Career change advice from Britain’s most successful female entrepreneurs

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  • Time for a career change? Here's how four successful women made the big leap into starting their own business (and how you can too)

    If you’ve ever wanted to make a career change but never knew where to start, it’s worth finding out what the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs did to get their business ideas off the ground and make the leap into going-it-alone. Prepare to be inspired…

    ‘I joined a start-up hub’

    Whitney Wolfe, 25, is the co-founder of dating app Tinder – which has ten million users and is worth an estimated £3bn. In December 2014 she launched new dating app Bumble.

    Don’t take the easy option. After graduating in International Relations in 2011, I turned down safe, corporate job offers and instead accepted a position at an ‘incubator’ in LA – a tech word for a team of people who are funded by investors to create apps. I knew the future was digital and that I had to take a risk.

    There are lots of smart ways to finance a business. Incubators, like the one I worked at, are already popular in the US and are popping up in the UK. Some offer a salary, but with others you have to wait until your business succeeds before you can reap some of the profits. If financial help from family or friends isn’t possible, find entreprenuers who’ve already made it and might be willing to support you.

    The best ideas are often the simplest. When we devised Tinder in September 2012 there was still a stigma surrounding online dating. But we spend half our time on our smart phones – why not date on them too?

    Creating a dream takes blood, sweat and tears. I worked all day, every day. I thought about Tinder in the shower and dreamed about it at night. It wasn’t just my job – it was my life.

    Don’t be afraid to jump ship. Although Tinder was a household name, I hankered for the early days of getting the business off the ground and left last April.

    Success makes you strive for more.
    I wanted my new dating app, Bumble, to empower women. It puts them in the driving seat, because only they can initiate conversation after a match has been made. Bumble is already big in the US, where we have 100,000 users and a team of eight.

    Follow @WLWolfe on Twitter, and @bumbleapp on Instagram

    ‘Changing your mind means you have one’

    Cassandra Stavrou is the founder of PROPER Snacks, the maker of PROPERCORN and PROPERCHIPS. Launched in 2011, she built the business into the UK’s largest healthier snack company. In 2021, PROPER became one half of Europe’s largest independent better-for-you snacks brand, WARP Snacks. She currently sits on the UK Government’s Food & Drink Sector Council and was awarded an MBE in 2020 for services to the Food Industry.

    Be prepared to play the long game. The idea for PROPER snacks came in 2009 and I quit my job the next day. I was hoping to crack it in a few months. Instead, it took a couple of years. I made my first batches of popcorn in a cement mixer in my mum’s kitchen and used a car spraying kit for the oil. It wasn’t until 2011 that I took our first product to market.

    Expect to be knocked back. When I was starting out, manufacturers weren’t convinced that on-the-go popcorn had a market. I was told by an industry bigwig that I should ask for my old job back. It was disheartening. 10 years later, PROPER Snacks are retailed in over 20 countries with over 5 million bags sold a month.

    If it doesn’t make you feel something: stop. For our first ad, we didn’t know what to do. In the end, we came up with a simple pattern of popcorn on a coloured background. No messaging, no words, just bold. It looked wicked. So we wrapped 10 buses in it. What doesn’t move you, isn’t going to move anyone else. You have to create for a reaction and an emotional response.

    Get inspired but be who you are.  If you obsess about your rivals, you’ll lose what makes you, you. Unfollow your competitors. I’ve never followed any of ours. Half the time, I don’t have a clue what they’re up to – you can’t help but be influenced.

    There are no rules – break the rules. We often get pulled, especially more and more now, with ‘what does the data say?’. The danger with that is that idea generation can go really stale. Seek inspiration from outside your category, that’s where all the good ideas are. We used to choose our Pantones based on what was walking down the runway.

    Follow @PROPER on Instagram

    ‘I social networked my way into business’

    Radha Vyas, 34, is the co-founder of The Flash Pack – a travel company that organises group tours with a difference, for people aged 30–45.

    Find your niche. I was feeling ridiculously old and out of place on a group holiday to Bangkok, when I realised there might be demand for a group tour travel company for thirtysomething women. Women like me, who still wanted to have adventures abroad, but had the disposable income to travel in style and stay in boutique hotels. Going to trade shows and carrying out focus groups convinced me there was a gap in the market.

    You can set up business on a shoestring. I launched The Flash Pack with my boyfriend Lee in August 2013 from our spare bedroom. Even though we both still had day jobs – I was a charity fund-raiser and Lee a photographer – we had no investors and only £15,000 in savings.

    Ride the stresses. Although we got a couple of customers straight away, couldn’t find enough to form a group, so we had to cancel their tour and give them a refund. It was scary, especially when we quit our jobs last March and had no other source of income. We’d only done two tours and were making a minimal profit. But failing just wasn’t an option.

    Don’t underestimate the power of social media. With no money for advertising, we came up with an idea for a PR stunt – Lee set out to become the first person to climb Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue, and he took a selfie at the top. The picture went viral, attracting 100 million impressions worldwide. Within one week, Lee and The Flash Pack were being mentioned on television all over the world and our website received 2 million hits. Last November, we even beat Cancer Research UK’s No Make-up Selfie to win the UK Social Media Communications Award for Best Viral Campaign, and by the end of the year we’d done another 20 group tours.

    Keep reaching higher. We now organise holidays to 15 countries worldwide and frequently sell out. The business is worth £700,000 and we have our own office and two members of staff. If you’re on a minimal budget, build up a presence on social media before you launch. The people who succeed are simply those who keep going long after everyone else has quit.

    Follow @TheFlashpack or visit www.theflashpack.co.uk

    ‘We crowdfunded to raise £500K’

    Dana Zingher, 26, and Levi Young, 27, are co-founders of Enclothed, a men’s online clothing company.

    Dana says:

    Take a leap of faith. It was September 2012 when Levi and I both quit our jobs to start working out of my spare room. I was a technology consultant and Levi, who I’ve been friends with for seven years, was head of sales at a marketing firm. But with our combined skills, we knew we could make Enclothed work.

    Believe in your idea. I’ve always been a big user of online shopping companies like Stylistpick and Birchbox, which select and suggest items according to your profile, and adapt to your personal preferences over time. But there was nothing similar for men.

    Think outside the funding box. We went on Dragon’s Den, and last April Piers Linney and Kelly Hoppen offered us £70,000. Then, the following month, we started raising money on Crowdcube – an online crowdfunding platform that enables investors to own a part of the business in return for their investment. Since then we’ve raised £800,000 and built up a huge client base. It’s been hard work, but incredibly rewarding.

    Levi says:

    Realise the value of each other’s traits. Dana and I went into business together because we knew we’d work well together. I’m impulsive while she’s strategic, so we bounce off each other.

    Road-testing is vital. We did it ourselves, running around shops, steaming clothes and packing boxes to make sure our business was viable. We were exhausted, working 12-hour days and desperately trying to get clothing brands on board. But gradually, what had seemed impossible became achievable.

    Overcome your fears. Going on Dragons’ Den was terrifying, but we’d never have forgiven ourselves if we hadn’t taken the opportunity. Our client numbers have shot up since the show.

    Not wanting to let each other down keeps us going
    . Especially because financially we’re still putting everything back into the business and living on baked beans

    Follow @Enclothed on Twitter or visit www.enclothed.co.uk

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