Start-up, two full-time employees and two volunteers.
– Jane works full time as a Digital Community Manager at Leagas Delaney
– Tanya works full time as Head of Marketing at Earnest Marketing
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I’ve always liked the concept of creating a reality out of an idea. Both Tanya and I work 9-to-5 jobs, so we are familiar with a professional setting and understand the business structure. Entrepreneurship allows for the freedom to develop an idea by yourself – it’s about what you want. But, of course, there are negatives to being independent of a higher power – you also have to solve all the problems you might run into by yourself.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is having the passion necessary in order to pursue and fulfil an idea. It is also understanding the challenges that arise out of not working in an institution, and using the freedom that comes with doing what one wants to do wisely
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
At first, we weren’t sure about the response we would get. We sell highly cultural items, so the premise of selling to a customer which was unfamiliar with them was daunting – but we went ahead with it anyway, and we sold out. The response and the support we got were amazing and relieving at the same time.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
The first one is resilience; not everyone is going to like your idea or what you do, but you need to be able to take this criticism and grow from it. Secondly, be flexible – adapt to current demand and the current economy and push your idea through them. Thirdly, passion – if you have that, you’ll be able to do the other two, anyway.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
When you are an entrepreneur, it’s all up to you. The freedom is yours to decide the direction of your business, which is mostly a positive thing however, it can come with many challenges. Ultimately when overcoming those challenges it reassures you of your own ability to persevere despite all hurdles.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I would say that what inspired us most were our own experiences of growing up in Malawi and Zimbabwe. In part, we were also inspired by charities that help women, such as GENET Malawi and ActionAid. We also learned a lot about our product from local artisanal businesses, which helped us understand how we can adapt the products to the UK market.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Tanya was awarded the UniDays Student Woman of the Year Prize last year. That was our most satisfying moment, not only due to her personal achievement, but also because of the association between the prize and Her Packages. We were now featured on UniDays, which is where our main target audience is.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
In the midst of the pandemic, we were approached by a large American company who wanted to buy Her Packages. There was a lot of back and forth messaging and mentioning of initiatives before we suddenly realised that we did not want to sell at all. Our mistake lay in doubting ourselves and Her Packages – if we were to sell it, we wouldn’t be consistent with our ideas and with what we wanted for the company and for ourselves in the first place. It didn’t sit right with me. Never let doubt push you away from your initial goals.
How have you funded your ideas?
It has mainly been boot-strapping! A good portion of our initial funding came from Oxford Brookes, and then we have also made profit from our sales.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
We have won two of Oxford Brookes’ enterprising awards – Spark and FUEL. We are confident in winning our third one and will be pitching for it soon!
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Oxford is a fantastic place for young entrepreneurs! It is a well-known student city, so we are around like-minded people who understand our ideas and goals, as well as being in an intellectually stimulating environment. Moreover, also due to its student population, we are surrounded by excitement, making it all the better.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I would advise them to reach out to their university’s enterprising sector – most of them would be more than willing to offer support, and often alumni can still integrate within the university’s enterprising programs. Otherwise, there is a huge variety of networks that they could become a part of; we are part of the Creative Business Network, but finding a good network for you really depends on what business sector you are in.
Have you faced any challenges as woman entrepreneurs? If so, how have you overcome them?
The main one has been an issue of validation of our business idea. People would trivialise Her Packages and say that it is simply an earring shop, and we had to work on getting the idea out whilst avoiding these skewed first impressions. Often we would just show them what we are really doing, and that would be enough.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
I would recommend the ‘Bloom’ program, run by the Oxford Brookes Enterprise Department for any women who would like to start a business.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
Universities tend to step up very momentarily – for instance, putting Women’s Enterprising opportunities out during Women’s History Month. As a result, the focus of a lot of the business ideas they get is momentary. They need to keep their foot on the pedal and have events running consistently throughout the year in order for people, regardless of gender, to have the opportunity to develop their ideas at any time.
Any last words of advice?
Trust your gut. Regardless of the criticism that you will get – if you feel that your idea has potential, go off that idea and trust in yourself.