The Internet has undoubtedly enabled small businesses to reach a far wider audience than is possible offline. But for many individual designers, making their voices heard in the crowded online marketplace is no easy feat.
Seek & Adore founder Hatty Fawcett was determined to help those small businesses stand out from the online crowd. A believer in giving small designers the chance to sell on a larger scale, across the U.K., Fawcett wanted to create a platform to support them more effectively, while giving customers access to unique creations.
I caught up with Fawcett to learn more about growing an online marketplace, her experiences with raising funds to grow her business, and her top tips for fellow entrepreneurs.
What was the inspiration behind Seek & Adore?
Following a loft conversion, my husband and I had been on the lookout for unique pieces that expressed our personality to decorate our two new rooms. It was difficult to find what I was looking for in the shops I could nip to in my lunch hour, but it was equally difficult to find online the many talented designer-makers around the country.
My research confirmed there are thousands of talented designers, but that many of them aren’t natural marketers or effective online-sellers. I’ve worked in e-commerce for the last 14 years and thought it would be a privilege to use these skills to help promote Britain’s talented designer-makers. Talking to them, they loved the idea of someone marketing them, leaving them free to get on with creating their designs. And from that, the idea for Seek & Adore was born!
How did you go about starting-up and what was the largest hurdle?
I had one of those moments when you think – either I do this or I spend the rest of my life wondering, “What if….”
I spent a lot of time trying to raise money, but discovered most investors won’t invest until you’ve proven your concept. In the end I gave up my job in marketing and invested my life savings into the business. It felt scary at the time, but it was the right thing to do. You can’t build a business whilst also trying to hold down a full-time, high-pressured job, and if you’re not willing to invest in your idea, why should you expect anyone else to?
The biggest hurdle was getting a payment gateway to allow us to take credit card payments. It sounds like an easy thing but, as I discovered, the banks and payment suppliers are all a bit nervous of the marketplace business model (which is the basis of our operation). It took a lot of work, but I finally got an agreement with PayPal to use its Payments Pro System.
How do you choose which designers can sell items through your site?
Seek & Adore is essentially a curated marketplace. All our designer-makers are handpicked based on the quality and originality of their work. We meet them at craft fairs and open studios throughout the country and see their work before they are accepted onto Seek & Adore.
We provide them with a set of simple templates, which enable them to sell online quickly and simply, and then promote them to bring customers to them. Customers love it because it makes it easy for them to find more unique, handcrafted home wares, accessories, jewelry and handmade gift ideas. It’s a very personal way of shopping that enables them to see pictures, read interviews, and watch videos of the makers at work.
How important has technology been for the growth of the business?
We’re an online business so technology is at the heart of what we do. That said, we try to simplify complexity. Our designer-makers are not interested in technology per se; they are interested in what it can do for them. We make it simple to create an online shop and to start selling.
Talk us through your experiences of crowdfunding – is it a viable alternative to bank funding?
Crowdfunding has been good for us. Our target was to raise £50,000 ($81,000) and we actually raised £70,000 ($113,000) in just one month on CrowdCube. However, I wouldn’t say it was a quick win. You have to do a lot of work to create a compelling pitch and then you need to raise awareness of your pitch and encourage people to invest in you. CrowdCube provides the platform that facilitates and simplifies the process. They also have a lot of credibility so this can reassure potential investors that they are part of a professional, well-handled process.
It is very unlikely that a bank would have provided finance for Seek & Adore given the early stage of our business. However, we didn’t rely solely on crowdfunding, I have also been pitching to angel networks and building a network of angel investors.
If you’re serious about what you are doing, have a strong business model and a business idea that is easy to convey, I would certainly recommend crowdfunding.
What advice do you wish another entrepreneur had given you about growing a business?
It took me several years to finally decide to start my own business. Over the years I had mooted various business ideas but had never quite had the courage or the conviction to make my ideas a reality. Looking back now, I wish I had taken the plunge sooner. I love running a business!
It’s hard work and there are always new challenges to overcome, but it is hugely rewarding too. You learn something new every day and the sense of achievement if things go well is very rewarding. Being your own boss also brings benefits in choosing how to manage your time. Working life doesn’t have to be 9-5 – although you can guarantee you will work more hours than most! For my part, I love the people that you meet. Our designer-makers are inspiring, creative people.
I remember talking to one entrepreneur when I was thinking about starting Seek & Adore. He was very clear with me about the time and effort running a business takes, but he also said it was the best thing he had ever done. I couldn’t agree more and I should have taken his advice sooner!
What’s next for Seek & Adore, and how will you get there?
The main reason we raised money on CrowdCube was to create a marketing budget to test new marketing channels. It’s the final piece in the puzzle for us. We want to show that when we ramp up our marketing spend we increase visitors and orders on Seek & Adore. Christmas is our big opportunity to demonstrate this and our Christmas marketing plans are now in full swing. We are testing direct mail and Google advertising (in various forms) amongst other things.
You can follow Seek & Adore on Twitter at @seekandadore and check out the Seek & Adore website.Tags: Business,Entrepreneurship