Connie Nam, Founder & CEO, Astrid & Miyu
In 2012, Connie saw a gap in the market for an affordable jewellery brand with sentimental appeal – and Astrid & Miyu was born. Quickly building a loyal following among influencers and celebrities alike, the brand now has six stores across London and Manchester, with international expansion plans currently in the works.
Jewellery has always been a huge part of my life. Having travelled a lot when I was younger, jewellery was always something I would pick up – either from the local markets or a local boutique. But when I tried to buy something for friends, family or myself back home, it was difficult to find a go-to brand – most were either very expensive or mass produced. The buying experience was also very stale, with products under glass counters and sales staff in black uniforms. I wanted to recreate the feelings from my travels by making cool jewellery that was accessible to everyone – both in terms of service and design, as well as the price point.
The concept for Astrid & Miyu is based on a tiny local jewellery shop back home in Seoul. I used to visit it all the time – not only because the pieces were beautiful but because the owner was so friendly and knowledgeable. I started the brand nine years ago when I was studying for my MBA degree. I was at a crossroads of either joining a larger organisation or doing my own thing. In the end, the latter seemed like the natural choice.
To run your own business, you need to be thick skinned and have very strong convictions. Many people will want to give you feedback, which isn’t often that helpful, and you need to stay the course. You will also need to figure things out on your own – believe me, you will have so many doubts and doubters along the way – so inner confidence and self-reliance are vital. Lastly, you need a powerful vision and mission all your stakeholders can align with – be it employees, customers or investors.
The biggest challenge has been people – by that I mean hiring the right person at the right time and motivating them to work hard. I made so many unproductive choices, not because the individuals were unskilled or poor at their job, but because I didn’t hire the right people for the right roles at the right time. Even today, it’s still work in progress. But having a defined set of values for the company and a solid strategy have helped alleviate the stress somewhat.
The one thing I’d do differently is I’d invest more earlier on. The very first fund raise we did was tough – it took me six months from start to finish. Pitching a jewellery idea to traditional investors, I had to adapt how I spoke to them to convince them I was a serious businessperson. The most recent one has been much easier, despite being on the road while pregnant! Today, we’re stronger as a brand and there’s so much more awareness within the investment community around the direct-to-consumer model.
Generally speaking, the industry has been really receptive. Within a few weeks of launching, we were featured in multiple lifestyle publications, specifically in their shopping pages. Back in 2012, this was a big deal. Today, we’re in the company of many more digital-first jewellery brands, all of whom are changing the industry landscape – it’s really positive to see. The marketing landscape has also changed so much. PR was our main go-to strategy when we first launched, but now we spend most of our energy – and budget – on digital channels and influencers.
The advice I’d give other aspiring entrepreneurs is always be open-minded, listen and learn. But ultimately, trust your instincts and do what feels right for you. Before setting up Astrid & Miyu I had no intention of being a CEO. But I’m figuring things out along the way and enjoying it so far. Ultimately, running my own business is what’s given me full control over my destiny and career.
Antonia Burrell, Expert Facialist & Founder of Antonia Burrell London
A revered name in the industry, not only is Antonia Burrell one of the best facialists in the UK, she also runs Antonia Burrell London, which specialises in 100% natural, ethical and sustainable beauty products – all of which are uniquely results driven.
It was demand from my clients that made me launch my own product line. I had one particular client at the time whose skin caused her so much anxiety – it’s really her I credit with my lightbulb moment. I decided to use my background and expertise in chemistry to concoct a product specifically to help her. In the end, she found it so life-changing, we felt like we had little choice but to offer more of them.
Crucially, we identified a real gap in the market. Ten years ago, the idea of plant-based or organic skincare that was multi-tasking and designed specifically to help acne-prone skin was unheard of – simply put, products like ours just didn’t exist. We started by selling that one miracle product in the clinic, using our salons as the main marketing tool, and slowly introduced more until it felt right to launch it as a standalone brand. At that point, I took a few months off from the clinic and reinvested the profits to move everything forward.
We’re entirely self-funded – but it’s probably something I’d do differently given the chance again. The brand’s growth has been slower than I’d have liked, so a bit of external funding at the beginning – from investors or backers – could have given us a boost. It would also have been useful to have had a partner to take care of the logistical operations – I’m a product person, with plenty of beauty know-how, but it would have been beneficial to have a less emotional person around who knew about scaling the business.
In business, there’s always something new to learn. For example, the screen printing on our boxes was a revelation – we got badly ripped off in the beginning. In truth, there were lots of things we didn’t know enough about, and we trusted people when we should have done more research. If I was to choose the biggest lesson so far, it would be that efficacy of the product is one thing, but an effective marketing strategy is what really counts.
My advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs would be do very through market research and take time to understand your USP. Establish how you want to build your fanbase, too – what are you going to do to get eyes on the brand? Finally, have a great accountant and use them to understand the minutiae of the numbers. Pennies make up the pound – always.
Being a black woman running your own business is tough. If I’m honest, we still have a long way to go when it comes to having a proper seat at the table. It’s disheartening, but it’s also the reality – we don’t have the same massive budgets as big brands in the beauty space, so it’s about getting the products in front of people and letting them see the results for themselves.
As working mothers, we need to accept life isn’t perfect. Take your time – if you’ve got a good idea, then be thorough about it. Also, if you can, get yourself a really efficient assistant you can hand over control to if you find yourself juggling too many things. Finally, hire your weaknesses – by that, I mean find people who are good at the things you’re not.
I would never go back to working for someone else. Even though this job can be challenging, the flexibility and drive it’s given me to make it work has been invaluable. Because I’m a go-getter and like to get on with things, I know that what I put in will ultimately be what I’ll get out. It might demand lots of blood, sweat and tears in the beginning, but everything comes back to you in the end.
Right now, Antonia Burrell is offering 30-minute facials for £30 at Fenwick Bond Street, which is fully redeemable against product bought on the day – plus, a free gift with purchase. Register online via AntoniaBurrell.com
Emily & Victoria Ceraudo, Founders of Ceraudo
If you’re into interiors and have noticed a trend for ruffles, polka dots or gingham over the last year, then Ceraudo is probably the reason why. Sisters Emily and Victoria founded the business back in 2016 to satisfy demand for affordable interiors accessories and more eclectic, one-off pieces.
We decided to start our own business after both of us moved into new homes in London and couldn't find the style of furniture we were looking for – we wanted pieces with character, with texture and often with lots of colour. We've always been huge antiques fans and there wasn't a brand that ticked all the box for us. The idea of being able to design or source something ourselves, and offer it to like-minded people, was hugely exciting.
Many people don’t realise starting a business means never being able to jump off the hamster wheel. In other jobs, you can finish the day knowing you’ve ticked everything off your to-do list. But when you’re running your own company, there’s always something that can be done better. It’s taken us a while to accept that.
Having a clear vision is what matters most. We knew how we wanted Ceraudo to be perceived, which helped with any marketing and PR strategies. But to this day there are still struggles: for instance, we’re always debating whether we should make our Instagram profile more about the two of us, or just keeping it strictly about the brand. Usually, we find ourselves wanting to focus on our creative output, rather than ourselves, even if the latter might drive more engagement.
We were lucky to launch the brand at the right time. The interest in the industry seems to have peaked in the last few years, so when we launch new designs, we often have an incredible reception. It’s probably far more challenging to succeed in oversaturated markets like fashion, so we're fortunate to have found our niche.
The Ceraudo customer is a one-stop shopper. The fact we design our own fabrics and furniture allows us to play with details, textures and colours which larger, more commercial brands can sometimes struggle with. Our ‘affordable luxury’ price point also allows customers to be a bit more creative with their decisions – they're not so scared of making the wrong choice.
All aspiring entrepreneurs should be prepared for work to take over their life. It definitely takes its toll on your family life and achieving a work/life balance is a myth. You also need to be prepared to get your hands dirty – at the beginning, we were warehouse staff, admin staff, delivery drivers, bookkeepers, photographers, sales managers and designers, all in one!
That said, running your own business is far more rewarding than working for someone else. It gives you an increased sense of pride, too. Designing a product and being able to see its journey, all the way through to customers’ homes, is so satisfying.