Today we meet Sophie Robertson founder & creative director of Atoll by Sophie Robertson.
This Week on So You Want To Start A Business Podcast:
Today we meet Sophie Robertson founder & creative director of Atoll by Sophie Robertson.
Scarves are one of life’s essentials. For most women choosing from their scarf wardrobe is one of their favourite parts of getting dressed every day.
Each scarf has it’s own place in the world.
Sophie has taken the art of photography and combined it with scarf making to create her Start Up business. Here is the link to find out more about Atoll by Sophie Robertson.
Here is Sophie to tell us her StartUp story.
Podcast Full Transcript:
Ingrid: Hello, and today we are here with Sophie Robertson from Sophie Robertson Scarves. Welcome, Sophie.
Sophie: Hello. Thank you, Ingrid.
Ingrid: Okay. So let’s start with our first question. Why did you start your business?
Sophie: I started my business because I wanted to create something unique from the photographs that I’d taken. I was diving and taking underwater photography. And I was living on a boat in Cairns, and I had all these images and I wanted to use the images to create something unique. I wanted to start a fashion business. And so, I was looking at starting the accessories brand, and naturally it progressed into the silk being printed digitally with my images.
Ingrid: Lovely, and how long ago was this?
Sophie: That was about three years ago now.
Ingrid: Okay, so you started this business about three years ago?
Ingrid: And you started it with the intention of starting a business; photography being part of your hobby. But when did it feel like you were in business? When did you get to the point where you felt like, “Right, this is actually a business”?
Sophie: I think it started… I was selling but it was at a certain pace. It was when I was contacting buyers, say, for Harrods and they were actually responding and actually wanting to meet in London. I felt like, “Wow, I must be a business.” (laughs) So, that’s when I started to feel like it is a business. And then when I was working with other companies to create scarves for them, they were ordering regularly with quite substantial orders. It started to feel bigger, like it was growing and like it was paying off.
Ingrid: Yes, that’s fantastic. So, how did you know that customers wanted these scarves or wanted the colors? How did you know?
Sophie: So initially, when I first started the business, when I was making samples, I was working in an office and I used to bring in the samples and show the women at work. They responded really positively to the scarves and they were buying from me. Women were then seeing the scarves that these ladies were wearing, and they were asking to buy as well. So, from that, I was gauging that the colors were popular and that the prints, they might just sell. I might be able to make a business from it.
Ingrid: So you were taking it to people you sort of knew and then it grew to people who didn’t know and then be on that?
Sophie: And then from the website.
Ingrid: And from the website.
Sophie: People were buying and they didn’t know who I was, so it wasn’t just my mom.
Ingrid: Do you remember making that first sale on the website to someone you absolutely didn’t know?
Sophie: Yes, it was very exciting.
Ingrid: It is very exciting, isn’t it?
Sophie: I remember seeing someone wearing my scarf on the street in Sydney, and I lost it.
Ingrid: Did you rush up to them and take a photo?
Sophie: I didn’t.
Ingrid: Oh dear. So, having a website and funding the ability to buy the scarves and those sorts of things, took a bit of money and you’re still quite young. How did you get the money to start with? Did you need very much? You don’t have to tell me how much, but a lot of people have — a lot of businesses cost between 5,000 and 10,000 dollars to get started. How did you fund the early days?
Sophie: I was quite lucky to begin with. I had some friends that were creative as well so they could help with website costs. I think I was lucky that I didn’t pay as much for my first website. And also, I borrowed some money from a family member. I was lucky to be able to do that and pay them back when I could.
Ingrid: And just as an aside, we know that friends and family are where a lot of people get their money from to start with, sometimes they want input. Did your family member let you just get on with it or did they start thinking that they knew what you had to do in the business as well?
Sophie: I was quite lucky he trusted my judgment and had seen things I’d created before. He let me on with it.
Ingrid: That’s nice. Great. So, what’s one thing that you really wish you had done differently?
Sophie: I think I wish I’d just started earlier and failed earlier. I like failing because I learn so quickly. And I just wish that I started when I was 18, because I wonder where I would have been now and then in 10 years where I’ll be.
Ingrid: Yeah. It’s exciting to think that, isn’t it? And what do you really wish you had known from the start? That’s a slightly different question. What have you learned that if somebody had told you at the beginning might have either saved you time or money or effort?
Sophie: I wish that I’d put more systems into place with starting an Excel spreadsheet and actually using it. I think a number of times I started an Excel spreadsheet and was very happy with the way it looked but actually never put input into it, so I maybe should’ve done that. It was a lot of mental math, like you’re making profit, that’s a good thing.
Ingrid: That’s a good thing. There was money in the bank, so that must be okay.
Sophie: Which I was spending.
Ingrid: And so you wish you’d actually set up some systems and processes and actually used your Excel spreadsheet?
Sophie: Yes, definitely I think would’ve helped.
Ingrid: So, who apart from yourself has been the greatest assistance to you and your business? So obviously, the person who lent you the money was of assistance, but who else? And whether you mention their name or not, but just in context of what they actually helped you, how they helped you with your business?
Sophie: So, I’ve been extremely lucky. I’ve had a fashion mentor throughout the process. Even when my business was just an idea, he was there and pushing me along the way and having a different perspective on things, like looking and looking at potential hazards along the way that I maybe was too naive to see. He was seeing that for me, so that’s been a great help. And I can’t say enough how much you need a mentor along the way, and I think right from the start if you’re lucky enough to have a mentor, it definitely makes a difference.
Ingrid: Sophie, you were with somebody in the industry. Do you think that was part of what helped your success? To look for somebody in your industry who’s doing the same kind of thing?
Sophie: Definitely. I think because I got some insights that maybe would take a few years, and I was lucky enough to be introduced to some contacts that it would take you a few years down the line to meet. I think that definitely helps. Also, meeting other people, other mentors in other rounds of the world, like in finance. That helps as well for me. I don’t like to think about finance, but it really does help having that input.
Ingrid: Okay. And I just know that earlier we were discussing the fact that hanging out with people who are, what was your expression? Thinking Big! Tell me again what you were saying earlier about that? About being with the right people?
Sophie: Yes. I think it’s really important to surround yourself with people who do think huge, ginormous; think big. Don’t think, “Oh, I’ll make enough so that I can feed my family”; you know, think, “So that I can travel the world and–” have huge goals; have goals that you think are ridiculous because it makes you think larger. And then when you’re speaking to other people, when you’re speaking to the circus, you are selling larger volumes because you’re thinking bigger. I think it really helps.
Ingrid: That’s great. So, if someone came along to you and said, “I’m thinking of starting a business”, what would you say to them?
Sophie: I would say, “Are you sure? Put your seatbelt on and enjoy the ride.” I would say, less thinking more doing. Just make it happen, and that’s half the battle; just doing. I think a lot of people have heard over the years say they want to do something, and I think half the problem is just doing it, you know? So, just do it and fail as many times as you can. Enrolling in courses. I think it’s really important to just keep up with your education. If there’s something you don’t know, then enroll in a short course and don’t be afraid to ask people. I always ask questions and I feel people are always really kind and they always want to give back. And I’ve been blown away in the past by how some people have really gone out of their way to help me, and I’d never be where I am without them. But asking in the first place gets the idea in their head.
Ingrid: You can’t do it on your own, can you?
Sophie: No, you can’t.
Ingrid: So if you think about yourself, what key characteristics do you think you have that makes you successful in business? And this question is different for everybody, but when you think about what is it that you do that — your characteristics that have made you successful?
Sophie: I believe having really successful mentors around me… My mom is my biggest fan. That always helps. But actually, not always listening to family and considering other people’s opinions. I think that’s a good thing to keep in mind. I think social media can be a huge asset. I think definitely use social media to your advantage, especially in 2015. I think it’s really, really important. Especially for promoting your business and trying to keep up with all the latest trends and technology.
Ingrid: And you have a particular favorite? A couple of favorites in social media for your business, don’t you?
Sophie: Yes. My favorite at the moment is Instagram. I like to use Instagram for various competitions. Or we did an idea of a scarf a day, so 30 days up until Mother’s Day. We did a scarf a day, taking images either from the stockists or the customers that sent images. I took images and we used it, and it was a really collaborative process and it was fun, and I think that’s why it was successful. The sales went up 400% because of that.
Ingrid: Just in 30 days?
Ingrid: Wow, isn’t that fantastic? So that was your second? So having mentors around you Social media and ….
Sophie: I think also believing in yourself. Because if you don’t believe, then no one else is going to. And just looking after yourself and your wellbeing so that you can be the best you can.
Ingrid: So you mean health and a mentor?
Sophie: Yeah, definitely. Just keeping in check.
Ingrid: So if they’re the characteristics for you, and so going back to this fictitious potential startup person starting to you and saying, what would you think they need to have if they’re going to be a startup? You said that, you know, click their seatbelt and get in for the ride. What sort of attributes or characteristics do you think they need? That they may not have thought of in terms of a startup?
Sophie: I would say definitely have a business plan written down so that it can — it will change a hundred times but at least have something to start with. Get some mentors in place ready, because I think it can only help. And I would say just surround yourself with like-minded people. Maybe join a collective group of entrepreneurs or startups, because I think it can only help. And it consider technology. I think that’s the future.
Ingrid: Absolutely with the technology. And you have a favorite quote from one of the fashion designers, and the way you describe it and the way you use the quote for yourself, can you tell me about that?
Sophie: Yes, I can. So, it’s Paul Smith I really like. He mentions that there’s a lot of people in the fashion business, that a lot of people only concentrate on the fashion side of things and less so the business. And I was definitely guilty of that; concentrating on all the fun stuff but less so looking after the Excel spreadsheets and thinking about the finance side of things. So yes, I always keep that in mind.
Ingrid: That it’s a fashion business.
Sophie: Yeah. And you know, Paul Smith has been a huge success and I think that is why… because he’s always considering, at the end of the day it is a business.
Ingrid: Yeah, it is a business. And Sophie, do you imagine broadening out from scarves or will you stay in this niche environment of scarves?
Sophie: Yes. I think at the moment I’m concentrating on the scarves, but I’m definitely open to growing the range, looking into accessories. I like collaborating with others. I’m actually going to New York for three months, where a friend, she makes leather purses, so we’re considering doing a collaboration together. And also at the moment, I’m selling Speakeasy candles online. A friend of mine in Sydney, she hand-pours these candles, Speakeasy candles, and then I’m selling — my sister, who is an artist in London, she makes cards. She makes collage cards that I sell as well. I’m open to having the website as an online portal with “Friends of Sophie Robertson”.
Ingrid: That’s nice. And that website is?
Sophie: It’s www.sophierobertson.com.
Ingrid: Lovely. Thanks so much, Sophie. It’s been such a pleasure talking to you, and your scarves are exquisite. I’ll put all the links underneath here and on the iTunes so that people can find you. We look forward to talking to you again when you get back from New York, maybe.
Sophie: Thank you.
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