Sharmita Stokes is the Founder of MumsCorp, an online platform which helps busy mums quickly find the professional services they need from a network of qualified local mums they can trust to provide them – a way for mums to support mums. Based in Oxfordshire, the platform helps Mums find the service or extra pair of hands they need, enables self-employed and freelance Mums to grow their businesses, and allows any Mum to find flexible jobs to supplement their income.
Having studied Computer Science and Business Management at King’s College London, Sharmita went on to start her first business soon after finishing her degree, in her mid-20s. She has since worked with several start-up businesses and has extensive experience in business development and sales. In the past eighteen years she worked in setting up or co-running three businesses, and she has now just launched MumsCorp, having found a gap in the market for a service-based network aimed at mothers.
As the business is in early stages Sharmita currently works alone and is self-funded, but hopes to expand her business in future for a wider national reach.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I feel like becoming an entrepreneur was never a conscious decision I took. I’ve always worked with startup businesses and had experience in the area of entrepreneurship. Both my parents were also self-employed as they owned a newsagent’s shop, so I feel like the idea of working for myself is part of my psyche, it’s something I’ve grown up with.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
To me, entrepreneurship is about having lots of ideas and risking the time and energy to develop them. It’s about having the persistence and passion to turn ideas into reality, when you really believe in their potential.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I first came up with the idea for MumsCorp in the summer of 2019. I then did some research into the sector and found that there were other existing and successful service-based networks, similar to MumsCorp, but with less of a focus on women.
These existing networks were solely business or male-orientated, they offered services such as plumbing, or web development, or accounting, none of which I felt encompassed the range of services which the mums I knew were providing. I then conducted a survey over last summer and September with mums in the area of Oxfordshire, asking whether they thought MumsCorp would be something they would find useful. The results showed overwhelmingly positive feedback for developing MumsCorp as a product. I then started building the platform last October, and launched it in March, earlier this year. I think the survey is what really confirmed to me that my idea was good enough to develop, and worth putting in the time and money.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Firstly, persistence. More often than not entrepreneurship is hard work rather than immediate success, and you need to be able to keep going despite the challenges. Secondly, focus – having a clear vision for your business and maintaining focus on that. Finally, an ability to keep learning new things. Over the years I’ve realised that every new business brings along with it new things to learn. You need to be willing to incorporate this into what you already know. Don’t let the challenge of new things stop you – you can learn about any industry if you give it a try.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Definitely the flexibility. I get to set my own agenda and manage my own time which is especially beneficial now that I’m a mum with children at school. I find it easier to balance my time between work and spending time with my children as I get to choose how I work, and it’s empowering to work for myself.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Since working on MumsCorp I’ve been hugely inspired by Louise Hill, the founder of GoHenry, which is a pocket money app. She was the same age as me when she started her company, and had children of the same age as mine, so I felt we were in similar positions. We both set up our companies with parents in mind, especially mothers in my case. Louise’s company is now extremely successful, with offices in London and New York, and I find it inspiring that she’s achieved all this while being a mother and working in the way that suits her.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I actually did get the opportunity to speak to her a few months ago, via video call! I wanted to ask her particularly about which marketing activities she found were the most and least successful when setting up her company. We both have similar audiences and markets in mind with our businesses, so I wanted to save my time and money by asking her which strategies she felt were the most efficient for getting her business off the ground. I also asked her what the key skills were that she had on her team, and which skills she felt were most useful for driving her business forward in its early days. Louise was very helpful and gave great feedback on what did and didn’t work.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
In my last business, which I set up with my husband, I feel we tried to launch with a perfect product, which I now see was not efficient. We wasted too much time and money developing it, when we should have stripped back to basics and started with a simpler idea, which we would have been able to roll out much more quickly and cheaply. That has probably been my biggest failure, but it taught me the invaluable lesson that it’s better to start simple and develop your idea or product as you go along. That’s what I’m doing with MumsCorp, now.
How have you funded your ideas?
MumsCorp is self-funded for now, and I want to try and keep it self-funded for as long as possible.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
I haven’t participated in any competitions or used awards or grants, but I have used crowdfunding platforms such as Crowdcube, in the past.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
I’ve found Oxfordshire is a great county to launch in as it’s large enough to test your business idea, but small enough to get things wrong, before refining it to roll out nationally. It’s also a beautiful place to work in. I get to go on daily countryside walks which really give me some good thinking space and time to plan ahead for the day. Oxfordshire also has lots of communities. As MumsCorp is all about mothers and the community they form, it was essential for me to launch on a local level first, with people who could recommend the product to each other. I can’t think of a bad word to say against Oxfordshire as a location for entrepreneurs.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Look for the many networking groups in Oxfordshire to gain confidence and contacts for networking. As well as that Oxford has great libraries, definitely make the most of them. One book which has helped me personally is ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries, which I would recommend to anyone in business. This was hugely helpful to me as it helped clarify what I needed to do before starting my business. It taught me to strip down to basics and identify the most important things I needed to learn, which consequently helped me save time and money. Reading it before starting MumsCorp made me realise I didn’t need to launch with a fancy or expensive website: it was an invaluable book to me.
Any last words of advice?
Just go for it, don’t be afraid of failing. Not every idea will be successful and it’s as important to know when to stop, as it is to get started. There’s no point in continuing with something which just isn’t working and it’s completely okay to stop – it can be disappointing but it just means you can start thinking about the next idea, which could be the big one. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you.