As a company Start to Thrive is passionate about coaching new leaders, senior managers and executives who have lost direction in their corporate careers and want to reclaim their ambition. Start to Thrive partners with individuals, teams and organisations who are seeking to grow themselves, their current and their future talent to have direction, confidence, resilience, and the tangible skills to be an inspirational leader.
What is your background?
I spent the first twenty years of my career in procurement at BMW, I managed a team of buyers and bought a range of commodities in the direct and indirect world. I hired a coach for myself when I transitioned into a leadership role, and found it transformative, and it was this that planted the seed of having my own business so that I could support others. The pandemic helped me clarify and put things into perspective. I think it made a lot of people, including me, consider their own mortality and meaning. It helped me to make the leap and from there it has just grown organically.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
To me it’s about doing something yourself, seeing that space in the market and feeling that you can bring something different and in a different way, it’s about being creative. Initially I didn’t refer to myself as an Entrepreneur, I thought I needed to have invented something, or created something completely unique to qualify! And then gradually I have realised that founding a business is being an entrepreneur and although there may be other procurement experts and coaches out there, none of them are me and as such I have created something unique. It is seeing a space in the market and bringing something to that space.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I didn’t have a singular moment when I thought this is it. I was in such a secure career that it took me some time to reach the decision to try a business of my own and even then, it was without knowing if it would work. I have always treated my journey as an experiment, I couldn’t know if it would work unless I tried it and so I thought, we’ll see how the experiment goes, and if it didn’t go to plan, I had a skill set in procurement and now additionally coaching that I could find employment with. I basically tricked my mind to understand that it was frightening, but to have a go anyway.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that are needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Resilience, determination, and flexibility. Resilience because running your own business is hard. It was a huge transition going from a global corporation where there are in-house experts in every field, to being responsible for everything yourself. There are ups and downs and you need to be able to motivate yourself. Determination, because not everything is going to go your way. Unplanned events happen and you need to keep your eyes on the prize. That’s what I tell my clients, remember the purpose of your plan and actions, what is the why of this and stay true to that. Flexibility is important because no matter how good your planning is, you will get curveball after curveball. You need to be agile, and it is about how you react.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Being in front of my client and seeing the moment when something clicks into place. Everything is entrusted in confidence so when you are having a private conversation, you are witnessing something no one else gets to see. It is the “I just realised something” moment and it can be a massive thing or a small thing. It is the look in their eyes when something clicks. That was my why, I wanted to make an impact on people. It makes it worthwhile.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I listened to a podcast recently with Jo Malone. She was talking about when she sold Jo Malone and admitted that she felt it was a mistake. I was inspired by the honesty of “I did something wrong” and her strength to go again with Jo Loves. She also talked about how even second time round there are still a lot of mistakes to be made. Jo Malone is obviously very successful, but I still felt I had a connection with her. Even the most successful people make mistakes.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
Strategy. I am a detail-orientated person, I’m a planner, but I can get too much into the detail. I would want to talk about seeing the bigger picture and specifically scaling. Everyone knows the big household brand Jo Malone, and although it’s her name, she had to start again to establish a new brand identity. For me I went from having the BMW badge to being an unknown. The BMW brand opened a lot of doors for me and came with a lot of clout. I would want to talk about how to go from having the big recognisable brand behind you, to putting something new into the crowd and being seen and heard.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
In the early days, I could take things too personally. Your business is an extension of you and there is a risk that a “no” can feel personal. There will be people who can’t or don’t want to work with you. I had to learn that it wasn’t about me necessarily. I also learned that sometimes you have to spend money to save money. Last year I hired an accountant, having previously managed that aspect myself. It took up a huge portion of my time and was something I didn’t enjoy, or have expertise in. When you can outsource the aspects of your business that are not in your core skill set, you free up time to focus on your mission, and I ended up saving more money than I spent from the advice I received.
As a new business founder there is a lot of advice and opinion given on how to be successful, and I had to learn which advice to use and which to let go of, if it didn’t fit with who I am and how I want to work. So, I have learnt my own personal style for talking about my work, the coaching and the procurement consulting, which isn’t about selling anything, rather informing people. I’ve learnt that people buy when they are ready, so informing and then leaving them with that information is not only more powerful, but also much more me.
How have you funded your ideas?
It is completely self-funded. That is where planning comes in. I had thought about doing something different for about four years when I was still in my corporate career, so I had started saving up. I was incredibly fortunate in that I had that buffer, and this gave me the freedom to move from the regular income of the corporate career to the not so regular income of an early entrepreneur!
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Oxfordshire has a lot of business networking groups available. Being self-employed, you run the risk of isolating yourself, so I made a concerted effort when setting up Start to Thrive to find networks. I joined Independent Oxford, which is a wonderful support, OXLEP, ROBIN, and All Bright. The latter is not Oxford-specific, but I managed to find Oxford-based people through it. I think Oxford is a highly innovative place, renowned for its research. Both Oxford as a city and Oxford University are known globally and this familiarity is definitely an asset. I have clients in America for example and they recognise Oxford, even if they haven’t been here, it brings a confidence and a trust.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I would recommend Independent Oxford, OXLEP and ROBIN. OXLEP have an escalate program which I attended and is aimed at start-ups, and it was great to meet people at similar stages in business. It is really all about finding people in the same space – not necessarily the same business – but people on the same path as you. Being able to talk to people and share experiences is vital, having a sounding board, to ask them how they navigated something specific. It is like a built-in mentor, and everyone always wants to offer their support.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
I have never felt that being a woman has ever had any bearing at all. I have heard of other women having difficulty in certain areas of entrepreneurship, such as securing funding, but I haven’t personally felt any effect. Perhaps my experience working in an automotive company (which was predominantly male dominated in the early days) has given me a different perspective or approach to these challenges, albeit I do recognise they exist for many. But really, I don’t think gender has caused any issues or difference for me personally.
What resources would you recommend for other women?
The single most important thing is networks. We all have a network, and even people without a career have a network. It is the greatest resource. We all know somebody, and that somebody also has a network. That is not necessarily where your clients are, but it is the doorway into everyone else’s world. I think there can be a reluctance to reach out and use your network, I found however that almost everyone truly wants to support you. It is also easy to get overwhelmed with all the tools available to a new business and being told you need specific things to succeed. I haven’t needed any complicated software or expensive training courses in “how to …”, there is a lot of free information out there and almost all software platforms have a free package to start with. Do your research before paying for anything.
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
For me, it’s about joining people together and as a place of learning it’s a natural fit for mentoring and coaching. Being able to see others taking the entrepreneurial route is inspirational and as such visibility of these people and their ventures is important. For women specifically, institutions can help facilitate the conversation past the post so we can stop talking about ‘women’ entrepreneurs and just start talking about entrepreneurs. I have experienced women only events and honestly often find them frustrating, we circle the same known topics, but with no men present in the discussion we do not move the topics forward, as women we have a responsibility to include men in this momentum as much as they do in making space. Institutions of learning are positioned well to facilitate these conversations.
Any last words of advice?
Have a plan before you start, but don’t wait for perfect. Be prepared to change your plan regularly. There is no convenient or best time. There will be discomfort, there will be mistakes, and there will be failure. If you have an idea, you need to back yourself and try it. Consider a hybrid approach before going all in, if you can, supplement your income in the early phases. Ask for support – you don’t have to be alone in your venture and it is the “team” that keeps you going when it’s tough.
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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