us.
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 self-funded our business and put in what we were prepared to lose (just in case!). Having the funds ourselves made the process very straightforward without the need to approach any banks or other financial backers. Of course, we have a very supportive father who has invested a little too!
What has been your best investment?
We started out in the spare room of Andrea’s house and since then we’ve invested into warehousing and an office/packing facility which means she can move more freely around her house again. At one point, her house was becoming so overrun with boxes of stock she hung her clock off one of the box stacks! Her family were also very supported during these early days and still are.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
We’re making mistakes all the time, but we just get straight on it to put things right. We haven’t had any major mistakes yet (fingers crossed) but I’m sure we’ll come across some. Although having said that, we did make one rather large mistake as we were naively taken in by a foreign company interested in taking large quantities of our products which we went along with to a point. These turned out to be scammers and it was a costly mistake but one we won’t make again. For us, we like to tackle issues head-on and get them dealt with as quickly as possible.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
This is rather a big question but we have to say our experience has, to date, been very positive. We’ve been really overwhelmed at how kind and encouraging other people have been in this eco-aware environment. It is really so lovely working with people who share the same values.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
You can never foresee the future so don’t count on anything. Be flexible, ready to adapt and try to keep an open mind.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
I think if we had to name a single person, it would be Anita Roddick. She really was at the fore of creating products, accessible to all, which were focused on the ethics of what went into the brand and was, even back then, offering refillables. There are so many role models in this eco-friendly industry who we admire, Jarvis Smith of My Green Pod being one of them. He’s so full of enthusiasm and inspiration and overall a lovely guy. Other than that, it’s probably a collection of people and experiences who have influenced us and continue to do so.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
We have no idea and don’t really like to think that far in the future. On one hand it’s a long way off, on the other we know it’ll be here in a flash. We have no expectations for our business, but we would like to continue to grow organically, sticking closely to our principles but enjoying the journey along the way.
What’s your biggest learning from 2020 so far?
Although this sounds a little clichéd, I think it’s really that you can actually do what you set your mind to. If you just take each day at a time, not to get overwhelmed by the bigger, longer term; have an optimistic outlook and do your very best, then I truly believe that you will achieve what you set out to achieve.
What can our community do to support your business?
We feel very supported and being invited to join your site is also very supportive – thank you! I think if we all continue to talk about supporting smaller businesses, we are very happy to be part of that.
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Get a broad plan together, break it down into very small pieces then get on and do it and just take it one day at a time!
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.
I’m Samantha Jameson, the Founder of British hand, bath and body care brand, Soapsmith.
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