Are you ready to go freelance? Start your own company? Do you sometimes wonder how to make it happen? Or are you worried that you might starve for the next six months?
This Year Will Be Different is a practical guide to learn about tips, tricks from great female entrepreneurs. It's filled with stories and interviews with women who are now making money as bloggers, designers, consultants, photographers and many other great professions.
Be one of the first who receive a copy of the book by backing it here on Kickstarter. Planned release is the beginning of February.
Here is a little preview of the content.
Ewe's work in progress I've mentioned in the video:
.. and one of my favourite interviews to give you an idea what's in the book:
Maxie Matthiessen, Social Entrepreneur, Berlin
“You don’t have to be a born entrepreneur. You can learn how to be an entrepreneur.” Hearing these two sentences changed Maxie’s life. She founded RubyCup, a social business to keep African girls in school and established a buy-one-give-one model to reach her vision. Here she speaks about what it takes to build an innovative business with a social purpose and what steps she took to build hers.
What did you study and why?
I studied languages and culture. I’ve always been passionate about traveling and foreign cultures but at the same time I could never decide what exactly I wanted to do. I was also interested in business. For my masters I chose to study international business and politics with a minor in social entrepreneurship; a program that focused on businesses with a social purpose. The program has shaped how I view the world today. First thing they taught us was that you don’t have to be a born entrepreneur, no one is. Thinking and acting like an entrepreneur can be taught and learned just like anything else. During my masters I’ve also learned that you can do good while earning money; that businesses don’t have to be evil but can serve its community for the better. Before the program I didn’t think any of this was possible so it really opened my mind and made me consider and eventually become an entrepreneur.
2. What happened between your university diploma and your current career?
I was really inspired by the program and already started working on Rubycup during my studies. Part of the course was to write a business plan. There was a competition in class and we won with our business plan; that gave me confidence and leverage that my idea had the potential to be turned into a viable business. Then I approached the most capable people I knew and asked them if they were interested and wanted to join the team. Luckily they agreed. When we heard that the foreign ministry of Denmark was looking for interesting business ideas, we applied with the same business plan; we won that competition too. Although they didn’t give us any money, they provided us with advice and connected us to the right people.
3. How did you come across the idea for your business?
People always think that innovative ideas must be new and unseen but often it’s just about changing the context of an already existing product what makes for innovative business models; I was aware of the challenges many girls had because of their menstruation. When I was little, our neighbours collected money to buy tampons and pads for the girls in the refugee camp. Later, the UN published a report where they identified menstruation as a serious problem in third world countries because girls often drop out of school as they’re ashamed of leaking; the way it was described it really made me wonder why no one has provided these girls with menstrual cups. I’ve been using a menstrual cup for a long time myself. They are really popular in Denmark. So I didn’t come up with a revolutionary discovery: I combined a problem I with a solution I knew already existed and found a way to bridge these two. Like Steve Jobs always used to say, you have to connect the dots. That’s basically what I did with Ruby Cup.
4. You changed your initial business model, how did that happen?
Initially our business was headquartered in Nairobi. We founded the company based on the Tupperware-model: women sold to other women in Africa and were earning money while solving a problem. Truth is that we’ve constantly faced a financial problem because however we lowered the price of our product, girls in Kenya strictly couldn’t afford to pay for it. We couldn't make it work. We decided to move our company back to Europe and target women in the western markets instead. We changed our retail strategy to buy-one-give-one to keep true to our initial goal to keep African girls in school. While our mission remained, our approach to solving the problem evolved. What I believe is key to becoming a successful entrepreneur is to be able to test concepts and not be afraid to try several different paths when your initial strategy doesn’t work as expected; as for us, instead of having sales women selling Ruby Cup in Kenya, we now have an online shop and sell Ruby Cups in several stores that we’ve built a relationship with all across Europe.
5. What were your first steps to get Ruby Cup off the ground?
First we had to develop the product. We approached a supplier of medical products who then connected us to suppliers we began to work with. The product went through several rounds of testing and multiple iterations. Then we registered our company. Our funding allowed us to go to Kenya and start our business without having to worry about our income for the whole of six months. Every entrepreneur needs money in the beginning. We got funding because of all the competitions we won. I would advise everyone who has an idea to look for competitions and grants and apply; not only does it help you to validate your business idea, you will also receive valuable feedback that will eventually help you build a better company. We’ve received about 35K in total, which was enough for us to prove that we were able to establish a company. That’s when investors started to get interested in our mission and our product. One of the most valuable advices I heard was upon our arrival in Kenya: when we talked to the taxi driver he assured us that when you follow your mission, money will always follow. Do, what you have to do. In the beginning we had to find solutions and work around the fact that we didn’t have much money on our bank account. I guess the taxi driver in Kenya was right given that after just a couple of months we were approached by an investor.
6. How does it work for a white woman to establish a business in Africa?
Funny you ask, but it was much easier than you probably think. We tried to solve an actual problem that had impact on all people’s lives; every man has a daughter and there wasn’t an affordable solution that would help to keep their girls in school. On our first day in Nairobi the taxi driver asked us why we were there. We were a little insecure how to talk about such a secretive female issue with a man so we said we had a product for female hygiene, which lasted ten years and helped girls during their menstruation. You cannot imagine how excited this man became. His reaction really surprised us. He immediately invited us to come to his village and give Ruby Cup to every girl in the community. Something similar happened when we applied for a visa; usually you wait for months and probably have to bribe someone but when we told our story to the responsible officer he was very supportive and we had our visas after just a couple of weeks. So all in all, and I think because we followed our mission and were able to convince people - from immigration officer, to taxi driver, to clearing agents, about our cause, it really wasn’t as hard as we expected to start a business in Africa. And we received numerous support along the way.
7. Can you tell a bit more about finding investors?
One day a guy from London called me after he read something about us in the newspaper: “I love your company! I want to invest! You should patent your product.” We had to slow him down and tell him that our product wasn’t new and had existed for decades and that the patents run out a while ago, which is why we were able to start our company in the first place. He was really enthusiastic and wanted to meet us. He came to Copenhagen and took us out to the most expensive restaurant, we went dancing and next thing you know, we were in business. He gave us 250K, which enabled us to really do more of what we wished for before there was any money. Of course as an investor he wants to make money too but he loves the social mission of Ruby Cup. We are not just business partners, we are now friends.
8. What's your long term vision for Ruby Cup and what do you do to reach your goals?
We want to become the prefered menstrual cup brand in the world, so there is a lot of work ahead of us. Menstrual cups are great but they are not a mainstream product yet and it’s also something not many girls talk about. Usually our customers find us because they get frustrated with tampons and pads. We have a social but we can only reach our aim if we manage to increase our numbers. We have an online store and are currently working on improving our SEO and doing some design changes. We try out a lot; for example we’ve installed different landing pages to see which one works best. Then we try to connect with people who could write about us to increase the amount of links to our website. And what we’re especially excited about, we’re currently rolling out colourful Ruby Cups.
9. How do you represent yourself online?
What platforms do you consider important? We use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and we are focusing on making better products and building relationships with ambassadors who can recommend us. When I speak about myself I always try to encourage people and share my insights that you can build a business that’s financially viable while doing good for the society.
10. Could you give some practical tips to someone who wants to become a social entrepreneur?
Don’t over-think, start actively working on your idea. I have met so many people who are thinking, and thinking, and thinking,.. but what makes an exceptional entrepreneur is not having an exceptional idea. It’s having an idea, realising it and iterating the concept until you find a way that sticks. Building a product means you have to test, and iterate and do it again and again. Many times. So, first, register your company, try to get funding, develop a great product, register it. Then start networking and doing PR. Go to conferences and pitch your idea to anyone who listens to you. Take time to identify the right journalists who are interested in your field, then call them! Don’t waste your time writing emails. Get in touch with people directly. PR is a lot of work and you have to take a lot of time to do it properly.
We're still changing bits and pieces but this should be the final table of content plus all the additional interviews.. (oh.. I know.. still some inconsistent uncapitalised letters in this version, but you can click through to see the full version)
I hope reading the stories will help you as much as it helped me to write and edit them!
Thank you for your support!
PS: All illustrations are by Ewelina Dymek, the design of the book is the creation of Diana Ovezea, the content is written by me, Monika Kanokova, and edited by Diana Joiner.
Risks and challenges
We would really like to get the book printed, but so far, this project has been financed from my savings. I am afraid I cannot get the book printed without pre-orders.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (24 days)