Today is International Women’s Day and to celebrate we decided to do something a little different and conduct a little Q&A interview. We answer questions about how we came up with the idea of Meminio, how we found each other, setbacks we’ve faced and what we’re looking forward to in the future. Hopefully this inspires other women who want to start their own business to just go fot it and give an insight to who we are.
We hope you enjoy,
Ali and Marie x
Sophie: How did the idea of Meminio come about?
Ali: You have to start that one.
Marie: It came about when I had Maisie because I wanted to keep her memories special and safe, and looking on the market there wasn’t anything that was suitable or big enough or special enough. I thought about it for many years about what this new type of memory box could look like - and actually one of the ideas was a big cube, like a rubix cube that had little boxes that would go into it. So you might put shoes in one box and a piece of hair into another and put them into the cube. So I think that might have been the idea that I told Ali to start with when we were having drinks in the pub. I’d told her lots of other business ideas before that but I - did I tell you about the rubix cube?
Ali: No, you were already at the folders and the vintage suitcase by then.
Marie: I used to keep ideas in my mind so I probably told other people about the cube one and by the time I got to you it was the suitcase one, but that’s where it came about from.
Sophie: And how do you know an idea is a good idea that is going to take off? Do you think because you had it in the back of your mind and it kept coming up that was a sign?
Marie: I think I knew it was a good one from talking to people.
Ali: That’s what I was going to say.
Marie: I spent a lot of time just asking people “Is this a good idea?” Not asking them to do it with me, but just asking them, “Is this a good idea?” Like, you know, (laughing) the loft sorting idea that I had, when I told people about that with the string that you pull and you take it along, um, it didn't get the same response.
Sophie: We get a lot of people, especially women, reach out to us saying “I'm running my own business and I get quite lonely.” How did you find each other and what qualities should one look for in a business partner?
Ali: So we were friends through the children and Marie was always telling me her amazing ideas. And I was always like, “Ooh, that's good, ooh that's interesting.” And then you’d obviously got to a point where you were like “I know I want to make this, but I don’t want to do it alone.”
Marie: I think because I already had a business and it was lonely running a business on my own because I didn't have anyone to talk to. It was a serious business in that it was a business, but it was a franchise so it wasn't the same. But there were lonely times in that business where you needed someone at the same level to be able to talk to. So I had decided that I didn't want to do it on my own. Actually, the other thing was that I wasn't getting very far.
Ali: Was I your first choice?
Marie: Well I never asked anybody else.
Ali: If she’d gone around three other people and they’d all said no!
Marie: No! No. But if we remember, if we think back to the time that I did ask you it wasn't pre-planned.
Ali: Oh was it not?
Marie: No and that’s why it’s so strange in that I think I just knew. But your reaction was the thing that made it. So I think I told you, and then you were like, “That's a really good idea.” And then I went away and thought about it and thought "Actually, I think this is a good idea now because someone's actually said it's a good idea." So I didn't do it on the spur of the moment to say do you want to do it with me? Do you see what I mean?
Ali: Yeah. And I knew that I was looking to do something because Betsy (Ali’s youngest) was about to start school so I knew that I didn't want to just be a stay at home mum while she was at school, I knew I needed something else. She told me all these ideas and that was great, but I hadn't really thought anything of it. And then I'd gone to see a psychic.
Sophie: Oh I didn’t know this! Oh, this is amazing.
Ali: And we kind of had this conversation back and forth about change and next steps in your life and what you're going to do. And he kept saying to me, “Well, don't worry about it because someone's going to approach you and ask you to start a business with them.”
Ali: And I was like, “No, they're not, I haven't got any good ideas to start a business with. I don't know what I would do as a new business.” And he was like, “It doesn't matter - they've got all the ideas and you've got all the skills to make it happen and you will come together. You just have to do what you do well, and they will do what they do well. You don't have to worry about it, you can sit back and wait, because somebody will approach you.”
Sophie: That’s amazing.
Ali: Right. And I went on, I ended up probably spending longer than I should have done going back and forth with him and going, “But I don't know anyone who's going to start a business, I can’t think of anyone in my mind.” No joke a week later, within 10 days, we'd gone out for class drinks or something. And Marie just was like, “Do you want to do it with me?” And I was a bit like - I think I was actually lost for words, I was about to fall out my chair.
Sophie: (to Marie) And did you just think - “Are you OK?”
Marie: Well I didn’t know she’d been to see the psychic so I was a bit like, "Oh, well maybe that wasn't the reaction that I was looking for..."
Ali: I was so shocked. I couldn't believe that two weeks later it came true.
Sophie: Oh my goodness.
Marie: And you sort of said, “Yeah, I think so."
Ali: It's quite a lot to think about.
Marie: Course it is!
Ali: You have to talk about it with your partner and say, "By the way, I'm not going back to work in the next month, I'm going to try something else that's going to bring me no money for a little bit, etc." So then you have all these different thoughts going on about how can we do this and can I afford to?
Sophie: And did you find after that conversation that your brain was doing what Marie’s brain was doing?
Ali: After that we were moving quite quickly, almost straight away. Marie was working four days a week with one day off. And we met every day off and I would go away, do some work on it and then we'd come back and meet and start planning.
Sophie: So did it feel like taking a plunge or did it happen slowly and then gain momentum?
Marie: So for me it was a bit different because I was teaching two days in school, running my other business for two days and then meeting Ali on a Friday, which for me was the the best bit of my week, because it was the exciting bit. Not that teaching wasn't exciting, but because something exciting was starting. So it wasn't a risk for me because I already had these other income flows. So it wasn't a risk in that sense, it was an exciting thing that I knew was going to work, but I didn't know how long it would take.
Sophie: And how long did it take?
Ali: We started talking in 2014 and I don't think we had something to sell till 2016. It took a really long time. I think lots of people wouldn't even get to that point because two years is a long time to try and find somebody to make something for you that's new and not out there and that you’ve got to design. It took a long time.
Sophie: But that's actually been the key to your success in the sense that you're the only thing out there like this, you're not just reselling the same stuff. Were there any setbacks that you had to deal with?
Marie: I remember when the first prototype turned up!
Ali: So we basically had found a factory through a contact that I had, and they were really hard to deal with because we were dealing with them directly and I think it took about eight months to get this sample, didn’t it?
Marie: We were so excited because it was on the way.
Sophie: Eight months, that’s a long time! So what did you do in the meantime?
Ali: We went back and forth, we were talking the whole time, trying to explain what we wanted and then they would go off the grid for a few weeks and then they would come back saying “It's coming, it's coming, it's coming..” And then it turned up and we were like - Oh My God.
Marie: It was awful!
Sophie: Really! Describe it.
Ali: We can't even show this.
Marie: We haven't got it, we got rid of it.
Sophie: It was that horrendous?
Marie: It was dreadful.
Ali: We kept it for a really long time. It was a fake brown plastic looking case - because originally we were going to do the Paddington thing and we wanted it to be brown, like a brown leather suitcase.
Marie: But it was not a nice brown, it was odd. We took it to a meeting in Clapham and it was just really embarrassing.
Ali: We showed someone, this top designer.
Marie: He handled it quite well, he was very diplomatic.
Ali: But he was like, you know, “You need to be proud of what you're putting out there.” And we were like, “Yeah, this isn't going to work. We're really not proud of that.”
Sophie: So that’s eight months you waited for that - then what did you do? Cause you must have felt quite hopeless.
Ali: Yeah, we did. And we'd had a conversation with our current suppliers previous to that, but I think we thought they're more of a middle man. We thought we could go off, find a supplier and do it all on our own. And actually we came back to them after we got that sample. And then we met them in a service station on the motorway because they’re based in Wales and we're in London. So they met us in a service station and we just clicked with them.
Marie: And originally we wanted the top of the suitcase to go over the bottom and it took us a long time to get around the fact that they couldn't.
Ali: Yeah that was a big deal.
Sophie: I didn’t even notice that!
Marie: And that's because there's just not the machinery to do that anymore. And that's what they explained to us, isn't it? It had to be more box-like. And actually now you look at it, you wouldn’t notice. But we got quite stuck on that.
Ali: Yeah we did get stuck on that, it was really sad.
Sophie: It is sad but then again I hadn't even noticed it. So it’s quite a good thing, then. So I guess emotionally you've probably come a really long way in dealing with things like that. Do you have any advice to anyone out there maybe starting a business to kind of manage the emotional side of it when things don't go right?
Ali: I think you have to be quite resilient. You need to treat everything as a learning lesson. So if it wasn't right or it didn't work we'd say to each other, “Well we've learnt from that, we can change that and move forward.” And it's about not giving up.
Marie: Also you have to be realistic and the reality is that it's not just going to be plain sailing. There are going to be things that come at you and there are going to be things that don't go your way but just be ready for them before they come.
Sophie: Moving forward, what can you tell people about the next year for the business or the next five years? What's the dream? It’s big question.
Marie: Well, I think the dream is to keep bringing out new products and keep listening to our customers about what they want. And also going back to some ideas that we had right at the beginning. We wanted to do books straight away, but we didn’t do books until two years ago. So focussing on new things and doing them well and keeping everything to do with keeping memories separate, everything’s got to be about the memories.
Ali: I remember that very first conversation we had with Adrian in Chiswick, this branding guy. He asked us “What do you see your brand being?” And we were both like, "We want to be the place that people come to when they think about keeping their memories." And we’re quite true to that. We always have to remember that. So we want to build on that and have more products, but it will always be true to that message.
Sophie: It’s a great USP because it's universal. There aren't many parents who’d say, “Oh, I don't care.” Everyone, when they look through old school books, gets excited and says “Oh look what I did!”
Marie: That’s the other key thing - the products we make are about keeping the memories in the home and not hidden away. It’s all so you do think about them, you do look through the book with your three or four year old and say,”This is what you did when you were little.” And they love that.
Sophie: Because also so much of your personality is formed at those young ages as well.
Marie: That's the other thing that's changed. We were all about keeping children's memories and now there are people out there that have cases and put their wedding memories in them. They have journals with their wedding memories written down in that they can look back for years to come. It evolved quite quickly, it became not just about the children. It is about everybody's memories.
Ali: I think that's a testament to us, we listen to what our customers want quite quickly. We were getting feedback from people saying, “But I want one for me. What about about my memories?” And we thought, "Actually, yeah, what about our grown up memories, our wedding memories, our memories from our childhood we want to put somewhere?" We listen to what our customers have asked for and try to take that on board.
Sophie: And at the fairs, you get people who ask “Oh, so are they for children?” And very quickly, we all say, “Yes, but..” and we explain the universalism of the cases and you never have any resistance from anyone. They're always like, “Oh my goodness, that's a great idea!”
Sophie: And because this is for International Women's Day, what advice do you have for women starting out in business? Let's say there are some people out there, maybe young mothers, who are like how you guys were back in 2014; they've got an idea and they’re struggling to start it. How can women empower themselves?
Marie: I think what could stop someone is the need to be back at work and make the money. And I think that you can do both, you can go and get yourself a part time job or you can go and do something, which would mean that you can still maybe work for yourself in the future. So don't let that put you off, if you do have to go back to work, you can still be thinking about an idea and put a few things out there to see whether it's possible.
Ali: Actually running the business day to day, I feel like there's lots of businesses out there by women and I think that that's a good sign and a sign of the time, isn't it? You know, that's moved forward a lot.
Sophie: And the local community you guys have got, there's a really nice community of women in business around here.
Ali: I think we've got quite a lot of entrepreneurial friends and business friends so I don't think it feels that unusual to be a woman in business. I would say that you just have to compartmentalise it. You can feel like your responsibilities at home overtake, but if you can plan properly, and if you're keen then you'll find a way. So you plan your day around the naps or if they're only at nursery in the morning you get home and you get on with it.
Marie: I mean, this reminds me - we'd only been in business probably a year when I said I'm pregnant. Rex (Marie's youngest) was at the kitchen table with us. So he listened to our business growing for a year at least because he was always there. And you would have thought that at the time that might have been an impossible situation but actually it worked out fine.
Ali: You can talk yourself out of these things where you can think it's gonna be harder than it is. If you just get on with it, do it, action it. And I do think a level of support from home is quite important. I'd say both our husbands were very onboard very quickly, and have always been huge supporters of our business. That has helped a lot.
Sophie: And then last thing - do you each have one nugget of advice that you'd give to people about running a business? So one thing that to you is the most important thing to always remember?
Marie: I thought about this the other day and I think it’s to just get on with it and not think too much about it.
Sophie: I always say that to you, you just get on with it!
Marie: My personality is like, if you end up thinking too much you’ve wasted the time that you spent thinking. So I am quite a quick decision maker. And don't worry. Of course that comes with mistakes as well. You end up making mistakes as a quick decision maker, but I think that probably the positive times out weigh those times when mistakes are made. You know, we could still be sat here with a glass of wine just chatting about it, but we’re not, we did it.
Ali: I’d say do your research. Do your homework. Talk to as many people as possible. In those first two years, we probably asked somebody for advice at least once every two weeks. We were all over London just going “Can we come meet you for coffee?” We met branding people, we met marketing people, we met designers. We did market research with random groups of people. So by the time we got to the point where we could launch we had got so much information and positivity from our idea. So I would say, glean as much advice, talk to as many people, do your research before you go and do something.
Sophie: And that's a marriage made in heaven. Don’t go by halves but just do it.
Marie: Yeah, but the reason we did that and had the time to do it is because it took us so long to find something. So we didn't waste time - there was this year of us trying to still get this product to market. But actually, it wasn't wasted time, because the benefits are now in the business. As Ali said, we now know there was a market before we even went to market. And we exhausted our network and our husbands' network of anybody that we thought could help us.
Ali: We did our branding, our message, our USP, we did all of that before we even had a product. So when we had the product, we were ready to go.
Marie: But yeah that makes us very opposite.
Ali: It does!
Sophie: It’s brilliant.
Ali: I think one of the questions was about what to look for or should you get a business partner. Because lots of people question whether they should and I would say I've only had positive experiences having a business partner. But I think you have to have different qualities - with the same outlook.
Sophie: Knowing your strengths and weaknesses. And then finding the opposite.