Facebook Vice President Nicola Mendelsohn and The White Company's Chrissie Rucker OBE share the business advice they've learned along the way
“One of my favourite parts of being the head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Facebook, is getting to meet extraordinary women who are using our platforms to build and grow their businesses,” Nichola Mendelsohn is explaining how her new business book has come about. “My grandma ran a haberdashery business and my mum still runs a catering firm so, from a very young age, I saw that it requires real skill, motivation and support for female entrepreneurs to succeed. I also saw that being a female founder can be incredibly rewarding – not just for the people who set up businesses, but for their families, their employees and their communities too.
The government’s Rose Review last year was an important reminder that more needs to be done to create a level playing field for male and female entrepreneurs. It found that only a third of entrepreneurs are women which is causing enormous untapped potential for the UK – £250 billion in fact! Levelling the playing field was the very reason that we created Facebook’s #SheMeansBusiness programme in 2016, so that we could help women entrepreneurs come together, share advice, and forge connections to pursue their business ideas. So far we’ve trained 30,000 women in the UK, and we’ve committed to doubling that number in the next two years. Globally, we’ve trained 500,000 women in 48 countries since 2016.
Our new book, Make it Work; Lessons from Life in Business has been created as part of the programme, so we can raise awareness of the women already blazing a trail and inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs to consider a career in business. This book shows that there really is no one way to do business and I hope women will read it and get inspired!”
“Look at failure as something to build on”, says The White Company’s Chrissie Rucker
Founding The White Company in 1994 as a mail-order business with the mission of selling all white, stylish and high-quality homeware at affordable prices, Chrissie Rucker’s business has become a household name. And she didn’t stop there – after her first son was born, she introduced The Little White Company in 1997, selling baby and children’s clothing along with nursery furniture. Then, in 2003, she launched a womenswear collection, too. The White Company now has over 60 retail outlets in the UK, Ireland and the USA and Chrissie is involved with many charities and women’s business initiatives. Alongside her husband Nick Wheeler, she received an OBE in 2018 for services to business and has also been named Private Businesswoman of the Year by PWC in association with HSBC.
Chrissie’s advice for going it alone:
1. Do a ‘normal’ job first. “I’d left school at 16 with just O levels (my generation’s equivalent of GCSEs) and went to fashion college where I studied couture. My first job was as the receptionist at media company CondéNast (home to magazine brands like Vogue, GQ, and Glamour), after which I worked my way up the journalism ranks, learning how to plan and organise a shoot, how to write copy, and watching how the art department designed pages. I would really recommend to anyone else starting out that time working in a job is really valuable before you start your own business. You gain so much experience that I think helped me get going in business faster.”
2. Become friends with your bank manager. “I had lots of early challenges: from getting to grips with technology, having enough space to hold the stock, and learning how to try and keep track of the finances – I was terrible at maths! My first real challenge was when I ran out of money. But two things helped me hugely at the time. Firstly, I entered a small business competition and won it, and was awarded £5,000. Secondly, I got myself organised enough to go and see my bank manager, who was very supportive and gave me my first loan.”
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. “Lots of things went wrong in the first year and I learned a huge amount very quickly on how not to do things; finding someone to help me on the financial side of things was so important. A key thing I have learnt on my journey is not to be afraid of asking for help. You’ll often be surprised at how generous other people are with their time and advice, and it can make a huge difference to your business.”
4. Know your brand’s DNA. “The world of retail is a crowded market, so it’s vital to be very clear about what your brand is – and what it isn’t. It can be really challenging at times to keep your brand on track and sometimes you have to make decisions that might feel commercially crazy. For example, we have had times when we sold a blouse in both white and blue and sometimes the blue will sell more than the white, so our commercial teams will want to sell more blue and add more colour to different lines. It’s at these times you have to be strong and put the brand before sales. You have to think ‘we are known and loved for white, not blue’.”
5. Failure is essential. “Something that has helped me stick to my vision is that we constantly test and learn, and I look at failure as something to learn from and build on – and that can help you make bold choices. As a child I rode competitively and my teacher taught me that, to compete, you have to train incredibly hard and that falling was simply an essential part of getting there. When I fell off, it was always ‘just get back on and let’s try again’. I think it gave me great resilience and I learnt that if the first attempt didn’t work, try another way.”