There’s nothing like entrepreneurial advice and startup wisdom from people who have lived and breathed the highs and lows of establishing a small business. For our Q&A session, we welcomed Noor Houtakkers, Owner of Shaggies, and CEO and Co-founder of Woli, Vasilis Zoupas.
Woli gives young people aged 10-18 the opportunity to learn good money-management skills through their first digital banking tool, money app and smart prepaid bank card. Shaggies provides expertise, equipment and workspace for people involved in tufting—inserting loops of thread or yarn through a base fabric to raise tufts, and create art, clothes and furniture.
They share their small business learnings, business growth strategies and their tips for small business owners.
Vasilis: “In any startup journey, it’s actually getting off the ground – escaping your safe zone and leaving everything behind to focus on a brand new, innovative concept.”
Noor: “I find it quite hard to take time off. I try to protect my Mondays, but always end up checking my e-mails or making more to-do lists. It’s hard letting go, even just for one day. But I’ve got better at it, mostly because the people around me force me.”
Vasilis: “There are good days and bad days. Embrace this concept early on.
Noor: “My father told me: “Make time for people”. We spend so much time behind our screens etc. But when someone makes the time to come to you, you have to make time for them. Putting my energy into what’s happening around me keeps me grounded and reminds me why I’m doing it – happy employees and happy customers.
Vasilis: “One key skill is understanding and prioritising people’s needs – both your teammates and/or customers. Having this always top of mind is the secret sauce for being always relevant and progressing.
Noor: “It sounds cliché, but it’s gratefulness. As a business owner, you tend to get quite ambitious – sometimes over ambitious. I want to do it now, see the results and be successful. But that’s not the reality. Sometimes I have to take a step back and realise what I’ve already accomplished. Success can be the smallest thing, like seeing people becoming friends in my workshops. These realisations energise me to create more successful moments.
Vasilis: “We’re a teenager-oriented banking app and card, so technology is the main enabler of our product. It lies at the core of our innovation, and is the reason why we – being a small team – can leapfrog incumbent businesses and traditional players.
Noor: “Being active on social media directly results in more engagement, more bookings and a larger creative network. In the beginning, it was difficult - figuring out what you want your followers to see, and what they want to see. Now, social media is one of my biggest audience channels. I’ve also learned I’m my biggest customer. I try to include what I like to see on social media in my own channels.
Vasilis: “I’ve been involved with businesses where I didn’t place strong value in the company’s mission. I am certain that believing in the core ‘why’ of a company is significant to achieve big things.
Noor: “Mine is taking complaints or pressured issues as a direct reflection on me. I’ve learned to be a lot more professional and see it as learning points to take with me into future issues.”
Vasilis: “ Technology is an industry in flux, a state of continuous change and evolution. Operating in a tech company requires by default that the key people are continuously involved in new trends within the industry and adjacent business trends.
Noor: “Staying connected to a small creative business network helps me learn a lot. We keep in touch, help each other, and use it to keep up with trends and industry changes. When I started, I felt very alone, but I realised I could learn from people in a similar situation. It’s a very supportive system.
Vasilis: ”Being small means being agile. Decision-making is ultra-fast, and a few people can define a cohesive strategy very effectively. On the negative side, gaining trust from customers and creating business partnerships is much more demanding vs established players.
Noor: “I feel like I have it all under control. It’s small enough for me to oversee it all and stay in touch with every part. The disadvantage is that most of it is not very creative anymore. I sometimes get a bit overwhelmed with all the other things that comes with owning a business. It’s part of the job, but time slips away very quickly, so I try to balance the admin with the creative work.
Vasilis: “I identified Woli’s target market by spotting the market gap within the digital payments industry. The new generation of kids and teens grows up as digital natives. However, their pocket money solution is very far from smart and digital. Customers are at the core of our thinking, and we use multiple tools to nurture this relationship, from CRM to custom campaigns and referral programs. Maintaining a high-level of customer support and gaining daily insights from customers are at the top of our planning.
Noor: “I always keep myself in the back of my head. I found out about tufting through Instagram. Most people haven’t heard of it, so I try to convince people that tufting is something you need to know about. I want them to get obsessed about it, like I did.
I also occasionally join physical creative markets, where the audience is already interested in creative endeavours, or are very creative themselves. Our customers too, are very open to giving feedback or telling us how they’ve found us. That way, we find out what works best for reaching new customers and staying in touch with our current ones.
Vasilis: “We test multiple channels for distributing Woli to our target markets. In the teenager space, we have identified referral programs to be very effective, as well as the immense viral capacity of TikTok as a social medium to create our community. “
Noor: “Instagram and Instagram/Facebook ads work best for us. When we have an event in a different city, we try to target these areas with ads. We’ve got a lot of traction, so it’s been very successful. For our regular workshops, word of mouth is the most successful. Most of our attendees have heard about it from other people or seen it on Instagram.”
Vasilis: “The last few years have created huge changes in the way we think about work. Covid pushed digitization across all industries, remote working became a new norm overnight, cashless payments accelerated and AI is now a household buzzword and a tool anyone can use.
We plan to follow these trends and incorporate them into our operations, but with a modest approach. For example, in terms of remote working, we strongly support the hybrid model. We believe - and wish - that no technology can substitute the beauty of human interaction, and the team culture this creates.”
Noor: “Definitely! Working life has changed so much since Covid. I worked in publishing as a commissioning editor, but started to work more with my hands during lockdown and found out about tufting, which has changed my life. The last two years were incredibly fun, and I hope to ride this wave for at least a couple more and grow bigger. My dream is to own a business where creatives can learn new skills, connect, work and showcase their makings. A Valhalla for artists where everybody is welcome.
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