Understanding Female Entrepreneurs
Interview with Su Hardy
Su Hardy is a hugely successful but reluctant entrepreneur, after 14 years of building her business she is in the final month of the business transitioning into Employee Ownership. We interview Su as she reflects and moves on to pastures new. Su has been true to her soul’s journey every step of the way, a “hippy” at heart she has run the business by using her instinct in the moment as guidance to find the next step resulting in a turnover of £2 million with 17% annual growth.
Su is a special, inspiring and unique woman who has more business acumen than she would ever admit. Whilst she sets sail in April to enjoy the fruit of her efforts you can’t help wondering what golden egg she might find on her travels…
Aviatrix: What was the catalyst that made you start the business?
Su: When I was camping in a National Park in Australia somebody I met there was using an old version of a menstrual cup that was made of rubber. I really liked the idea of that, as I am very conscious about reducing the waste generated from sanitary products. It only really turned into a business idea once I was home and talking to friends and family about it. I imported some products from Australia and sold them to people I knew and word spread very quickly and before I knew it I was getting cheques in the post from people wanting to buy the product. I then started getting feedback from customers saying that they were having allergic reactions to the product so after some research I realized they were allergic to the latex, which is when I decided that the product needed to made of another material.
Aviatrix: Was there ever a big idea with starting the business?
No not really, it came about because I was having such positive feedback from the initial imported products that I had sold. I knew that my instincts were right and that the time was right for it – this was in 2002. The business kind of just grew from me in my bedroom with a couple of friends, working 24/7 and making it up as I went along.
Aviatrix: What were you doing before you started the business?
Su: I did a degree in Sociology when I was 28, but prior to the business I worked for Real Foods Direct, an organic food delivery company. My job was to refill the bottles for washing up liquid and apple juice. Before that I had jobs in all sorts of industries, working as a chambermaid in Strawberry Fields B&B, cleaning airplanes at Gatwick and working for British Rail.
Aviatrix: Did you ever imagine that you would be running your own business?
Su: My Dad ran his own business so it was something that I was surrounded by. He had a whole series of businesses – he was a serial entrepreneur and I worked with him for a bit when he was making microprocessor controlled printer systems. I never really had the desire to start my own business though; it was definitely an organic process. I would actually describe myself as a reluctant entrepreneur and that never really changed. The Mooncup business just became an extension of my life and I could never really believe it when the next big thing happened, such as when we had the meeting with Boots in 2005.
Aviatrix: What were the three things that stopped you from starting your business before?
Su: I just hadn’t thought of it, nothing stopped me from doing it. It really just happened and the whole thing was a huge learning experience for me. When a new thing came up I just had to learn it. I would be in bed at night reading the VAT guides!
Aviatrix: What was the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome to start?
Su: When the issue with the allergy to latex came up and I decided to look for another material, the biggest obstacle then was finding a factory to make the mould.
Aviatrix: What was your biggest help?
Su: Finding the factory to make the mould! It happened through me ringing up different people and one of the firms that I contacted had someone on the team that used to work somewhere else that had a suitable mould for some prototypes. That was very much a stroke of luck and I think had it not happened I would have struggled to get the business off the ground.
Aviatrix: Have you ever had a mentor?
Su: Fi from MDHUB taught me the difference between running a business and not running a business. She told me all the things that I had to have in place – all the legal stuff that I wouldn’t have known about on my own. I didn’t have the knowledge with any of that kind of stuff so it was a huge help to me.
Aviatrix: At what point did you know that your business was going to be a success?
Su: I don’t know that I ever had a real idea of what success was. When we won an award in 2003 for Best New Product at the Natural Trade Show I had the first inkling. As a result of that Infinity Foods stocked us in their wholesale catalogue. I really do believe that living in Brighton was a key factor to the success of the business in the early days; I can’t see that if we lived in the back of beyond there would have been the same impact!
Aviatrix: What is the key to scaling the business?
Su: I’ve never lived outside my means, or borrowed any money. I started the business with £100 and imported the original products then kept the money and spent it to buy some more products. I built it up like that and that philosophy never changed.
Aviatrix: As a result of running your own business what have you learnt about yourself that you didn’t expect?
Su: I learnt that I am determined, I can see things through and I can create a healthy working environment. Another thing is that I have learnt is that you don’t have to do things the way you were told that you had to.
Aviatrix: What do you love about having your own business?
Su: The fact that I can make it up and can still make it work.
Aviatrix: What don’t you like?
Su: When something comes in from your blind spot and you have to drop everything and do that thing immediately. I find that frustrating and dull and sometimes it is accompanied by letting your family down. Additionally the commitment and responsibility that you have for everyone else’s lives – it’s like being a mum of a very big family.
Aviatrix: If you could start again what would you change?
Su: I would get the intellectual property sorted from day one – trademark it and make sure I’ve bought the domain names.
Aviatrix: If there was one piece of advice that you could pass on to a new female entrepreneur what would it be?
Su: Don’t get into debt! Go with your heart, even if people are telling you it is not the right thing to be doing, you know what you’re trying achieve better than anybody else. If it doesn’t feel right don’t do it.
Aviatrix: If you had to identify particular female traits or aptitudes that make you a great business owner what would they be?
Su: Being caring and inclusive. I think our company is a good example of that – it is someone’s job to make lunch for all 16 of us every day, which we then all eat together. We don’t talk about work – that is a rule. I think it’s really important to have that sense of community and family. That sense of community also means that people are more comfortable voicing their opinions and getting involved, which is something I have always encouraged.
Aviatrix: What do you feel female owned businesses contribute to society? How is it different from male?
Su: I don’t necessarily think that it is all that different. If we are talking about attributes that are associated with females, such as being more caring, then I think that businesses that are being run that way are going to be better for society. I think employee ownership is a brilliant thing for society as individuals are more engaged with their work as well as being more in control of their lives and it is something that has really worked for us at Mooncup.
Aviatrix: How has employee ownership benefitted the business in terms of staff turnover?
Su: We have a very low staff turnover – those that have left have done so because of life changing events such as moving away from the area, but mostly we have new roles opening up which is why we have new people. Part of our recruitment process recently is explaining about the employee ownership. It’s still quite a new thing but applicants have been interested.
Aviatrix: What makes you feel successful?
Su: My team makes me feel successful – they are a brilliant bunch of people. I am really proud of the fact that even though we have grown caring about the customer and the product still remains at the heart of the business.
Aviatrix: If there were one thing that you could change about the world that would create more success for women what would it be?
Su: There are so many oppressive practices all over the world. I think that there is a lack of confidence for many women in starting the business, but we are the nurtures of the world – the planet needs females in order to survive otherwise the men will blow it up!
Aviatrix: How do you feel your approach is different from other business owners?
Su: I think that my being inclusive and sharing what’s going on in the business is part of my success. Encouraging people to work together and find solutions to problems is key and in my opinion fosters a collaborative environment.
Aviatrix: What reason do you feel that more women don’t own more businesses?
I think that financial reasons come into play as well as thinking that you can actually do it. My Dad was a great supporter for me – he always told me that I could do it.
Aviatrix: As women progress what do you feel will be the impact on men in business?
Su: I like to think that the business will be run with a different set of values. Expectations of work will change and there will be more of a work life balance. Individuals will feel empowered in business. It is important that women maintain their sense of caring and fair play instead of being pushed over the other way.
Aviatrix: Do you think that you could have achieved what you have financially without running the business the way that you have?
Su: I don’t know whether we could have made more money, its possible that we could have if I had been more cut-throat but that’s not who we are – we are not a hard selling business.
Aviatrix: How do you keep sane?
Su: I go and party – the last time was in Portugal. I also think that keeping physically active and having plenty of sleep are so important. More recently, leaving work at work and having more a work life balance – having an extra day off has been very helpful in helping me achieve this.