Queens of e-commerce
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As winners of Entrepreneur of the Year at the tenth Investor AllStars, Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish have a lot to show for their work last year. GrowthBusiness asks the duo what the landmarks have been.
For entrepreneurial pair Sophie Cornish and Holly Tucker it has been a big year, topped off by jointly scooping Entrepreneur of the Year at this year’s Investor AllStars.
Tucker and Cornish’s e-commerce website notonthehighstreet.com started life in their kitchens in 2006 and has since gone on to build its base of partner sellers to 3000.
However, it has been far from plainsailing for the pair, who nearly ran out of money in their first year of operation. But despite the hardships along the way, the two insist that giving up was never an option.
Venture capital contributions have played a big part in getting the business to this stage, and a number of high-profile investors have signed up to the company’s ethos.
In May notonthehighstreet.com closed its biggest round to date when Fidelity Growth Partners joined as a backer and led a £10 million round. The transaction also saw return contributions from Index Ventures and Greylock Partners.
In securing Fidelity as a backer, notonthehighstreet.com can now count Davor Hebel, shortlisted for Investor of the Year at Investor AllStars, as a board member alongside Ben Holmes of Index Ventures, who topped Business XL’s Power Top 50 ranking in February.
Despite raising their first eight-figure investment round, Tucker and Cornish say that they haven’t always found it easy to pitch their business.
‘It was very difficult finding the right investor; you need to have a shared vision and make sure the balance is right in the partnership,’ Cornish explains.
‘Holly and I have now successfully raised four round of funding but I still remember the first time – we had hundreds of meetings with men in suits who didn’t understand our model. It was very challenging.’
Continuing to grow the company has been target number one for Tucker and Cornish, with new technology additions helping to ‘develop the site in line with what our customers want and need’.
The two also launched their first book, ‘Build a Business From Your Kitchen Table’, with the aim of supporting more enterprises and encouraging start-ups in the UK.
Tucker and Cornish’s business not only gives rise to their own entrepreneurial ambitions but also provides a platform for others to pursue theirs. The site works by allowing small-scale sellers to effectively leverage up their cottage industry and access a new range of customers.
Cornish adds, ‘Providing an online platform for small creative businesses means that we can give them huge reach that they wouldn’t be able to target alone.
‘Our marketing and PR expertise have seen some of our partners experience massive growth. One partner who started off from the cottage industry with modest beginnings now employs two full-time members of staff and has passed the £1 million of sales landmark.’
In rising to where they are in the e-commerce world the two women have themselves become inspirational female entrepreneurs. However, they have their own female figureheads to look up to.
Tucker cites the ‘game changing’ mentality of The Body Shop entrepreneur Anita Roddick and chief executive of Newton Investment Management and 30 per cent Club founder Helena Morrissey as particularly admirable.
Cornish respects women who take on great physical or mental challenges such as sailor Dee Caffari or Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids Company, as people she aspires to emulate.
Unlike their heroes, Tucker and Cornish have each other to bounce ideas off and provide a complementary mind.
‘Holly is a visionary and has amazing and big ideas, and I complement that with my belief in ensuring everything is the best it can possibly be for our customers and sellers,’ Cornish says.
‘We make a great team which allows us to run notonthehighstreet.com at its absolute best.’
This desire to make the business the best it can be has led to a number of new additions to the platform in the past year.
Notonthehighstreet.com launched its multi-currency functionality facility which Tucker says has been ‘highly successful’ and led to a significant increase in the company’s international sales.
In the coming months, Tucker and Cornish will be taking on their first international small business partners as it looks to open itself up to new markets and put to work the venture capital cash which they banked back in May.
At the end of 2011, the site hired Jason Weston, formerly of Amazon, as COO and Mark Hodson from PayPal as CMO.
They have also added tools which they hope will attract more customers and improve the overall user experience. In the past year the site has launched a refer-a-friend scheme and a customer calendar. The pair also told GrowthBusiness that a ‘very exciting’ launch is on the cards in the next month.
In beating off competition from the likes of Alastair Crawford at 192.com and Rob Keve at Fizzback, both Tucker and Cornish have proved that their e-commerce model is working and providing an outlet for others to build their own businesses.
For this year’s Entrepreneur(s) of the Year, it appears that this is only the beginning of their journey.