Over the last few weeks, one of the most frequently heard quotes from the late Steve Jobs has been : “the only way to do great work is to love what you do…”
TheEmployable were pleased this week to be able to speak with someone who is doing just that – London based Georgina Cooper who founded Pretaportobello – the online fashion market . We asked Georgina some questions about how this once unemployed graduate has managed to turn a hobby into such a successful business.
pretaportobello.comis THE online fashion market promoting and selling clothes, shoes, accessories and jewellery from new, undiscovered design talent with origins at the world famous Portobello, and other fashion markets such as Spitalfields, Camden and Brick Lane. The site enables customers from all over the world to shop at the market, at any time, any day of the week and then have the goodies delivered straight to their door. It also gives a valuable online platform to new designers to give them much needed exposure in the fiercely competitive world of fashion.I left university in 2007 with a fashion degree and a pitiful bank balance so would often visit Portobello market with my 2 sisters to hunt for bargains. We would always get comments on our Portobello finds – and requests from friends to buy things for them when they couldn’t get to the market themselves. The majority of designers there did not sell online, so the only way to get their products was to physically visit the market. We knew something should be done about this and so pretaportobello.comwas born – giving customers online access to original fashion direct from Britain’s markets.
So why did you decide to pursue the startup route as opposed to getting a “regular job?”
I suppose the conventional thing to do after graduating would have been to look for a 9-5 job, especially as the recession was looming. But we had this idea and couldn’t shake it, and we knew we’d regret it if we didn’t at least try. So we just thought, let’s go for it and see what happens. We started small and ran pretaportobello our 2 bedroom flat, and this was what enabled us to test the concept first before becoming a ‘proper’ business.
Did you apply for or receive any funding to help you get the business off the ground?
We didn’t raise any money to get the company off the ground. In fact our version of the first website (this is our second) was REALLY done on a shoestring. In order to keep costs down, we did pretty much all the work ourselves. I did all the design and illustrations and
my sisters (who were avid internet shoppers) worked on the site layout, navigation and shopping process. We basically made sure that we designed a site that we’d like to use as customers, and tried to avoid all the things we didn’t like from other websites.We each put in a small amount of money from savings and this was what we started the business with. I lived with my sisters in their tiny 2 bedroom flat and for the first 9 months from launch, this was where pretaportobello was based! I basically did extensive research on all the elements involved in an etail business – from VAT to post accounts, to packaging to payment systems, and then we just went for it. My sisters continued in their jobs for the first year, working evenings and weekends on the business and then when things really took off, they left to join me at pretaportobello full time. So now it’s a full-on family business!
What do you think are the key traits that every entrepreneur needs to have?
Drive, stamina and confidence in yourself and your idea. If you’re starting up yourself, most likely you will be making up a lot of the rules as you go along. Bear in mind that you still need to have a clear strategy and direction for your company, and don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked. Most importantly, you need to be prepared for the hard slog.
Obviously as a fashion retail business, you are competing with a lot of already established big names. How did you manage to get your business noticed and promoted?
Competition is really fierce online, as the barriers to entry are so low – it’s much easier and cheaper to set up an online shop than it is to set up a physical shop. Obviously there are the huge names like ASOS and Netaporter, to name but a few, but you can’t not do something just because there is competition. Plus we feel we are different to the other online boutiques out there, so have more of a niche position – we’re not an online boutique, we’re the online market. We weren’t just conning ourselves that there was a gap in the market, there genuinely wasn’t anyone out there providing an online link to these fantastic physical fashion hubs, and so we decided to.Of course, being a crowded marketplace it’s often quite hard to get your name out. We have a great PR company that we work very closely with to try to ensure we have exposure and coverage in as many relevant publications as possible, and also we update our Facebook and Twitter regularly to keep our customers up to speed with what’s going on.
As we all know it is a tough jobs market out there at the moment. What advice would you give someone who has just graduated and may be at the moment thinking about starting their own business?
Economic times are still very tough, especially in retail (online or offline). One of the benefits of doing things yourself is that you have a privileged position where you can be aware of everything that is going on in your business. Knowing and staying on top of your
figures, and watching your cost base is critical. Accounting may be boring but you need to stay on top of it if you want your company to have longevity. Use your small size to your advantage – be flexible and adaptable whilst you still can….often as you get bigger this gets a great deal harder.I think one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt (from my father who also runs his own business) is that working hard is not the same as working smart. When you start your own business, there is a tendency to work all hours on it – I know we did. We sacrificed a great deal to build things up, and I am sure that Pretaportobello is the better for it. BUT, there were occasions where we could have done things better. You need to learn the difference between working all hours and working effectively. Sitting at a desk until 1am doesn’t mean you are necessarily achieving something.Although the phrase “learn from your mistakes” is banded around a lot, I still think it’s a very powerful mindset to adopt. If you’re like us, you will make lots of mistakes…it’s only natural when you’re in uncharted territory. The trick is not to repeat them, and to ensure that you use them as an opportunity to make things better the next time around.
Do you think everybody has it in them to be an entrepreneur or do you think there are particular innate traits that every entrepreneur needs to have?
Everybody is different. Not everyone is suited to a life as an entrepreneur, just as not everyone is skilled or suited to a life as an actor, nuclear physicist or nursery teacher. You need drive, ambition and most of all not be scared of the unknown, or the lack of security…especially in the current climate. Not everyone wants to be fully responsible for their career or livelihood, and prefer to have a more stable job. Stability is one thing I do envy, but for me the freedom and excitement more than makes up for that.
Finally, what plans do you have for the future for Pretaportobello?