Inspirational Female Founders – Gabi Cox

Introducing Gabi Cox…

Meet Gabi. Founder of ‘Chroma Stationery’, an online stationery brand that provides colour-loving personalised and branded stationery.

The idea of Chroma Stationery was sparked in 2014, when Gabi was working on her final-year University project.

Since its launch, Gabi has sold in over 28 countries and supplied, in bulk, to the likes of American Airlines, Boots & ITV for things like employee and client gifting. Gabi was recently named as one of the ‘Startups 15 Young Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2018’, ‘Insider South West42 under 42’ and a finalist at the ‘Great British Entrepreneur Awards’.

How did you come up with your business idea?

I launched Chroma whilst in my final year of University. I was working on a project all about colour, and I was fascinated with why people had favourite colours and why they hated others. It started with greetings card ideas but evolved into notebooks and stationery. I was aware that personalisation was often offered as an expensive extra, rather than something which was accessible to everyone and I wanted to change this.

Who has been your stand out business mentor?

I’m part of the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator scheme which has been an invaluable help. I have a mentor there who is brilliant, and the community is also fantastic. Having a hub of fellow entrepreneurs and business owners, who you can call on for help and advice has been amazing.

What advice would you give to a promising business founder?

Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others, discuss ideas and ask when you need help. You can’t be the best at everything, so reach out to people for the bits you’re not so good at.

How would you define your leadership style?

I’m really quite relaxed and have a very collaborative approach to building the Chroma team – we’re all individually working on our own things and roles but we are all on a common mission. I’ve hired people great at their job and trust the team.

How can businesswomen support other businesswomen?

I’m a strong believer that there is space for everyone and someone else doing well does not diminish or lessen your own work or achievements. Supporting each other’s work and creating a positive culture and conversation is crucial. Amplifying one another’s voices and building strong networks is incredibly important.

” Failure is part of becoming successful ” – What has been your memorable failure and what did you learn from it?

There is always so many hurdles along the way – failure is just a normal part of growing a business. The biggest thing for us which didn’t go to plan, was launching a subscription box service – it did well at the start but was very hard to keep the momentum going. It was a lot of work and became a burden rather than enjoyable. It made me realise that we can’t be ‘everything for everyone’. We need to do what we’re good at and do it really well.

What three things do you absolutely need to help you through your toughest work days?

Time away from the laptop and phone, I normally walk my dog to get away, along with some good music!


Keep updated with the work of Chroma Stationary

Inspirational Female Founders – Deborah Obaseki

Introducing Deborah…

Meet Deborah. Founder of The Women’s Association, a social enterprise set up to help create a world where women believe they can be whoever they want to be. This is done by creating forums for conversation, bringing girls in education and professional women together to redefine stereotypes that have been imposed on women for decades. Deborah has worked with women for nearly 5 years, helping to navigate girls through education and into the workplace by providing information and access to the professional industry. This in turn gives the young women the ability to take control of their own life and dreams. Over the past five years Deborah has worked with over 2000 women from the ages of 16-35 – mentoring young ladies and working with schools across London.

How did you come up with your business idea?

I was in my final year of my first degree doing my dissertation on women in management positions. Admittedly I was quite naïve as I made the assumption that it was going to be a dissertation highlighting how far women have come and how amazing the growth has been, but I quickly found out that my assumptions were far from the truth. I began interviewing women in managerial positions to understand their take on the issue . One of the common trends from all the interviews of many of the women who had worked professionally for several years was that, if they knew, in their teems, what they know now, their journey could’ve been a lot smoother. So, hearing this I decided to do just that as part of a project called ‘Women in Leadership’. With this project I worked with schools and colleges, inviting female professionals to come in and share their stories with the young ladies, giving them a practical but inspirational idea on what it is like to work across a number of industries as a woman.

Who has been your stand out business mentor?

My stand out business mentor is Fiona Clutterbuck – Chairwoman of Paragon Bank!

What advice would you give to a promising entrepreneur?

Understand why you want to create a business because in the toughest moments, when everything isn’t going to plan, or when you plan an event for 100 people and only 10 people turn up on the day, understanding why you started will keep you going. Running a business seems cool to say and sounds fun but there are hard times, especially if you start something without cash injection, make sure your belief in what you are starting is strong. 

How would you define your leadership style?

My leadership style is mostly, laid back but to the point.

How can businesswomen support other businesswomen?

By investing time and money (where necessary) to engage in other women’s businesses. Put collaboration above competition and appreciate that the more women that are pioneering and leading, the better, especially when it comes to the next generation and their perceptions on who they can be and what they can do.

“Failure is part of becoming successful” – what has been your most memorable failure and what did you learn from it?

I planned an event in partnership with a large bank and had 20 girls set to come to an intimate event with some of their female leaders and everyone, but 1 person cancelled on the day. This could’ve been down to the really bad weather or the fact that it was around exam time. Events generally can be a bit risky, especially when it’s free, so what I learnt was that events for students should be within a certain time period and for events with large corporates I should charge a fee even if it’s refundable because they paid for food which was wasted and doesn’t look great for my business that no one turned up in the end.

What three things do you absolutely need to help you through your toughest work days?
  • Conversations with close friends/ family
  • Prayer
  • Food (lool)

Keep update with the work of Deborah Obaseki

Inspirational Female Founders – Alison Weir

Introducing Alison Weir…

Meet Alison. Founder of Wonderland Communications (a three-year-old global consumer comms agency) and co-founder of The Kindly Collective, a charity that offers help to grassroots projects that support vulnerable women, kids and creatures.

Based in Bristol and London, Alison has worked in consumer communications for nearly 20 years. She’s led UK, European and global campaigns for airlines, tech companies, entertainment and FMCG brands. With a degree in conservation, she has a big passion for ethical & environmental issues and campaigns, from social justice to sustainability.

How did you come up with your business / charity?

Literally through necessity – I’d been learning my craft and running other people’s agencies for nearly two decades. Making people good money whilst developing a better product and developing teams. I was always delivering someone else’s vision and  was always being criticised relentlessly for not following the rules. The bureaucracy and process-for-process-sake wore me down, along with the constant negativity. In the end, I had a good cry, closed my laptop, and never opened it again. A few months later I was at the pub with my husband. We took some drawing pads and sharpies and started writing out what I loved and loathed about my industry, agencies I’d worked at, clients, the work, the team… and that list (essentially what became a list of ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s) led to Wonderland. I registered the company name within the week, sorted out the email address, and got on with it.

Who has been your stand out business / charity mentor?

I’ve never had a mentor! True life fact. I had considered it at various points in my career but struggled to find someone who wasn’t massively patronising and / or who I genuinely felt I could learn something from. 

What advice would you give a promising business/ charity founder?

Oh gosh. So much to share but so much of it is out there already so it won’t sound like new news! Mmmm. Let’s try with this little lot…

  • Set your values, vision and mission at the beginning. Work super hard to understand how they translate into every part of your business, and then live and die by them. These are the things that set you apart from others, that define how you behave and what you stand for. They are your DNA!
  • Sleep as much and as well as you can! The working 5am-midnight mentality is very 1980s and won’t serve you well. Your brain needs a rest if it’s going to be able to do its thing.
  • I was told that when you start a business you shouldn’t expect to have a holiday for 3-5 years. Like ‘you won’t sleep’ this is also total nonsense and a matter of choice. Within 3 months of starting Wonderland, I was on a beach in my swimming costume, beer in hand, working through a load of complicated data. The brilliant thing about setting up on your own, is that you can genuinely work from anywhere. So, go anywhere and do it!
  • “Don’t be a dick”. The most important four words ever. In life and in business.

How would you define your leadership style?

‘Highly organised chaos’! I like things to be very well planned, however I also don’t like predictability and strongly believe in the creative magic that can come from chaos! These are generally at odds with each other, but we’ve found a way that enables us to plan to within an inch of our lives and leave room for the madness to creep in when we need it to, so it never gets boring.

How can businesswomen support other businesswomen?

See the point above about ‘Don’t be a dick’! I think it’s as simple as being conscientious, respectful, caring, nurturing and trying to do some good for others along the way. At Wonderland, we’ve always wanted there to be a higher purpose to what we do, which is the reason I founded our charity Kindly a little while ago. It enables us to support vulnerable women, kids and creatures through fundraising initiatives like the Anthony Burrill ‘Kindness Is Strength’ print last Christmas. That statement is something we believe in very much, professionally and personally.

” Failure is part of becoming successful ” – What has been your most memorable failure and what did you learn from it?

My most memorable failure was actually failing myself. Not realising, before it was too late, how tired I was. Not looking after myself. Not taking time out or off. Taking too much on. It was a never-ending cycle of exhaustion, emotional, mental and physical. It wasn’t pretty then and it’s not pretty thinking about it now. What have I learnt from that failure? Well I’m writing this from bed because I’m ill with a lurgy. My husband would tell you this is because I’ve worked too much and too hard this year. So maybe I haven’t learnt anything?! Except I have. I’ve learnt that I’m pretty good at what I do. I’ve learnt that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone, and in fact I never did. I’ve learnt to trust myself. I’ve learnt to believe that I am worthy of good things and good times and great people. And then, when a time comes that I need to spend a few days in bed, I do it with absolute relish, ten thousand cups of tea, my favourite dirty snacks and my dog. And I love it.

What three things do you absolutely need to help you through your toughest work days?
  • My husband
  • Someone asking, “would you like a cup of tea?”
  • Noise! A strong and eclectic soundtrack + lots of chatter + interruptions + the dog + laughter = happiness + productivity

Keep updated with the work of Wonderland Communications & Kindly Collective

Wonderland Communications

Inspirational Female Founders – Abi Wright

Introducing Abi Wright…

Meet Abi. Founder of Spabreaks.com an online Spa Travel company which offers affordable and exclusive offers for spa and theatre packages, recovery retreats for ‘singletons, hen parties, groups and everyone in between’.

How did you come up with your business idea?

I worked in the world of hotel spas for about 10 years before I started Spabreaks.com. During this time, I really got to know how many amazing experiences there were available, however the message wasn’t really getting out there.  Everyone had a very linear idea about what spas were about – often deemed to be just for rich, perfect women with perfect lives and lots of money. 

I really wanted to show everything that spas had to offer – from the real wellness side of things to the fun of an afternoon tea with friends and facials, and how important all of that is to wellbeing.  So, when I set up Spabreaks.com I really wanted to showcase spas differently, market them more dynamically and make it really easy for individuals to find the right spa break for them through the advice and expertise of our team.

My goal was to bridge the divide between commercial success and brand integrity for the many amazing spas in the UK and around the world.

Who has been your stand out business mentor?

I have not really had a mentor of my own, which is why I think I am so passionate about wanting to provide support for other young people, especially women, to feel supported and empowered to achieve their goals in work and life. 

I don’t come from a remarkable background.  I wasn’t remarkable at school.  I failed every maths test I ever took.  In fact, my teacher told me I wouldn’t amount to anything at all.  I don’t have any formal business training, and I started my company at the same time as becoming a mum.  But I am doing it and I have amazing people around me, working with me every day. 

That said, while I don’t have mentors I do have women who I thoroughly admire in the industry and who I take real inspiration from – people like Sue Harmsworth, who founded ESPA and has made a phenomenal contribution to the wellness industry.

What advice would you you give to a promising entrepreneur?
  • Know your industry – the best ideas come from people who have really observed the industry they want to be in and understand how it works and what its limitations have been.
  • Trust your gut – get other peoples’ opinions of course, it’s good due diligence.  But if you know your industry then you can afford to trust your gut on the decisions you make.  Sometimes that’s all you have.  At least if it doesn’t pay off then you have the peace of mind that you did what you thought was right at the time.
  • Surround yourself with people who share your vision and are passionate about driving it forward.  You don’t want a team of yes men around you, but you do want people with the energy and enthusiasm to make things happen.  You definitely don’t want people with a ‘can’t do’ attitude because they will wear you down.

How would define your leadership style?

I really work hard to try to empower other people to feel confident in their roles.  I am always involved in every aspect of the business.  I think it’s really important to muck in and know what’s going on, but I don’t believe in micromanaging your team.  I really think it’s important to build trust in the people you work with.  That way it becomes an amazing and really powerful working environment.

How can businesswomen support other businesswomen?

I really think it starts with the attitude we bring into the room to be honest.  I think sometimes there is a culture of trying to bring other women down, criticising and I don’t like that.  As a woman you’re often damned if you do and damned if you don’t, but I really believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.  We’re all in this together, so be helpful, be positive and be encouraging.  There’s room for us all to be successful!

” Failure is part of becoming successful ” – What has been your most memorable failure and what did you learn from it?

I don’t think it’s one particular failure that I would highlight, I think it’s lots of little things that didn’t quite work out as planned, or perhaps more importantly than anything it wasn’t a reality of failure but my feeling like a failure at times – that has been challenging.

Like I said before, I was never exceptional at school and I didn’t have a big fancy business degree I could point to.  I have always felt a bit like the underdog, and I have always been proving to myself, as well as to anyone else, that I can make it all work. 

That’s something you have to square with in your own head, but it is a driving force.  I think the biggest challenge for me, as well as the biggest driver, has been balancing being a working mum.  There have been plenty of times I have worried I have done the wrong thing, that my children might resent me for working a lot.  I have always tried to make sure I am home when they are home, and flexible working has been a big part of that, but it doesn’t stop you from worrying and that’s always felt like the biggest gamble because you don’t really know the result until it’s too late. 

That said, my kids are getting to an age when they do voice their opinions and thankfully they are really proud that mummy is out there working hard.  That feeling and that knowledge has also really informed how I try to support my own staff to balance home and work, especially when they become parents or their personal lives present challenges.

What three things do you absolutely need to help you through your toughest work days?
  • My husband
  • My children
  • My team