Me Me Mine Ltd trading as Mimimyne
Your Name and Age:
Tabitha Potts, 40Tell us about your family:
I live and work in Stepney, Tower Hamlets, with my husband Jason and two sons Felix and Rufus aged 8 and 6 and our dog Dexter. The boys have done a bit of modelling for Mimimyne and often wear some of our lovely organic cotton childrens clothes! Even Dexter once appeared in a photo shoot for BT Tradespace. My family have been very supportive of my business, luckily.
What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition?
During my 20’s, I worked for television and radio as a script reader and editor, working with writers on scripts and helping them develop their ideas. I’ve also produced radio dramas and researched documentary TV series – the most entertaining one involved interviewing beauty queens in New York! When I was 30, I moved to San Francisco, California with my soon-to-be husband who had been asked to help set up a US branch of his company there. We spent two years there and then moved to Spain for two years with our eldest son Felix. I did some freelance work during this period – and taught myself basic web design skills – but by the time we returned to the UK, I was in my mid 30’s with two young children and felt it would be very hard to get back into TV after such a long break. I’d been shopping on the internet for eco friendly clothes and products for my kids and noticed that there weren’t a lot of sites catering to older children – as well as babies – that were design-led and were also environmentally aware. This gave me the idea for Mimimyne.com and because I’d spent such a lot of time around Internet entrepreneurs and start-ups in California I knew something about making it happen. I found the transition to running a business very easy, there was no ‘safe’ corporate job for me to walk away from.
When did you launch?
I launched the business in September 2008 after registering it as a company in April 2008. I was rather unfortunate to be launching my business just at the beginning of the worst economic crisis for decades! It certainly had an impact on my company, as people do cut back on spending when they are anxious about family finances, but it’s also made me more resilient and imaginative: I’ve learned to do PR and marketing on a shoe-string, for example. I believe that people who are interested in the environment will always try to buy ethically when they can afford to. Of course, there are a lot of things you can do that are green, save money and benefit your family’s health too which don’t involve being a ‘green consumer’, and I try and write about these on my blog: Mimimyne is about promoting “Growing up green” as well as green products and design specifically.
How did you get started?
I went to the British Library Business and IP Centre to work on my business plan and had a lot of help from the East London Small Business Centre as well. I wrote a detailed business plan and took it to various banks to try and get funding, including a ‘green’ bank. I was turned down by those banks but in the end the East London Small Business Centre helped me by getting me to present to a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style group of investors and bankers. Deutsche Bank decided to give me a start-up loan of £10,000 which allowed me to have a website designed, do some advertising and equip my home office.
What research did you do before launching?
I did a market research survey online using SurveyMonkey and my local Netmums (Tower Hamlets) was kind enough to post a link on their site for free. I surveyed nearly 100 mums about their shopping habits. It was a great help to me and made my business plan more realistic and customer focused. I used the British Library Business and IP Centre to research information about green consumers, children’s retail and other areas of the business that I’m in: it’s a great resource, offers workshops and networking events for entrepreneurs and is available online as well at http://www.bl.uk/bipc/.
How have you funded the business?
Mainly through my start-up loan at first, but I’ve invested some of my own money since then. It takes a while to grow a business, especially when you are doing it in the context of a very volatile global economy! I’m lucky that my family have been supportive and backed me in what I am doing. However, I keep my overheads extremely low and am very careful about expenditure generally. Being internet-savvy means that you can do a huge amount yourself and research the best tools for your business and that saves a lot of money.
How do you promote your business? What has worked best?
I am not a great telephone person so I tend to focus on meeting people at events (old fashioned networking!) plus online networking through sites like Facebook, Ning and Twitter. I have a Facebook Business Page (http://www.facebook.com/mimimyne), a Twitter account (http://twitter.com/mimimyne) and of course a blog on my homepage. I’ve had some great press from design and green bloggers and tend to be very at home with online networking. I’ve had pieces written about me by my local papers like the East London Advertiser, the Wharf and East End Life. I’ve also had some great national press, especially after I set up my BT Tradespace: I got coverage in the Sunday Times Business Section and the Daily Express through that site. I was even interviewed on Brazilian TV through a TV journalist who found me on Mimimyne. Finally, I’ve also had help from professional PRs occasionally: it’s impossible to do everything yourself and in getting exposure in the press personal contacts, of which I only have a few, are a huge help!
What has worked well about your business?
My website has not caused me any problems in functionality, thank goodness, and I think the design has lasted well. I’ve built up a very dedicated group of suppliers who really give me 100% when it comes to keeping customers happy and I’ve established myself as a green kids business in an increasingly competitive marketplace. I have increased traffic and sales and my SEO is improving all the time: I’m optimistic about the future.
What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it?
The recession hit all green businesses hard and has meant we have had to learn how to survive in a tough economic climate. Luckily most ethical companies know and trust each other and this had been a help to me in keeping my business going and growing; we network with each other and help each other out with ideas and suggestions. Green businesses also have different criteria from conventional businesses: it’s not just about the bottom line, it’s about helping the environment and trying to apply that principle to all your business activity. That has kept me going when times are tough, what we are doing is important and will become more and more ‘mainstream’. Mimimyne’s customers know the company and trust its ethical credentials, they know that the choices they make help benefit the environment.
How do you fit in work with the family?
I have found this very challenging, and can’t always claim to have got it right! I don’t have regular childcare help although I do know a great childminder who takes the kids every now and again. I use playschemes in the holidays (there is an excellent one at a local city farm that my children love) and during term time I drop off and pick up the children myself. I use my Blackberry a lot to answer queries on the move (I have a Skype number that forwards to my mobile phone or my home phone) and rely a great deal on email. I’ve also sometimes found myself working late at night – if you look on Twitter you will find a lot of ‘business mums’ online late. Also, I use the Internet a lot myself to make life easier: I do most of my shopping online for example, and organise myself using my smartphone and Google calendar.
What advice would you give to someone else wanting to work in this area?
Although I love my website, and wouldn’t change it except to update functionality, I would probably suggest looking into what’s available low-cost or free so that you keep your start-up costs low. Check out http://www.gbbo.co.uk/ to get a free domain name and a free website, for example! There are great free tools on the Web for doing anything from an online survey to setting up a community website. Research them, and use them! You can’t survive in e-commerce unless you understand the Internet, it’s essential to understand search engine optimisation, for example, and if you don’t understand it, you need to hire someone who does. Finally, there are some great groups for women in business full of great information, people and ideas which can be a huge help when starting up – and when you’re running – a business. I’ve just become the Tower Hamlets representative of http://mumsbusinessclub.com/ for example, which gets women together to exchange tips and ideas and find out how to start small businesses.