This interview is part of our Spirit Of London Awards series. Samantha won the award for 'Achievement in Fashion'. An avid fashion enthusiast Samantha has been running her first business for nearly 10 years. The success of this has let her live out one of her childhood dreams.
Hi Samantha, can you give me a background to yourself:
I was one of those children who wanted to do everything - I'm still like that today. I swam competitively for my county, I was a quad bike instructor, I raced karts and the list goes on! However, even though all my hobbies were quite sporty, and you could possibly say tomboyish, I was always into my fashion.
What is, 'What's About Town?'
What’s About Town is an online jewellery and accessories store. We stock the latest trends at affordable prices delivered straight to your door.
What was the inspiration behind the business?
It all started when I became obsessed with online shopping. I went to a school on top of a hill with no phone signal, surrounded by sheep! So let’s just say your local Topshop was a bit of a trek! So shopping online became the easiest option. There wasn't much choice of websites ten years ago when I launched and my favourite was www.asseenonscreen.com (now called www.asos.com). I had my first business studies lesson at the end of my GCSE’s and it all went from there. The summer after that I worked to set up What’s About Town.
So you started this at 15, that's impressive. How did you find starting a business while still at school?
I quickly became far more interested in what I was doing than any of my lessons. I didn't find it to difficult as to me it was fun and it made the majority of my business studies lessons more interesting as I could relate to what I was being taught. For example when they were going through how to set up a business I was really engaged as it was actually doing what I was doing at the time.
How did you fund the business at that age?
I worked as a quad bike instructor from quite a young age so I saved up some money and used it to buy some jewellery which I then sold for a profit. I kept doing this until I had enough to invest in a website.
Have you ever taken funding?
No, everything I have done I have worked and saved for. However I have another project that I want to start for which I will be looking for funding.
It's amazing that your company is almost 10 years old, yet you're only 25. What have been the biggest challenges you have faced?
My biggest challenge was that I was very young. At just 15-years-old no-one took me seriously or they would take advantage of me, which was very demoralising.
How have you overcome them?
Because it was an online store a lot of the work was done on the phone or from a computer so I could hide the fact I was young that way. If I had a meeting I would take someone older with me and pretend that I was an intern! People taking advantage was a harder thing to overcome. I kind of had to take the attitude that you live and learn. As a result of the experiences I went through when I was starting up the business, it’s made me a lot wiser.
You have also started your own jewellery line called Kissika, tell me more about that:
It has always been a dream of mine to design my own jewellery line which I finally did and launched it last year with Kissika. I wouldn’t have had the business knowledge or been able to do it financially without my achievements with What’s About Town.
What do you like to do outside of running a business?
I love motorsports. I used to race karts and tested Formula BMW so any chance I get I will be watching racing whether it be on TV or at a race track. I also love travelling …. Anything where I can go and explore!
How important do you think organisations like 'Spirit of London' are?
Listening to all of the nominees stories, they are all so inspiring and what I think people forget is that there are so many fascinating young people out there each with an individual story to tell. I think it’s great the fact that The Spirit of London are highlighting and drawing attention to what everyone is doing and using it to inspire other young people. I don’t think it’s talked about enough.
What's the best & worst parts about running a business?
I love the fact I can do what I want. I can co me up with these crazy creative ideas and no-one can say I can’t do them. Also I get to get involved in everything I wanted to do as a child such as events, PR, marketing, buying, designing, photoshoots etc. I don’t do that accounts though. I never wanted to do that. I leave that to a lady who is much better at maths than me! Running your own business means long hours, but if you love it you won’t realise how long you’re working.
What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs?
Make sure you have done lots of research and put together a good business plan. I spent a long time researching competition, suppliers, packaging etc. You don’t want any surprises! But if you have a way of turning something you’re passionate about into a business then just go for it. There is nothing worse than waking up every day to something that you don’t want to do.