Notes from Last Night: "How to Start Your Own Business - An Evening with Female Entrepreneurs"

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Last night Esc launched the first event in the ‘She Series’, which Adele reassured us was not a women’s event, at least not like the ones that we have become accustomed to.

There was a real buzz of energy and excitement in the room as we heard from Emilie Holmes (Good & Proper tea), Harriot Pleydell-Bouverie (Mallow & Marsh), Victoria Eggs (Victoria Eggs), Lizzie Fane ( and the girls from Broad Minded.


Adele’s thoughts

Initially against the idea of ‘women in business events’, it took a dinner with the ladies from Broad Minded to convince Adele that, actually, there was a real need and benefit for opportunities for women to get together and inspire, motivate and advise each other and that Esc could provide its members with this. What makes the She Series different to other women’s events?

I like to think the following ideals:

–        Passion and talent should be a gender equaliser;

–        It’s not a competition. Not against men, not against other women. There is space for everyone to succeed without stepping over others;

–        Get your map, compass and supplies in order! (The map being your network, the compass your core values and the supplies being the information and allies you need to keep you going);

–        The aim of the game is not to turn everyone into a business women, a high-powered CEO, a stay-at-home mother, an adventurer, or a juggler of all of the above. It’s about finding out what it is that you want, what’s truly important to you and then supporting one another to get there;

–        There are no rules. The future is likely to be a more blended mix of traditional masculine and feminine roles – figure out what it is that you want, the lifestyle you’d like and make it happen;

–        These events are here to excite, engage, inspire, motive, and unite women, but they are what you make them, so get stuck in, ask questions and let the team know what it is you want/need and what you have to offer.


Victoria Eggs (Victoria Eggs)

Victoria Eggs designs premium quality home ware and gifts celebrating Britishness, all handmade in the UK. Founded by its namesake in 2011, Victoria Eggs evokes a true sense of British spirit through playful and punchy designs which bring a smile to the face. Fine Art graduate Victoria has been awarded many critically acclaimed accolades, including winning ‘Gift of the Year 2012’. In addition to featuring in publications such as The Sunday Times, Living Etc, Marie Claire and Time Out, Victoria Eggs is also stocked in Selfridges, Southbank Centre and West Elm UK. The Aprons have even made their TV debut on ITV’s This Morning!

Key bits of advice:

–        Get your Unique Selling Point sorted. For Victoria it was ‘inspired, designed and made in Britain’;

–        What are you really selling? Victoria used the example of Apple selling the iPhone. They were selling an experience, the excitement and a lifestyle product not just a phone;

–        Who are you selling to? Figure out your target market;

–        Brand positioning – compare Poundland to Selfridges. Completely different strategic priorities;

–        Margins – ultimately you have to be making some money to continue operating;

–        Manufacturing – get a great supplier who can handle potential up-scaling and changes in demand whilst maintaining quality. Have back-up suppliers just in case;

–        Be realistic – if your product is handmade and takes a day to make each product, is there really potential to upscale? What would happen if you got an order for 100 items?

–        First impressions count. Make all your promotional material simple and easy to navigate;

–        Marketing

o   Trade – make their life easy, include a call to action

o   Customers – social media is a must, engage with them.

o   Press- make an impression. Be the Purple Cow.

–        Keep in touch with key suppliers, customers, contacts;

–        Be persistent!

–        And of course, have fun and be flexible and prepared to change some of your initial ideas.


Harriot Pleydell-Bouverie (Mallow & Marsh)

Harriot studied Fine Art and photography before leading emerging market research for a headhunting firm. She then founded De Bouverie, a fine jewellery website making independent designers more accessible. As a business, this became the learning ground for almost every mistake in the book, and is what she now refers to as her ‘MBA for Entrepreneurs’. She was then light heartedly challenged to make marshmallows and founded Mallow & Marsh, which has gone from strength to strength and is now carried in selected Sainsbury’s stores. Since the launch Mallow and Marsh has been ranked in this year’s Startups100 and Harriot has been shortlisted for Management Today’s 35 women under 35.

Key bits of advice:

–        Be prepared to fail – you will learn the most from the failed attempts, as Harriot did from De Bouverie, and with some of the first attempts at her marshmallows;

–        Don’t over-think it. It’s so tempting to spend weeks, months, and years meticulously planning your idea. Often you won’t know what will/won’t work until you get out there and test your idea;

–        Stop talking and start doing! ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now’ – Chinese proverb;

–        Cut your budget in half. It is possible to get up and running for less than you think you just have to get creative! Check out the Lean Start Up by Eric Ries for proof, or come along to the Esc Startup MBA;

–        Feedback from your customers is critical. Be a sponge and listen to all the feedback you get from initial micro-testing. Your customers may be able to inspire improvements, new ideas, marketing ideas; you never know where a good idea will come from;

–        Feedback and micro-testing help you to give your customers what they actually want as opposed what you think they want;

–        Be the best, be remarkable. It’s increasingly difficult to stand out today, but it’s the only way to get noticed.


Lizzie Fane (

Lizzie studied in Italy as part of her degree course and, based on the problems and wonders she experienced, she founded in 2006 to support other students through the process and give them a place to pass on advice. The site is now the UK’s biggest network of students who study or work abroad and new high-growth products are designed for the target audience, such as and a Careers Platform. Lizzie is an Academic Associate of The Higher Education Academy and Communications Director for Speak to the Future: the UK’s Campaign for Languages.

Key bits of advice from Lizzie

–        Solve a problem. Write down everything that bugs you on a day to day basis and rather than complaining about it, think of the ways that you could fix it. The best ideas generator. Added bonus, you’ll be your own target market so you’ll have benefit of understanding the problem and ideas of the best way to fix it already;

–        If you don’t know how to do something, learn. It’s almost always a little easier once you start and try;

–        Don’t underestimate yourself. Just because you don’t know how to something today, doesn’t mean you can’t learn yourself or find someone who does know to help you. Be creative, be resourceful;

–        There are so many resources to help new entrepreneurs – including your old university’s business/start-up/ entrepreneur societies;

–        Also check out, and hang out at Google Campus.


Emilie Holmes (Good & Proper tea)

In 2012, Good & Proper Tea founder Emilie Holmes decided to take off her corporate advertising hat and don a trader’s apron, bringing her obsession for tea to the people of London and beyond. Leaving a successful career at Ogilvy & Mather, Emilie had a vision for tea done right. She parlayed her corporate advertising savvy into establishing a new “classic” brand that restores quality and craft to this quintessential component of British culture. She bought herself a stylish 1974 Citroen H van, had it fitted out for the tea trade, and opened her side window to London’s tea lovers. And the people of London are better for it. Emilie makes a mean cuppa.

Key bits of advice:

–        You don’t have to do it right, you just have to do something!

–        Don’t be too wedded to your plan. Be prepared to change, adapt, flex your ideas based on feedback, customer demand, unforeseen problems;

–        Keep questioning every decision, based on the initial intention; for Good and Proper tea this is ‘To bring really, really good tea to the streets of London.’ As long as all decisions are marry up with your core principles you won’t go too far wrong;

–        ‘Cash is King’– you’ll hear it over and over again in the world of start-ups but it’s true;

–        Get some perspective. Sometimes you need to get out of the detail and chat it out with someone. Find an encouraging friend, or someone in a similar position to you or come along to an Esc event. We love to hear your ideas and how things are going;

–        There is no such thing as ‘I don’t know’ – Google is your friend;

–        Switch off from external negative forces. Don’t focus on what your competitors are up to, or listen to negative thoughts. Focus on what you are doing; focus on what your customers and supporter are saying. You are only competing against yourself;

–        There is no how-to manual, each person’s journey is different – that’s the beauty of being an entrepreneur, so get out there and just do it!


A little on Broad Minded

Broad Minded are a group of women who have formed a network to support and encourage each other as individuals and professionals. Their three main aims are to:

Inspire: Regular dinners with inspirational speakers and the chance for us all to share ideas and network. We feel there’s a real opportunity here for us to create a voice for women of our age and position.

Educate: The opportunity to sign up for talks or courses on anything from managing your finances to leadership skills to presenting skills.

Motivate: An out-reach program through which we go into schools and universities to offer talks and the opportunity for mentor matching with students.

Check out their Facebook group here.

If you weren’t able to join us for this event, fear not: we are holding a similar event on July 23rd


Guest Reviewer: This post was written by Rima Patel. You can follow her on Twitter (@rimapatel7) or on her blog.

Are you based in London? You may be interested in coming to our next evening talk at The Escape School. Details here.

What is Escape the City all about then?

Frustrated by climbing the corporate ladder, we decided to build a community to help people build meaningful careers doing work that matters – to them and to the world. We help talented people find fulfilling work by making big career changes, building businesses, & going on big adventures. We’d love you to come with us on this journey.

How do you get involved?

1. Job Seeker? Create an Escape Profile to get matched to exciting jobs.

2. Aspiring Career Changer / Entrepreneur? If you’re in London, come and see us at The Escape School.

3. Want to stay in touch? Subscribe to one of our newsletters. Find us on Facebook or @escthecity.


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