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.
Hello, my name is Komal and I live in Hertfordshire in the UK with my husband and my three-year-old pug, Dory. I have spent the core of my career, nearly 12 years, developing my skills in all areas of HR, spanning from Recruitment to HR Business Partnering to HR Analytics. A large portion of this time was spent working in HR Analytics in a number of sectors, including the NHS, Banking, Publishing and Oil & Gas. My most recent job involved working as a Product Management Lead at Barclays Bank PLC, lending my expertise to various HR Data Science projects.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
In July 2019, I launched The Design Palette, a Pattern Design brand. I offer two main services – selling stationery and greeting cards that feature my designs and licensing my illustrations.
Since I left university, I have only ever worked in HR and had always wondered whether I would be better suited to something else. Although I really enjoyed working in Analytics, I was missing the space to get creative and have full autonomy over my day-to-day activities. When I gravitated towards Illustration and Pattern Design, it automatically felt like a good fit.
what was the moment 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 love learning new skills and I am always on the lookout for doing something creative. I came across a course on learning the Adobe suite and decided to sign up. My intention was that it would be something I do in my spare time. However, as soon as I discovered the world of Pattern Design, I found myself wanting to learn more; reading and learning about it on my commute to and from work and spending most of my evenings and weekends practising. I completed the course in a year, and it was at this point I started thinking of a potential career change. The initial steps I took were:
I started a compressed work week where I worked 10 days in 9 – this gave me one day off every other week to focus on developing my design skills. It was also an opportunity to see if this is something, I could see myself doing long-term – it was a big risk changing jobs at this point in my career, so it was important to ensure that it was feasible both financially and also in line with my career goals
I found a mentor who provided feedback on my work and answered any questions I had on the business side of things.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
Starting a business can get quite lonely. I went from sitting in an open plan office surrounded by people, to working on my own! I enjoyed working from home twice a week in my previous role, but it I felt isolated doing it every single day of the week. I remedied this by working in different co-working spaces in London twice a week for a change of scenery.
The cultural shift from corporate to creative has also required some adjustment. Moving from a corporate culture where everything is deadline driven, to a more creative one where things are a little more fluid (especially when you drive your own deadlines) has been a learning experience. I find setting deadlines for myself helps create a sense of urgency and provide structure to my day.
what was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
When people I didn’t know started to buy my products! It gave me the encouragement that I was something right!
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?
When I knew I wanted to make the change, my husband and I worked through our finances to see if it would be feasible for me to work self-employed. My husband was fully supportive of my career change and we planned for it by saving a year in advance. I also have some of my own savings to kick-start my business.
what has been your best investment?
I bought my iPad just before I left my corporate job and it is by far the best piece of technology I have ever bought! I love that I have the ability to design wherever I am – I am always bursting full of creative ideas when I am on holiday and it is great to be able to build out those concepts straightaway on my iPad.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? if so, can you share with us?
When I first started, I made lots of rookie mistakes – I think this is part of the journey and so long as they are not hugely expensive mistakes, you can normally rectify problems that may result as a consequence. For example, when I began my business, I advertised my business online. Although, this did bring in a lot of traffic to my website, it did not help increase my sales. I realise now that this was because my target audience was too broad. Marketing is important, but you are throwing money away if you are targeting the wrong people!
what’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
It is positive to see that there is a lot more support for female entrepreneurs in recent years; it’s never been a better time to be a woman in business.
In terms of what needs to change, we require more consistent integration of female and male business leaders across all industries. The younger generation needs to see a gender balanced economy. This will help challenge the stereotypes that are formed at a young age. The journeys of female entrepreneurs should be put in the spotlight to show young girls the exciting opportunities that are available to them as they progress their careers.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learned since starting your own business?
A lot of what you learn will happen on the job! Although business fundamentals are important, business and the environment it operates in changes so quickly that some of your learnings can become redundant really fast. There are so many things that can happen in business that you could not have predicted, it is important to be nimble and you must be willing to adapt!
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
I really admire Sara Blake, CEO of Spanx. Her story is so inspiring and gives me hope when I am having a bad day. The design community are a really friendly bunch, I have been lucky to have made lots of connections with people who are ready to give a helping hand.
with the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
- Expanded my product range to include soft home furnishings
- I hope to have established by licensing service in the children’s and home interiors markets. I love designing for the children’s market so would be over the moon to collaborate with a retailer on some kids and baby products
- Own a physical space that is a celebration to lots and lots of colour!
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
My goal for 2020 is to expand my giftware and stationery range.
what can our readers do to support your business?
Please visit my website and come and join me on socials:
what books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
Hype Yourself – Lucy Werner
Steal Like an Artist – Austin Kleon
Start with Why – Simon Sinek
Conversations of Inspiration – Holly & Co
Trello – if you are looking for a digital tool to get organised, Trello is fantastic!
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
- Talk to people at different points of their business journey – someone who has just made the leap, someone a year in and someone a couple of years in. Their insight will be super-valuable in understanding the positives and pitfalls of running a business
- Talk to people in the same industry as you – learn from their lessons and build a community around you
- It is not a race – do things at your own pace and don’t get distracted by the noise around 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.
Our founder Lara Sheldrake was interviewed by PlusX ahead of our #Trailblazingwomen event, here’s what she had to say.
You might not be ushering customers into your business space right now, but I bet you’re rolling out the red carpet for them on social media.
A few years ago I decided I wanted to become a coach. What happened next was a wiggly line to where I am today!