THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

3 posts from November 2017

14 November 2017

Polly McMaster - Dressed for Success

During this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, The Business & IP Centre will be hosting our flagship Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Question Time event. Amongst our panel of innovative entrepreneurs will be the Polly McMaster, the co-founder of The Fold, a contemporary womenswear label created for the professional woman. Founded in 2012, Polly’s vision for a feminine brand that created stylish yet appropriate outfits for the working environment and smart evening wear has gone from strength-to-strength. Today this high-growth brand can be found in over 20 countries and counts the Duchess of Cambridge and Samantha Cameron as customers. With such impressive progress in just five years we caught up with Polly to hear how The Fold has been able to achieve such traction in the market in such a short space of time.

Polly McMaster - The Fold
Polly McMaster, Co-Founder of The Fold


The Fold is described as ‘a contemporary new label that embraces and inspires the modern, professional woman’. How did you identify this gap in the market?

This was me! I worked in consulting and private equity – where a suit is the dress code for men. I really struggled to find clothes that made me feel confident, stylish, smart and contemporary. I did a lot of research with other working women and found that this really touched a nerve with so many of them, so it was a very compelling thought to create a brand that was relevant to women like myself and addressed that problem.

Have you always had a passion for fashion? And if so, did you think this passion would eventually become your profession?

Absolutely, way back to school days where I did dress-making classes in the evening, and made my own clothes, to Art A Level and work experience in an amazing couture brand. However, I am definitely quite left-brain / right-brain and also love problem-solving, analysis, etc. – so I took an unconventional route to fashion via science, business strategy and investment. It’s helped me have a more rounded view of the business, but it’s amazing to be able to bring together so many areas that I’m passionate about.

The Fold Image 2
Polly wearing one of her designs

 

Fashion is a consistently popular area for new start-ups, but starting and growing a successful fashion business is tough. Whilst the UK is a centre of design creativity, fashion businesses often face a high failure rate. If you could give one piece of advice to a budding entrepreneur entering the fashion world what would it be?

I entered this world with a completely different perspective, and I think that has been helpful. I approached it from quite a commercial angle – which was to provide an amazing product to a niche group of women after identifying a gap in the market. That has influenced everything in the business from both the creative side through to the business side. By having that clear vision, it’s helped us to be more competitive. It is a very tough industry, and it also takes a lot of resource in terms of both cash and expertise to navigate it. As we’ve grown, I’ve certainly leant on the support of very experienced Chairman, investors and advisors who’ve helped us learn, adapt and survive!

What has been your proudest achievement in your business journey to date?

Recruiting a great team and great investors have been the most important thing in the business. I’m really proud that we’ve created a brand that has attracted so many talented people, and that I get to work with them every day. That feels like huge progress and makes the future very exciting.

I’m also really proud that we dress amazing women for work every day – it’s very inspiring to receive messages from them to say that they nailed a job interview, or gave a powerful presentation and felt that they’d had an extra confidence boost from wearing The Fold. That’s when I know we’ve done what we set out to do.

The Fold Image 1

What do you think the future holds for The Fold and Polly McMaster?

The Fold still feels like it’s at the beginning of its journey! We have a lot of exciting plans – we are opening a new store concept next Spring, and also continuing to build our online presence in both the UK and the US. Our customers are truly international so we are excited for The Fold to become a global destination for working women. For me personally, I’m learning every day, and loving balancing being a mum with running the business. I’m excited to grow with the business through the next chapter!

If you’d like to quiz some of the UK’s top entrepreneurs and business minds during Global Entrepreneurship Week, don’t forget that the Business & IP Centre will be hosting Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Question Time on Thursday 16 November. See you there.

10 November 2017

Innovating for Growth: We Built This City

We Built This City is a London-based business that specialises in selling unique souvenirs that represent the famous city. Their mission is to revolutionise souvenirs by giving London's artists and designers a platform to showcase their talents and provide customers with creative and long-lasting souvenirs. Having grown at an incredible rate at the very beginning, We Built This City quickly made its mark on the souvenir market but founder Alice Mayor was still ambitious and wanted more. With the help of Innovating for Growth, she was able to achieve her scale-up wishes and went from a pop-up to having a permanent home on Carnaby Street in London's trendy West-End. We caught up with Alice to talk a little more about her journey from idea to super success and how the Innovating for Growth programme helped with this.       

How did the idea for a new kind of souvenir shop in London’s famous Carnaby Street come about?

In 2014, London was still basking in the glory of the Olympics and had just become the most visited city on the planet with the annual tourist footfall figure at over 16 million. With so many international visitors heading to the capital for creative and cultural experiences, my lightbulb moment was riding past one of the many souvenir stores in London on the bus and thinking ‘surely we can do better than that!’

My overriding priority in bringing to life the concept of ‘Revolutionising London Souvenirs’ was to find the right location for the store. I really wanted to avoid a scenario where we had the very best artists & designers to represent but didn’t have the footfall to prove the operation a success.

As such, I was determined We Built This City should be established in the West End. I walked the streets on the weekends to try and identify the best location but each time got more fearful about the barriers we were going to face with rents and rates. At the end of what seemed like a very long 4 months, I finally tracked down a landlord on Carnaby Street.

I created a detailed pitch outlining my vision for the product, interiors, and marketing campaign. Within a matter of days, they offered a 2 floor - 3000 sq ft store on Carnaby Street with just one caveat… we had 3 weeks to bring it all together and would need to launch for Christmas!

  Alice Hi Res

What challenges has the business faced along the way?

The main challenge for us at the start was being a temporary pop-up shop and having to move stores over 6 times in 18 months. We were always moving to a new store on Carnaby, so location wasn’t the issue, it was just the sheer labour involved in moving shops and setting up processes all over again. Luckily we have an amazing team who stuck with us no matter how many times we told them we were on the move!

More general challenges are that at any one time we can be working with 250+ London artists, designers and makers - with so many partners and suppliers on the books the sheer volume of admin involved can be a daunting daily mountain to climb! It’s worth it though, to see so many artists represented and supported in store.

Lastly, our core mission is always to support London’s creative community to drive sales and sustainable careers in the city. Running the business from a prime retail unit in the West End isn’t always an ideal marriage as it can be difficult to achieve margins which are complementary to both scenarios. We wouldn’t change the exposure Carnaby offers our artists for the world though!

Logo_webuiltthiscity

What has been the business’s biggest achievement so far?

Our biggest achievement to date has undoubtedly been securing a permanent lease on Carnaby Street. We’re very proud to have made the transition from pop-up to a permanent retailer in one of the world’s most iconic shopping destinations in such a short window. A permanent unit for us has freed up so much resource and time to focus on growing the business. As a result, we’ve been able to grow the consultancy arm out to helping other London landmarks open including a major curation project for Battersea Power Station’s new Design Store.

Picking up awards for the shop along the way has been an unexpected and exhilarating experience too - when we were awarded ‘Best Shop in Soho’ by Time Out readers in our first year of trading, we spent the next week pinching ourselves!

What advice would you give to any small business owners thinking of going into retail and even opening a shop?

Having a unique point of difference is critical for a new retail brand or business - especially if you’re joining a competitive market (fashion, food etc.) You need to work out the one thing that’ll set you apart and work out how you can tell that to your customer at every part of the journey - and even before when selling the concept to a landlord, investor etc.

I would also highly recommend creating a pitch presentation to set out your vision and to share it with anyone who can help you make it happen. It’s easy to become scared of people stealing your idea, but I found it incredibly helpful to get early-stage feedback and access to new contacts - many of whom ended up becoming our artists, advisors, partners and even our shop team!

Lastly, really interrogate whether you need to open a physical bricks and mortar store at all and what you want to learn from even a temporary pop up shop. It’s important to establish your objectives early on and stick to them. My parting advice is to never romanticise the idea of a shop as it’s an unbelievable amount of work, money, and energy - and if you’re open 7 days a week the sheer volume of operations can easily leave you with little time to nurture the creative side of the business.

What are the challenges of growing a business and how has the Innovating for Growth programme helped?

When I applied for the Innovating for Growth course, I was really lacking the headspace to work ‘on’ the business - not just ‘in’ it. The programme has been indispensable in giving me the opportunity to stand back from the day to day and take time to start strategising from afar.

An invaluable learning from joining the programme has been the opportunity to look at all factors that contribute to the running of a successful business - not just those that are in your existing skill set or comfort zone! Deep diving into these elements with the guidance of the coaches, guides and guest lecturers on the programme has been invaluable to analysing the business’s strengths and weaknesses in equal measure.

The real take away from the programme for me though has been the opportunity to meet entrepreneurs at the same stage - going through the same issues, problems and being able to share advice. It can get lonely and especially tough when you’re scaling - mentors are great but it’s meeting and sharing with those sat next to you on the same rollercoaster that gives you that belief to keep building!

If you’d like to follow in the footsteps of Alice and believe your business has what it takes, why not apply now for Innovating for Growth and take your business to the next level?

06 November 2017

How JustPark found a space in the market

Global Entrepreneurship Week is fast approaching and we’re catching up with one of the panellists from our upcoming Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Question Time event, which is set to be the flagship event of this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week at the British Library. Anthony Eskinazi is the founder of the car parking app JustPark, an amazing tool that allows drivers from all over the United Kingdom to choose from millions of available spaces quickly and simply using their smartphones. With 1.5 million drivers already enjoying the benefits of JustPark, we spoke to Anthony about how he did it.

1.The JustPark app promises drivers a hassle-free experience that also saves them money. It sounds amazing but how does it work?

It’s quite simple, to be honest with you. When creating the JustPark app, I really wanted to consider the thought-process of your average driver. From planning their journey to reaching their final destination, to eventually finding a parking space and paying.

As most drivers know all too well, parking can be quite a stressful experience when you’ve travelled a long distance to find out that you cannot park your car or have to pay an absolute fortune to do so. With JustPark we eradicate this stress by providing drivers with an easy to use app that finds available parking spaces depending on their location and distance settings. The app will also tell you whether space is going to be available and how much it will cost (if applicable). You can register via your Google or Facebook login and pay using Apple or Android Pay saving you time and taking less than one minute to log in, pay and have your parking space confirmed.

Jp-black-green

2. JustPark has proven to be a huge success in the United Kingdom. Do you have any plans to expand internationally?

Yes, we do! The aim for us was to test the market in the UK and ensure that we had the right product and service before entering the international market. Since JustPark was founded, we’ve been able to develop a product that is efficient and really does solve a pressing problem for drivers across the world.  However, we strongly believe that the UK is one of the best markets for our service and therefore wanted to cement our position in the UK first before going anywhere else.

 

3. Did the idea for JustPark originate from a bad personal parking experience, or did you just spot an obvious gap in the market?

I would say both. It really stems from a frustrating experience I had driving with a friend in San Francisco when travelling to watch a baseball game. We arrived in good time for the game but ended up wasting a lot of time searching for a parking space. After searching high and low for space and not having too much luck doing so, I thought about asking a homeowner who lived nearby to the stadium if we could pay $10 to park in their driveway. I didn’t do it but the idea for JustPark had been born.

I knew that this was a common theme at events in the UK, especially focused on major events such as Wimbledon, where people would rent out their underused parking spaces. The big difference for me is that the gap was really in the online transactions market, which would make life much easier for drivers, taking away the hassle and guarantee a stress-free experience.

Anthony Eskinazi - JustPark

4. With the tech industry constantly evolving at an incredible speed, how do you ensure JustPark stays ahead of the competition?

In an industry like ours, it is very important to continuously invest in research and development. We make sure that the team are up-to-date with the latest technologies and able to learn and develop their understanding of what is happening in the technology and parking industries. It is vital that all of us are involved in this process as it allows us to share knowledge and continue to be at the forefront.

 

5. Having founded JustPark and seen it grow into a huge success, could you see yourself doing it all over again with a new company?

As things stand I am really enjoying the work I’m doing with JustPark and haven’t thought too much about what comes next. I’ve started investing in interesting high-growth tech start-ups to help me understand different sectors.  It would be exciting to try something new but we’ll just have to wait and see.

 

6. If you could give a young Anthony some advice, what would it be and why?

My first piece of advice would be to have fun and make sure you don’t miss out on life’s enjoyable moments. I think it’s easy to get caught up with your business and forget that a new feature or opportunity is likely to still be there tomorrow. Relationships with close friends and family are important. These are the people who will build you back up and give you a hug after a knock-down and cheer you from the rooftops when things are going well. It is important to find a work-life balance that works for you. Becoming an entrepreneur is a lifestyle, not a career choice.

The second piece of advice would be to work with other people. It makes the entrepreneurial experience much more enjoyable and although you may have to share a piece of the pie, you will benefit from the shared knowledge, experiences and ideas. You don’t have to do it alone!

If you’d like fire some of your own questions to some of the UK’s top entrepreneurs during Global Entrepreneurship Week, don’t forget that the Business & IP Centre will be hosting Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Question Time on Thursday 16 November. See you there!