Mumpreneur Profile: Shazia of Third Door – winner of the Best Start Up BusinessMums Award

Name of Business:

Third Door

Your Name and Age:

Shazia Mustafa, 34

Tell us about your family:

I am married to Yusuf Chadun (35), and have two children, Esha’al (2), and Isak (10 months). We live in the Borough of Wandsworth although we have four weeks to find somewhere to live and move which is a slightly unneeded problem right now!What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition?

I was Global Brand Research Manager for Nokia and prior to that, Audience Research Manager for the BBCs Radio 5Live. My story began back in 2008 – my maternity leave was coming to an end and I had realised that corporate life just wasn’t for me. One day, I planned to work on brainstorming possible new business ideas but found I could not focus whilst tending to my daughters needs. It was right then I had my ‘eureka’ moment. I wished for a place where I could work productively for a couple of hours and leave my daughter in trusted care nearby. And so, the ‘Third Door’ concept was born.

My husband Yusuf was studying for an MBA at the time and since it was self-funded, I suggested he write a business plan for Third Door as his dissertation. He didn’t need much persuasion, as he works from home and had been ousted from his study shortly before our daughter was born and now found himself pacing up and down the flat to escape a curious and noisy baby! 
In October 2008, I returned back to work and reluctantly placed our daughter into full day-care. The business plan was handed in late 2008 and was awarded a distinction! This gave us added confidence that the Third Door concept was a winner, so I jumped at the chance of voluntary redundancy when it was offered the following March and left work, 4 months pregnant, to set about making our Third Door vision come alive.

When did you launch?

We officially opened our doors on 26 May 2010 although, as you can imagine, a lot of planning work was done before the launch.

How did you get started?

We started working on the business plan in 2008 and made the decision to turn a plan into reality in April 2009. We had already shortlisted severallocations and key suppliers  whilst writing the MBA business plan. Long hours were spent on negotiation of the lease, design of the business model, fitout and specifications, website, logo, the brand as well as updating the business plan, creating and implementing a marketing plan and finding the right people to work in our team. All of this whilst looking after a toddler, moving home when 6 months pregnant and giving birth during the process!

What research did you do before launching?

As a researcher, I know how critical good research is. So we spent a lot of time researching trends in flexible and remote working, childcare, managed office spaces, the target demographic and where they are based. Obviously we also spent a lot of time actually talking to our target market to understand their needs.  We researched at parent exhibitions, in coffee shops, and anywhere our target market could be found.  We  ran online surveys, telephone interviews and focus groups.

How have you funded the business?

It was primarily self-funding and a small amount of private investment which we achieved by creating and distributing a fund raising prospectus.

How do you promote your business? What has worked best?

We’ve use three key strategies: PR, a good website/online presence and flyering in a specific geographic areas. We decided to invest heavily into PR as we are first to market in the UK and  wanted to leverage specific media channels as much as possible. Additionally, Third Door is proving to be a concept that many people identify with as has been realised by all the amazing coverage we had shortly after launch: BBC London TV News, BBC London Radio, a full front page in the Guardian, articles in the Daily Express, Daily Candy, Angels & Urchins, Nursery World and many others. As a direct result of the BBC and Daily Candy pieces, web traffic saw an increase of over 1000%, taking our daily number of visitors from 60 to 802 in a single day. This resulted in 20 new customer leads. We’ve also been very active on social media like Twitter and Facebook to drive web traffic. As a result, 3% of our leads have come from web site enquiries. We distributed 4,000 flyers in a targeted area which resulted in a 4% lead conversion rate.

What has worked well about your business?

Getting our doors opened for business was success number one! The final preparation stages took place at the same time as I gave birth to my second child so there was a lot to contend with. Membership sign up is more than double our original forecast and we’re converting leads to members in a shorter period of time than we anticipated. We’ve managed to keep our start up costs and operational expenditure lower than forecast, which has helped our cash position. Summer was also very successful for us – we expected it to be slow, but we exceeded our numbers partly due to the roll out new services as per our plan, in this instance, a holiday club. We’ve just launched our after school club so rolling out new services is working well.  The launch of our members Intranet portal went live as planned in September, and 50% of our members signed on and created a profile within a week of go-live. We’ve had great success in recruiting key staff, specifically our nursery manager who has won many awards and has amazing experience. We now have a total of 5 members of staff.

What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it?

Little teething issues that crop up and which take up more time than you expect has made it hard for us to always do everything we want to do, particularly as we were trying to train up new staff. This has led to long hours. Just trying to stay on top of it all has probably been the biggest challenge

How do you fit in work with the family?

Balancing life with a young family and starting up a tremendously ambitious business like Third Door is very difficult. Both require your attention and it means there is very little down time. This has been made more difficult as my husband who works with me in the business (although he still has another job) seriously injured his ankle and was unable to walk for a good period of the time post launch. I know that it won’t always be like this. I could have waited until my children were older to start Third Door up, but I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. There is no other business like it in the UK and we wanted to be first to market. Once it is established with more staff in place to run the day to day operations, I hope to free up more time to spend with my kids. But at least they are in the same space as me, which means I can pop in and see them whenever I like, keep breastfeeding my son and know that they are doing ok throughout the day. It’s a crazy life but it works for us!

What advice would you give to someone else wanting to work in this area?

Setting up a childcare establishment takes a lot of work – there are a huge number of regulations you need to meet. Be sure to do your research thoroughly and plan for it to take longer than you originally anticipated to get off the ground. An innovative business like Third Door means we’re creating new ways of working for many people.  It also means that working out a solid pricing strategy requires time and patience.

How do you feel about winning the BusinessMums Award? What difference will it make to you and your business?

We are absolutely ecstatic about winning this award. We’ve been a finalist in one other award and short-listed in a third, but winning has just made all of our hard work seem worth it. It’s great to have the idea that we’ve believed in for so long recognised and appreciated by others. It certainly has given my team and myself a boost and I feel energised to take Third Door to the next level.

Watch for a second Third Door space in the future….

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