Some entrepreneurs believe that starting their own business is something they were born to do. Others — including MyCarGossip founder, Charlotte Leuw — would argue that entrepreneurs are created from their experiences.
Leuw discovered her calling during what should have been a regular tire change that went wrong, leading her to realize that there was an opportunity in the market to improve customer service and access to information in the car industry specifically for women. Fast forward to today, and MyCarGossip is now a major recommendation site for car garages around the U.K.
We met Leuw when she applied for our Start-up in Residence competition and while she wasn’t the ultimate winner, through that process one of the judges saw something special in her. As a result, MyCarGossip has recently been selected for a place on the competitive Accelerator Academy, a training and mentoring program aimed at supporting early-stage startups with ambitious growth plans.
I caught up with Leuw to find out more about how to launch and fund a successful business, and why a good support network is the magic ingredient.
Congratulations on being selected for a place on the Accelerator Academy. What will it involve?
Thank you. The Accelerator Academy is a 12-week, part-time course for early-stage and startup entrepreneurs, which provides a chance to accelerate your business quickly, getting it to a stage where it will appeal to potential investors.
I am most excited about how my business will change and grow. The initial business idea has already changed so much just two weeks into the course.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Not at all. Becoming an entrepreneur is something I fell into having had a bad experience at a local garage. My car had a flat tire, but my local garage was closed for the evening, so I went to another place without researching it or reading any reviews beforehand.
The garage initially told me it would cost £60 ($101.88 U.S.) to change my tire, but they then convinced me there were problems with my other tire that required fixing. The resulting bill was double what was originally quoted.
When I called up my regular garage the following day to ask why the additional problems hadn’t been addressed in my recent service, they told me the second tire was fine and that I had been “ripped off.”
This inspired me to start MyCarGossip: to teach myself and others who lack “car knowledge” about maintaining their vehicles. It started as a blog but started receiving lots of views and comments, so I then decided to turn it into a website and directory of trusted motoring businesses.
How have you scaled the business?
It has scaled over time. We use a lot of social media to get the word out about our brand, and now have almost 6,000 Twitter followers and growing. We also do surveys to increase the reviews on our website, and write blogs that can be easily shared.
What’s the key to successful crowdfunding as a small business?
I found that crowdfunding at the beginning very much depends on your “offline” network — mainly your friends and family. If you can’t convince your friends and family to invest even just a small amount into your business, you can’t expect an investor to take interest. If you can get some momentum on your campaign early on then the online investors will be more interested in your business, and it will be easier to raise the money.
How can startups make themselves attractive to potential investors?
From my experience, a team is one of the most important things that potential investors look for. If you can find a co-founder to start a business with, your enterprise will be far more appealing to investors.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs going at it alone?
Get recommendations if you are going to use various services. For example, if you’re looking for a Web developer, ask around and see if anyone you know can suggest someone reliable and trustworthy. It is easy to be overcharged for services if you don’t understand exactly what they are doing with your money.
Are there advantages to running a family business?
Yes: support. If your family is involved in your business, they’re going to be even more supportive of what you are doing because they’ll also have an emotional attachment. My dad co-founds MyCarGossip and is the perfect mentor because he has created, grown and sold many of his own businesses so understands the start-up world. He also has many connections and a support network of his own.
How is technology helping to support your business growth?
Our whole business is based around our website, so technology is really supporting that growth. We will be looking to raise money at the end of the Accelerator so that we can invest in better technology to grow our business.
What’s the best way to get the message out about MyCarGossip?
Social media is a great way to get the message out, and it is free to use. We also go to many networking events. We found Table Crowd in London to be a great way of networking with other startups, investors, and journalists. It enables you to join virtual tables online around subjects that you are interested in, with the opportunity to then meet like-minded people offline.
What’s the next big thing for MyCarGossip? How are you looking to grow this year?
Raising our next funding round at the end of the Accelerator Academy.Business,Entrepreneurship