"Pressure is a privilege"

with March Muses

Show notes:

We are BACK! We’re opening Season 2 with a conversation which genuinely at points gave me goosebumps.

Alison and Natalie are serial entrepreneurs – March Muses is their third business together – all while holding down full time jobs and raising families. As you can imagine, the question of “how do you do it” definitely came up.

Community came up a lot in our conversation – from calling in favours from everyone they know, family and friends helping pack overwhelming orders, the power of social media to get your business in front of the right people and lastly and most importantly, allyship and how we can all use our privilege to help others.

As a small business that increased their turnover by 533% from year one to year two, these ladies know the meaning of the word pressure. Full time jobs, families, the logistics of a fast growing business and that feeling of “what do we do next?”. I can’t wait for you to hear this.

Links:

Website
Instagram 
LinkedIn

About March Muses:

In December 2018, one of Natalie’s Daughters asked if Christmas Angels can be Black.

After finally finding Christmas ornaments online they had to be shipped from the US at huge costs to the customer, so from that, March Muses was born in 2019 to create a range of festive decorations that represent them.

They became the leading brand for Christmas ornaments of colour. Then in 2022, they took the plunge on Dragons Den, with a fantastic response from the dragons and secure investment from Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones.

Not only are Natalie & Alison single parents of three children between them but also run this business around their full time jobs.

March Muses’ Links:

Website
Instagram
LinkedIn – Natalie
LinkedIn – Alison

Transcript:

Intro

Hello. I’m Caroline Marshall, and welcome to Bump to Business Owner the podcast speaking to mums in business. You. I’ll be in conversation with some of the most inspiring women and mothers in enterprise about their journey, how they created their successful businesses alongside raising their children and what that looks like in work and family life.

Caroline [00:00:05]:

Today we are welcoming founders of March muses Natalie Develle and Alison Burton. In December 2018, one of Natalie’s daughters asked if Christmas angels can be Black.

Caroline [00:00:55]:

After finally finding Christmas ornaments online, they had to be shipped from the US at huge cost to the customer. So from that, March Muses was born in 2019 to create a range of festive decorations that represent them. They became the leading brand for Christmas ornaments of colour. Then in 2022, they took the plunge on Dragons Den with a fantastic response from the Dragons and secured investment from Deborah Meadon and Peter Jones. Not only are Natalie and Alison single parents of three children between them, but also run this business around their full time jobs. Natalie and Alison, welcome. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Natalie [00:01:32]:

Thanks for having us.

Caroline [00:01:33]:

I know it’s been a little bit crazy. We’re trying to get everything in with your full time job. So thank you so much. And how I tend to like to start these podcasts is a little bit of your journey into becoming business owners. So tell us a little bit about your career path that came to this and well we know what led you to starting March Muses, but did you ever think you’d be business owners in your journey?

Natalie [00:01:54]:

Originally I mean Alison and I have been business partners for coming up to maybe eleven years and actually we’ve known each other for a very long time but we connected when we had our babies around the same time. So our babies are two weeks apart, one week apart. I say babies but they are twelve right now and they’re young women. Still our babies. But this is when we actually we’ve had three businesses together and so our first business was when our babies were very little, kind of just arrived and we just knew that we didn’t want to necessarily go back to full time work but we wanted to make money or not wanted to, but also needed to make money. And it came out of a place of wanting to work for yourself because obviously that’s when you get the most flexibility when it comes to your children and putting our skill sets together. So I’ve got a theater background. So I went to the Brit school performing arts.

Natalie [00:02:57]:

I’ve studied drama and acting and musical theatre. All my life. And I’ve done lots of workshops with young people, using theatre as a tool to promote discussion, debate and kind of as an educational thing. And Alison comes from a recruitment background. So we were like, how on earth can we put our two skill sets together to come up with a business? And we did. We started doing careers workshops in schools, so we would kind of bring theatre and careers brought it together. And it was so great because we were actually making a difference in so many young people’s lives, something that schools were struggling with in terms of careers and how to kind of teach it. And so that was actually our first business.

Natalie [00:03:38]:

It was flexible. We were able to do it during turn time, during the day. It brought in some money and for a while it was really good. That’s amazing.

Caroline [00:03:49]:

I love hearing about creative backgrounds as well. Coming from one myself, I do wonder if, like, the performing background lends into the chaos of being an entrepreneur as well. So it’s a natural progression, isn’t it?

Natalie [00:04:01]:

No doubt. And this was one of the things that we always used to teach our young people. We always used to talk about transferable skills and all the transferable skills you have. So although you might want to be a lawyer one day, what are the transferable skills that you get from doing law that you can do in other things? So, being a lawyer, you need to have presentation skills. So standing up in front of an audience, you need to be confident in that. You need to have research skills. And research skills can be used in so many different job opportunities. So we always talk about the transferable skills and as an actress, definitely then transferable skills of creativity, being able to talk, presentation, thinking outside the box, being improvising, because we have to improvise a lot and kind of fake it till you make it.

Natalie [00:04:46]:

And so we do a lot of that in our business.

Caroline [00:04:50]:

Fantastic. And so what was your second business, then? So you had a first business, what was your second?

Alison [00:04:55]:

So the second business was our first sort of leap into Christmas. And we had a business, they were home elf visits. So if you can imagine, it was like a personalized Santa’s grotto. So we had a pair of elves that would visit your children. It could be a party of one child, it could be up to 1518 children. And the parents would send us information about the children and we would then personalize the visit. So Tommy would be sitting there, who’s six years old, and we would say, Tommy, are you on the nice list? And we would talk about things that Tommy’s teacher has told us. And they would be blown away because they’re thinking, how do you know about my teacher? Or, how do you know that I haven’t been brushing my teeth properly? So that was really popular.

Alison [00:05:39]:

We did it countrywide and we did that for, I think, three years and then COVID came and then obviously with social distances, lockdowns, all of that, it kind of took that business away. But for that last year of doing that business, we were actually running the three businesses concurrently. So we were doing March Muses, which was just launching. We had the workshops in schools and also home Elf visits as well, and that literally nearly wiped us out completely. And our full time jobs.

Caroline [00:06:11]:

Yeah, I was going to say, were you working full time with these as well? Oh, my goodness.

Alison [00:06:16]:

Yeah, it was a lot to juggle. But that home elf visit, it was so popular. We still have parents emailing us now. Are you guys ever coming back? Are you offering visits this year? But we’ve moved on to March Muses and that’s our biggest baby and have been our most successful baby to date. So that’s where all our energy is right now, as well as still doing workshops in schools. But they’re now entrepreneurial talks. So we go out to the schools from year nine through to six form and give talks about our journey as entrepreneurs, about business in general. The dragons, then that’s fantastic.

Caroline [00:06:53]:

Are young people really interested, from your experience of doing that? Of starting businesses and becoming entrepreneurs?

Alison [00:06:59]:

The way that they respond. They respond like we’re little superstars, we go to the school, we’re stood there in the hall and then they come in and they’re like, It’s them, it’s them. And they make us feel like celebrities. But what’s really good is, I think that we’re quite relatable because we’re coming from a space of not of privilege. We’re not like huge business moguls, we’re mums, just trying to navigate through business and entrepreneurship and I think that’s what they can relate to.

Caroline [00:07:24]:

Yeah, definitely. They can see their own mothers in you, basically, which is so great. And do you think the Christmas business kind of lended to help you understand the rush of running a product business at Christmas? That’s the sort of waves the business comes in as well. Interested in the journey with that? It could help you prepare for March Muses and how your business runs now?

Natalie [00:07:46]:

Absolutely.

Alison [00:07:47]:

I mean, I think obviously, the other two businesses that we had, I perceived them as being more service led, although with the Home Elf, we did give gifts to the children, so we did get that little learning from there as to what it means to buy in bulk shipment times, all of that. But, yeah, being now in a product based business, I find that we are reliant on a lot of other external forces. Whereas when you’re service led, you are creating the content, you’re delivering the content, you kind of minimise what could possibly go wrong. But in a product based business, there are so many other external factors and that’s what is a good learning for.

Caroline [00:08:21]:

Us, that’s really interesting because I think sometimes being a service based business owner myself, I think sometimes you can be a little bit like, oh, I just sell a product, it would be easier. And so I think it’ll be really interesting to turn a little bit like I have told, given a little snippet of how March Muses came about, but from you guys, the detail of what did you need to invest to get this started, get this going.

Natalie [00:08:44]:

At first we were very lucky. So we started because we were running both businesses at the same time. That first year, we used some of the money from the home Elf visits to invest in. And I would imagine, I think we invested maybe 1500 pounds. It wasn’t lots, it was maybe about 1500. And as Alison said, we learned how to do kind of bulk ordering and buying from China through our Elf business. So we had kind of had all these designs that we wanted to have made. We would look at white angels, what we would change about them.

Natalie [00:09:22]:

And it’s not just about changing skin color because you will find that some places they sell a black angel, but it’s a white angel painted black. So there’s no thought about the hair, there’s no thought about the body, about the skin tones as well. I’ve got two daughters. One is lighter skin, one is darker skin, same mum and dad, but that’s just how black and brown people are. We come in different shades of beautiful brown and just all the features. And so we wanted to be very particular when it came to that. So we had about three or four designs that we really had kind of honed in and made with the Afro angel, one with a headscarf. We had a black santa who was cool, and he had like a cane that he was holding.

Natalie [00:10:04]:

And then we found an amazing supplier in China to make these for us. And our first order, I think we maybe did maybe like 100 of each sku. So we had six products in total. I think we did like 100 of each sku because we didn’t know who was going to like it. We didn’t know if they were going to like it, if we didn’t even know how we were going to sell it. We didn’t have a business model or anything just yet. We basically started an Instagram page. That was our first leap into like, okay, we have to show people what we’ve got.

Natalie [00:10:37]:

So we opened the Instagram page, we posted on, there something coming soon. We told all our friends. And then when the angels came over, our children were completely blown away. They’d never seen an angel with brown skin. And they were just like, oh my goodness, this looks like me. So we got excited, but you still don’t know if other people are going to like it. And so we launched it literally when I say launched, we said, okay, October the first. Our shop is open.

Natalie [00:11:03]:

Our website was a do it yourself website that I did. And I’m not a web designer. I did it like it was like web design by numbers. So it was the most basic web page ever. But it did what it needed to do and to sell our product and to bring in the money. And yeah, we launched. It told our friends, and a bit like wildfire, it just spread because it was something that people had never seen before, especially in this country. And we sold out within a week, all the products that we had made had gone, and we were like, okay.

Natalie [00:11:39]:

And this was October the first. I remember it was October the first. It was just at the beginning of Black History Month. And so they were like, okay, we need to speak to our suppliers, see if they can send us some more. Which luckily they were able to do a quick turnaround. But this is when we start making learnings. So if you want to do a quick turnaround, that’s fantastic. But, oh, it’s express and express cost.

Natalie [00:11:59]:

How much to get over here? Okay, that’s fine. We’ll pay the fee for it to get over here. Oh, lovely. It arrives a couple of weeks later. Oh, here’s an export import bill for 1600. Pardon, what’s an import export bill? So these are like the oh, it’s not just buying something from boohoo or pretty little thing. It comes with so many added costs that we did not factor in at all. And so much so that when we started selling our decorations, we were selling them for, I think, five pounds of six pounds.

Natalie [00:12:32]:

Right now they’re about 13 pounds. But we did not realise. We were just thinking, oh, that’s a nice little profit. And actually all the things that we did not encounter, we didn’t think about, like the express fee, the import and export tax, all this kind of stuff. We were like, oh, we’re actually going to make a loss if we don’t raise the money of what we’re trying to sell them for, because we didn’t account for all of that stuff.

Caroline [00:12:52]:

I think no matter what business, service or product, we can all relate to that. Oh, I’ve got to pay for this. And so that was, oh, 1 October. So we’re releasing this podcast in October for Black History Month as well. So how many years ago was that?

Natalie [00:13:06]:

This October 2019. Yeah. So 1 October 2019, we launched.

Alison [00:13:12]:

So we’re now approaching our fifth Christmas.

Caroline [00:13:14]:

Fifth Christmas. Oh, happy fifth birthday. How are you going to celebrate January? You’re out the toddler years. I assume you’re also packing them at home. What stage did you get to? The stage where you felt, right, we’re going to need to bring in a bit of help or find some money to get in some help know fulfillment. How did that look, we were plodding.

Natalie [00:13:41]:

Along in our kitchens. And I can’t express to you when Alison says it nearly wiped us out. It really did. So that very first year, we were so excited and we were calling you every favour. And you start to realize that business is really about who, you know, who has a connect, who can connect you to this person, that person. I had a friend who had an auntie who worked at ITV who did something with Lorraine, and you have all these kind of different things. And so literally, we were just calling out favors and somehow we got onto Lorraine and we were like, oh my gosh, this is amazing. Mark Hayes.

Natalie [00:14:17]:

Absolutely fantastic. He was doing a fashion segment on Christmas and he goes, oh, and your Christmas tree can look amazing. And also, I’ve just discovered this new business called March Muses. Look at their decorations. Aren’t they beautiful? It’s a shame that we don’t have more of these. And that was it. It was literally 20 seconds of a plug. And that 20 seconds brought in 10,000 pounds in that day.

Natalie [00:14:38]:

And when I say our decorations, so imagine our decorations were selling them for six pounds, 50. So to bring in 10,000 pounds, you can imagine that was a lot of orders. And I remember sitting there and the phone just going, ding, ding, ding ding. And I’m excited. But then I’m also thinking, hold on a minute. Who’s packing all of this? Who’s putting the labels on? Whose house are we doing it in? Alice and I, we called our mums, we called our friends, our kids. Like everyone was involved in packing and shipping off. It actually took us about two weeks to get anything out because it was just so many.

Natalie [00:15:17]:

And then they would do the replay, and then the replay, you’d bring in like another 5000 pounds. So the power of TV was amazing, but it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. And so after that, we knew that we needed help, but we don’t have the money to have a fulfillment center just yet because that’s a big cost. And what we thought was just, oh, we’ll just send it to fulfillment center, and they’ll do it. Actually, it’s the insurance. It’s that everything needs to be barcoded, everything needs to be boxed up, everything needs to have lead testing, and there’s actually so much cost in order to do that, in order to even get it to the point where it can go to the fulfillment center. And then the fulfillment center needs to talk to your website, and your website needs to talk to the fulfillment center. So it all needs to be integrated.

Natalie [00:16:07]:

And we’re not web designers, we’re not developers. So in order to do that, it was just like, oh, we need more help. And then COVID happened and we were like, oh, well, we’re stuck at home anyway. So there’s not much we can do, so we might as well just carry on doing it until we can figure out a way out of it.

Caroline [00:16:26]:

Was that 2019 you got featured in this morning then, or arranged?

Natalie [00:16:30]:

Sorry, the end of 2019. So it was like November, December 2019. And then we knew that we were going to close the shop after January sales, and then we were going to reopen the shop probably like September 2020. But obviously 2020 was that lost year, which actually it was great because Black Lives was having a real moment in 2020. But also that moment happened in the summer. It happened in June. And we’re a Christmas business, so no one’s thinking about Christmas in June. And we were getting loads of questions like, oh my God, I’ve just discovered you and love to buy some stuff.

Natalie [00:17:11]:

And we’re like, yeah, we don’t open until September.

Alison [00:17:14]:

October.

Caroline [00:17:14]:

We haven’t even weren’t selling anything at this point.

Natalie [00:17:17]:

No, because we had sold out. We had literally sold out of everything.

Caroline [00:17:20]:

How did you have 10,000 pounds worth of stock from the Lorraine?

Natalie [00:17:24]:

Literally, like, by skin of our teeth. We managed to get everything from China in time to sell it, but then we sold out. And so we reinvested all that money to get more stock because we knew that it was going to be great. But then it takes time and it takes a few months, and we knew that we’d be ready for September. We weren’t ready for June or July.

Caroline [00:17:41]:

Did you manage to use that time at all during the Back Lives Matters movement? Did you use your personal brand for March Muses as well, just to get the momentum for the Christmas time as well?

Alison [00:17:53]:

Absolutely, because we started the year 2020 with no one had any notion of COVID and how serious it would be and for how long. So we started planning as normal. So in 2019, we launched, like Nat said, with six products, 2020. Now we’re looking at designing more products having varying skin tones as well, because as like Nat said, black doesn’t come in one color. So we have a darker skinned angel and a lighter skinned one in some of the products that we have. And so by the Christmas 2020, we actually had about 19 products. So we went from six products up to 19. And all that came from the development and the sample testing and stuff like that during the earlier part of 2020.

Alison [00:18:35]:

So for us, as a Christmas business, yes, we all celebrate Christmas come November, December, Christmas parties, yes, get presents bought. But for us, Christmas starts in January.

Caroline [00:18:47]:

The business, planning, everything. And how did you manage working on the business as well? Having your kids at home for you? Your kids would have been school age, so you were homeschooling, right? How.

Alison [00:18:58]:

Did you actually I don’t know how we did. I can’t even give you a succinct answer to that question. We just got on with it. I worked from home anyway for a good two years prior to COVID, so I was used to working from home, but then throwing homeschooling, throwing the attention that we were getting for our business. We’ve had a lot of media coverage always from the beginning. Then we had people like yourselves approaching us for podcasts, and everyone’s still wondering, what does this COVID thing mean? How long is it going to go on for? And so it was a real juggle, and it gave me a newfound respect for teachers because I am an older mom. So whatever they were presenting as schoolwork, I had no understanding of, why are you teaching my child this way? This isn’t the way that I learned it. So it was a bit of a minefield, but we managed to get our way through it.

Caroline [00:19:49]:

And what stage, then, did you decide to think? Because you guys were on Dragons Den and you’d gone through this whole journey through 2020, and how was your business at the end of 2020? Because people were at home still.

Natalie [00:20:02]:

Really? It was amazing. Yeah. So the very first year, we turned over 12,000 pounds. So that was 2019. And then for 2020, we turned over 76,000. Wow. So it was a huge leap, and it was on the back of Black Lives Matter and just people wanting to understand more about because our decorations aren’t just decorations. They’re used to teach young children how to discuss race.

Natalie [00:20:33]:

Parents didn’t know how to discuss race with their children, especially white parents or parents who weren’t black or brown. And so they would always ask us, how do I start that conversation with race? And we always said the same thing. You start it with books. You start it with the shows they watch. You start it by buying a decoration hanging on your tree. You don’t even need to discuss it. It’s just let it just be there so that they see it. Because you can’t if they see it and it’s just around them, you don’t even have to even have that conversation.

Natalie [00:20:55]:

It’s just normal and not novelty. So that second year we bought in 76, we saw that there was such a huge appetite, and so we walked into 2021 as we’re like, okay, now what? Now what should we do? How can we build on this? Because we know that unfortunately, especially with trends, that Black Lives Matter essentially, is a trend. It will come and it will go. And so how do we maintain this? How do we keep it going? And then Alison just had this I don’t know where it came from, but she was like, we should go on Dragons Den. And I was like, I mean, we love dragons. Den like, we used to watch it. I watched Dragons Den and Apprentice too. Like on a Thursday, whenever it comes on.

Natalie [00:21:39]:

And I was a bit apprehensive at first. I was like, oh, I don’t know.

Alison [00:21:43]:

But the thing is, in all honesty, during this whole journey up until that point of me coming up with this hairbrain idea of Dragons, then we’d been trying to knock on retailer doors because, see, that there was such a great response to our products. People were loving them, people of all nationalities as well. It wasn’t just for black people. We have more white customers than we do black. Yeah. Which is something that everyone is always surprised by. And so we’re thinking, right, we need to get these out there. So we’re trying to have conversations with companies like John Lewis and Selfridges and all the other big retailers and it’s just proving to go know, you start a conversation dives or you’re just being ignored.

Alison [00:22:25]:

And so I just said, right now, I think we need to go on the Dragons then what better way to get our business out there? And we know that people want it.

Natalie [00:22:34]:

Because people were getting angry at us. They were like, oh, why can’t I buy this in the shop? Why can’t I get this from like we’re trying. I’m like, we are knocking on doors, guys, but the gatekeepers are gatekeepering and they’re not ready. And when you think about the people that work in these corporates, they don’t look like us and it doesn’t affect them. They’re like a black angel. Why do we need that? Angels are white, aren’t they? They don’t think outside the box. And even we’re in 2023 and still a lot of these companies don’t have diversity when it comes to angels. Still.

Natalie [00:23:06]:

You’re like, still. Or they’re doing the same old thing of painting a white one black, which again, is really offensive. So we wanted to shut people up because they kept asking us, Why aren’t we there? I’m like, we’re trying.

Alison [00:23:21]:

We’re really trying. But the funny thing is, though, that with that question, so prior to going into the Dragons, then because of these pressures of people saying, I can’t find your stuff on the high know, I don’t want to shop online. La, la la. So Nat did a real powerful rant on Instagram and this rant was shared and shared and shared and fell into the lap of quite a few buyers. And one of those buyers was the buyer at Selfridges.

Caroline [00:23:50]:

Oh, wow.

Alison [00:23:51]:

So we from that people’s questions and feedback of why can’t we find you online? Sorry, on the high street, led to him seeing Naturant got in touch with us and then we had a pop up in Selfridges for just one weekend. And in that one weekend in the iconic Selfridges, we outsold all of their Christmas decorations.

Caroline [00:24:13]:

That gave me goosebumps.

Alison [00:24:14]:

It still gives me goosebumps. We actually bought in more money than some of the nice brands that they have in store. We all know who they are. And in our little two day period, we bought in more money than some of those big designers. And so, again, the power of having a rant power of social media, your customers not afraid to give and share feedback, help to bring about that opportunity with Selfridges. And now we’re stocked in Selfridges on the back of the success of that concession stand for a weekend, we’re stocked in Selfridges. So whatever it is that you’re doing in business, there isn’t just like one formula. There’s so many other little different moving parts, and you never know who’s watching.

Caroline [00:24:55]:

And when. You’re also purpose driven, which your business is, it’s not about just your products. It’s what they represent and the purpose for them. And so it shows you follow that and have the passion for that. It was down to your passion.

Natalie [00:25:08]:

That’s what gets us through those long nights, because we are exhausted. But it’s our kids faces that is the sole purpose of this business. It’s our children. When they first saw those angels, and they couldn’t believe it. And now when we show them angels, they’re like, it’s a brown angel. What? And they’re so blase about it. And that’s exactly what we want. We want all kids to be blase about a brown angel because they’ve seen thousands of them.

Natalie [00:25:34]:

And it’s like, what’s the big deal? That’s what we want.

Caroline [00:25:37]:

And you’ll have started that. That’s fascinating also that you applied for Dragonstone. For some reason, I just naturally assumed you would have been approached, because I know a lot of businesses do get approached kind of thing. So tell us what the application process looks like.

Alison [00:25:54]:

Oh, my goodness. It is super extensive. It’s very thorough. So you do an application. You don’t even know if your application is going to be received, acknowledged, anything. And then we got an adult, oh, thank you for your application. Okay. And then they require a lot of due diligence from you about your business, the status of your business, what you’ve done so far, which is actually really.

Natalie [00:26:16]:

Helpful because there’s a lot of things that we didn’t have in place. And so actually, just regardless of whether we got into Dragons In or not, just doing that due diligence for us actually helped us as a business. It helped us kind of be like, okay, let’s make sure that our business plan is there. Let’s make sure we’ve got all the right insurances. Let’s make sure and they had a whole list of all the things that you needed to do. But bear in mind, we applied for Dragons Den in March 2021 or April 2021, around that time. And then we got the common film. And after we sent like, a video and everything like that.

Natalie [00:26:49]:

And we filmed it on June the 17th. I remember this because my nephew was born on this day. So June 17, 2021 was when we filmed our episode in Manchester, Birmingham.

Alison [00:27:04]:

I think it was at that point, the hottest day of the year. Oh, gosh. So not only did. You have to contend with being nervous. It was the heat. It was just the whole intensity of being on the show. And when the pictures aired the following year in April, you see like 13 minutes of us in the den, but we were actually in there for almost 2 hours under those lights. So an intense 2 hours.

Alison [00:27:27]:

Imagine it being the hardest interview of your life with five, I don’t know, business moguls in front of you. We’re stood there in heels. You’re not allowed to have any kind of notes or paperwork to keep you on track. There’s no cut and have a little makeup touch up and a sip of water. It’s just hardcore running through the whole pitch. And it got really intense in there, along with the heat of being the hottest day of heels.

Natalie [00:27:53]:

And I will never, ever wear heels again for any sort of like, ever since then, I’ve been in Jordans, I’ve been in trainers for everything that I’ve done. Never again. Because there we go.

Caroline [00:28:03]:

Advice for anyone listening, listen.

Natalie [00:28:06]:

It is the best advice because obviously you think, oh, businesswoman, I’m going to be my heels and smash it and look sexy while I’m doing it. Absolutely not. Never again. And I kind of feel, I don’t know if you watch the episode, we don’t negotiate because we want to get out and take off our shoes. When they did offer it to us, it was Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones, actually, who offered us the money. So they’re both on board. Oh, you got both of them? Yeah, we got both of them. Yeah.

Natalie [00:28:34]:

So when they offered it to us, we were like, yeah, okay, thank you. And when we ran out, I swear to God, I could not wait to take the shoes off. That’s my only concern.

Alison [00:28:41]:

And that’s the thing, was we got out, we took our shoes off, and then the researchers were like, okay, now Deborah and Peter want to meet you, and like, oh, God, got to put the shoes back on. But, yeah, make yourself as comfortable as you can. If you’re out there pitching for anything, be as comfortable as you need to be. Whether it be me, I was in a short sleeve top because it was so hot, whether you need to be in flats and we’ve done talks since then. And like Nat said, we’re always in trainers or flats.

Caroline [00:29:06]:

And I’ve watched it and you guys come across amazing. So you wouldn’t have thought that you were desperate to run off and take your heels off. So what I want to know, you’re there for 2 hours, you know your stuff. How long did that take you to prep for? How did you go about prepping for that? Because anyone who’s raising money from investment will need that knowledge and sort of grilling that you guys got.

Natalie [00:29:27]:

So a couple of things that I would say. So the first thing that we did we would watch every single episode of Dragons Den. We would pause it on a question, and we would answer it as our business. So they’ll ask a question, I will pause it. I said, alison, answer that. And then she’d do the same. She’d pause it, right? You answer that. And so it’d be like all these kind of different questions.

Natalie [00:29:46]:

We also have amazing people around us. As Alison said, we both work full time. And I remember when I told my manager, oh, we’re going to go on Dragons Den, and he’s a really cool white guy, and he was like, amazing. I’m going to set up a fake Dragon’s Den, and we’re going to have a practice. And so he called in the head of sales, the head of advertising, all the different heads, and they did just on one evening over zoom a fake Dragon’s Den for us for 2 hours. And it was so amazing. And this is what we talk about with Allyship. We talk about Allyship, we talk about your village, we talk about community.

Natalie [00:30:25]:

And it actually makes me emotional because I’m just like, it got us through all the right wordings, all the things to say. If we didn’t know the answer, they would ask us an answer. Okay, what’s your route to market? And if we didn’t know, they’ll go, okay, you need to do this, this and this. And so it just gave us the importance of that network is just amazing. And actually, when we went actually, although Dragons were hard, I think my manager was a little bit harder, which he.

Alison [00:30:52]:

Was very they were way worse. Oh, my God, the guys at Red Bull were way worse. And that’s exactly what we needed because I actually up until that meeting with the Red Bull guys, I felt quite prepared, and it just highlighted how unprepared we really were because they’re talking a different language and they know the dialogue that’s going to be happening in that Den and wanted us to present really well. And it translated really well when we got into the Den because we were getting so many compliments, like, you guys are awesome as entrepreneurs. You’re so inspiring. And that came from the help of that preparation pitch with the Red Bull managers.

Caroline [00:31:28]:

The help, and you guys doing the work as well, essentially. You did the work.

Alison [00:31:34]:

Yeah, they gave us a bit of a punch.

Caroline [00:31:36]:

Skip that. And they went harder.

Alison [00:31:38]:

That’s it.

Caroline [00:31:39]:

I like that. So remember that. Go harder.

Natalie [00:31:41]:

Yeah, they went harder, but also they used their privilege. And that’s the thing. We talk about white privilege, we talk about work privilege. We all have some sort of privilege, and it’s how you use it. How are you going to use this privilege? They saw an opportunity. They’re equipped with information that, as Black women, we haven’t been equipped with because we haven’t been in the right spaces to get that knowledge, whereas they have quite easily. And so it’s like, it’s using that privilege for good and to help someone else. Not to get anything out of it, not to get anything out of it.

Natalie [00:32:11]:

Just apart from just I’m just going to give you some wisdom. If it helps, it helps. If it doesn’t, at least I tried. And that’s all we ask for. When we talk about community, when we talk about privilege, when we talk about even being on this podcast, you’re using your platform for us and we have to be thankful for that because you’ll reach some people that we won’t be able to reach. And so you are amplifying our voices and everyone can do that. Everyone can do that in some shape or form. We do it with young people when we kind of talk to them about careers and stuff.

Natalie [00:32:43]:

Like, you know, if you want to do good and you’re always like, oh, how can I help? How can I help to a cause I don’t really want to. Haven’t got much money. It doesn’t need money. It’s as simple as liking a Facebook page, liking an Instagram post, sharing. You know, I have one friend, she’s Jewish, and she was like, you know, I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I’m buying one, I’m buying one and I’m going to pay it forward. And that touched me in such a way because, yeah, she doesn’t celebrate Christmas. But it was beyond that. It was about supporting black women in business.

Natalie [00:33:15]:

It was about she’s going to buy it and I think she donated it to the local library or something. And so it’s all those things. There’s so much that everyone can do and so it’s so important to have that network and to use your privilege in the right way.

Caroline [00:33:30]:

Thank you so much.

Natalie [00:33:31]:

Yeah.

Caroline [00:33:31]:

And the allyship, as you said, with the people that supported you for Dragons Den, that’s fantastic that they use that and hopefully you guys are paying it forward as you do.

Natalie [00:33:43]:

Without a doubt. It’s all we do. And we truly believe in that. We believe in karma, we believe in what goes around, comes around. And we hope the way that we talk about people in rooms that they’re not in, we hope that there are other people out there talking about us in rooms that we’re not in yet and they’re going to open those doors for us. And that’s how you make the world go round. That’s how you generate the wealth and share the wealth.

Caroline [00:34:06]:

Thank you so much for sharing that. And I think something I always like to ask on this podcast because I know, discuss your full time mums, full time workers. Mums is a full time job and you’ve got your business and we talk about a little bit about the phrase, how do you do it? I don’t know how you guys feel about that phrase, but when I’ve been asked it, it’s more like someone who’s desperate to see if there’s a secret behind it, or someone who really respects that. We’re running businesses and are mothers as well, so I’ve never seen it as a bad term, but some people do and I see where it comes from. Men aren’t asked the same question, so how do you feel about that phrase, firstly, and how do you do it? It’s the second one.

Alison [00:34:48]:

I mean, for me, I do get slightly annoyed by the when you’re at an event, who’s got your daughter?

Caroline [00:34:54]:

Oh, yeah, that’s a different question.

Alison [00:34:56]:

A question I’m here, there’s so much more questions that you could ask, but that is one of them that does trigger me a little bit.

Caroline [00:35:04]:

That’s a different question, I feel, and definitely one that shouldn’t be asked when you’re working.

Alison [00:35:09]:

No, exactly. But in terms of how do we do it all? So we have been running around like headless chickens for quite a while, and now that we’ve had the opportunity to scale our business up, so we have the fulfillment center, we have an accountant, we have an admin assistant, and these are all people that work as a freelance on a freelance basis. But what it does is it enables us to free up a little bit of time. And then with that time, we now focus on the business, developing new products, looking at new ideas, other different routes into market. It doesn’t make us any less busy, but it makes our approach to our business a little bit more structured. Now, within that, I’m a true believer in self care, so I think that whatever it is that helps you to create balance in your life, it could be reading a book, it could be going for a walk, it could be a spa, it could be a holiday. Natalie and I, we both went on holiday earlier this year because we had such a busy Christmas that we were actually almost at that burnt out stage, the two weeks off that they have at school and everything else, that wasn’t enough to recharge our batteries. So I went on holiday to Cape Verde for Easter and Natalie went to Dubai for Easter and it was just that down tools moment.

Alison [00:36:24]:

Although I think we did do a little bit of work whilst we were there. Couldn’t escape that. But it was just being away from our usual environments, not stuck in front of a laptop all the time. And with all of these different things coming our way, kids, work, business, family, friends, we somehow have to incorporate all of this into our lives. And you can’t pour from an empty cup, so you have to bring a little bit back to yourself, get yourself centered. And so for me, spas, holidays, walking, drinking lots of water combined with Prosecco and champagne, it gets me through balance.

Natalie [00:37:01]:

Yeah, I think I’m a big believer on fake it till you make it, so I’m definitely faking it. I haven’t made it yet, so I’m just kind of plodding along. This is a chapter in my book, and I know that the next chapter will be very different. And I know that nothing stays the same. The only thing that’s constant is change. But I’m with Alison, I literally just downloaded a steps app, and it counts all your steps. And, like, on Thursday, I did 8000 steps, and on Friday I did 16,000 steps, and on Saturday I did 77 steps. And that’s because I didn’t move from my couch.

Natalie [00:37:32]:

And me and my daughters, my youngest one, my oldest one, she’s too cool for me, so she’s on TikTok and up in her bedroom the whole time. But my youngest, we watched Parent Trap, Princess Protection something, and Freaky Friday. So we had a Lindsay Lohan movie, Thorn. And when I say I did 77 steps, that was probably to go and get the deliveroo from the door and then back to the couch again. And it’s having those days, and I haven’t had the days like that for a very long time because it’s just go, go. So it’s important to have those days of almost absolute nothing that you can recharge and then get back into it. So that’s how I do it, knowing that I’ve got those days coming up. But also, I just know that this isn’t going to be forever.

Natalie [00:38:16]:

This is just a time in our lives, just like when they’re kids, they’re not going to be a baby forever. That awful time when they got colic and they’re coughing and they can’t poo and, oh, that dreadful time when they can’t communicate with you and tell you what’s wrong or when they’ve always got a cold. It’s not always going to be like that. It’s going to change. And so we have stages in our lives. So right now it’s really busy. It’s crazy busy, but it won’t always be like this.

Caroline [00:38:38]:

It’s taking those moments.

Alison [00:38:39]:

And also, I’m a great tennis fan and I keep seeing it all the time, where Billie Jean says that privilege, sorry, pressure is a privilege. And it’s absolutely true because we’ve seen, unfortunately, so many small businesses like ourselves, same kind of size, same type of being in business, the same amount of time, and they’ve gone under. So when you look at that and you think how busy we are and how sometimes you just want an extra hour of sleep or you just want to just turn your laptop off early, but there are companies that have gone under. And so for us, really, the pressure is a privilege.

Caroline [00:39:12]:

Thank you for highlighting that because it has been quite incredible this year to see some of the small businesses go under and female led ones as well. That’s so true. Thank you for sharing that. I know we’ve got to wrap up now. There’s so much more I could ask, but being a seasonal brand, this is October, so you’re ramping up to your busy period. And it’s Black History Month. Is there anything you’d like to share with us about what we can buy from you, how we can support you?

Alison [00:39:39]:

So, first of all, we’re not only just Christmas this year, we did actually launch last year, sorry, we launched for Valentine’s Mother’s Day. We have Father’s Day. So all these different celebrations are on our site, available different products. We have bedding gifting for children, but for this year, we will be back stocked in Liberty, London. We’ll also be stocked in Selfridges. We’ll have our amazing website, but we’re also launching our five year deal with Tesco in October. So this month of October, we will be launching nationwide in Tesco’s. It will be Christmas gifts, it will be homeware, it will be cards and wrap, baby pajamas, little mini me outfits for mums and babies and children.

Alison [00:40:26]:

So a great opportunity for us as a business. We were knocking on that Tesco door for almost two years and we finally got in. And what a way to get in. And they truly get behind the diversity of our products, get behind supporting small businesses as well. I think we’re the only brand of our size that they’ve collaborated with, which is huge for us and black women in business as well. So it’s a great opportunity. And however you like to shop, whether you’re a Selfridges shopper, you like to shop online with us or on the high street, every little count.

Caroline [00:41:00]:

That’s so exciting. I’m so pleased for you. And what if we want to find you online? Because we’re not an in person shopper.

Alison [00:41:07]:

So we are on online marchmuses.co.uk we are @ marchmuses on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook as well. And also if you want to email us info at marchmuses.co.uk. We are always open to lots of feedback. We’re open to collaborations with other businesses. We do entrepreneurial talks. So if within your business, that your listeners, if they have a business or if they’re a diversity champion and they want someone to come and speak about business, about being a black owned business for Black History Month or know we’re always available.

Caroline [00:41:41]:

Oh, wonderful, thank you. And thank you so much for being honest about your journey. Everything about knocking down Tesco’s door for two years and your pitching for Dragons Den and the work you put in. And it’s definitely going to be inspiring for people out there. And to know that things don’t fall on your lap, you need to go out there and just keep going and use your relationships as well. So thank you so much for joining me today, both of you. I really appreciate it.

Natalie [00:42:06]:

Thanks for having us.

Alison [00:42:07]:

Thank you. Nothing been great. Thank you.

Caroline [00:42:10]:

Thank you.

Alison [00:42:10]:

Bye. Bye.

Outro:

Thank you so much for listening to Bump to Business Owner. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. Please do rate, review, follow or subscribe wherever you’re listening. It really helps us to connect with more mums and business owners. You can DM me at Bump to Business Owner on Instagram and I’ll be back next week.

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