Thursday, 11 March 2021
Julie Wilson and co-founder Amy Livingstone set up Cheeky Chompers in 2013 to create stylish products that would help make parents’ lives a little easier — inspired by their own experiences with early parenthood. Since then the company has grown — via an appearance on BBC’s Dragons Den and a partnership with The White Company — to become a global brand selling in over 1500 retailers across 49 countries. We talk to Julie about the power of staying focused on the big picture, the benefits of leaning in to a crisis and getting comfortable with taking risks.
What in your daily routine is essential to success?
I sit quietly for 10 minutes first thing every morning and make a plan of what I'm going to do for the day, because if I didn't do that in a growing business I would definitely get knocked off course a lot. My structure is always about the big picture and sometimes that big picture is not the overall vision, but a project that needs to be delivered on the way to it. My ten-minutes is about thinking: What do I need to communicate to achieve that big picture? How do we get moving and keep moving? Who do I need to communicate with that for that to happen? What tasks do I need to get through today? Focusing on the big picture is something I have learned to do though, because I used to be more reactive. As much as we had a big picture I would find myself answering emails instead of being productive; everyone wants a piece of you when you run a business, and you can easily end up not spending your time on the things that are the most important.
What's your top tip for staying on top of finances: practically, emotionally or strategically?
Data and information is important, but make sure you've got the right information to make decisions — what might be right for the finance team is not necessarily right for you, so request the data that is actually going to help you to plan. Another learning curve for us as we grew the business was that while finance initially seemed to be an ‘end-of-the-month’ thing, we now live and breathe it on a daily basis. I don't mean that we’re right in the detail day-to-day, but overall, we know the target we're aiming to achieve and what's in the bank. The benefit to having that knowledge is that you can then be much more proactive. When we first started, though, it would have been far more about: “Yeah! We’ve got a sale in!”
What is the most effective change that you've made in response to the pandemic and how have you flexed or pivoted?
Previously, 60 per cent of our business was through international distributors, 30 per cent through retailers and 10 per cent from direct sales. Now over 30 per cent of our revenues are direct sales on our website or through marketplaces. To do that, we invested in a new website, new products such as a range around baby gifting, and got closer to our customers. It’s been a big pivot and a positive impact on the business actually in some ways. At the start of the pandemic, 50 per cent of our orders dropped off and we did contract at first, furloughing people and trying to reduce costs. But in the end, we just felt that we could either sit it out or we could invest in what we thought might get us out of the problem — so that's what we did. It was a risk at the time, but we employed a digital consultancy to help us with our marketplace sales, and at a time when we weren't getting any revenue (but we were getting a lot of grey hair!) — which eventually helped us grow them by 200 per cent.
What makes you feel out of your comfort zone and how do you handle that?
I think it is when ‘the juggle’ isn't balanced; the demands of running a business, being a mum and being a wife. The pandemic has certainly pushed a lot of us, me included, out of our comfort zone with the lack of equilibrium. When you haven’t got the peace to work properly and you are running a business it can feel impossible to find balance; I need to be able to say, ‘this is what I am going to do for the day’ and plan to feel in my comfort zone. We have a lot of women with children in our team and they're all feeling the juggle too — and we're feeling their pain as well. You can get to the end of a day and have given a piece of yourself to all the different elements in your life — but none to yourself. So, I think you need to be aware of that and protect and look after yourself in the middle of it all. I love to exercise so my way of trying to regain balance is to go out for a long walk or do something active at home.
Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit and what did they teach you?
I'm one of six in my family and we all have a bit of entrepreneurial flair, which I think comes from my dad. He never started his own business but he always had all sorts of projects going on and was a very determined man. He instilled a lot of determination in me, which is one of the key things you need as an entrepreneur. I think an entrepreneurial spirit is also about being able to feel comfortable to take risks to pursue things that might not work. You can come up with all the ideas in the world but going and selling it to people takes resilience and guts. That determination always needs to be there too though, because setting up businesses is a very bumpy road. There are so many highs and lows. It's not an easy option, but I wouldn't change it for the world.
How do you manage your digital balance?
The truth is I don't. But I do try to keep my phone away from the bedroom now, which is relatively new for me. I’ve grown to realise that you have to keep tech out of eyesight to give yourself a break. If our phones are open and in front of us, we're going to look at them, aren't we? We've also got Shopify now and, unfortunately, it has the most addictive app ever. You see every sale that comes in, where it comes from and how much it is for. It’s one of the most wonderful things, but my God, you could look at it forever so I have to turn that off…even if my phone is with me.
What sacrifices have you had to make to become a successful entrepreneur?
The balance is the one thing that my co-founder Amy and I talk about all the time and we do wonder whether we spend as much time as we should with our children, because running a business is all-consuming. When you’re an entrepreneur you are responsible for so much and you do sacrifice being able to relax as a result. But the business brings a lot of other things that counter that sacrifice, such as the buzz of having created something that no one else has created and selling it to someone who wants to buy it — then seeing that many, many people want to buy it. Also the buzz that you’ve actually made a parent's life easier, and the feeling that you are making a positive difference in the world.