Inspiring women are go-getters. They make things happen. They live life with no regrets. They are learning about themselves and reaching their full potential. They are not afraid to take risks and just go for it. I talked to Rosie and Sophie from Startup Sisters who decided to set up a joint venture, starting with just an Instagram account. A year later, after gaining a loyal following, they now run a series of pop-up stores across London, showcasing and selling interior design pieces.
Photography by Mohamed Khalil
1. What has been your journey so far?
Sophie: For us, the journey started with that decisive moment, that point of no return. I guess there’s a trigger that pushes you to take the leap. For me, that trigger was the approach of my 30th birthday. There were so many things I wanted to do, experiences I wanted to have. I had this hunger to live several lives in one. The trouble is, you think you have time. It was this realisation that led me to pause my life. I loved my job, but I couldn’t account for the months passing by, even the years. Just a blur of highs and lows. I wanted to pause time and soak in life. That, and falling over into a puddle in the car park at work after an 80-hour week. It was pitch black, I was soaked and I’d ripped my favourite trousers. Sure, I was looking at the stars, but I was very much in the gutter. That was definitely a turning point.
Rosie: Yes, there’s definitely one precise moment, a trigger that you always remember. I worked in Paris for four years in my early twenties, teaching myself everything I could about interior design and real estate. I wanted to put this experience into a dream project, where there were no rules, no boundaries. We took the leap and gave up our jobs. I moved back to London and Sophie and I set up an Instagram account, posting our interior design inspirations. We were so surprised by how loyal our followers became. Before long, we were able to turn what we’d created into a business. After a few months, we yearned for a physical space, a canvas, to style and showcase things we’d been collecting from flea markets and brocantes all over the world.
2. What’s so different about your brand?
Sophie: I think being sisters, there’s an inherent intuition there – a natural trust. Also, there’s no divide between work and play. When we’re relaxing, or travelling together, we’re always coming up with ideas for new colour schemes, patterns and projects, and when we’re in work mode we’ll find ourselves laughing about a random childhood memory.
3. What would you say is the most popular product in sell?
Sophie: Our limited edition cushions have been the most popular, selling out in our pop-ups and on Instagram. We try to choose bold and confident fabrics that reflect the feeling of the time in some way.
Rosie: What we love about the pop-up model is the immediacy of it. We’re able to be reactionary – moving spaces and sparking new collaborations keeps things fresh.
4. How did you overcome the fear of failure and the insecurities you had when starting your business?
Rosie: Honestly, failure was the last thing on our minds. We were so determined to make what we were doing a success that there wasn’t any time to consider failure. We didn’t have a business loan or savings, but we had the usual bills to pay, so we had to make it work – there was no other option. It helped a lot having each other to lean on if we ever had a moment of panic.
Sophie: Definitely. We’ve always had a strong sense of self-belief too, and we’re each others’ champions. We’ve both had moments in life that have put everything into perspective. Since then, we’ve had an inbuilt optimism that has proven to be our most valuable asset.
5. What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Sophie: Taking that leap – handing in your notice, or having that meeting with your boss. Giving up one professional identity in pursuit of another is terrifying, but we reached a point where we were comfortable with the notion of success as moving sideways in life, not just up, and that freed us to make the jump.
Rosie: It’s true. You’ll convince yourself 100 times that today’s not the right day to start. But the thing is, you’re never going to be ready, so waiting for that moment is pointless. Although it’s terrifying, start before you’re ready, even if you’re not totally content with what you’re putting out there. It’s starting that matters. Our early motivation was a quote by Ijeoma Umebinyuo:
“Start now. Start where you are. Start with fear. Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands shaking. Start with voice trembling but start. Start and don’t stop. Start where you are, with what you have. Just… start.”
6. What was your biggest lesson or advice you learnt?
Sophie: A valuable piece of advice I was once given is that some people are radiators and others are drains. Some people will encourage and lift you up, while others inflict self-doubt. Be mindful of who you surround yourself with. Another piece of advice that has guided me through my career is that, if your ideal job role doesn’t exist, create it. Merge two roles, draft a job description and present it to your boss. Do extra tasks at work – do them successfully and then turn them in to a salaried part of your job. Be visionary.
Rosie: What I sometimes do, which helps me when I’m feeling a bit lost, is to imagine myself at the end of my life, talking to my present self. I find that it really helps to step out of the immediacy of the bubble and to see the problem from afar. Imagining the advice that I’d give my young self makes me think of the bigger picture and realise that everyone’s future is still to be shaped.
7. What would you say to anyone who is just starting out in interiors?
Rosie: I’d say, get good at photographing interiors. Teach yourself as much as you can about lighting and composition. Start out small, in your own bedroom, or ask friends if you can restyle their apartments and let you photograph them afterwards. Once you’ve built up an archive of interiors that you’ve worked on, you’ll start to recognise your own personal touch, the details that make these interiors ‘yours’. Photographing interior after interior will really fine-tune your eye and sharpen your attention to detail. Dare to ask friends of friends if you can style their spaces too, and the circle will keep widening until you’re experienced enough to start marketing and charging for your work.
Sophie: Definitely, it’s all about self-educating and broadening your knowledge. Learn from as many sources as you can. TED talks were brilliant for this, and we read every book we could find about business and our field. We were also curious to hear case studies and real life examples of entrepreneurial exploration and made it our mission to learn about alternatives to traditional business models.
Rosie: Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and do the more unglamorous work too. We’ve had those half-crying half-laughing moments, scraping paint off concrete floors in the pitch black (don’t ask!), and some very close shaves. Those moments are what make the highs so satisfying. We’ve also found that relationships underpin everything in business. Reply to emails, even if they don’t seem relevant to your brand. Nurture contacts. Allocate a slot of your day to correspondence. You never know what it could lead to.
Sophie: Ultimately, just go for it – we wanted to be part of this millennial tech explosion. Technology meets creativity meets entrepreneurial drive. The notion that you can create something from nothing, share it, promote it, and influence. People no longer rely on expensive websites, big corporations, or traditional advertising routes. The whole landscape has changed. So our main advice would be, just see. See what you can achieve when you start with just a phone and an idea.
Please support Sophie and Rosie and follow them on Instagram @startup.sisters. You can also meet them at their next pop-up at Tribeca Studios, 17 The Mall, Ealing, W5 2PJ on 28th and 29th January 2016.
Photography by Jamal Anthony (Instagram @jamalanthonyy).