How do you really build a business from scratch?

We asked the women behind two thriving companies for their demystifying 'nuts and bolts' advice

(Image credit: Illustrations by Babeth lafon)

We asked the women behind two thriving companies for their demystifying 'nuts and bolts' advice

‘Selling make-up brushes has made us a fortune’

Sophie Pycroft, 31, and her sister, Hannah, 29, are the brains behind Spectrum Collections, a make-up brush firm that’s worth around £12m

‘Our light-bulb moment came really unexpectedly. We were photographing content for e-commerce sites and saw our images were making money for others. That’s when we knew we could do it for ourselves with a product. We’ve always loved fashion and beauty, and had the idea of creating bright, stylish make-up brushes. There were no quirky, colourful ones out there at the time. Nobody liked our idea at first – friends saw our brushes, but weren’t enthusiastic. Luckily, we ignored them and followed our gut. We kept freelancing in our regular jobs as content creators while launching Spectrum, and even when we had no money, we never doubted the product. We didn’t want investors, so we saved £15,000 each over a number of years for our first order. Neither of us has a business background, but what’s helped is that our dad has set up a lot of businesses – they all failed, but he’s always had the entrepreneurial spirit.

‘We turned down quite a lot of opportunities in the first two years; I think buyers thought we were a bigger operation than we actually were. But had we under-delivered, it could have ruined the business. In the first six months we didn’t sell a single brush, but now they’re stocked in 400 Boots stores.

‘Social media has played a big part in our success. In April 2014, we launched our website and Instagram account [which now has 327,000 followers]. Our strategy was to grow organically and create a relationship with our customers. We put handwritten notes in every order and encourage buyers to share their purchases on social media. We’d then repost it to instil confidence into potential customers. In December 2014, we had a stand at The Clothes Show Live and a few of the TOWIE girls posted pictures. The business took off.

‘We’re now a team of ten and have collaborated with Disney and Paramount Pictures. And this summer we’re launching a vegan make-up range. Our company is worth an estimated £12m, but we didn’t do this to get rich quick. We’re still hugely passionate about the product, and talk about make-up and brushes all day long.’; @spectrumcollections

‘My luggage broke and my business was born’

Jen Rubio, 31, is the co-founder of Away, that chic direct-to-consumer luggage brand you’ve seen all over Instagram

‘I wasn’t aware that running a business was something you could do. I grew up in a traditional immigrant family, where everyone was a doctor or lawyer, and it’s all I knew. Having said that, I’ve always been quite entrepreneurial – organising lemonade stands or selling stickers in the playground at school. The funny thing about Away is that I genuinely had no interest in setting up a business. I still don’t! What happened was that my suitcase broke and nobody had any recommendations. It became clear there was a huge gap in the market. I started thinking, “How come this luggage brand doesn’t exist? Is there a bigger opportunity here?” I spoke to Steph Korey, my now-business partner, who I had worked with at Warby Parker [an American sunglasses brand], and we both started seeing the potential.

‘Research was key. The first thing we did was survey over 800 people. We realised that our idea was something that anyone who travelled would be excited about. Then we started thinking about specifics – what the product should be, the features it needed [Away’s cases include a built-in phone-charging battery], how much people would pay for it and what it would cost to make. All of those decisions were based on information people told us.

‘Direct-to-consumer sales was a no-brainer. Warby Parker operated like that, so we were familiar with the business model already. We knew that not only would the consumer benefit – they’re getting a higher quality product at a lower price point – but we would also have plenty of insight into our customer and a closer relationship with them. I think that’s a big part of why Away is what it is today.

‘We try to make everything shareable, so social media has helped us hugely. The job I did at Warby Parker was in that area, therefore I really understood the power of far-reaching communication. One of the top ways that people find out about us is via social media – from what we’re saying, but also what their friends say, too. So, we try to make everything we do inherently shareable – it seems to be working!’

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