At our MeetUp in February, we brought together founders from across our community who, each in their own ways, overcame the barriers to starting up and pivoting in 2020. Find out what we learnt from their stories on how to battle through when you’re met with new challenges.
Success for your startup means different things to different founders, and there’s no one way to achieve success when navigating starting up. At our recent MeetUp, we learnt that overcoming personal and professional hurdles brought upon by the pandemic, is itself inspirational, and certainly something worthy of the definition of success.
With 64% of the UK workforce wanting to set up a business, and 83% of 18 - 24 year olds dreaming of self-employment, 2021 is set to be a big year for startups. What can budding founders learn about resilience, perseverance and positivity from those that have been through it in 2020?
Ayesha Pakravan, Hannah Adams and Roshanne Dorsett joined us on the panel to speak to over 600 founders watching our MeetUp on 17th February, to share their personal stories from the past 12 months. Here’s what we learnt:
1) Be one step ahead of the curve
Anticipating the unanticipated seems impossible when a global pandemic is affecting our lives. But trying to anticipate customers’ changing values and habits, and trusting your gut instinct on how your business will need to adapt, is important.
Hannah Adams launched her sustainable jigsaw brand, Pieces of the Puzzle, whilst coming to terms with the realisation that her existing startup, Naked Dough, was developing teething issues in lockdown.
She told us, “My journey into entrepreneurship started back in 2017 when I received a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp for Naked Dough. Our physical retail store in Camden was performing well, but then lockdown happened and we realised only 5-10% of our sales come from online.
“Whilst enjoying my lockdown hobby and doing a jigsaw one evening, I realised in this stressful time the act of doing a jigsaw had become a mindful activity for me. I realised there was a gap in the market for a plastic-free jigsaw brand where the design of the piece is so stunning, you’d want to put it on your wall. I launched the business in tandem with Naked Dough’s loss of revenue, and I’m lucky I’ve been able to juggle both to keep myself stable.”
2) Be kind to yourself - there is no rush
Often when we see the successes of other startups, it can be easy to look at their trajectories and compare their experiences to our own as “better” or “worse” - but that is never the case. Each experience is just different.
Starting up hastily is never advised, and for Roshanne Dorsett, her sustainable, natural skincare brand, The Glowcery, has been years in the making.
“‘I think my entrepreneurial journey began back in 2012, but I didn't actually define it as that at the time. I started making my own natural skincare products as I often suffered allergic reactions from what was already on the market.
“That hobby then progressed into me wanting to learn skills professionally, so I took part in courses to become a certified natural skincare formulator. Securing a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp gave me the confidence to finally start a business that aligns with my values, and it’s still very much a work in progress today.”
Be kind to yourself. No sustainable businesses are overnight successes, and you are taking things at your own pace.
3) Realise your passions can become a sustainable business
Ayesha Pakravan has had quite the journey. Leaving her role behind as an estate agent and launching her bespoke catering startup, The Plattery, in 2019 was borne from a passion for food. During lockdown, she pivoted her business to launch the not-for-profit, Vital Meals, which feeds those vulnerable in London during the pandemic.
“I’m a massive foodie - borderline obsessed with food - and I started up in August 2019 because I decided the time had come to leave behind my estate agency job and focus on my passions. I never thought it would turn into what it is now.
“The Plattery catered for clients as big as Facebook and London Fashion Week pre-Covid, and then I desperately wanted to help those vulnerable during the pandemic, so pivoted my business to launch the not-for-profit, Vital Meals.
“It started with me cooking 10 meals a week for neighbours at home in my kitchen, to feeding 1,000 people a week across London. We’ve served 25,000 meals since the pandemic began in March to those in need.”
Never underestimate where your passions might take you.
4) Seek advice - but, ultimately, trust your own instinct
Whilst it’s great to seek advice and support, and is an essential part of any business, our panel all agreed that you ultimately know your own mind best.
Ayesha told us, “Spitball with someone you trust. You can always seek advice, but, ultimately, you're the one who will know the best next step - and perhaps it’s not always the most straightforward.
“You have to know your own mind when seeking advice, because you don’t want to get swayed from your vision. It’s a mix of seeking advice and then sitting yourself down and thinking: ‘Right, we’ve got to this point, now what are we going to do?’.”
Roshanne echoed that sentiment. “You just have to trust your intuition. There are a lot of opinions out there about how you should run your business, but ultimately it’s down to you - and you have to define success on your own terms.”
Believe in yourself, and the more time that passes, your confidence and startup’s growth will follow.
5) Once you're on track, growth can come quickly with the right marketing tools
Hannah Adams grew Pieces of the Puzzle from a startup with 50 followers on social media, to a booming business with a thousand-strong loyal following. What are her three biggest tips for founders looking to kick off business in 2021?
1) We often ask our customers on Instagram what they want to see from us - the handy Polls tool helps sway our product offering.
2) “Another thing that has really helped us grow has to be influencer marketing. I reached out to big influencers on Instagram with a simple message stating the three key pillars of Pieces of the Puzzle: made in Britain; plastic-free; women-founded. I stated there was no obligation for them to post - and they all wanted in! Once they posted, I’d share a promo code for them to share with their followers, and we saw a massive sales boost.
3) “I would also suggest looking at different channels to sell your products. It helps a lot to get your small business out there as much as possible. Not On The High Street, Etsy, independent stockists… Contact them with your key brand message and pay for professional photography, and then you’re on track to hit growth.”
Our monthly MeetUps are a great way to meet like-minded founders and network with experts. Keep updated on ticket releases on the Virgin StartUp Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Find out how a Start Up Loan could support your business today.