It's not everyday you see young female entrepreneur doing well or giving the men a run for their money, Lucy cohen is the co-founder of Mazuma, a company she started over 4 years ago. Mazuma is an accountancy service for small and micro businesses in the UK.
Hope you enjoy this interview as she touches on a lot of subjects
Should you really bother writing a business plan
Getting a business partner on board and her experience
Why entrepreneurship is not been embraced in the UK.
So briefly give us some background information about yourself?
I’m the co-Founder and Commercial Director of Mazuma, an accountancy service for small and micro businesses across the UK.
So how did Mazuma start? What inspired you to start a business?
Mazuma started from the very basic observation that regardless of the fancy bookkeeping software on the market, people were still not getting their accounts done in a timely manner. When we looked at the causes of this we realised that it’s because essentially, even with a spreadsheet or a piece of software, you’re asking your client to complete some of the work for you. We came up with the idea of our Purpleforce service (just sending everything to us in a purple envelope) to cut out that barrier to entry for small businesses so that they could all use an accountant from day one.
I mean having a business partner is not the easiest thing to do, people have doubts of eventually fall-out from differences etc, how did you know you were making a good choice going into business with Sophie and how is that going now?
Sophie and I have known each other since we were 11, so I always figure if you can get through puberty together, you can probably run a business together! It’s a question we get asked a lot though and the answer is always that our set up just seems to work! We’re very much two different sides of the same coin and our contrasting skills mean that together we’re very strong. We never really argue; we disagree sometimes, but it’s always about reaching the right decision for the business so the end result is always that we end up agreeing on the best thing rather than me tending to be too impulsive or Sophie being too cautious!
What advice can you give to anyone wanting/looking for a business partner to come on board with them in a new venture?
You have to have known them for a long time and have been with them through the good times and more importantly, the difficult times. Knowing how your business partner responds under pressure is essential. Sophie and I have known each other for so long now that we can almost read the others mind when it comes to situations or decisions. It means that we know what the other would think and so can react accordingly. It’s really important to have that trust.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Opening our Hub (head office) was a big project and I was pretty chuffed when we got that up and running late in 2009. It means that we can service customers all across the UK with ease and our growth through it should be exponential.
Tell us a bit about Mazuma? What do you do? What is your role in the business?
Mazuma is an accountancy service tailored for the small business. Our motto is “No spreadsheets, no Software, no fuss”. Instead of insisting that our clients learn to use a software package which is difficult to understand (and a drain on your time and resources), Mazuma do the bookkeeping as well as the accounts. Not only does this save you time so that you can focus on running your business, but it means that you can always be proactive rather than reactive - all at no extra cost to you. Mazuma have some of the lowest prices in the industry because we believe that everyone should have access to an Accountant, no matter how big or small your business is and our award winning Purpleforce service underpins the whole operation!
My role within the business is on the commercial side, dealing with the marketing campaigns, generating ideas, leading the sales team and trying to keep my finger on the pulse!
How did you raise finance for the business?
We didn’t! We started the business with no money and operated from my spare bedroom! We were always strict about inwardly investing in our business and so profits got ploughed back into Mazuma so that we could grow.
Did you write a business plan? Do you think a lot of entrepreneurs’ waste time writing out a business plan, I mean what’s the point?
We did write a business plan and it was a really helpful thing to do. I know that lots of entrepreneurs think it’s a waste of time but it’s vital to get your thoughts down onto paper. What seems like a great idea in your head might be logistically impossible when you map it out on paper. It’s important to remember that business plans constantly evolve and it’s a working document, not something you write for the bank and then never touch again! It’s also a great reference point. When I look back at our original business plan I can see how much we’ve grown as a business and personally and it’s great to be able to recognise that.
When did it all kick in, when you thought this is really happening?
I’ve never really thought that, there’s always the “what next?” question in my mind. Neither Sophie or I have ever wanted to just sit back and maintain the company at a certain size, it’s always been a question of what the next project will be, how many more sales until the next stage etc. We’re suckers for punishment, clearly!
What is the financial state of the company? Are you guys profitable yet?
We’ve always been profitable! That has come from in the early days when we just re-invested the profits back into the company. It meant that we could build ourselves a solid foundation to grow from. I know that not all businesses can do that but as a service based business without the need for a massive capital spend at the start we were fortunate in being able to do so. We never over-stretch ourselves either, if there’s something we want, we go and grow the business until we can afford it!
Who do you go to for your business advice?
We’ve never used a business advisor in a formal capacity but over the years we’ve made some good friends who have more experience than us and who will let us pick their brains when we need it. That’s been really valuable, to build a peer group of people who understand what you’re going through and can offer their support and advice.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs’ especially female entrepreneurs out there?
Go for it! Don’t let anyone else say you can’t do it, you need to discover it for yourself. As long as you measure your risks and test and measure your success you’ll be able to build something for yourself. Also, get a good accountant from day one and invest in trademarks where you can. Having had to fight copyright infringement and passing off cases for ourselves I cannot stress enough the value of intellectual property protection!
What developments/improvements are you hoping to happen in the business/technology world?
I’m hoping that the accountancy industry becomes more commercial and that we can see things like accountancy comparison sites with instant quotes appearing, just like for car insurance. That would mean the accountancy industry taking a giant leap forward in terms of attitude and technology, but it would bring it line with other similar industries like insurance.
Why do you think entrepreneurship is not being as embraced in the UK compared to the states?
I think that in the UK there can be an undercurrent of jealousy. If you look at our press, the UK press love to build someone up to knock them down again and that can happen a lot in business too. It seems that you’re allowed to do ok, but as soon as you become too successful then people feel they have the right to criticise you. In the USA they are much more celebratory of success which is perhaps why entrepreneurship has flourished over there. I might be wrong, it’s just a theory!
What is the one bad habit you’re trying to get rid of?
Forgetting to reply to text messages! I’m an absolute nightmare! If you’ve text me and I haven’t got back to you, I’m really sorry, I just keep forgetting!
What are your hobbies?
I love dancing, music and comedy.
How was it being on the last millionaires on BBC?
It was an interesting experience! There were positives and negatives but at the end of the day I met some amazing people on that programme and lots of us are still in touch now so it was a great thing to be able to do.
What should we be expecting from you in the future?
Watch this space! Mazuma will be growing rapidly over the next couple of years and as always, we’ll be doing our best to shake up the accountancy industry!