Shaper: Holly Tucker

Show aired on 13th May 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Aretha Franklin with Think and a great way to start the programme too. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers; I am Elliot Moss, thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right alongside them we bring someone who is shaping the world of business and we call them Business Shapers. I have got a fantastic Business Shaper with me today, her name is Holly Tucker and many of you will know her first business which was called or is called Not On The High Street. It’s a place where you can go and find beautiful things and have been able to do so for over ten years. But she is also the founder of a new thing called Holly & Co and you are going to be hearing lots about both of them very shortly. In addition to hearing from Holly you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your burgeoning business and then we have got the music and it is brilliant today, some of my favourites, Nina Simone is in there, Dave Brubeck, Gil Scott-Heron and this from the one and only Gilberto Gil.

Gilberto Gil with Toda Menina Baiana. This is Jazz Shapers as I said earlier and Holly Tucker is my Business Shaper today and Holly was one of the co-founders behind Not On The High Street back in 2006 and she is also recently and we are going to talking about that very shortly, the founder of Holly & Co which is an incredible idea aimed at small businesses. Hello.

Holly Tucker
Hello.

Elliot Moss
Thank you for joining me.

Holly Tucker
Well you are very welcome, I am very pleased to be here.

Elliot Moss
Now 2006, a long time ago. I want to take you back there for a moment. Why did Holly Tucker decide to set up Not On The High Street? Then we are going to go back a bit more into advertising and things like that. How did it come to be that you went, I know what I am going to do? And actually explain what it is that Not On The High Street is for those people that may not know.

Holly Tucker
So starting with what it is, Not On The High Street.com is a market place. We now use that term quite readily but at the time in 2006 no one had even heard what a market place was except for Amazon and Ebay and today it is a place where it has five thousand small businesses, over two hundred thousand products. All of the products are unique or handmade. Made by those small businesses and really Not On The High Street is that go to place where you want to be introduced to something that is less ordinary as a product, you are probably looking to give a gift to someone that means a lot to you and this is a place where you can and find something that really speaks to you. You can personalise a lot of the products and it’s just been a phenomenal success. It wasn’t always that way though. Certainly not. 2006 was a very different landscape to what it is today and it all came about really from one of my previous businesses, Your Local Fair, which was set up when I was working in a publishing world, wanted to be more creative, was going through a lot in my life and decided that I wanted to be a small business myself so I would moonlight like a lot of small businesses that I mentor now. So in the day I would work and at night I would actually pull together less ordinary wreaths which is not necessarily a story which I like necessarily but I would like to say it’s cooler than wreaths but it was actually wreaths and I would make vegetable wreaths and things that were less ordinary and would try and sell it in my local town, Chiswick at the time and funny enough I wanted to sell it at a fair and I looked around in Chiswick which I would have thought would have had a nice Christmas fair that I could have a stall. There wasn’t one so I thought well how hard would it be to actually create the Chiswick Christmas Fair so I could have a stall and sell my less ordinary Christmas wreaths at. So in my lunch hours I would create the fair and in the evenings I would make the wreaths and so in a very long time ago I put on the first Chiswick Christmas Fair. It had a hundred stalls. I’d handpicked them. It was a huge success. I got the best stall which I thought was the, you know, the pinnacle point of this story. Sold all of my wreaths but then realised at that point in time that there was such a demand for people to experience small businesses that they had not seen before so that evening I jumped into my Peugeot 205, made all the wreaths, delivered them all and then quit that business within a week I think it was that I was telling my father and started a company that put on great events that pulled together small business that were not used to being sold in that town and would advertise it. Because of my background I was able to really get the publicity for these events. I would always have a stall doing bits and bobs but soon I just got rid of that and just put on these events and through that I realised once it wasn’t raining and once it wasn’t, you know, the M4 wasn’t blocked and all the stall holders couldn’t get there, when it worked it really worked because there was this spark between someone who is looking to buy something less ordinary, something that wasn’t just found on your High Street and then there was a small business who was also desperate to meet that person but they didn’t necessarily have the marketing ability or the budget and the only option they had at this point in time – and this is going back to 2004 – was a stall in a Town Hall which actually is quite archaic. It goes back to how we used to sell eggs and that is how after a couple of painstaking years of doing that, I realised that we needed to take that concept, the twenty four hour day fair, and put it on that thing called the Internet.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out what happened when my very less ordinary Business Shaper, Holly Tucker worked out that that twenty four hour place was indeed the Internet. Lots more coming up from Holly my Business Shaper. Time for some more music right now. This is Nina Simone with Mr Bojangles.

The thoughtful Nina Simone with the thoughtful Mr Bojangles. Holly Tucker is my Business Shaper and she was very eloquently explaining how that old fashioned notion of putting stalls around places, physical stalls, was very good if it didn’t rain and there were enough people in there but not so good, well probably at 3.00 o’clock in the morning when someone might want to go and buy something. Luckily for you Holly there was this thing that was burgeoning that was called the Internet. So Not On The High Street was literally those things that you couldn’t get on the High Street and you started this thing. Tell me in the early days, so you have this idea and you strike me immediately as someone who is like well I got the idea I am going to go and do it. I mean not everyone would say there isn’t a fair in Chiswick we are going to create one but you did so I suppose the next natural step for you to say well there isn’t something on the Internet, let’s do it. Tell me about the first couple of things that were difficult for you to overcome before that business got off the ground?

Holly Tucker
There were far more than a few actually in those early years. Number one, I had a three month old baby, Harry. I didn’t have a business partner at that point in time. I knew I didn’t want to go it alone and so after a number of painstaking, it must only have been weeks, it seems like months, I picked up the phone, actually I sent an email to Sophie who became my business partner and asked her – we’d worked together at a publicists and advertising – she was actually my boss – and asked her if she was up for possibly exploring something which was this twenty four hour day fair on line and within twenty four hours, I’ve still got the email actually, June 2005 I get a yes and so thank goodness I had a partner in crime. So the two of us with a very, very small child and she had two smaller children but slightly older, would get together in our respective homes with dog cages and play pens and bottles and sterilisers and we’d try and work out; now when you look at it we were trying to work out how to build a market place. This was two people who had had dot com experience in the bubble and both worked for dot coms and loved retail, had worked in retail. Both in advertising, understood consumers, understood the power of PR, understood what people want and being able to you know, join the dots but actually not the mechanics or the experience to say right well we work from a technical background so building a market place back in 2006 is… we were one of the first I think in the world actually. We were before Etsy and so that was a huge thing to overcome. I think because we were women and I think because we regarded Not On The High Street as a child and had this maternal feeling towards it, it meant we would never give up where I think a lot of people would. That first year we didn’t have a weekend ever. We were on baked beans literally, not being paid a salary. We had husbands who were working, young children, mortgages to pay. We were writing cheques out on our credit cards for the staff that we did have. When we realised in the summer that we were running out of money which is a normal thing for a fast growing idea but again it seems like everyone talks about it today but in those days you weren’t speaking about it, we had to raise money and the banks obviously weren’t interested. We had to go and do this thing called you know, packing our bags and going into the City and knocking on doors of VCs who would see these two women with blonde hair coming in with their personalised t-shirts and things and would look at us as if we were selling crafts and that we wanted to just create a little shop and we were trying to very much explain the bigger picture to them and how we felt the future was going to be about the Internet being curated and actually you wanted a voice and an opinion behind things. But this was ten years ago and so we luckily in the end, in 2000… end of 2006 we found that partner and it was a gentleman called Tom Teichman who wrote out the first cheque to LastMinute.com.

Elliot Moss
And just very briefly before we go to the traffic and travel, what do you think convinced him? What was the one thing that convinced him he should put his money in?

Holly Tucker
Well he was called Spark Ventures at the time and he turned to Sophie and I and he said, you guys have spark, I see it, you know how to connect with your customers and that’s all I need and so it was very lucky that we found someone who understood what customer insight really meant.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more about what customer insight meant and how Holly and her team and her new backer went and did some extraordinary things. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. Every Saturday I get to talk to someone who is shaping the world of business, doing extraordinary things. If you’ve missed any of the previous two hundred and fifty plus programmes – it is extraordinary in itself I think – you can go into iTunes or British Airways High Life or even CityAM.com if you fancy. Lots of places in other words. Talking of places, Not On The High Street is where we are focussing today and it’s Holly Tucker who is one of the founders of that brilliant business; that business that I think has returned about six hundred million pounds or created income of six million pounds since its launch. What strikes me about you amongst other things is just how driven you are. You talked about when your kids were really little and Sophie’s kids were little. We all know how hard that is, I mean it is absolutely time consuming, it is exhausting and yet there you were trying to create a business. Why? What was pushing you to do that?

Holly Tucker
I do ask myself sometimes because I am now going through launching Holly & Co where my son is twelve years old and it’s pretty difficult now. I do look back and I think how an earth did we actually survive. I remember many of the evenings crying 2.00, 3.00 o’clock in the morning just for sheer exhaustion. Sophie’s children at this point were quite a few years older than Harry was and I had missed his first steps that day and you didn’t have iPhones in that time and so there was no recording or it or anything like that and my partner, Frank called me and said you know, Harry’s taken his first steps and at that point in time I thought right that’s it, I am damaging my child more than anything, you know I am not present and being someone who loved children and always wanted to be a mother from a crazily young age, I just thought what am I doing? But there was something burning inside of me to do good I think and I have realised that more now through Holly & Co. What probably drove me when I was younger building Not On The High Street, you know I was twenty eight years old, I have a desire to help people and…

Elliot Moss
And that was more than the money was it? That was more than the…

Holly Tucker
Always been more than the money.

Elliot Moss
That’s I guess what I was getting to and for those of you that don’t know, a couple of things about Holly, she was awarded an MBE in 2013 for services to small businesses and also was appointed by the previous Prime Minister, David Cameron as UK Ambassador for creative small businesses in 2015 and you’ve won many other things as well. Once you knew that, was it just a question of time about moving on to Holly & Co? Was it a question of time about doing your thing or were you then in the throes of growing a business?

Holly Tucker
Well yeah absolutely and I am, you know, I think you know, I was born an entrepreneur in the proper sense in that many setbacks I just get up again and do it again, whether it was the you know, the first tuck shop in my school to the cleaning job I had at thirteen. I have been someone who has been in a hurry. My nickname when I was younger was Hurricane Holly. I have done many things, I have lived many lives already and so once I was on the roll and I realised it was working and that it was going to change lives, you couldn’t stop me and I just continued to go faster and faster for many, many years.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for the journey with Hurricane Holly, that’s Holly Tucker up until 10.00 o’clock. She is my Business Shaper today and one of the founders of Not On The High Street. Time for some more music, it’s a classic, it’s Dave Brubeck with Unsquare Dance.

That was as promised, Unsquare Dance – I am very good at keeping my promises over here – with Dave Brubeck. Holly Tucker is my Business Shaper and Not On The High Street was one of her inventions. Holly & Co which we are going to hear about very shortly, is one of her inventions as well. I just want to pick up on something you said earlier as well because I think you mentioned that funding right now for entrepreneurs is not readily available but it is certainly much more accessible, people know the gig and if they don’t know the gig they can find someone to ask about access to venture capital or private equity or individual investors or families or whatever it is. Back then it wasn’t so easy in 2006, especially for women and again I’ve heard that the AllBright Founders over here on the programme, Debbie Wosskow recently and other people connected to it which is now an all-female founder platform. What did… I asked you what Tom saw, is it that you had pitched particularly well that day or is it that he was enlightened?

Holly Tucker
Not On The High Street and thus Sophie and myself, we had a good idea that attention to detail mattered and I think that maybe at that point in time, you know, we didn’t even have the first year of accounts ready. We didn’t have the metrics that he needed, we had a very, very good compelling story and we were able to tell a story very clearly. We were able to bring to life the small businesses so we would do videos for them, we had personalised notebooks created, hand bound ready for the meetings that we would go into. I was lucky my father was the financial director, I mean, you know, he didn’t necessarily opt in for that job but he just became it as we were raising money and his career was chartered accountant for General Electric for thirty years previously so we were in pretty good hands. So we found ourselves pitching incredibly well because I think it was from the heart, it was a genuine need from small businesses and a genuine need from customers and I think when you can actually fuse genuine human need and want together, if you are lucky, if you are lucky and you hit the right perfect storm and very much we thought it was a perfect storm, we managed to fuse those two things together and it just kicked off and that in turn gives you that spark, that energy to keep running with it. Now you, your body can’t keep going but you basically know that you have to keep going and so just year after year thousands of small businesses after thousands of small businesses we were building something that once you were in, you could never give up. The actual momentum and the effect it was having on customers giving incredible gifts, having the most touching moments in their lives, due to the products that these small businesses were creating, suddenly these small businesses were going on a family holiday. They had never been abroad before or their son who was dyslexic was now able to go to dyslexic school. You know, once you start hearing these stories you realise that you need to take it now to the next level. How can this child, our business, keep going and that meant year after year it needed more money. Again nowadays you have things such as crowd funding and you have abilities to I think Banks are able to give more loans out and people are much more aware of entrepreneurship, start-ups, want to be part of the race but in those days they weren’t so we were finding ourselves packing our suitcases many times, getting into a taxi now not necessarily the tube but still with our, you know, our hands tied to our product and our dreams still looking to be seen and fulfilled.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with Holly Tucker and find out what the next step will look like, not just for Not On The High Street but for her personally and her knew venture called Holly & Co. Plus we will be playing a track from Gil Scott-Heron, that’s all coming up after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

Gil Scott-Heron with The Bottle. Just for a few more precious minutes Holly Tucker is my Business Shaper. Holly at the heart of what you do and you said it a few times since we’ve been talking, is about doing good, is about looking at the success stories behind what happens when a business does well… a small business and giving people the pride and the belief that that is a good thing. That they don’t have to aspire to do something else, that there is great energy and great happiness that can be derived from doing things well and beautifully even if they are small. That is really the underpin of where Holly & Co comes from. Tell me how the for profit world has been replaced with the, at the moment, the not for profit world and why that’s really driving you today?

Holly Tucker
Holly & Co has come about because over the decade of building Not On The High Street and watching it flourish, I was able to be privileged enough to have a birds eye view of the journey of incredible people going from literally their kitchen table to million pound plus businesses. It has been an absolute privilege and roller coaster to watch so many stories develop. What I realised though is everyone has roughly the same journey when starting a small business and running a small business. That’s not to say we have the same businesses but we have the same low moments, we have the same high moments. We feel alone. It’s a very, very lonely job running a small business if you don’t have a team and then when you have a team it’s very hard growing a team and when you have a product that was a best seller and now it’s not a best seller, what do you do? What’s the world of marketing? Everything is changing so quickly and I realised that these small businesses might need a place to go certainly when we look at the future where 40% of people are going to be running part of the freelance economy by 2010. So this is not something that when Sophie and I started, it seemed just to be the small business on the High Street that was being kicked out, actually now it’s about a far larger group of people who are probably going to be setting up their own small businesses and there was nowhere where I felt that they could call home. This is not a utilitarian company. This is not something that you join as a customer to buy something. This is when you are a small business. You want to feel part of a collective. You are highly talented at what you do, you are creative, you’ve got taste, you’ve got style but you might be spread across the world. Where do you go to meet like-minded people, communicate, talk, connect, share and so there wasn’t this place and seeing as I have dedicated my life, I’ve now told myself and I have, two small businesses and their journey. The next normal step for me and what I thought was very clear, now I am a little bit realising that the second time round isn’t necessarily easier, was to build a home for them for the next decade at least.

Elliot Moss
Now both of those things are to me about you identifying the need for the market to be created. Why have you been so good do you think, where has that knack for spotting the opportunity come from? If you think about it?

Holly Tucker
I think I’ve been told over my lifetime that I am empathetic, I really love people and I want people, maybe because I wasn’t told this, you know, we all have something incredible to give and when you are a creative small business and you are doing something amazing, not many people tell you that and certainly over the years of Not On The High Street and my past maybe that I wasn’t told that and so I want to be their cheerleader and their sort of virtual co-founder or just that person to say you know, keep on going and I found that I am quite good at that and it’s because I really, really mean it and I also believe that you know, great things come from when an idea is truthful and when it’s based on ethics and it’s based on something that you truly love.

Elliot Moss
Holly Tucker, chief huddler, chief inspiratory and all these other brilliant titles that you’ve got and they are true because they reflect what you do, thank you so much for spending some time with me. Good luck with the new venture and good luck to everyone who is involved with it because actually as you said, the community is going to drive it. That’s what’s really… you will know when it works when you are asleep and things are happening which is how it should be and you should take a break as well at some point because you are working very hard I can tell. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Holly Tucker
My song choice is Holding On by Gregory Porter.

Elliot Moss
And any particular reason?

Holly Tucker
It’s when as a dyslexic I was told I never could write and now I have a blog that I write for six times a week and this was a song that I would play as I was working a muscle that I was told could never work and I have now found out I am an okay writer and so this is a song where I just had to hold on and it means a lot to me.

Elliot Moss
Phenomenal, here it is just for you.

That was Gregory Porter with Holding On, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Holly Tucker. Someone who at her core is a market spotter, an opportunity spotter and she has done it repeatedly and she doing it with her new venture. Hurricane Holly as she has become known, someone who has got real drive when you put the bit between her teeth, she will not let go and someone who fundamentally has wanted to help people and is helping small businesses realise their potential every day and it is fantastic to see. Really, really good stuff. Do join me again same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am here on Jazz FM. Meanwhile stay with us because coming up next its Nigel Williams.

Holly Tucker

Holly Tucker has many strings to her bow – mother, MBE, founder of Holly & Co, UK Ambassador to Small Creative Businesses, Chief Inspirator and co-founder of notonthehighstreet.com. But Holly simply sees herself as an imagineer – someone who believes in the impossible and the power of creativity.

“I grew up with the belief that anything is possible and it is something that has never left me. From starting the first town hall craft fair in 2003 in Chiswick, my belief in the power of small business has remained a constant driving force throughout my life. After nearly 15 years, my passion only gets stronger and I plan to cheerlead this group of amazing people until I’m a very old lady!”

Holly’s newest venture Holly & Co has been borne out of her lifelong passion to champion creative enterprises and support small businesses. After a decade of creating notonthehighstreet.com – one of the first marketplaces in the world designed to support small businesses – Holly is continuing her mission to bring colour to grey. Holly & Co is an all-encompassing destination, a home, for artisans which to aims demystify business, connect like-minded creatives across the world and shine a light on small creative enterprises. As part of the new venture, Holly will be taking on a mentoring role through the Holly & Co Pharmacy, offering ‘first aid for business’; sharing her knowledge on a more personal basis and supporting individuals on their journey.

Holly’s dedication and contribution to business has been recognised through a number of awards over the years, most notably by her MBE for services to small businesses and enterprise as part of Her Majesty The Queen’s Birthday Honours List in June 2013, and her appointment as the UK Ambassador for Creative Small Businesses by the Prime Minister in 2015. Other awards include: Entrepreneurial Woman of the Future Award, EY Entrepreneur of the Year (London and South Region winner 2014), Management Today 35 Women Under 35 Award, Media Momentum Women of the Year, The Google Award for Women in Digital at the Digital Masters Awards, and many more.

A real belief that everyone should have the tools to enable them to live ‘The Good Life’ led to Holly publishing her first book in 2012 with NOTHS co-founder, Sophie Cornish; ‘Build A Business From Your Kitchen Table’, which topped the Amazon and Sunday Times Business bestseller charts. Their follow-up book, ‘Shape Up Your Business’, published in 2014, achieved equal success.

As part of Holly’s mission to support independent enterprises and a continued belief that changes must start at the grassroots level, she is also Chair of the St Margarets Traders Association. The Association itself is setting out to build a town of merit, to support and protect its independent high street, and act as a model that all high streets can seek to emulate.

In 2013, Holly founded The Happy Bricks Foundation, a charity set up to improve the lives of disadvantaged children across the globe through access to safe schools and education. To-date, Happy Bricks has funded a school build in Tanzania which now has the capacity to educate 60 children, and co-funded the build and fit-out of a new science laboratory at a small independent school in Windsor.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow Holly on Twitter @HollyLTucker.

I was working in a publishing world, wanted to be more creative, was going through a lot in my life, and decided that I wanted to be a small business myself

…the two of us would get together in our respective homes, with dog cages and playpens and bottles and sterilisers, and we’d try and work out how to build a market place.

That first year we didn’t have a weekend ever. We were on baked beans literally, not being paid a salary. We had husbands who were working, young children, mortgages to pay.

I have always been someone who has been in a hurry. My nickname when I was younger was Hurricane Holly. I have done many things, I have lived many lives already

We found ourselves pitching incredibly well because I think it was from the heart, it was a genuine need from small businesses and a genuine need from customers

Over the decade of building Not On The High Street and watching it flourish, I was privileged enough to have a bird’s eye view of the journey of incredible people going from literally their kitchen table to million pound plus businesses

…everyone has roughly the same journey when starting a small business and running a small business. That’s not to say we have the same businesses, but we have the same low moments, we have the same high moments

I believe that great things come from when an idea is truthful and when it’s based on ethics and it’s based on something that you truly love