Joy Foster has founded three businesses, most recently TechPixies which upskills women with modern technology to help them return to the world of work, change careers, or start a business. Foster’s research shows that 24% of women feel that lack of confidence is their biggest hurdle when returning to work; TechPixies aims to equip them with the concrete skills and boosted mindset needed to meet their full potential. Since launching the pilot in 2015 and incorporating in 2016, TechPixies has become highly decorated, winning Enterprise Nation’s Female Startup of the Year 2017 and Women in Business Startup of the Year 2018 amongst other accolades.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I became an entrepreneur accidentally. My first ever business venture was a blog, Living in Luzern, which I created whilst living in Switzerland to help the expat community navigate the language barrier. I knew that the best business came when you were solving a problem, and so in my next project, Made with Joy, I trained teenagers at risk of unemployment in building websites for charities and small businesses. I found that so rewarding, but it just wasn’t scalable after a while. But the mothers of those teenagers would come to me wanting those skills too – maybe they’d been on a career break and wanted to get back into the world of work or they weren’t confident with a business idea – and that’s when I knew that TechPixies was needed.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is solving a problem. People create a business which doesn’t solve a problem and then they wonder why it doesn’t work.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
My first business was set up with a lot of blood, sweat, and hair; I was literally losing hair because I was working so hard, and I used all my own money to set it up. I vowed then that I wouldn’t set up another business unless it had funding, and so luckily I had quite a lot of freedom to explore TechPixies’ potential through grant money. Finding customers was difficult in the early days, but we always knew the demand was there.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
I’d say you need resilience, perseverance, and absolute unwavering faith in the bigger picture.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Definitely the affirmation. It can be a little addicting – when your idea does work you want more, and when it’s not working you want to solve it.
What individual, company, or organization inspires you most? Why?
Definitely Dame Stephanie Shirley. She came to the UK as a Kindertransport child refugee, and built up a three billion dollar coding business with women who worked from home. I think she’s amazing, and that’s the kind of work I want to do.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I had even better! I had three hours with her at a private dinner, and I asked her whether she ever found a balance between work and family. It was interesting to hear her say that she always struggled with that.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures, or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Do we have 24 hours!? I think the biggest lesson learned for me is that you need to figure out your revenue formula before you hire. I thought that hiring more people would bring more money in, which isn’t always that case, and I ultimately had to lay off my whole team. That was really tough; I re-hired new people and rebuilt the TechPixies team everyone once I had figured out how to make money but I wish I’d known the right way round to do things from the start. Otherwise, I wish I’d invested less in PR and more in Facebook ads – it’s just about knowing what will drive the sales. All our advertising is on Facebook now, since it’s the go-to place for our target market.
How have you funded your ideas?
Our initial grants came from Oxfordshire County Council and Better Broadband for Oxfordshire. We then did some crowd-funding, which attracted the then-PM Theresa May – she name-dropped us on national television which really helped to attract customers. After that, I started raising investment so that we could move the business online; a lot of the investors came from the Saïd Business School.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
The Unltd Award and the OSEP Social Enterprise Award really helped to kick-start and grow the business.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
I honestly don’t know if there’s anywhere else in the world where I’d rather start a business. I got support from mentors, Oxfordshire Business Support, OSEP, and so many other organisations – it’s an amazing place to start out.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Oxfordshire Business Support has some amazing resources; I went on a 12-week ‘startup success’ course with OxLEP (Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership) which was great. It was my first education in business and taught me everything – I even connected with my first advisor and customer there.
Any last words of advice?
Think big, and start now. Surround yourself with people who believe in your dream, and start acting on it when you don’t have the responsibilities of later life. If I had ever guessed when I was younger that I’d be a business owner one day, I would have started right then. It’s a career like no other.