Two years of being my own boss
It's hard to believe it's been two whole years since I quit my job and started working on Mustard full time. It's been a wild, bumpy ride that has stretched me in all directions. Let's take a look back at the highs, the lows and the twists along the way...
The good bits
I am really lucky, there have been so many good things that have happened since starting Mustard. Here’s a little list of some in no particular order
- The first pay check that I paid myself. There is no other feeling like it.
- Paying off our bank of Dad loan. We had hoped to pay him back within 6 months of launching Mustard. However, we were able to renegotaite (honestly, banks are easier than parents!) so we could pay it back a bit later and give ourselves the extra breathing room to spend the money on things that would help us grow. On 14th November 2019 we became debt free, 14 months after launching.
- Seeing Becca six times last year. We jammed in factory visits, our brother’s wedding, birthday celebrations (business + family) and a family holiday. Feeling pretty thankfully for last year as this year hasn’t exactly gone to plan!
- Our Factory team. The factory manager is the son of the owners and manages our account as well as twin babies at home. We talk pretty much every day. We have formed a really lovely friendship over the years and feel lucky to have him as a friend and colleague.
- Every single ker-ching. It will never not amaze me that there are so many lockers out there in the wild and so many people that want to get their hands on one.
- Being my own boss. Having the freedom to decide when and where I work. I love being able to make decisions and make up my own rules.
- 28th June 2019 at 8:44 am we received a stockist enquiry from Liberty. Super causally at 12:04 pm I replied...”Your email was one that I never thought I would receive but really hoped I would. So thank you for making my day.”
- Warehousing with Haul + Store. I think it is pretty fair to say that our first warehouse was not the best fit for a small, hands-on business like ours. For a long time, I was pulling my hair out trying to figure out how to improve the dynamic and processes. It got to a point where on the night of our 1st birthday (yep, lovely email to receive on a Friday night) I received an email to say they suggest we look for somewhere else. Thankfully we found Haul and I felt so good about their attitude and capabilities. I was right and our team gets to work with theirs every day in utter bliss, haha mostly! Highly recommend them for all your warehousing needs, although I think there is now a waiting list to get in. ;) Again, it's the people that make a business.
- Setting up our UK office was a big win. After 18 months of working from home and a small, very hot meeting room in our Dads office, it was so lovely to finally call a space our 'home'. Finding a space in London for the right price and size took us months but it has totally been worth the wait. I feel more focused and productive when I’m there and it even has room for us to grow!
- Numbers. There are some numbers that terrify me, some that give me so much joy. As we grow as the business the numbers tend to get bigger, the revenue, number of Instagram followers, the amount we donate to Beam each month and the number of employees we have. There are so many positives to find in the numbers.
- A little story... I met a man at a trade show earlier this year. He stood for a minute looking at our lockers, then finally said “my son has these, he loves them”. He went on to tell me the story of how his son Adam found us when we first launched and bought 5! We had some delivery issues at the beginning and my brother and his wife had actually hand-delivered the lockers to his home instead of our usual courier. Adam thought it was a great personal touch! His Dad knew all this and then said how he was feeling terrible because the last time he was there he was helping to move the Skinnys and one fell to the floor and got badly damaged. I was so touched by his story and the love the whole family had for the lockers that the next day arranged for a new part to be sent. It is moments like this that mean a lot.
The lesson: Celebrate every win. Jump, sing, down *drink of choice*, eat your favourite meal. The wins are yours to hold on to.
The tough bits
On the flip side, there's plenty of difficult days, difficult emails to write or receive and plenty of moments of wondering what the hell I got myself into! I'm grateful to have Becca and my friends and family around because I'm often in need of a good pep talk. Here's some of the things I've found the hardest in the last two years.
- Plans going out the window, basically the whole of 2020. This is how this year was supposed to go: a research trip to the US, move (temporarily) to the US to launch Mustard, launch product 1, product 2, product 3, colour 1, colour 2 and some other things, oh and a trip to China and Italy. And finally, be in stock as much as possible. Don’t think I need to say anything more, you know how the story goes!
- Not getting the stock right. Back when I was a buyer I’d sit every day with a skilled merchandiser. Numbers was their thing and designing pretty things was mine. I’ve learnt a lot over the years but I am no way an expert. Sometimes it feels like pulling a number out of a hat trying to predict what sales will do no matter how many metrics we use.
- Emails. As our stock levels go up + down so do the emails! Thankfully nowadays it's not me that replies to every one but I'm still very much there reading and knowing what's going on. Becca tells me not to take it personally, it’s the bit I find impossible. After all, Mustard is my baby, how could I not? I have to remind myself that usually that first email is hard but we care so much about every issue and every customer that the majority of the time we can turn a situation around to make a customer happy. So please be kind, we're real people behind the emails!
- Stress and anxiety - being overwhelmed is difficult to cope with and it was difficult to accept things that were simply out of my control. During lockdown I had 6 weeks of excruciating headaches. I couldn’t function and in the end, a Sunday evening trip to A&E and a CT scan later the diagnosis was ‘tension’. I’m always told I’m great at looking after the people I love but when it comes to me I’m no good at all. I’ve learnt I need to take care of myself both physically and mentally and also that a lack of routine has had a big effect on me. I now go for daily (well almost daily) walks, I talk to someone about the things going on in my head and I leave my phone on the other side of the bed each night because I am awful at reading emails at 2 am or checking in with Becca while she's awake in Australia! I don’t think I have it sussed and the headaches haven’t completely gone but I’m getting there.
- Tied up with the above is being hard on myself. When you are your own boss there is no one else to tell you what you are doing well or where to improve. Having Becca certainly helps but we are very much creating this business as we go, there isn't a template or formula so getting that big picture feedback isn't an option. I'm harder on myself than I know I should be, again, something I'm working on.
The lesson: Take the time to take care of yourself. Without you being healthy your business won't be healthy. Business isn't a straight line kind of journey, it's wiggly and the more you accept that the more you can enjoy it for what it is.
The surprise bits
We are always going to experience the highs and the lows, it is the unexpected things that happen that really make it all worthwhile.
- I think the biggest and probably hardest thing to realise is that I am capable. I need to keep reminding myself of how much I have achieved over the past two years and that all the big stuff that is on the horizon I will achieve too. So *shouts from the rooftops* "Surprise! I am capable of amazing things!"
- Strange things happen! Like being called by the production company who work on Michael McIntyre's Comedy Road Show because they need keys to some lockers and ending up standing next to him in a dressing room backstage fumbiling through a bag of keys!
- You never quite know when you'll see a locker pop up. We were amazed that a row of Skinnies featured in an Uber Eats ad played over and over before Love Island or when two Shorties were styled in a room of The Circle. Even scrolling on instagram and discovering a new person who has a locker we didn't know about or a new way they've been used. Locker life is full of surprises!
- I sell my products in shops that I dreamed about working for as a buyer for so long. Never would I have imagined that to happen.
- Marc is my rock in life, he keeps me grounded, makes me delicious food and loves me even when I scream at him for not putting his dirty socks in the laundry bin. What I never expected to happen was that I would also be his “boss”. Marc was going to be quitting his job this year and moving to America with me to set up Mustard. That didn’t happen for obvious reasons and instead one day his very secure lovely job was taken away from him and he was made redundant. So Mustard hired him. Thankfully his skills are very useful, he is a ‘programmatic advertiser’, which basically means putting ads on the internet/Facebook/Youtube, very handy to have when you have a small business (he is looking for new clients if anyone is interested!). Working together has thrown up a few challenges, we have argued more than we ever have in the first few months and had to have big chats about money, work hours, roles etc but lately, we have found our feet and spending 24 hours together, living and breathing Mustard isn’t so bad after all.
- Working mostly alone + then in a very small team, I didn't expect Mustard to be a huge source of new friendships. have found some pretty great friends along this journey. From the ones I met on Facebook marketplace (hey Clare!) to the ones that love our lockers as much as us and sell them in their stores and the friendships that have formed over Instagram DM's. I even had a pretty long meaningful chat with the guy that does my money transferring, he gave me some good house advice this week! It's ALL about the people.
- The really positive and unexpected part of this journey has been how much it has changed my daily, working life, it's made me so much more free and flexible. Since having our own office and getting into a proper routine, I have come to realise that mornings are normally my busiest and most productive time of the day, it’s when I can still get time with Becca (when the time zones align). The afternoons I can be a little more flexible, if I need to take a walk to clear my head, I no longer feel guilty about it. If I need to go and get my hair done on a Monday or go to a doctors appointment, I don’t have to ask for permission for time off. When I work, I work hard and when you run a global business like ours, even if we are asleep, the business is wide awake so there is always going to be stuff to do on a Saturday. I often tell my team, especially since Lockdown, it is the work that you do that counts not the hours you do. If they finish at 4 pm it is because they have worked really hard.
- Over time I got used to the fact that our lockers would be recognised! Whether that was a friend sending me a picture of them in a shop window or if I explained my job to someone they might say “oh yeah, my friend has one of your lockers!” But what I didn’t expect was I would be recognised too! It has happened a few times now (like 5) and I don’t think it is ever something I will get used to. “You're Jess from Mustard right?” :)
- Turns out the biggest surprise is that Becca and I are pretty good at running a locker business even though there are lots of tough days, I LOVE my job big time.
Lesson: Being your own boss isn't the easy option but it is fulfilling, rewarding and full of surprises!
It's nice to reflect on this locker life of mine and to see how much it has changed my life. 2020 has been *insert cliche* full unexpected twists and turns but never have I felt so happy with my business and the choices I've made to get here. I'm so thankful to all the people who make Mustard what it is.
Love Jess x
suzanne hoyne said:
Really lovely honest post. One of my UK clients put me onto you and I’m definitely glad she did.
Small business can be a hard gig, so congratulations on surviving your first 2 yrs. And I think anyone who can work and live with their partner 24/7 deserves a medal. I’ve worked with my husband for 11 yrs now and that first yr we wanted to kill each other haha
Well Done luv and just keep going. If you can survive corona, you can survive anything
September 23, 2020