After a 12 year career spanning roles including business development in a large city corporation, running pioneering online publishing businesses and her own small web consultancy firm, Julia was itching to stretch her entrepreneurial wings. When Julia and her sister Katy hit upon the idea of designing their own shoes, fueled by the frustration of never being able to find the beautiful heels that they were looking for, it was only a matter of time before they launched their game-changing fashion business Upper Street.
At UpperStreet.com, the made to order luxury shoe label, women all over the world can now create their perfect shoes online and have them delivered to them within a matter of weeks.
Where did you start your career, and how has it shaped you professionally?
After I graduated from business school at Nottingham Trent University, I was selected to join the Marketing Graduate Scheme at Reuters. This was an incredible opportunity to experience a wide variety of roles in sales and marketing, both in London and Singapore, along with a phenomenal amount of personal development and training. This was such excellent grounding for my future career, and when after 4 years I left to join internet pioneer UpMyStreet.com I was able to bring the structure and discipline of big successful company culture to an exciting and innovative new upstart in the .com space.
What I did learn from large corporate life though is how frustrating I personally found it to not be able to make an impact on company strategy, capitalize on new opportunities quickly and also deal with big company politics. I can’t imagine working for anyone else now, and certainly think I would struggle to go back into a large organization.
Tell us about your inspiration to start Upper Street? What was the first step?
My sister Katy was getting her shoes made to her designs in Hong Kong, where she lives, because she found it difficult to find what she was looking for, and particularly shoes in her size out there. When I saw her beautiful shoes I was green with envy, and with my experience running online businesses it made perfect sense to think about how we could turn that into a website experience.
The first step was locking ourselves away to write the business plan. We decided to meet up in Dubai, half way between London and Hong Kong, and we sat by the pool in a fabulous five star hotel for a week thinking that this would be how glamorous our life would be once we were running our own business. Of course, the reality of it is much harder! Of course there are glamorous moments, but most of what we do to make our business successful is just about blood sweat and tears!
How did you turn that vision into reality?
Once the business plan was written, and customer research undertaken, we set about bringing together all the resources to make our dream a reality. We had to find shoe manufacturers who were prepared to work with us, despite the fact that the industry is used to making orders in significant volume, and we had no track record or experience in this area – but we managed to persuade them.
We brought in a shoe designer to create the collection of shoe components and materials that when brought together would make beautiful shoe designs. We also had to engage a technical agency to build our innovative 3D Shoe Designer. And of course, all the marketing resource to help us take our concept to market. All in all it took us about 18 months from idea to launch.
What is the best thing about running your own business?
I have 100% passion for what I am doing now, that’s incredibly motivating. I love the fact that we’re building a brand, product and company culture that is exactly how we want it to be and that we feel so proud of. And funnily enough, I sleep better than I’ve ever done, despite there being a huge amount of pressure and stress involved with running my own business – I think that’s all because I feel so much control over what we do. Finally, who wouldn’t love running a business where you’re around shoes all day long?!
What is the biggest lesson that you would give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Never take no for an answer, stick with your vision and duck and weave your way to get there, despite all those naysayers that will tell you it can’t be done. And always make sure you’re on top of your finances; it’s absolutely true that cash is king, and you need to be acutely aware off all of your key metrics and how you’re progressing against targets.
What is your current favourite pair of shoes and why?
My pointed t-bar court shoes in black pony with a zebra print heel. They are so damn sexy and also completely unique – I always get stopped in the street when I’m wearing them.
The Fold are hosting an Upper Street Sample Sale on the 26th – 27th June. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.