Since Virgin StartUp launched in 2013, we have distributed £54 million in Start Up Loans. Carley Read, founder of parent-to-parent marketplace, Y’earn, is the 4,000th person to receive a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp.
We caught up with her as part of the 'This Is What A Founder Looks Like' series to find out more about her business and her experiences as a founder.
Where did the idea for Y'earn come from?
I was in San Francisco and I had been made redundant. So I was going to take a couple of months to travel, because my ability to stay in the US was tied to having a visa. And I was packing up my apartment with a friend, having a glass of wine and I joked that I could have given her my whole apartment. She was struggling, she'd just moved to San Francisco, and didn't realise how expensive furniture is in the US. And she was like: "I'm not even enjoying the city; I'm spending my weekends in charity shops" and that's when I realised that I could have given her everything and saved loads of money on storage. And that was the spark of the idea.
I knew very early on that I wanted it to not just be about furniture; more of a community approach. Setting up your home should be really exciting - but it's expensive, and it's stressful. And when you consider other moments like moving into a bigger home or having a family, how can you connect with your community throughout those?
Was starting a business always your career plan?
I never wanted to be a founder, I really didn't. I know people who always wanted to do it, but for me, it was a bit like wanting to be famous. It's great that you want to be a founder, but what do you want to be a CEO of? I think it was just a ‘stars aligned’ moment. I had this idea while I was finishing work and I didn't know if I was going to take another consultancy role. I decided to just try it.
How long have you been working on Y'earn?
I had the idea about two years ago now. I took a few months travelling and then it took a lot of time to find the tech agency. I eventually found one, which is based in Argentina. I was living a bit of a nomad life, staying with friends in London, the US, Australia, all over the place. I flew back to the US in February 2020 after we finished the tech build, and obviously everything started shutting down.
After a couple of weeks I made the hard decision to come back to England. That was really tough. And after a couple of months, I realised I wouldn't be leaving England any time soon so we decided to launch here. We didn't have to completely start over because we'd designed the brand to have these different moments and I knew that furniture probably wouldn't be right for the UK just now. So we made plans to launch with baby items instead.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you've faced so far?
This isn't just a Shopify website - we've built a full platform. We need operation partners; we're recruiting two sides of a marketplace. It's the most complicated type of business structure that I could have chosen. It's hard when people compare you to friends who started a business and in three months they had all these things sorted already.
How has launching in the middle of the pandemic affected things?
It's been tough. As a founder, you're used to hearing no. And it's especially tough as a solo founder because you don't have the camaraderie with a co-founder when you're going through the highs and lows. There's definitely a lot of fear that small businesses won't survive. I've had a lot of friends and family question whether I should have just gone back to consulting. It's probably more the belief and the resilience that's been tougher.
It’s also been hard trying to talk to potential partners; furniture businesses; children's businesses. It was really hard to get anybody's attention because I want to work with other small brands. I feel like that's now starting to change, but three or four months ago when I needed those things sorted to be able to move forward, I just couldn't get traction because everybody was so nervous about their own businesses - without taking on a relationship with a brand new company. It's definitely made everything a lot slower and harder to keep going and believe that it will come to something.
What is it that's kept you going?
I fundamentally believe that a business like Y'earn is more relevant since the pandemic. I think people are going to be more concerned about the environment and sustainability. Not specifically because of COVID-19, but because so many things have changed. Climate change was huge on the agenda 18 months ago, but I think it's compounded with what's going on with COVID and the positive impact on the environment that we saw when people were staying home. People are also more community-minded as a result of COVID-19. They're a little bit more aware of families that have really struggled, with people losing their jobs and furlough. Y'earn is a marketplace that helps people save and make money. Regardless of which side of the platform you're on, you both benefit from that.
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This article originally appeared on Virgin.com.