This week we caught up with Natalie Campbell whose currently in Croatia thinking up her next master plan. Natalie is another bad ass social entrepreneur, author, and business coach to join #BEYOUROWN.
She is Founding Partner at A Very Good Company, a Social Innovation and Campaigns consultancy she co-founded in 2010. With an office also in Singapore, the company’s vision is to create a world where people can feel good, do good and live better with clients such as Virgin Media and Marks and Spencer’s on board. In case you didn’t know, Natalie’s own journey in entrepreneurship started at the age of 19 and by 21, amazingly she raised enough capital to set up a Morgan De Toi retail franchise in Lancaster. With all that under her belt and more yet to come she has a few wise words to give to other business savvy women out there.
Hello Natalie! Thank you for joining us today can you run us through A Very Good Company and what it is you do and how it first came about?
Do you want me to give you some background information first?
Yes please that would be great
Ok so A Very Good Company is a social innovation agency and we focus on the intersection of what corporate responsibility is and standard innovation.Which means we help corporates to channel their assets that might be people, it might be money, it might be space for doing good things, which is great.
You work with some really great corporate brands.
Yes, Virgin Media and Marks and Spencer’s have been our longest running clients and we are behind things like Virgin Media Pioneers and that campaign and the programmes that they run within that. Also Marks and Spencer’s. Its all about networks, when we first started we went out and did some pitching things and we would always come second or maybe even third but basically we never won off the back of the pitch. So I decided to focus on building really strong relationships and really getting to know the brands that we were working with and build the company from there.
How long has AVGC been running?
6 years, it hasn’t morphed but it has definitely evolved as my appetite for growth has evolved. We first started, the plan was to grow which meant lots of bums on seats in some lovely offices in Shoreditch, then we moved into a model roughly about 3 years in where no one really actually works for me, but rather works for themselves. I have a Director over in Singapore, she owns that brand over there and we have freelancers on the ground. Which means we now run a leaner organisation and focus Liquid Talent and they can work from where ever they are to deliver their best work. There was no office, we did, however, have a base when I was setting up Kensington Creates, I was in that space for over 2 years. It just changed my life exponentially.
How did it benefit you personally?
I went from being a very miserable person that had to micromanage people and pay them and work with clients that I didn’t necessarily want to work with to love my clients. I literally want to skip down the road sometimes just because I really love them!
Effectively you must have cut a lot of cost on overheads and use that to reinvest that into other areas of your company.
Yes exactly, that means we can spend more money doing and funding our own projects. We can also give our time to charity if we are not investing in our own projects because we know that the overheads and fees are covered.
Would you recommend this to another startup to keep costs to a minimum?
For sure.Our freelancers have their own clients and they also get steady work from us, which means that it has that they work with A Very Good Company but fundamentally they work for themselves. It’s a small mind shift that I feel changes how people perform and how much work they can produce, this overall is better for a business I believe.
How much research did you do prior to setting up AVGC?
So when we started, social innovation was a pretty newish concept, it was in its infancy in the UK at least. We were lucky that Virgin Media was our first client and we didn’t have to overly research as we knew there was a need and there is always a need of a cause for business to do good. It has been more of an organic process but we definitely have to stay on the pulse of whats going on in the space so we deliver the most value to our clients.
Where do you see yourself within the next two to five years?
No exit strategy as of yet!
Did you follow the typical entrepreneur path?
Well right from the age of leaving school and left university and started my own clothing store called Morgan. It was sort of a high street brand, for women. So that was a lot of fun. When I say I shop girl, I really am. Put me in a shop with people that want to buy clothes or something and I am in my element. The person that owned the Morgan franchise in the UK went into administration so all of the franchises had to close. So that was my first business failure if you like and I moved on from there to study journalism and then moved to Washington to work in a newsroom. Then the most typical story of working for someone and I realised is that I am not a very good employee and I had no interest not running things, especially when I think it can be done more efficiently. I set up Virgin Pioneers as an in-house small project and that’s how we got them as our first project. When the charity closed they wanted us to continue doing work.
Do you feel like enough at the moment is being done to support other women in business and are we empowering women enough?
I’m not a fan of the word “empower” because it implies someone giving us power when we have it already we just need to find it for ourselves. So what I want to do is help with small interventions to get more women to think differently about how they approach their business and how they want it to grow. For example from day one, they should be setting up a forte to make sure they have highly skilled effective people backing us and levering the networks of people around us. I feel like wealthy guys that went to Eton and Uxbridge automatically have these networks. I think there is a lot to be said about roots to markets and it’s about getting out there and selling a product and selling it at volume to build our conference in our abilities as women so that we can then go for investment or grow in scale. It’s more about very specific touchpoint in a women running a business to get her to where she wants to be.
Have you had experience in being stuck in a space where you feel the inability to push further?
Yes, for me to go to the half a million mark it requires a shift in how we operate as a business and it’s a shift I’m not particularly willing to make and I have acknowledged that. To make that shift I would have to do certain things, I can do them for me but all women recognise those things. In terms of process and operations and networks, so, for example, you would probably need a board. You would need to have investment and you have to take into account about who would your ideal investor look like and what are the options around giving away equity, also what does it mean in terms of the own deal that you strike and your own personal existence, if there is one.
I see that you find it important to inspire other women out there on a mission how do you actively seek to change women mindset?
My focus for the last couple of years has been for younger girls from 11 upwards because I think if we don’t start there then with the younger generation then we are missing a few tricks. I also spend a lot of time in schools working with those with an entrepreneurial mindset and others with standard skills that are interested in creating something and wanting to sell it so that is one aspect, and I also show those girls examples of what it means to be a businesswoman and what it really means to be an entrepreneur by taking them to different environments that they would never experience.
You also have an incubator programme that you run, would you like to explain what it is?
Yes for the last few years I run an incubator programme supporting creative entrepreneurs and most of them are women going through exactly the same stuff that I was previously talking about and now I’m plotting to expand that programme out with some corporate backing into a national programme. We also have the “Badass Women’s Hour” which I am doing in partnership with the W Hotel and it’s a speaking series that we turn into a podcast which is going super well with great feedback. In January we are also going to be launching a 2-day festival with them to get more women to come to the table and talk about their business and their growth but in a more fun and engaging way.
That’s great to hear you giving back and really helping out the community of women, lastly, what are you 5 top tips for success?
1“No” is a question. That is related to as women sometimes we can hear the word “no” and think the door is closed. However what it means to come back with a different proposition or go away and do your research, or possibly it wasn’t understood at that particular time however maybe next time
2.Find bad ass women and hang with them, the difference between making it and not also is about the people in your networks
3.Have fun, don’t take your self far too seriously.
4.Think about the end game, what do you have in mind. What does the end look like?For you does it being the CEO or the Chair or being the Head Of Department.Is it also about having a nice lifestyle for yourself or being recognised. When we truly answer that question we can then plan our journeys in different ways and it’s about being honest.
5.“ Food-chain” yourself, everyone can walk into something with an area of expertise but you just need to figure it out. No one has our perspective on life so it is about working out exactly what you have got that can put you on the top of the food-chain.