I am Dr Nicola Nice, founder and CEO of Pomp & Whimsy.
I read Human Sciences at Somerville, Oxford. I graduated in 1998, and then went on to do a PhD at Imperial College in Sociology of Science. I have spent the bulk of my career in the field of consumer insights and research.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I moved to New York in 2007 with a UK-based qualitative research agency, ‘THINK Conservatory’. The aim was to start a North American operation for that business. In 2008 I had a major pivotal moment when the parent company of the agency I was working for went into administration. I was in a position where I had started a business, I had clients, I had employees, and I had also met the person who I would marry. I did not really want to go home, and I saw an opportunity to start something I really believed in. I was able to do a management buyout of that business and as a result became an entrepreneur overnight. About fifty per cent of my work has always been in the spirits space – and when I was not working in spirits I was spending a lot of time in more female-driven industries (beauty, fashion, personal care). I developed an expertise and interest in gender-related marketing, specifically in prioritising the female consumer experience in industries where they are not as well represented – such as the liquor industry.
I remember being a student in Somerville and a guy asking me what I wanted to drink. As a joke I would order a taboo and coke and then hide so it would look like he was ordering it for himself – which left him looking embarrassed. Why was it embarrassing to order something that was clearly more of a female-focused spirit? Women are just not taken seriously as drinkers.
I came to the conclusion that the marketing of spirits to women just has not been done well – and that is because there have not been enough women behind the wheel in the creation, marketing and selling of hard liquor. Starting Pomp & Whimsy was all about what it would look like if we created something that was about women, for women, by women, but was not exclusive to women.
When I was given the opportunity to become a business owner, I saw it as an opportunity to start something that had meaning to me. Something that creates a connection with other people. I wanted to prove that I was right, and make a lot of money doing it, and to reinvest that money back into female founders. That is my whole motivation.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Taking a risk and willing to see that through. Putting everything into it – putting everything on the line to make a dream come to life.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
From the beginning. I have been in the consumer insights business for over 20 years, and I know when I am right about something.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
You have to be extremely resilient. You have to be extremely self-starting. And I think you have to be willing to take a risk.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
My favourite part is when I connect with a consumer – when they experience my brand and my product for the first time and they recognise that I have made something for them. When they feel I am speaking to them in a way they have never been spoken to before. When someone realises for the first time they are being taken seriously, it is a really beautiful moment of connection. I will never ever tire of it.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
There are so many. I would say ultimately there are individuals that inspire me and it is not because they are attached to a specific business or organisation. My business partner in Pomp & Whimsy is also my business partner in my other company, and the relationship that I have with her is absolutely invaluable and irreplaceable. We have each other’s back. We are both able to advise and help each other.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
This year we have doubled our sales in the middle of a pandemic. We are an industry that is very dependent on hospitality, especially in the early days. With the lockdowns in New York and Los Angeles in March – which were our main markets – it looked as if all our business was going to be taken away overnight. We had to pivot quickly to find a route back to our consumer. And we did. Instead of being down 40% this year, like the rest of the craft spirits industry, we are up 100%. If we can do that in the middle of a crisis, think what we will be able to do when things are back to normal. We shouldn’t still be here, but we are thriving.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Be very careful about who you go into business with. It is very hard and lonely to be a solo-preneur, so I do think that the most successful businesses have a team behind them. But some of the biggest mistakes I have made have been around who I have (or almost have) let into that inner circle.
How have you funded your ideas?
We bootstrapped the first two or three years. Initially there were five founders in Pomp & Whimsy, including myself, and we put a combination of cash and services into the business. Since then it has been a combination of that start-up capital, a small amount of friends and family funding, and now we are very close to closing a seed round with larger private investors.
Any last words of advice?
Do not underplay yourself. You have to recognise that no one else will speak up for you, or believe in you if you do not believe in yourself.
Stop apologising! I think it is something we do as women – and as Brits! We qualify what we say too much because we do not want to be judged.
Trust in yourself. Never apologise for not being what someone else might feel more comfortable with.
EnSpire Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
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