Notonthehighstreet.com, the award-winning online marketplace, is one of the most high profile e-commerce businesses in the UK and has experienced explosive growth since the company was founded 5 years ago today. notonthehighstreet.com brings together over 1,800 independent small UK businesses that combined sell over 35,000 items through a single checkout. Each small business has been carefully chosen by notonthehighstreet.com, for its innovative, well-made products to inspire shoppers looking for style, originality and quality, but who never seem to find it on the high street.
I caught up with the Co-founders, Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish to find out some of the secrets to their success.
Here is the interview.
Can you give us some information on your roles in the company?
HT: We’re both the founders, and I’m Executive Chairman. Sophie and I work extremely closely. I tend to focus on the commercials, forward planning and growth. My background is in sales and driving revenue.
SC: I’m Managing Director. My experience is in building brands and understanding customers so I spend a lot of my time this side of the business.
I've heard cases of founders falling out with each other, What do you think has made you successful as partners? How would you say you complement each other as co-founders?
SC: Holly and I have a fantastic working relationship and have never fallen out. From the beginning we had the same vision and to this day we are just very focused on working towards the same goal. Coming from such different working backgrounds has given us a breadth of experience that we can capitalise on and this naturally lends itself to complementing each other’s skill sets. We do have different views from time to time but we respect each other’s expertise which keeps things dynamic and ideas flowing.
Raising money to start a business can be very difficult, I read you both raised £70,000 each to start the business, what was going through your mind at that point?
HT: Right at the start Sophie and I put together all our savings and borrowed from friends and family to raise enough money to start the company. We strongly believed, as we do now, that notonthehighstreet.com was a unique take on shopping that so many customers had been looking for and that it was going to be a success. We promised to pay everyone back who helped us along the way and thankfully we’ve managed to.
Since starting your business, you've probably seen your company evolve into something you could not have imagined, Could you put your hand on one thing, you never thought you would implement but due to popular demands had to be implemented into the platform?
SC: It’s difficult to say just one thing - we certainly never thought that we’d have 60 staff or be in such a big office but we are – and the business still continues to grow.
Not everyone gets to celebrate their company's 5th Birthday, So what would you say has been one of your most memorable moment so far?
HT: Every day we seem to hit another milestone. I remember back in the first year, how excited we got when our monthly turnover reached a certain amount, the next year we were making that in a day! There have also been some really touching moments when our selling partners have told us how selling through us has changed their life, people who have been able to leave their day job and support themselves or who have been able to take their first ever family holiday abroad. Stories like that make it so worthwhile.
What would you say has been some of the things that have added to the success of the company?
SC: An amazingly talented and dedicated team, great VCs and an obsessive drive from Holly and me.
Since starting the company, could you share with us some of your most valuable lesson learnt and why you think it’s important in growing a successful business?
Delegation is key – you might feel like you have to be superwoman, but you’re not. You believed in the person enough to employ them, so believe in them enough to do their job. Also, don’t be afraid to think big. Some people start a company, get two or three members of staff and get scared of getting any bigger. Some steps feel almost overwhelming but if you employ the right people and make sure they know what you expect of them, things go (mostly!) to plan.
What would you say has been one of your most difficult times running the business and how did you come out of it?
HT: We did hit a low point at our first Christmas, with the company growing so fast and servicing our customers and small business partners so extensively, the bank balance got pretty low. Working with a VC was the best decision for us and it helped us to operate like a grown-up company from the outset.
It's very rare for you to hear success stories of female entrepreneurs in the UK doing well. What would you say has been the key to your success personally as entrepreneurs?
SC: Self belief, tenacity, energy and a willingness to learn however tough that may be.
Why do you think they are few female entrepreneurs that look to the entrepreneurial route in the UK?
HT: It’s a scary path to take and I don’t think there is enough support for women to take that route. Men are naturally bigger risk takers whereas women weigh things up more – that’s why you see more men in casinos! As women, there is a tendency to censor ourselves and our ideas. Plus, I think that there is a fear of debt for women – business loans are seen as incredibly daunting but the bank should work with you to find the right loan for your company.
Why did you decide to get investment for the company last year and you also had some investment at the early stage of the company? How did you decide they were the right people to bring on board?
SC: Our early stage funding really got us off the ground and enabled us to work with Tom Teichman and Mark Esiri who dedicated time to mentoring the business. For our third round, joining up with Greylock Partners (Facebook, LinkedIn) and Index Ventures (Net-a-Porter) has really helped to put us on the map.
A lot of people have issues with taking investments from seed capital, angel or VC because they feel most of them try to control the business? What's your take on that?
HT: Our investors have never tried to do that which is why we have had such a positive experience. It’s why my advice to anyone seeking investment is to make sure you feel comfortable with the people wanting to invest. They are investing in you and your vision as much as the company. They know that you are the one with the ideas for your company – they have the experience to help make that happen and the capital to fund it.
A lot of people have different motives for starting a business, namely: freedom, money, lifestyle; what would you say are your reasons?
HT: It was none of those. We both felt that this company simply HAD to exist because of the gap in the market and that’s what made the business a success.
Where do you see this company in the next 5 years?
SC: We have lots of exciting plans for the business, 2011 is a big year for us. Watch this space.
Happy 5th Birthday to the company and thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it's been great.