These characteristics are undoubtedly true of Mumsnet co-founder Justine Roberts, this year named one of the most influential British women by the BBC, and an avid supporter of women in business. Taking a personal and organic approach to growing her business, Justine has grown Mumsnet into the UK’s largest website for parents, and has always put family at the center of her approach to business.
I caught up with Roberts to talk about the key to her success, the challenges she’s faced along the way, and how more women can be encouraged to start their own business:
What was the inspiration behind Mumsnet?
The inspiration came from my first trip abroad with my nearly-one-year-old twins at a “family-friendly” resort that turned out to be the wrong destination in every way possible.
The disastrous holiday made me think about how good it would be to be able to tap the wisdom of people who had been on the trip before or people who had made better choices! The Internet seemed like the ideal place to do that so I started work on the Mumsnet site once I returned from the holiday back in ’99.
What were the key challenges you faced when starting out, and how did you overcome them?
The largest challenge was the general skepticism surrounding the web. Connectivity was a large obstacle, and we launched just as the first Internet bubble burst — when people’s trust in investing in websites was at a low.
A lot of small businesses at the time were focused on land-grab and burn-rate spending and becoming the biggest in the shortest space of time. By contrast, we ran Mumsnet more slowly and organically and focused on growth by word-of-mouth to keep costs low. I couldn’t afford childcare so was working at home (mostly in front of CBeebies!) and stealing hours where I could.
What more needs to be done to inspire women to see starting a business as a viable career choice?
Women in older age-groups with kids form the largest demographic for starting-up, and I believe that’s because having children provides a natural chance to have a break and think about a new direction. But there’s definitely a confidence barrier for many of these women – one which can be tackled if more women share their start-up stories and how they addressed business and emotional challenges along the way.
l also believe men and women can do more to share things more equally in their domestic life which will allow women more space and time for starting a business.
Congrats on being voted number 7 in BBC Woman’s Hour’s “Power List 2013″! Do you think there is still value in women-only leadership lists?
Business lists definitely provide networking and marketing value, though it’s easy to feel slightly embarrassed about being named as a business powerhouse when you can’t get your children to brush their teeth! Until the day comes when women start to appear more ‘naturally’ on mixed lists, I think women-only lists provide a great means of promoting women in business.
How do you balance family time with time spent on the business?
The reality is that family is more important than work, and when I started Mumsnet, I wanted my business to be a place in which you could openly acknowledge that. I’ve worked in previous roles – as an economist in the city, as a journalist – and have seen women having to pretend that family doesn’t exist. That’s why I’ve set the parameters about what culture I want in my own business.
You are also the founder of Gransnet. Talk us through it, and the next big thing for you.
With Gransnet we were aiming to do for the older generation what Mumsnet has done for mums. We wanted to allow a collective voice for an age group that’s often forgotten by the media and businesses. We’ve also started other ventures including BlogFest – a blogger community and an events business offering courses on anything from ancient history, to social media. The plan is to continue to try and offer things that we feel are genuinely needed, and useful, to our communities.
What would be your top advice for a business owner looking to accelerate their business growth?
Listen to the customer and ensure you have a unique proposition. If it feels like the time to expand, hold your nose and dive in! Be aware of when and how the market changes and go for a shorter, more flexible six-month plan, rather than trying too hard to plan ahead – adaptability is vital!
Follow Roberts on Twitter @Justine_Roberts
Hosted by Mumsnet, the UK’s biggest network for parents, BlogFest is a celebration of sharp writing and big ideas in the company of some of the most talented bloggers and writers in the UK. Find out more here.Tags: Business,Entrepreneurship