In the twilight zone between Christmas and New Year, many of us will be looking forward to the promise of a fresh start. The unblemished oasis of 2020 is on the horizon.
But before we start visualising how the year ahead will play out, it can be useful to reflect on the one that's coming to an end.
For Kintsugi, 2019 has been a year of fairly extreme ups and downs. It's probably similar for any startup, not least those in markets that are also still developing. So today, I'll be looking back over our first year of trading and sharing some of our best (and worst) moments.
Lows, then highs
I believe in ending on a high, so I'll rip the bandage off and start this blog post with the lowest moment. It's more personal than business, but it nearly culminated in me throwing in the towel on Kintsugi.
It's not something I posted much about at the time, but in September I had a mental health crisis.
Being the sole founder of a business is TOUGH, especially when you don't have a background in business (or expertise in the industry you're venturing into). Passion and mindset count for a lot, and I care deeply about diversity and inclusion. I believe in the power of allies and I strive to be a good one. That said, I didn't necessarily understand the toll that setting up and growing a business can take.
Kintsugi was not the reason for my mental health crisis. As with any situation like this, it's often the result of a perfect (shit)storm. But I think it's important to talk about - and particularly in this post - because otherwise it's just a list of highlights and that is not truthful or honest. That would give the false impression that running a business on your own is easier than it is or that I am stronger than other people for seemingly not having hard times.
For me, it's important to make sure other people don't just see my highlight reel. It is not weak or abnormal to struggle in the pursuit of your dreams. It is human.
OK, now for the better bits...
Our first photo shoot
Things kicked off with a bang when ITV News joined us at our first photo shoot. Our models were Caitlyn Fulton and Becky Barnes, and we worked with creative content agency Seventy7 Group to create a range of fantastic visuals to show off our first collection. Caitlyn and Becky are both such natural models with perfect awareness of how to create different looks.
If you missed it, you can watch the ITV coverage here.
A hub to call my own
As a sole founder, it can be really hard to keep motivated. One of the things that keeps me focused is being on NatWest's Entrepreneur Accelerator programme. This six-month programme, which entrepreneurs can re-apply for up to twice more (giving a total of 18 months) is fully funded and provides free office space, coaching, and access to a community of like-minded people, all willing to help each other however they can. I've met some friends for life on the programme and I am truly in awe of many of them.
If you're reading this and you have been thinking of setting up your own business, why not have a look at the Accelerator programme and see if it might be beneficial for you?
One of the things I've done a lot of this year is pitching! I learnt this important skills as part of the NatWest programme and won the Great British Entrepreneur Award (GBEA) pitching competition at the Manchester hub. I also won the Northern Business Expo competition in March for a £5,000 prize!
My next pitching opportunity was at Enterprise Nation's Fashion Exchange in June, where I was one of three entrepreneurs pitching to a panel of buyers from N Brown. The other two entrepreneurs were Dominique Morton of MANCUB and Jane Hallam from Esteem - No Pause. You can read more about these businesses - and the event - here.
Finally, I pitched to a panel of judges at the semifinal stage of VentureFest, although sadly I didn't make it as a finalist. Practising your pitch in front of a group of people under pressure is always a good idea though, so I was grateful for the opportunity, regardless.
Our first Naidex
Exhibiting at Naidex for the first time was a huge experience for Kintsugi. Although it is very expensive, with no real discount opportunity for startups, Naidex is the biggest disability and independent living expo in Europe.
It was a fantastic experience and our stand was very busy on both days. I got to meet so many brilliant people, from those I had spoken to online but not yet met face-to-face to individuals I hadn't ever met before. One of these people, Dr Hannah Barham-Brown, will be featuring in a video campaign we will be launching in the first quarter of 2020. Speaking of which...
Making films with fierce females
One of the most exciting events in 2019 was working with Fraggell Productions on a video campaign, which I can't say too much about just yet, but which features athlete Hannah Cockroft, comedian and poet Jackie Hagan, and doctor and activist Hannah Barham-Brown. I can't wait to share this content with you all.
I'd also happily recommend Fraggell Productions to those of you looking to get video content put together for your business. Fraser is absolutely brilliant, super patient and offered me a discount because he believed in Kintsugi and its ethos.
Popping up everywhere!
On two occasions this year, I've had the opportunity to set up pop-up shops for Kintsugi. The first was as part of Clicks & Mortar, a collaboration between Enterprise Nation and Amazon to utilise empty retail space by renting it out at heavily discounted prices to online-only businesses for short stints.
The second pop-up opportunity was given to me by NatWest, in conjunction with Stylist Live, where I got to set up a stand at The Trafford Centre alongside a handful of other small businesses, including Calla Shoes (who I was also selling with at Clicks & Mortar), 4Sisters Gin and Miss Kick.
Small Biz 100 and the House of Lords
We were over the moon to be included in Small Business Saturday's 'SmallBiz 100', a countdown of 100 'trailblazing' UK companies. As part of this accolade, we were invited to an event at the House of Lords, which was a fantastic experience. A highlight was meeting Genevieve Yusuf from Jajaja Books, a brilliant company that sells children's books about kindness, inclusion and difference.
In 2019, we were nominated for:
- The Inspiring Woman Awards (Entrepreneur Category)
- The Great British Entrepreneur Awards (Entrepreneur for Good category)
- The Enterprise Vision Awards (Young Entrepreneur category)
We didn't win any of these awards, it has to be said, but being nominated in our first year of trading was reward enough.
Two of the publications we aspired to be featured in actually did feature us this year. They were Lancashire Life (January 2020 edition, published in Dec) and The Guardian.
Press coverage is important to us not just because exposure for Kintsugi is beneficial. It's important because it puts a spotlight on the conversations we need to be having about universal/inclusive design, accessibility and representation.
Until accessibility becomes one of the primary consideration points in any design process - be it of a physical entity or of a service - we won't ever have a chance of being an inclusive society where everyone can thrive.
A big thank you
I think this is probably a good place to end this post - with the message that started Kintsugi's wheels spinning. All that is left to say is thank you so much; to the people who have supported me and this business - from my friends and family members to my customers and fans of the brand. We're looking forward to smashing down more barriers to equality in 2020 with your help and encouragement.
A happy New Year to you all,
from Emma (and the rest of team Kintsugi) x