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- Early 20s, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. That was the first knockdown. - Holly Tucker, ex-CEO and founder of Not on the High Street. Holly's story is mind blowing. - We go and pitch the idea of Not on the High Street to the land of VCs, who would tell us that it was lovely that us women wanted to create a crafts website, but really there was nothing in it. And I just said, well, we're actually going to change the face of retailing, funny enough. It's not a craft website. We tried to build a marketplace with no tech experience, but we knew what we wanted. And so we found someone who built the technology that eBay were building in America, and we just relaunched and we nailed it. How could I smile or laugh? I found myself becoming a different version of me. One of the lines that Holly and Co is bringing colour to grey, and I think I was turning grey. - Holly Tucker, ex-CEO and founder of Not on the High Street, one of the UK's most loved brands, but a real pioneer in its space at its time. Holly's story is mind blowing. How she rose from someone that had no experience, didn't have huge amounts of capital. At a time when women in business, especially women in tech, had it harder than anybody else, she built an online tech company that went on to be worth hundreds and hundreds of millions. But her story isn't straightforward. It's riddled with pain, divorce, heartbreak, turmoil, and having to reinvent and refind herself time and time again. The fundamental life lessons that she shares today and that she unpacks for us are life lessons based on problems that we're all going to experience in our lives. A real joy to bring you this conversation, and I want to thank Holly for her openness, her intellect, and her incredibly inspiring personality. Without further ado, I'm Stephen Bartlett, and this is the Diaries CEO. I hope nobody's listening, but if you are, then please keep this to yourself. - Holly, I always start in the same place in this podcast because I think it provides the greatest amount of context on a person.
Journey Of Personal And Professional Growth
Your early years (02:15)
So I'm somewhat sort of, would have asking these questions, but they're so incredibly foundational to who you went on to become because everything from the start of your journey till now proves that you are clearly an outlier in every way. So tell me below the age of 18, what were the factors that went into making that person that went on to become this person? - Well, I was nicknamed Holly Hurricane, and that was because I couldn't wait to get to the next stage. So when I, you know, turned, I think it was 12, I persuaded my dad that I needed to get a job in a pub cleaning it. So he would wait outside in the car park at five o'clock in the morning. I don't think I'd do this for my son, by the way anymore, but he would wait outside the pub and would pick me up after my shift. I went on and then I just continually worked when my friends weren't working. I decided that, you know, I needed the first mobile phone, you know, one of those bricks, I think it was one to one. I think that it would only work to the M25. And so I was just continually pushing it to be grown up or to be out of childhood, I think. And so... - Why? - Because I was in, I think, and still am today, incredibly excited by life. I really wanted to juice life and I was ready to work. And I think work has always been an incredibly important thing. I remember at 15 becoming an intern for Publicist Advertising Agency on Baked Street. So as my friends would spend the summer out in the, you know, getting up to mischief, no doubt, I would be traveling up to Baked Street to spend my summer working. And I did that when I was 15, 16 and 17. And it actually ended up being on the day of my A-level results. My mum waited around the corner and I went for a job interview on the same day I was getting these A-level results in the morning. And I got a job as the junior junior team maker at Publicist Advertising Agency. Raw, and that I now call my sort of university of life. And then my mum got me in the car and we went to pick up my A-level results where I thought up until about a year ago I got a D in Business Studies, I actually got an E. And that was just ironic because that was the moment I started work. I celebrated my 18th birthday in the office and I've been working ever since I'm 44 now. And so I think that that says a lot about who I was. I was just so eager to be in the big, wide world. I remember my parents going on holiday and I was living at home. And I mean, again, if my son ever did this to me, I just rented a place with some friends in Holston because I was working in Lake Street. And just moved out. I just packed up the car and drove the car and texted my parents to say, "Mom, Dad, I've moved out. "I'm living in Holston," which they weren't necessarily thrilled about. - At what age? - I must have been 18, yeah, 18. So that has been me. I was dyslexic, didn't find out for my exams. I am definitely someone who has to work hard to achieve and always been creative. So that has been a constant in my life. I studied art at A-level and I created this huge sculpture that they'd never had someone do before called Tom Dick and Harry. And they actually cast it in bronze and had a crane pull it out of the art studio and they had to take the windows out. And it's still there today at my school because I always go for it, I suppose. So yeah, that was me. But so when we say before the age of 18, I was in an office at the age of 18. All my friends went to uni. And as I said, I did this University of Life thing. - That work ethic, was it at all influenced by your parents? I mean, you see you're excited by life, but was there an example set by your parents about work ethic? - I think, you know, I was always fascinated by my father's role. He was a financial CFO at General Electric and he traveled the world. And I was always fascinated with what he did. My grandparents all had, you know, their own businesses and I was fascinated by that. My mother had a small business when I was younger. I think that always, you know, how we get our money was always placed. We weren't, we were fine, but money and where we got our money was always spoken about. So I very quickly realized you work to live. So that's what happens. And so if I wanted to go out, I needed to work for that money. So that has just, that was always part of me. So, you know, maybe that just led to me just continuing to work because that meant that you lived. And so yeah, so I think that, but my work ethic, you know, again, we were talking off air, you know, I give it my all, you know, I lose myself in my work. It is me. And so that's an interesting thing as you get older. So you work at publicists until you're 20 years old? Yes, I worked there until I was about 21 years old. And then I got head hunted to move to Conde Nast. Meantime, I managed to marry my childhood sweetheart. Again, Hurricane Holly was in a hurry. So I bought a place, I got married. I need some more context here. So your childhood sweetheart, you met him when he was... We were 14. 14, wow. Yeah, yeah. Okay, you're both 14. Yeah, yeah. And we got married at 21 and divorced by 24. And so it was an incredible... My early twenties were a very, very difficult period of time of my life because I had built up since I was 18. You know, I had built up this life in this world. And of course you get married then, right? And, you know, you're going to have children and you've got a property in Chiswick and, you know, you're all there. And then sort of life pays you back. Or gives you... I don't say pay you back. That's the wrong way. Gives you an interesting lesson, which is be careful to be in a hurry all the time. Just because you want it and you can get it, doesn't mean it's right. And so we found ourselves as a natural human being, developing in our personalities and think... And realizing that we weren't destined to be together forever. Meantime, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour and that was fine. It wasn't fatal. But it had a lot of side effects. So at quite a young age, at sort of 23, 24-ish, I was dealing with a lot full-time job, all these sorts of things. And again, I look at my son who's about to turn 17, I think, "Oh, wow, Holly, you were young to do all of this." So in my early 20s, a lot of things changed for me. And I had to slow down. I had to lose full-time work. I had to become freelance. I had to concentrate on my health. I had to get divorced. And so, yeah, and that was the first knockdown. I would say I've had two of those in my life. And that was the first one. And it was pretty painful. You find out at 23, 24 years old that you've got a brain tumour. How did you find that out? I was just very poorly. I put on a lot of weight. And I was just not functioning correctly. And in the end, with all pushing it, because also a young girl going to the doctor and pushing it with all the scans we found out. But as I said, it was liveable with. And that's something that's fine. But it caused just a huge amount of turmoil. And that's not to say I think my marriage would have ever lasted anyway. But it just created turmoil. And I now think back to how tough your early 20s are. I don't think I would repeat them. I think it's quite a difficult age. You're meant to be grown up. You're just still a kid. You're trying to work everything out at the same time. Yeah, absolutely. Well, especially you, the situation you'd put yourself in. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. But you just think the world's against you. And now I just realise it was a great kick up the butt. And so you go into freelance work. You're separated from this partner. You've learned the lessons there, hopefully. You've understood the situation with your health. Yeah. You didn't have to have an operation. No, no, I couldn't have one. No. Yeah, I was, I asked that particular question because I actually found out last week that one of my, one of my best friends has a brain tumour. And I was intrigued by the array of emotions that you felt in that moment. And I asked that question from a supportive friends standpoint as how you support someone that's found that out. I think she's 24, 24, if she found out. She found out two weeks ago that she's haven't shared a brain tumour and they put her into an operation the next Tuesday. Wow. OK. Because of the severity of the situation. So she's just come out of the operation last night. Oh, I really wish her well. I mean, mine wasn't, you know, it wasn't that serious. So, you know, that was something that I was very, very lucky about. But I think one of the things was is that I had to find, you know, twice in my life, I've had to find out who I am again. Because when you pull your identity into something else that's not yourself or it becomes your identity, I think we all do that in relationship sometimes, you know, that you are married or, you know, that's what I did as a young girl. So then when it all fell apart, who am I? And that was a really difficult moment for me. And slightly the thing that saved me was going back to my creative roots. You know, if I hadn't gone to the University of Life, I was going to go and do an art degree. So creativity sort of saved me. And I went on to, you know, create vegetable wreaths, which again, I just always think, you know, the story needs to be sexier than the vegetable wreaths. But there it was. And I built this wreath and I went down to my local high street to try and sell it. And I was just freelancing at that time in publishing. But this was allowing me to be creative in the evening. Why vegetable wreaths, though? You know, it was just I needed to be creative. I love interiors and I've always, you know, at the age of my 14th birthday present was a subscription to the world of interiors. So, you know, that has just been something I have to have a creative environment to exist in. So my home right now is a shrine to not in the high street. I had to move house to get bigger and bigger homes just to hold what, you know, you can imagine what I'm surrounded by. And so that was just glorious for me. You know, why not? I just did it. And then that was this path that just opened up to me because I realized that I needed to sell these things because I was going to obviously become a millionaire, you know, for reinventing the wreath because that's what was needed in the world. And I realized that actually there wasn't any local fare that I could go and sell it. So again, if you dream it up, you can make it happen. So I created the first Chiswick Christmas Fair with 200 stores so that I could get the best store. I mean, that like it's so simple because a lot of people, they wouldn't even, they would have had the reef idea and never done anything about it. And then when they realized that they couldn't sell it anywhere, they would have never done anything about that as well. But there's clearly something that underpins that perspective that, okay, well, that doesn't exist. So I can create that and then that doesn't exist. I'll create that to support that. That's my DNA. That's what I'm doing now. Holly and Coates, what I did at Northern High Street, I don't look just because it doesn't exist doesn't even bother me. It's actually just part of the fun of building. I love building. I love it. What about the risk, Holly? Well, what risk? Because, you know, what was going to go wrong there, people weren't going to come to the fair. I knew that they would. I knew that they'd light my wreaths because they were good. I didn't see risk. You know, I just went into it and I created this event and it kicked off. It was amazing, sold all my wreaths, hated wreaths by the end of the thing. Was not going to have that career, but now I was going to have a fair career. I was going to put on events. So I quit my job and told my dad to be my CFO, not in the high street and his CFO at Holly and Co. And just said, right, that's what I'm now going to do. And so I delivered all the wreaths, got rid of that out of my household. And I then created these events and put on 20 events around London with small businesses. And that was almost, you know, again, a pretty bad existence because I was on my own putting on these events. It was, you know, pouring with rain one day. You can't control the weather. You can't control the football being changed. You can't do anything. But what it did do is it made me realize. My total love for small businesses and what they create because I curated all of those stalls. And I could see that there was absolute hidden treasure that no one else had discovered before. And so the town hall roof, I suppose, was the prototype to not in the high street. I want to go back to something you said a second ago, which was about that moment where you kind of lose orientation, your marriage is ended.
Losing orientation in your life (16:37)
Because I just think so many people listening to this either have gone through that or going to go through that moment where they have a significant life change, which completely makes them unanchored from what they're like purposes and who they are. I'm fascinated by how long that process lasted for you and what advice you'd give to someone who, because I experienced it a little bit when I left my business or actually the first time I experienced it was when someone made me a really big offer for my business. And then I went home that day and like mentally spent the money and thought, well then who am I? Yeah. Who am I now? Yeah. Because your whole identity was attached to this business for whom I say like, what advice would you have for someone that's going through that sort of like loss of direction because there's been a significant life change and they don't know who they are or which way to go anymore? Well, it's actually something that now I have a word for. Whereas at the time it was a sort of process. Then I consult with small businesses and I don't now do one-on-ones. But in my book, for instance, it's called A Brand Heart and it's basically I believe that a business has a heart and everything has to come off it. That's the pumping organ that everything should come back to. Now you as a founder need to understand what should go into that heart and it actually should be made up of you. So I think what I did was I went back to you. What makes Holly exist? What makes Holly alive? Through that process, which was about a year, and my second one which will come to probably lasted two or three years, was creativity was one. During creative folk, my community, who was I meant to belong to, building, entrepreneurism, all these elements were coming through. I was lucky at the end of the first this year. I actually met my partner, who's been my partner for 18 years and I got married and locked down. So now he's my husband. So I was lucky to find somebody. He did a lot of cheerleading for me. Because when you're in that place, you don't really have a perspective on anything that you can give anymore. So I think that's another incredibly important thing is to surround yourself with people who adore you and are willing to tell you what makes a sunshine out of you, what that is. So I was lucky to have that. But that brand heart, the who is Holly, just cutting it up into five pieces and say, okay, if there were five things that I've got to concentrate on to restore me, what are they? But it's a pretty painful process. What role does patience play in all of that process? Well, none at the beginning. I mean, zero patience. I have hurricane Holly. Do you know what I mean? Now I've got a little bit more. Actually I'm enjoying that getting older and just having a slight listening more, not running so fast and picking up the cues along the way, which I think I probably missed the first time around. So I'm actually really happy to become more patient. I mean, we'll put it in perspective. I'm very ambitious. But I am actually learning to listen to the world a bit more. And even though you've cut your heart into five pieces there to dissect who you actually are, that doesn't necessarily mean you know the path in terms of the business idea that's going to get you there or the career. But you know the fundamental principles of what you're looking for. And then what you need to do, like experiment, do something. Yeah. Well, actually that's not what I did for not in the high street, but it is what we've done for Holly and Co. Because that was the, you know, that's the point, isn't it? You learn from not in the high street in Holly and Co. I have learned I don't want to do it all again as I did, but not in the high street. So I don't want a final destination. When you take VC money on, you have some final destinations that you know, you've turned right and not left. So always your course of direction will be to the right. With Holly and Co, what I loved was not having that and also being able to, you know, when people said, "So what is Holly and Co?" I could barely explain it. I didn't have an elevator pitch. I didn't want to fall into that. Actually, I think that is the beauty of what I was looking to do, but I did have a brand heart. I knew that we had that. I didn't have the final destination, but I have the coordinates of a few places I know to go. I know that I am, you know, I know the direction I'm heading. I always call it like an anchor. You know, I've got an anchor in the future. I've got the rope that I'm holding and that rope will change. Change it will pull me to the right and left, but I am anchored. Good and also. Yeah. And I'm enjoying that. That's what I'm really enjoying. So I've got to, we've got to go through this, this, not in the high street story, because when I was reading about your journey up until this point and the experience you'd had in working on creating a market warfare for these small businesses, and then to go from there to trying to create a e-commerce site in the year that you did, I thought was just madness. And I think about entrepreneurs coming into the den.
The Not On The High Street story (22:13)
And one of the questions I always ask them is like, have you got tech experience? Yeah. Who's got the technical sort of competence within the team, show me what you know, and from looking at what your journey up until that point, you didn't have any of that stuff. Yeah. No, none. How beautiful is naivety? Well, yeah, delusion. Yeah. It is awesome. You know, I look at it, you know, before when I was in it, in it, you know, I thought, oh, my gosh, there's so many things that we needed to have done before. Now I look at it and I think, could I just bottle up that naivety and just take a swig of it every single day? You know, naivety is the thing. If we had known really that we were creating one of the first marketplaces in the world, you know, at that point in time, there was eBay and Amazon. Amazon was still selling books. eBay had, you know, your socks that you got for Christmas and the, you know, the title was 123 grandma's socks. Etsy hadn't launched yet. We were basically looking at, you know, like many businesses start a human problem that we were experiencing and thought we could create a solution. And all we needed to do was take all those small businesses that went under my town hall roof and just put them on this thing called the internet. And then wouldn't it be great if you could shop from, you know, Lily Bell and shop from the letter room and put it into one basket? Well, of course. Okay. Well, we got 20 grand. So let's build a website for 20,000 pounds. And we found someone who could do that. Big watch out there. And funny enough, three days before launch, we realized that they couldn't do that, you know, that there was no checkout. But because again, there was no experience, we had already told the whole world with a microsite that was counting down the days to launch and all the press that we were very able to get that we were launching on this specific day, the 3rd of April. So this 20 grand, where did that come from? Well, the startup that Sophie and I had, so the story is that basically after your local fair at a three month old boy called Harry with my now husband, Frank. And I realized that I couldn't ignore what I had witnessed. When you put a group of small businesses together that are like-minded and bring together discerning customers, there's something that happens there. The high street was dying and I needed to do that. But I knew I didn't want to do it alone. After your local fair, which was my fair business, I couldn't do it alone. So I just wrote to my old boss, Sophie from Publicis. So she was my boss saying, you know, I basically don't think there's anyone else on the planet that has the yin to my yang, you know, is able to rewrite the English dictionary and can be that person. And so I wrote to her and I still got the email and it says, you know, I want to bring everything that's not on the high street together to do that. But I had a terrible beta name. And 24 hours later, she said yes, because she was that customer too. She wanted to find the curious, the discover, the small businesses and things. But I had a three month old baby that wasn't going to stop me. And so we went on this journey to build it. And as I said, you know, we tried to build a marketplace with no tech experience or retail experience, but we knew what we wanted. And so we pulled together a few savings. We were both with young children. Our husbands were working to pay for the mortgage. We got a loan from a bank, very small loan, and we re-mortgaged our homes slightly, both of us. And I think we came to it with about £80,000 thinking that we had contingency in there. I mean everything. And funny enough, we didn't have enough money. But we launched on the 3rd of April with no checkout to our shopping site. Why was there no checkout? Well, because funny enough, eBay couldn't even build a multi partner checkout with one basket. You know, no one had yet actually done that technology. So, and I remember naively calling eBay, just picking up the phone to eBay, thinking, I don't know who I'm going to get through to. Hey, hi, is that the CTO? You know that stuff you're building there is any chance I could have it to, because we're dealing with a company in Cornwall who has let us down. So we didn't, you know, this hadn't been built yet. This functionality. And so we launched, we called it a press preview and we just pivoted and we were on something called Daily Candy, which was huge at the time. We were on the Daily Mail front cover, all this sort of stuff. It was great. So we got all the traffic, but no one could check out. But you know, as mother lines that we were, and I always liken businesses to being a parent, something that in my latter years was frowned upon by the VCs, because actually I do believe that when you have that spirit of a parent, you can lift a car off a child. When you're a founder and literally you're launching a shopping site with no checkout, what are you going to do? And so we found someone who in two weeks built the technology that eBay were building in America. And we just relaunched and we nailed it. Did you run out of money in those early? Yeah, yeah, totally. We ran out money. We launched in the April and we're running out of money in the July because funny enough technology costs a lot of money, especially when it's never been built before. And so we had to go and raise money. And that was one heck of an experience because if you want to take yourself back to 2006, and we know 1% of VC money right now goes to women, what do you think the statistic was then? So we would pack up our personalised bags, we get on the tube, no money for taxis, we would knock on the doors with meetings that people knew someone who knew someone. And we go and pitch the idea of not in the high street to the land of VCs, who pretty much 100% would tell us that the wives did the shopping in their household and that it was lovely that us women wanted to create a crafts website. But really, there was nothing in it. And I just said, well, we're actually going to change the face of retailing, funny enough. It's not a craft website. And that continued right up until the Christmas. And we were now paying our staff on our egg credit card checkbooks. We were my parents who'd been mortgage their house twice. Sophie's parents lent us money. I mean, it was dark, dark days. I mean, not in the high street was definitely on its last breath. But the issue was it was working. You know, it hadn't been working up until that point. We used to have a bell that you would ring when there was a checkout of 30 pounds and we were taking 10%. And this bell would ring every second day. And we were just thinking, my God, this is just hell. But just as we were really running out of money, the bell just kept on ringing. It was happening because it was Christmas and people wanted great gifts. So that was an extraordinary journey, but one that ended well, because we found someone who understood what we were building. And by the February 2007, we got our first round of investment. How long did that take to find that person? So from when you realized you had to start fundraising to the point when you, the money hit your bank, let's say. Well, it must have been eight months. But when we were pitching, it was just before Christmas. And I remember just telling them, we hadn't got our first set of accounts yet. You know, we were there. And I remember my father being in the pitch meeting and we were putting what we were doing there, obviously avoiding the conversation that we were paying the staff with our credit card checkbooks. You know, like everything is fine. Oh my gosh. You know, it's like every time you raise any money, the grass only go through the sky and how you're going to do it will work it out. And it was an amazing moment and Tom Titan, who was the investor, had just written the first check for last minute.com. And he saw what we were trying to do. And he actually saw the power of female, female purchases and that whole world. And so we did the pitch and he, you know, he played with RC. He basically said, that's great. Thank you so much. And we packed up and we left. My father said, I'm so proud of you both, knowing that not in the high street just died, that we hadn't got the money. And it was finished because we, our homes were on the line. It was, it was finished. And just as we pressed the bell for the elevator, he said, actually, do you have a moment? And he bought a bottle of champagne and, and that was it. Our destinies changed. But that was how close we were. But you know, we definitely turned right that meant we got our first VC. Fantastic. And then, you know, we started building not in high street and it was growing very, very quickly. Was it ever going to fail in your view? I know you came close, but was it ever going to fail? Not at all. Never. Never, never, never. You know, at the same time that we were running out of money, I was buying every single URL for the whole world. So we couldn't pay for the heating. So we had coats on between, you know, nine AM and two. That was the coldest period in our office. And then the, because the whole building was being knocked down, but we just kept our office. So we had no boiler, no heating. But I was still buying the URLs across the globe. And, and to this day, I think it's one of the most fantastic businesses. But never would it fail ever? Because, you know, as a parent, you know, if your child had any issue, would you not think that you could overcome those issues? Absolutely. And that's the resolute, resolute that you need to be in business. It's why I call, not in the high street, my first business baby, Holly and Co my second. I love them as if they are my children. And they will get my, my full attention. What is your favourite flavour of heel Jack? Berry. Berry. My favourite flavour of heel is banana. Berry used to be my favourite flavour. And I saw someone tweet the other day, they said, because fuel is now in Tesco's, but the only flavour in Tesco's is the chocolate flavour. They were sort of demanding Tesco's put the, the Berry flavour in, because that's Steve's favourite. It's not. My favourite flavour is clearly banana now. Those are the ones I look for the most. What does heel do for me? I mean, I've talked about this extensively, but for me, I get that a nutritionally complete diet in 60 seconds. And in the world I live in, that is a, that is a remarkable thing. And this is why even before they became a podcast sponsor, I was buying heel to my office. And every single week, you know, and the funny thing is Jack, who's the director and producer of this podcast, he tried heel ones. Was I like, yeah, yeah, the guy is addicted to heel. He's a fiend for heel now, because once you see the impact it has, you understand the convenience, you understand it's nutritionally complete. For me, it's life changing. And that's why heel is a bit of a, it's a bit of a cult. Once you try it, you can't go back.
Optimism in business (34:28)
You just said that, you know, the company was completely out of money, but I, but I, I could tell that you also didn't believe it would fail, which is a bit of a, yeah, addiction to some degree, but I, because it was just money. Yeah. And you could, you could you figure that out. I don't know how. Yeah. But you know, you know, money is just this, you know, okay. So if we got the money, that in the hard bit really is doing the doing, isn't it? It's building it. So I always just knew somehow this will work out. I mean, of course you have the old terrible dark days, but I knew it was going to work out. How could it not? We want something. And I knew that. That level of optimism in upon reflection of your career of the last, you know, couple of decades, how important has that optimism been that just like unexplainable, unjustifiable. I don't know why, but it'll just, it will all work out on to, because you've also, because you've employed a lot of people seeing the opposite. That sense of like catastrophe, you know, that, you know, surprising. Oh, yeah. I've kissed a lot of those for us. Yeah. Wouldn't you say that that's a common denominator you find in entrepreneurs? 100%. I mean, even in team members, someone, so I've, I, it's so, I can't explain it enough. One example I was come back to was I was flying to Brazil and Obama was speaking at the same time as me on the same stage as me just like speaking just after me. And I thought, well, Obama's here, I'm a speaker, he's a speaker, can't I meet him? And someone that was working for me at the time when, oh, no, I asked somebody and they said, no, sick as a fuck if they said no, ask someone else and just keep asking. And then they'll like, no, no, no. Steve, we've been asking a look and they just said, no. So I was, I'll do it then. And I, I sent some emails and within 30, within 30 emails, someone comes and grabs me, goes come and meet Obama. Yeah. And I just think there's always a way. And your life and my life is testament to this upset this, like, there is a way or there's a way. That's, you know what I mean? There's a way where I have to work harder. You know what I mean? And I don't, I don't allow for this other outcome, which is that, oh, no, we can't. I've never allowed for the other outcome ever. And it's actually my entire battery is powered by that. And I am told I radiate it. So when you're around me, you get hooked onto that. And that's can be a really good thing because it drives people in those dark days when actually the entire world is telling you no. And I'm saying yes. And so it's an amazing thing. And I think that optimism and actually now, as I said, getting older, it's actually, I would say there's optimism. And now I also have gratitude and that's powering my battery. You know, I worked out my 40th birthday. I have 29,000 days on this planet because I'm as another golden thread that I'm sure you recognize as efficiency. I'm freaking addicted to it. So I needed to know. So you know this life, I just need to schedule this a bit. So, you know, so I've got 29,000 days. Oh shit, it's not 29,000 days. It's 14,000 days because I'm 40. Right. Okay. So that has also led to a countdown till I die. So that also has fueled this optimism and and fuck it mentality because if today I am going to change the world, which I can, it's even fueled even in a better way actually. I didn't have that at not in the high street because that was just, you know, firefighting and optimism was that, that, that fuel, but now I think I have gratitude powering that even more. And that's been in a beautiful, beautiful stage of my life. That is amazing. And you're right. So you're in survival mode and now you're now you've got choice. Now I've got choice and a bit of, you know, the battle scars are there and I have an appreciation that, you know, I can give everything and all, but I need to make sure that my time on the planet is also for me too, because I do believe I'm here to serve. And I've again, I can only say that now in hindsight, but if I am here to serve, I need to also serve myself. That sense of, I completely resonate with that. This is focus on the amount of time we have left. I wrote about it in my book at very long length and I think somewhere behind me, there's a little sand timer somewhere on there. There's usually a sand timer. So now it seems to walk around, but because I wrote about it in my book at such length, people started buying sand timers and uploading them online. And the whole point of the sand timer is it's one of the things that really allows me, it reminds me of time. It's like one of the ways we can see time happening just by turning it, you see your life moving away. And it's that important reminder to get on with it and focus on what matters. You mentioned you now feel like you're here to serve. Do you think that comes from understanding your own power? Yeah, I think so. I think so. I would have found that really difficult to tell you 20 years ago. But now I have been through it and done it. And I also know that my optimism helps people and I can see the effects and I can see, you know, what we brought up in not in the high street was full of it. You know, I used to have people come into the office from other businesses that we would hire. They literally could feel it in the air. They were uncomfortable with it. It was optimistic. It was creative. It was emotional. And they were like, this place is so emotional. And I'm like, yeah. And they're like, we need to stop that. And I'm like, we're never stopping that. And I think that that's what I've realized is that that is what I can muster up. You know, I listen to one of my favorite songs is "Cloud Busting" by Kate Bush. And when I listen to that song, I feel like I'm whipping up a storm. And that is my power, but what I try and whip up is very positive and good for the soul, good for small businesses, good for, and what are small businesses? They're found us with dreams, you know? I love that. And so that is why I've written, potentially that is now my job description for the rest of my life is to build something that I can pour that in and be efficient and so amplify it. And I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. And I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life.
Hiring for a business (41:48)
I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. I'm not sure if I can get that out of my life. The team is small, things are agile, typically the most fun times. The team was small, myself, Sophie. I hired my sister, who was just going to help me out for a summer. She still works for me at Holy Incos. That's been a good 16, 17 years that we've worked together now. I hired then her university friend. Her university friend came and coded the site. That beautiful moment that you're just literally, do you have a pulse and do you breathe? Would you like to come and work for us? I was talking to somebody the other day and he said, "Is that wonderful naivety where you get in a car in the cab and the taxi drivers really, really chatty? You almost going off with them a job because it's this moment where you need soldiers. That's that time isn't it? You don't need the skill. We need power and we need energy and we need commitment and we need you not to have a high salary." That moment in time. That was what it was. We were growing at 2000%. We were trying to keep up with it. I call it that speed train with all the nuts and bolts are flying off and you're at the driving seat. There you're going. As you said with optimism, that energy is just infectious. We just were growing so rapidly. We were going from £100,000 TTV to £1 million the next year to £2.5 million to £6 million. Keeping up with that and also remember in a marketplace you have two clients. I always laugh at people that moan about having one client like try to. You've got your customers and you've got all the small businesses which by the way, you are only as great as their ability to keep up with 2000% growth. Some of them are growing at 5000% because they're the hot product. It's that coaching of that group of people to keep up with you. Meanwhile, the swan to the customers and the swan to the partners which we call them partners from day one. They weren't sellers. We were only as great as they were. That was that beautiful shift that we were creating in this world. We were respecting small businesses. They would get a media pack that cost us way too much. I think about £5 per thing. But we wanted them to know how talented they were. We curated from day one which now is a word we use a lot. Back then it was not a word. Why aren't you accepting everybody? We would be no. We're turning away 90% of everyone that joins. Even though they're paying a joining fee and we're eating baked beans and worrying about the mortgage, we're not getting paid a salary. We will turn away 90% because one day our brand will thank us for it. It did. It very, very much did. You talked there about hiring and that flipping hiring process at the start which I know very well. I've joked about this podcast before walking into Pride and the guy selling the bags. I was like, "Do you want to be in a director?" I was like, "I had some guy on Facebook who's called Ash. One of my good friends now." He even laughs about it. He was on Jobseekers Allowance. He'd never done a job in his life. I made him marketing director. I was 18 and I was just like, "Fuck it." You know, like, "Yeah, you'll be." But you're like, "What's the worst?" I think this is a big workout, right? Imagine if it does work out that the taxi driver is going to be amazing. That is going funny enough. It doesn't necessarily work out that way. No, it almost never. But it's just, I think the interview process when you're that naive is literally, "Would you work for me?" And they go, "Yep, fine. You've got the job." Or is there salary low enough? That's actually double bonus. Sorry, it's brilliant. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it's a crazy thing. The hiring process has been, again, on reflection. Something I'm learning right now to do is that would probably be one of the most beautiful points of building Holly and Co is my team and investing heavily in the development of each one of the souls that I think our life is with me. Now, on the high street, it was the soldiers. You needed the energy. And then you get into the next stage, don't you? Where actually those people, by very nature, can't stay with the business because now you need skill. And there's that awful moment where you're having to let people go for the first time and bring in skill. And to bring in skill, you now need to interview, don't you? And you now need to be able to know even what the skill is that you're even looking for as you're running at 200 miles an hour. And then it goes into that next stage where you're now looking for the people to run the people who you just hired. And that process for me was not something I could spend enough time on. I mean, we interviewed absolutely everybody until the point that we had a C-suite. And I always remember my father saying that 90% of my role as CEO should have been the people. 90% of my role was not the people because how on earth could it be? I mean, you know, you were the next race was happening or we were going international or you know, we've decided to double the company in a year. And now on reflection, when I look at that, it's the people. So with Holly and Co, I've now got a good group of people that I believe our life is. I'm happy to say that because what I believe is that they don't even know how great they are. And I'm going to shine their diamond until it completely shines. And that's dealing with their personal side. That's dealing with their professional skills. That's dealing with their whole self. And that is something I'm fascinated by. And I think I'm potentially going to build one of the most incredible teams that I've ever been lucky enough to manage. And you've learned those people. I just, everything you said then, I'm not, I just agree with it all. I agree with every single word because we went through the same, exactly the same journey of hiring anybody, bringing in skill, bringing in a bunch of people that had done this job for 20 years to tell me what to do. And I got out of the way and I let them run the team and do all the hiring for me. But then I also had the reflection three, four years in that in fact, this whole time, what I actually was was a recruitment company. Yeah. And that was my sole responsibility. Yeah. And then you look at all the people there and you go to the kitchen that I would and I would be getting a cup of tea. And I wouldn't know the person to my left. Yeah. How terrible is that? And also that you realize when you get that C sweet in because that's what we need to do because we've now got VCs and we need to get the huge company, COOs and the CFOs and all the Cs I call it in. And they just then recruit the carbon copies of themselves. So suddenly you've got an entire organization of many of those people. And actually, my gosh, suddenly the pendulum swings. So for not in the high street, remember, we always used to say, you know, we've got our marketplace hat on one day. So that is about trading the site and understanding what customers need. And then we've got our retail hat on, which is the brand because we're not in the high street, we're not eBay, we're not Amazon, we are not on the high street. We are that beautiful mix because we know our customer. And so that was very interesting because actually what you need and require to be able to curate unique products and unique companies is creativity, eyeballs, taste, all these things that are unable to excel. You cannot put, you know, many times I've been asked, can you just please tell me the process between A and Z of a great product? And I'm like, you see, you even asking me that idea means that you don't even understand what makes a great knot in the high street product. So that was the difficulty is that suddenly you would get too much of the process in, too much of the operations. Everything was a meeting. Everything was a PowerPoint, everything. And that room for creativity and life and entrepreneurial spirit started being pushed to the side. And that was a very difficult period in time. We were still growing so incredibly quickly. So it was a difficult moment to try and balance that state of growth and tech issues and operational issues and funny enough HR issues when you have enough people with that need to be what I call truffle hunters now, you know, people that can really find the most unique, amazing small business that will create the next best sellers. Did you find yourself at war with the business you'd created?
Losing myself within the business (50:41)
I loved it. So again, if I look at being a parent, I loved it, but I didn't enjoy them right now. You know, I found them difficult to live with. You know, and that's what I would say. It's you never lose your love. You never lose the, but actually what was happening was the process had become so big that the core of what I loved found a Titus, you know, the juriselle battery. You know, that is why founders are unbelievable. Should never be moved from a business, whatever. Should maybe take a new role. That's okay, because actually they don't enjoy the role of the operations. But that sort of juriselle battery, when you take it out of a business, you know it. I'm sure you've interviewed many people that you, something goes, the customer even knows it. Everyone knows it. And so that was, that's just been a brilliant lesson for me, but also a lesson that I now pass on through Holly and co, you know, Holly and co is all about me being vulnerable with the truth and in hopefully inspiring other people that when they're growing their small business and they think they're going to hire the next person that's going to be the silver bullet. A, there is zero silver bullets in business, but B, it doesn't work without you. You know, for all your defects and all your faults and all your weaknesses, it just doesn't work without you. And was there a moment where you realized that you'd have to take a different role within the business? Yeah, I suppose it got to that point where 200 people, five VCs, I was chair, women and CEO and things were changing. You know, I was, you know, 15 meetings a day running to the Lou with my PA, who would then brief me as I was in the Lou on my next meeting to go into my office where it was already set up to be countlessly doing board meetings. You know, one board meeting was finished and we'd be preparing for the next board meeting. And basically being at, at a stage where in any given day, did I do anything that I loved, you know, my new book is Do What You Love, Love What You Do. You know, I brought up this business that I loved, but every single day, did I actually ever do what I loved? And there was that moment where I needed to make that decision. And it was a pretty goddamn painful one where I sort of realized I'd lost myself. You know, I was, I didn't look like I looked today. You know, I was in the tube dress with the high heels on double spanks on. I was a she man. You know, I needed to be that person. I was brought up. Remember, I was 28 when I started. I was brought up through not in the high street in the experience. That's all my reference point was. And so I knew I needed to dull motion and, you know, drive this and be this person. And, and I think I was probably in reflection tired of not being a holly. Could you feel it? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. What was that feeling? But I didn't know at the time, like you were just saying, I was just in the motion. I was a hamster in the wheel. You don't know any different. You know, you just exist, don't you? And your whole purpose is to fuel everybody else. And sort of you, you realize that when you're not there, things go off the rails. And so you have this sense of responsibility. And every night I went to sleep, I would lay on my pillow. I would have my son as my responsibility. I would have my home. I was the main breadwinner of our home. But I would have the thousands of small businesses that if I go wrong ever, you know, a lot of them, 50% of them relied on that this was their only income. Their husbands had quit their job. You know, they were doing million pounds, two million pounds a year. Like this was my responsibility and the staff were my responsibility. So I had this heaviness. So how could I be light, Holly? How could I smile or laugh? You know, I found myself becoming a different version of me. One of the lines that Holly and Co is bringing color to gray. And I think I was turning gray. Did you partner know that, Frank? Yeah, yeah, you know, definitely knew that. We were in a catch 22 though, you know, when you bring up a business that's providing the only income, there's no way out, you know, how does this go somewhere? Because my ambition, you couldn't stop me.
Leaving not on the high street and rediscovering myself (55:30)
I was on the hamster wheel. I could see everything. You know, I always have to be reminded what year I'm in because I can see what the future is. I know what it is. So why I just need now need to make it happen. That's the part. So you know, we nearly didn't survive a few times during that time, you know, being an entrepreneur and having a relationship is a very, very difficult thing because and having a young child, you know, Harry was three months old when I started not. Because the nanny didn't arrive, he was put under my desk. You know, I remember at the age of two, he was under my desk. He had a DVD player. You remember where you actually put the DVD and you open the screen and you put the headphones on what sits in Ribena. And I would just sort of shuffle him in there. There used to be a program called Mr. Britis where she used to talk about putting the baby in the drawer when Mr. Britis, that was what Harry was. He was under the thing because being a woman and a mother, no, you know, the kid doesn't come to work, even though I was the boss, but it was the mindset. No, we are tech, female entrepreneurs. We have got to be a certain way. And so that was very challenging and it puts a strain on relationships. And so that has just been difficult, you know, you know, the downs are very down. Dark, dark days when you're running out of money, you've got to raise again. But the business is going amazingly. You have no choice. You have to do it again. And you know, your family takes it all. And that decision to sort of change your role, that's not a decision that's made overnight. That's a slow sort of grinding down and other conversations up until that point with the board and with other people and with Frank or. Yeah, there was. I mean, it was a bit of a storm of lots of things. I can't quite remember what was going on at that point in time, but it was, you know, another Christmas was coming up. It's going to be double what that is coming in. A very full C suite managing that group of people. Being at, you know, now VCs are really waking up. You know what we're doing where, you know, I think we were at 100 over 100 million TV. You know, this was starting to become something. It was about internationalization. So doing it all again, but in other countries. And there was just this point that that needed to probably not be my existence in the future. So ripped off the plaster and did it and decided to get a season CEO to come and replace me. Sophie had left the business at this point a few years before. So I was. Why? Her children were at a different stage of life were older than Harry. So again, as a mother, it's okay when they're little and she gave me that great advice. You know, don't worry. You've missed his first steps. You won't remember. But when they're doing the Jesus season A levels, they freaking need mum. And so she, you know, I realized that I was again, I thought I could do it all. And I just now on hindsight, you know, my father had left a CFO two years before that. So I was sort of on my tod. I was now this woman with this group with these fees, Z's. And you know, you're always plagued with the imposter syndrome. And I think that I allowed that to, you know, determine a few things in my life. Now I look back. Thank goodness for that. Because what I'm doing today, I have never felt more powerful. I've never felt more holly. I've never felt more colorful. I've never felt more of a founder than I do today. And I'm in complete control. But when we go back to the story of the two times in my life that I lost my identity, might I not rip the plaster off if I'd known what I was going to go through? Because I'm sure you've had people describe it. It is not funny losing, leaving your business. If we relate it to a child, how does a mother walk away from its kid? You know, talk to me about that process. Yeah, it's a very, very hard one. I think actually so many more people need to talk about it because I think it's like a bit of a dark secret. Like it's, it's that thing. We're all bound by certain things. All this sort of, um, our egos that play here, you know, there's so many are shame are all those points. I wish more founders spoke about this moment because it's your entire identity goes now. Now I had built, I was just, you know, hi, what do you do? I'm the CEO of Not in the High Street. Really, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da, you know, when you wake up in the day, it's all those emails. It's all, it's all that responsibility, the pressure on your shoulders. Wake up the next day. What do you do? Um, you just forget to even say you found not, you know, you were the founder of Not in the High Street, you're, but you're nothing. So I had a couple of years that were maybe two, three years, two years, dark years where, you know, at stages, I couldn't get out of bed. Um, but, you know, even I had to do it all again, you know, I had to look at my brand heart. I had to surround myself with people who could raise the Phoenix out of the ashes. Um, but it was difficult. You know, I couldn't go to events with small businesses. I would, you know, break down. I would have to leave. I, I couldn't see people that I knew. I couldn't meet socially with people because I just didn't know who I was. Um, and it was just a very difficult time in my life. How old were you at this time? Well, I must have been at 39. No, 40, 40. And what you're describing there in terms of symptoms sounds like depression, that phase. It's actually what I think it is sounds like is what I think now I think it is. It's grief. Grief. Yeah. I went through, I went through the seven stages of grief. I, um, it really was a loss. You know, that was what I was, especially as I'd always likened it to my child, you know, I had Harry, my real baby and I had not in the high street. Now I wasn't with my second baby. So how can a mother do that to start with? What happens when I'm not there? It's going to fall and I'm not going to be there to pick it up. So it was a very, very difficult process, but as I said, you know, I went through total grief. I got counseling. I surrounded myself with great people. I instantly had to start building. You know, it was the only thing I knew in my head. So six months later, I, my sister was employed by not in high street. She left someone else left who's now my other co-founder and we would sit around my kitchen table. I decided to ditch the heels. So I threw away every single pair of high heels I owned. Today I'm wearing glitter trainers and I have done for five years to really say that actually you can be a very powerful, knowledgeable business woman and wear glitter trainers. And actually this is Holly. And so slowly I started peeling the Spanx off the heels. I slowly started rediscovering who Holly was. I had some cheerleaders around me who would remind me on the darkest days. And I knew that creativity, like it had done with the vegetable wreaths, was there as my saviour. What I had to be is Holly again. And Holly is only Holly, I think, with a business within her. And when I say business and what I'm trying to rediscover with Holly and co and trying to put it out there, it's not just business. I believe creating a business makes you happy. And actually striving for happiness, I think that when you can control your own destiny, you can work around your family, when you can be your most creative self, when you can answer to nobody, when you can dictate all of these things, where you live, what you do. That is a real source of going for happiness. And so actually people do ask me, why are you freaking obsessed with business, Holly? Like redefining business. What is it about business? I'm like, it's not about business. Business is a tool in the key. Business is just the thing, the vehicle to get all these other things. And that is why Holly and co sort of had to exist. I did say to my husband, never again, you know, because he couldn't, do you know what I mean, it's huge, the whole family goes through your storm, your whipping up. But my, they go. Oh yeah. But when you give them enough glasses of wine and you can sell anything to anybody, you can definitely tell them. So my sisters carry my actual sister, Gabby, who left not in the high street and has become almost like an adopted sister, but with the founders of Holly and co, they basically said, you can't ignore your bird's eye point of view that you had that is unique to not in the high street. You saw thousands upon thousands of businesses grow from nothing to where they are today, because all I was obsessed with was the common denominators, the, they all felt alone. And yet they were going through the same thing. And I remember when we built not in the high street, naively, I thought we could have a consumer site, but I knew very quickly that they would need to be to be site because as they were growing, they would need the tools. So I said to myself, well, we'll build two sites when we launch not in the high street. Obviously that didn't happen. Now that B2B site was on the agenda, not in the high street every year for 11 years. And actually now I think that Holly and co is my B2B scratch that I've itched. But when you talk about business, normally it's done in a certain way in a 2D way in a gray way. And my plight was to help the dreamers. We have a phrase dream double do Holly and co, I want to help the dreamers become doers and I want to help the dreamers go for it. And I want to help the doers never give up. And so that means you need to give business a facelift. And so that is what I'm trying to do is create a bubble in existence for these small businesses to live in where I sort of with my knowledge have created a world where I answer the needs, you know, you don't need to have a business plan. You need to have a plan. You know, one day you might need to have a business plan to raise money, but you need to have a plan. And the second you take that you pop that balloon, people start coming alive. And so that is why Holly and co was where my sister say you can't ignore that. And that was the moment. Holly, do you know how much knowledge you have in your head that you need to share? And there's the this of service parts that came through. And I think as I rose from those ashes, as my wings became colorful, service was written on my back. And that has now allowed me to put myself out there as quite a private person. But because I'm of service, it doesn't matter what I feel. It's what I can do for others. And that has just been the again, that's the fuel in my jurisell battery that just gets me up every single day. Quick one. I've recently made a purchase. I've bought myself a Tesla Cybertrack. It's not here yet. They're still not to be delivered. And the reason I decided to do that. I sold my Range Rover Sport and I ordered a Tesla Cybertrack was because I want the vehicle that I drive to be run purely on sustainable energy. And that's also why we were so keen to have my energy become a partner in this podcast so we can start talking about sustainable energy. And one of the great pioneering products that my energy have created is this thing called the Zappy, which is so discreet, fits on the outside of your home and allows you to charge a huge list of electric cars, including my Cybertrack. So when my Cybertrack comes, I'm going to put this on the outside of my house and this will charge it, which I think is just amazing. This is Britain's number one best-selling solar EV charger and it's beautiful. And I can't wait for my Cybertrack to come just so I can have a play with this.
Helping people create a “good-life” business (01:08:30)
You refer to Holy Incos being a good life business. Yeah. Well, I refer to it being a good life business, but I also want to abolish the word SME. And I think that there's a whole new language that even needs to come into business. And I'm not talking about businesses who want to float on the stock exchange. I'm not talking about tech businesses. I'm talking about 99.9% of all businesses in the UK are small and medium, right? I'm talking about that when the founders sat around a kitchen table in their slippers and has come up with a great idea. Now they find themselves with 50 people. I want to always remind them that they were the founder with slippers with that crazy idea. And that I hear them and I see them and I feel them and I want to create something for them. So the good life. Why? It sounds very personal. Because I really, you know, I'm of service. I care about people enormously. I feel emotional when I talk about it. I want them to have the best life that they can have. And I really would live in gratitude because I'm experiencing it and I want others to. And I think I could be the key. So that is my power. And so one of the things I say to people is, you know, they're not comfortable calling themselves entrepreneurs. They don't want to be an SME. Hi, my name's Julian. I'm an SME. They don't want to know. So I say, you run a good life company. You balance your creativity and your need to drop off the kids and pick them up and have family life and take August off, right? With your ambition, profitability, growth and your own little empire building. You know, those are the two things that you balance and that's a good life. You're not looking to get Nakaar Island at the end. You've all ready. And what I always say to people is, if you ever looked at where you want to be when you're 80, you know, it's a lot of people don't, by the way, no one. So if you want to be in your business, you know, right now my son's working at Holly and Coes training as a barista. You know, he was three months old. He's nearly 17. He towers above me as a strong man that I thought I was going to fuck up definitely as a baby. I'm so proud of him. He has his own business. You know, that is the good life. I have brought up the next generation that needs to understand entrepreneurism. Do I want to exist in a world where he could be by my side in the future, where these group of this team that I've got can work with me for 20 years. And my husband, where I take Fridays off and I go on a date with my husband, that's what my good life looks like. And so that is where, you know, I can see myself at 90 here. But I do ask people, if you looked at the future, because you, by looking at the future, understanding that last point, you can work backwards because it's normally not all the riches, the Lamborghini, the, you know, all that thing that we see, don't we? Only times rich lists, you know, is that, is that really where we're heading? Or is it a world where our mental health is stable? We're with our family for as much as we can get, when our health is good, where we're creatively fulfilled. We're changing the world. Even if it's just your town, you're doing something. And, and that is why now people call themselves a good life business. And that requires, as you say, like a real change in narrative, because Instagram and that external voice is telling you build higher, more people, make more money. And what I love about what you've said there as well is your, your centric. So a lot of the, when you ask a business, what their objective is, a lot of them will fall into the trap of, and Simon Cinek talks about this saying, we want to be the best or number one. And just at the very end of my time at my business, I stood in front of all of my employees in the office and said, and explained why, why we had to remove that terminology from all of our, from all of our internal external comms, because those, it views life in our journey as a, a finite game, like we'd get to the number one on the scoreboard, but then what then? And if, and because there's nothing then, once your number one or your big or you've made whatever, there's nothing then, we try and shift the company towards a direction where we viewed it as like an infinite game where there isn't a scoreboard and we're trying to create a sustainable life for ourself and our company that could theoretically last for many, many, many decades. And when you start viewing your business and your employees in that way, that they might, that they could be here for 30 years, all of your decisions are different and your goals are different. But it's tough when you have VCs, of course. Of course. And so that's, it's impossible. And that's what you then, you know, you're a chameleon, aren't you? And so you, you, you will behave a certain way. So with Holly and Co, that's the liberation I have, where I understand the value of raising someone up to the highest point of their lives, personally and professionally. They are rock stars. They've never, and they, they know that Holly and Co was the reason for that. They were set free of anything they are, and they're going to be there for 20 years, and they're going to grow. So many businesses neglect history as a really, really valuable tool. You know, what you've done before and what has worked and hasn't worked is incredibly important. I actually do value the, the, the want for people to become the sort of the, the champions, I suppose. And so that is now the destination why I don't have the elevator pitch. I mean, who am I pitching to? You know, why, why I don't have the destination. I have an anchor, and that anchors my 90th birthday. I have an anchor, which is my vision, but I don't have to define it yet because I want to be around for that long. And how on earth, we know as an entrepreneur, you don't, you can't tell me what's going to happen next year. You know, we, we can have a course, we have the best intentions and we can think that these people are going to be the A game. And so that has been the beautiful point. And that is the knowledge I'm trying to share with this community, trying to help them understand that they're not a cookie cutter business. They don't need to be, they shouldn't be. And that that's what I'm hopefully leading by example. For me, really pivotal point in what you're saying there was either we had this guy in my business who used to ask this really annoying question when we were growing, he should say, but yeah, what's like the purpose of social chain? He was just asking me that question, like, what's the, what's the, what's our purpose? What's our purpose? And I thought he was a bit of an irritant because we're trying to, I'm just trying to keep this thing alive. But yeah, purpose is paying you. Yeah, that's making sure I can make payday this month, then next month, then that was my purpose. Yeah. But they got to a point where I did start to reflect maybe five years in on like, what, what is this? What am I doing this for? And that's when I went away that I think it was a Christmas time. And I sat down and I said, what is the, what is the purpose of this company? And I came up with this www thing where I was like, um, work welfare in the world, these kind of three components. So the work we do and the standard of work we do for our clients and did it out. And I broke that down into a set of goals and values. A welfare was really about the team and the family that were working here. And then the world was the wider impact that we have because of our existence on the outside world. And again, that broke down into a set of goals and objectives about the environment and about philanthropy. And that gave us all this kind of www dot set of values and meaning in the world. And that's the thing that pushed me towards realizing that I had to make a company that was sustainable, one, not that one, not one that was driven for the stock market. I had lost control of the company because there was, I owned a small percent by this stage. There was board members that were triple my age. I was still the CEO, but a lot of it's lip service when you don't really have control, right? They want, they need to keep you happy. Because you have a lot of influence over a lot of things. But I couldn't steer the company in the direction I wanted to. And you have different objectives. There's a lot of people, 95% of the people in the board are trying to make money, just more and more money by any means necessary. And you're trying to be this founder that's got this dreams and visions of beauty and talking about purpose and values. And it's just nonsense in that environment. And I realized that. And so that's why I resigned last year. I realized that the way that I wanted to take the business in was not possible. I no longer had that control because starting at 21, giving up that control, you can't get it back. You can't. And now you have got the war scars. You've got the battle scars. And then what's so fascinating and I'm excited for you is whatever's next, you've had those hard lessons. And potentially what you'll build next is going to be your good life company where you can start resetting some of those things, rewiring for yourself. And we're lucky to be able to do it again. You know, that's an amazing thing. But you know, it's never, do you care still about the business? It's still my baby. Like, I remember I saw someone on a competitor linked in the other day, just like they had like, they paid to take our, our name on SEO. Oh, yes. Yeah. To just like, Oh, you were really looking for Sausage Chamber. And I was looking at the new fucking, yeah. And they got almost like, who's not looking at that? Yes. You want to call someone? Why is that being allowed? Yeah. Yeah. To be fair, yesterday, there was a tweet on social chains Twitter and I was like, and I posted to the managing director of the US. I'm like, someone needs to step in here and clarify it. I literally did a screenshot. I'm like, I would, if I was there, I'd be all over this. Yeah. Exactly. You can't take it out of us. Yeah. You can't. But it's, you know, it's, it's an interesting world that we're living in at the moment. I think what's beautiful for Holly and Co is we are, we are right in the zeitgeist of what people are feeling. So, you know, when we're all looking at, you know, the freelance economy, when we're all looking at the changes, remember, not in the high street was built when the high street was declining. Holly and Co is here when we're all valuing mental health is something that we do talk about changing the world purpose, our environment, all these sorts of things. And so that is what I'm excited about because we are able to pivot, able to move. And we're building something that is at the time that people need it. We're going to have a lot of displaced people and they're going to need to be entrepreneurial and they're going to need to probably have their own businesses. And that's what I hope we can do is provide them with the, the guide, I suppose. And that brings us to do what you love.
Passion And Dedication In Work
Do what you love, love what you do (01:19:47)
Love what you do. Yeah. Yeah. It's an amazing experience. I'm a dyslexic. So writing, you know, I remember it, not my street. So if you had to check it, all my emails, that wasn't probably great because that meant that I definitely thought I couldn't. And remember, she could rewrite the English dictionary. So it was probably the wrong person, but right person at the time. I didn't write until four years ago when I started my Instagram account, Holly Tucker, and I now write a post every day. But I would have to get my founders to check the post because, you know, I couldn't do it. And you know, again, they raised me up. They said, actually, you can write. So fast forward, how on earth could I write a book? So during lockdown one, I created something called SMESOS actually for my community. So I went live every day on Instagram to try and demystify the news, to try and be there for them, literally just be there every 10 o'clock every morning. We're just going to be here for you and we can just do this together. But what they didn't know, I was also writing a book in the morning first thing. And it was one of the most beautiful experiences ever because people liked who I was and how I wrote and you had there were loads of spelling mistakes and D's were B's and all this sort of stuff. But it was a wonderful experience. And it allowed me in a book to almost put down everything we've spoken about today, bringing color to gray, being passionate, your energy. You don't have to be great at the P&L. You have to be great at being you and we'll figure all the rest out at us, another stage that you are the founder, that you're the heartbeat. Brand and purpose is one of the most important things that you can put into your business. And so they're micro chapters because all the small businesses that I virtually mentor don't have much time. So you can pick it up, kids can be screaming, you can read a micro chapter. We created an exclusive product range. So every micro chapter has a almost merch that goes with it. But obviously all the 50 small businesses that work with me actually do what they love and love what they do, which I just love that circle. It's a color book, which was funny because business books normally aren't color. But of course it had to be color. And it's Sunday times bestseller and I'm super proud of it. And I hope that now writing books will be part of my life until that age that we speak about where I'm going to wear lots of jewelry, big glasses and drink lots of wine. It's such a beautiful book. Business books aren't usually like this. They're usually quite exclusive in the way that they're created and the way that they look and then never color. So you look at it and think, oh, work. Yes. You know what I mean? Well, that was the whole purpose for the creative bunch that asked for businesses. You needed to be able to love it. And it needed to speak to you. And so many, it's been helping so many people. It's just insane. And so, yeah, it's just one of those moments in my life that I can't believe I get to be this lucky. And I imagine because I was saying with my book, did you realize it would be that rewarding? Because the effort to create it is, ah, it's a lot. But then when you published and you got it out there and you felt the wave of imbalance. Yeah, I didn't add all. I didn't even realize, you know, it's like everything, isn't it? When you're doing something, you're not actually, you're so fast forward. You're like, oh, I've written that book. I really hope I get another book. You don't actually think about the moment actually the book is born. So you're all up to that point and then you slightly move on. And then the book's launched and you're like, oh my God, I've written a book. Look at that person. Oh, that was me. Yes, I remember that. And because of COVID and timings and things like that. But you know, the process is not an easy one, right? When the editor comes back and goes, could you just insert that thought into that paragraph thing? You think really? Really? Really? Really necessary? And yeah, so it's just been wonderful. And as I said, having people, the amount it was shared, it was as if it was the community's book and that I never explicitly said that to the team, but that's exactly what we wanted. It needed to be the book that represented the good life businesses, that someone was talking their language. And so that has been really humbling. What a wonderful sort of demystifying both book, but also conversation today. It's been an absolute honor to meet you and to have this conversation with you. And you're right. You're one of those people that I think culture really needs right now. Someone that's been there and done it, come out the other side and said, here are all the things that are fucked up about the system and don't make the mistakes that I made or fall into the traps that I fell into. And I think that's going to liberate a lot of people. But as you said, it's going to lead them to a much better life. So I thank you for that, because I think we need more people in society that are willing to fight that fight. And it feels like such a selfless one, even though it must be selfish to some degree, because it's given you such a huge sense of purpose. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I can't believe this gets to be my life. Get to meet you. Yeah. Big fan of this podcast can't believe I'm on it. I was just saying that I was so nervous. I've only been on a few. I'm very good at talking to others, I'm so interested in other people's, but I'm not very, you know, I don't do this very often. So it's been an absolute honor to meet you. And I wish you your good life business in the future. Oh, I'm going to let you know, and you're going to have to help me. Yeah. You've some advice. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Bye. Bye.