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 but about you?
Hi everyone, we’re Isabel and Samira, the founders of Hack Camp. We met in 2015 when we co-organised a community event in London. We have been friends ever since and co-founders for the past year.
Isabel’s background is in the third sector and tech. She is currently the Chief of Staff of a London-based tech company, along with starting Hack Camp. Her roles have always revolved around working with people: fostering cross-company partnerships, establishing collaboration with teams and developing others through coaching. Originally from the Philippines, she’s made the UK her home for the last ten years. She currently lives in South London with her husband and soon to be baby girl (due June 2020!).
Samira’s background is in the creative sector and entrepreneurship. She has spent the last 8 years of her life independently producing for BBC films, Film 4 and established independent production companies across the UK. Samira is the lead producer of The Creative Roots, a film production company with the purpose of uncovering, producing and archiving untold stories to fuel the next generation of leaders. Her passion for people has meant that her career has always been around; developing peers and leaders through coaching, building relationships between departments and using creative methods to develop businesses. Samira ‘s heritage is Somali and in true nomadic spirit, calls home where her heart is, currently living in London, a west Londoner based in East London.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
A year ago, we were having dinner one evening and we found ourselves discussing coaching. We each had coaches that we benefited immensely from working with. Our coaches really helped us develop – personally and professionally. Despite its benefits, we noticed two quite significant challenges within the sector:
- There is a lack of diversity in the industry – both who are coaches and those who can access coaching
- Coaching services weren’t always accessible to emerging leaders and entrepreneurs.We founded Hack Camp in response to these challenges.
We founded Hack Camp in response to these challenges.
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.
It was so natural, it just happened. We knew we had to give emerging leaders and entrepreneurs a chance to see the benefits of coaching and we were passionate about it.
We have an open and honest relationship and there was no question about whether we could work together professionally. As we are both measured and practical women, over one long dinner session we discussed the opportunities and risks involved. After that, we registered our company and that rest is history as they say!
Why did we call our company Hack Camp?
The truth is there were many names before Hack Camp, but one night Isabel’s husband overheard us while we were on a call and suggested it. It was an instant hit with both of us, so we stuck with it.
There are two parts to the name. Hack can have a negative connotation, but we chose it because it can also mean ‘a strategy or technique for managing one’s time or activities more efficiently’. Camp describes the ‘campfire feeling’ we try to emulate during our sessions. We want everyone we work with to be able to develop in an honest, open, warm, welcoming environment.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
1. Stagnation: After the rush of registering our company and officially becoming ‘Co-Founders’ we waited a while before doing much activity. We felt that we couldn’t coach without getting our qualification or being close to qualifying, so we spent time doing that first. At the same time, we both focused on other aspects of our career whilst planning on how to promote Hack Camp. We definitely took our time!
2. Finding our voice and what we stand for: the first iteration of our company was a blend of fitness coaching and lifestyle/career coaching. We then decided to focus solely on lifestyle and career coaching. This was because we felt that we could make the biggest impact by empowering others through coaching.
3. Finding an audience and getting our name out there beyond WOM: We struggled initially with differentiating ourselves from other coaches out there.
All of these are still challenges, but the pandemic really lit a fire underneath us. We saw how people were affected by Covid-19, personally and professionally. We could not just sit back – people expressed a need coaching more than ever so we dived straight in.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
Clients recommended us to friends with minimal marketing and recommendations that came in. We were both blown away by the administration we received and how we impacted our coachees lives in a positive way. Since then we have spoken at The Fearless talk and that was a big win for us both.
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 have fully self-funded the company, with little overheads we have chosen to go down a remote working route. At this stage we are still developing our core business and we wanted to have the freedom to work at our pace so an investor this early on would not have been appropriate for us.
What has been your best investment?
Investing in ourselves. As mentioned previously we benefited immensely from coaching:
Isabel – “I met my coach Emily through my previous organisation. At the time I was not feeling very confident in my role, or in my skills and abilities. I did not think I was ‘good enough’ for my position. I also didn’t feel like I could speak up, as I didn’t think my opinions mattered. Emily supported me as I worked through my struggles with perfectionism, Imposter Syndrome, and speaking up. As a result I have a newfound confidence, I know my leadership style, and most importantly, I adopt a growth mindset in everything I do. It has even given me the confidence to co-found a coaching practice – never in a million years did I think I would start a business!”
Samira – “I was about to make the move into freelancing in the creative sector and was feeling scared at the prospect of being my own boss. I met my coach, Lynne, through a friend who recommended her. After a 30 min chemistry call I was able to build rapport with her and over the past 3 years I have been coached by Lynne. I’ve been better able to navigate the freelance world, set up a business on my own, and now co-founding a coaching practice. It’s a beautiful journey I’ve been on and without my coach I don’t believe I would be the best version of myself I am today.”
We believe that to be there for our clients wholeheartedly, we need to also work on ourselves
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
So many. Perhaps the biggest one is not being brave enough to promote ourselves. We both naturally shy away from self-promotion. We hate drawing attention to ourselves, which is such a self-fulfilling prophecy. How can people know about what we’re doing if we don’t talk about it? We’re not afraid to do it now and we do so in a way that is authentic to us.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
There needs to be more visibility! Women are doing incredible things and networks such as this really helps women support other women. That’s why we tend to push our women’s pages on our social media.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
- To back yourself
- To trust your idea
- To listen to your gut
- You can do both – a full time job and still start something on the side
- You can run two companies
In all of this we could say that life and the journey you take is yours and coaching has helped us unlock so much of our potential.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
Absolutely. We believe that mentors are crucial sounding boards and we benefited immensely from their guidance, experience and support.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
We’d like to be able to say that Hack Camp is supporting over a million people worldwide!
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
- Amplify our reach and business
- Use our voice to address diversity in the sector
- Give people access to quality coaching
What can our readers do to support your business?
- Spread the word
- Tell us what you want from coaching
- Would love a bit of market research: does your business (if you work for a corporate) offer coaching/ have a culture of coaching?
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend? (Please include hyperlinks)
- Quiet by Susan Cain
- Dare to Lead by Brene Brown
- Women who run with the wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
- Option B – Shery Sandburg & Adam Grant
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Find your passion, understand the problem you are trying to solve, gather research from your audience and don’t rush to stick ‘founder’ in your title, it will come naturally.
Find out more about Hack Camp here.
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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