Sunday 17 November 2019

#girlboss... Meet five young female Irish entrepreneurs

Katie Tsouros, CEO of ArtFetch. Photo: Fran Veale
Katie Tsouros, CEO of ArtFetch. Photo: Fran Veale
Jennie McGinn of OSPH
Katie Jane Goldin of Gold Fever Hair
Marissa Carter, CEO of Cocoa Brown Tan. Photo: Fran Veale
Made with love: Emer O'daly. Photo: Fran Veale

Vicki Notaro

A new film hits cinemas this weekend starring Anne Hathaway as a CEO opposite Robert De Niro's 70-year-old trainee. While The Intern plays up the comedy value of this role reversal, it's a sign of the times that it's a young woman driving a business to success.

Female entrepreneurship is at an all-time high globally. In America, rates of women starting businesses had almost doubled entering 2015. While only one in 10 Irish publicly listed companies have women at their helm, an increasing number of start-ups have female directors.

Last month, KPMG's Family Business Survey showed that 39pc of family or privately owned companies in Ireland were run by women. With a strong showing in the tech and style industries, more and more young, female entrepreneurs are diving in to business, creating and operating their own companies. Here we meets five 30-something Irish female entrepreneurs…

Katie Tsouros, CEO, ArtFetch

Artfetch is an online platform for art lovers to purchase works from new and emerging artists. It started in Ireland in 2012, and two years later moved into the USA and Asia. The business selects up-and-coming artists and connects them with collectors and buyers around the world. The business model works by taking commission from each sale and acts as an online agent. From Ballsbridge in Dublin, Katie (30) first came up with the idea after launching her own gallery in 2010.

"My journey has been unexpected, but I didn't grow up thinking there were any limitations to what women can do, and luckily that hasn't changed. My mum always worked and ran her own businesses, so it was normal to me.

"When I was 25, working in the art world and figuring out what to do next, it was Mum who suggested I start my own business. Four months later I had an art gallery in Donnybrook called KTcontemporary. I was exceptionally naïve, but I think sometimes that's no harm. After two years I started to develop the idea for Artfetch. I wanted to do something that could have global impact with greater flexibility. Going online seemed an obvious route.

"The concept was to build a brand for emerging artists that was really well curated and accessible, and I think that's what we've achieved. We currently have about 65 artists from around 30 different countries who we represent. We sign them up, promote them and sell their work online.

"My journey really has been shaped by the people I've met along the way. Tech was a big stumbling block at the beginning, it was alien to me. I was so lucky when I was starting to get into a network of other young entrepreneurs who knew so much more than me, and I could lean on. It took a long time to learn to ask for things and look for help.

"People were often surprised to meet me because I can look quite young, especially dressed down with no make-up. I quite enjoyed it. Quiet self-assurance and assertiveness from a young woman can sometimes be very surprising. Most people are just interested to hear about the business, maybe offer some unasked-for advice at worst. Tech has normalised the rise of the entrepreneur. Fortunately, I've had a really good experience as a woman in business, and I tend not to differentiate myself as a result. The biggest obstacle is often your own self-confidence.

"I'm single, which certainly helps with the spare time! I love to exercise, and it's the first thing I do in the morning. I'm a big believer in 'healthy body, healthy mind'. I spend as much time as I can with friends and family; I love to cook and host dinners, throw parties and organise weekends away. I'm also partial to a cuddle with my dogs, a few cocktails or a good book; it's the little things in life.

"My position is stressful in that there's always something to worry about - being the person that makes all the decisions can become exhausting. It's a very particular kind of responsibility, which you can't hide from."

Marissa Carter, CEO, Cocoa Brown Tan

While on maternity leave from her own beauty salon in 2012, Marissa (now 32) from Dun Laoghaire, spotted a gap in the false tan market. Using her own experience in both the beauty business and cosmetic chemistry, she worked with a company in the UK to formulate a product with a low price point, a signature scent and natural-looking colour. Cocoa Brown has taken the market by storm, and sells three bottles every minute internationally from 6,000 global stockists. This year, teen superstar Kylie Jenner posted an Instagram about Cocoa Brown and three months' worth of US stock sold out in 24 hours.

"I've been self-employed for ten years, since I was 22. Before that, I worked for two amazing women, Lorraine and Careena Galligan in the Galligan Beauty College, and I was inspired by their success to follow my own dreams of owning my own business. I set up my salon, Carter Beauty, in 2005 and sold it last year because in the last three years, I have gone from running a small business to heading up the global brand that is Cocoa Brown. From the original mousse tan introduced in 2012, we've expanded the range to include more than 10 products.

"I'm confident, knowledgeable and extremely passionate about what I do, so my attitude towards being underestimated because I'm a woman is: 'Do it at your own detriment!' I look at other young women in business and all I see is ambition, guts and determination. I'm not worried that my daughter Isabelle, who is six months, will grow up and have a hard time breaking through the glass ceiling - the women coming up behind me will have smashed it to pieces by then.

"For me it's been about hard work, grafting, hustling and of course picking yourself back up when you've had the stuffing knocked out of you. I constantly challenge myself to find what's new and next, and how I can get there first, to quote the American businessman Mark Cuban.

"In my spare time I love to bake, garden and walk with my little family around the People's Park in Dun Laoghaire. My friends nicknamed me Granny Carter because I'm not into extreme sports or anything that puts my life at risk. I need 10 hours' sleep a night to function, so that's probably my favourite thing to do when I'm not working!

"My position is stressful but I have two children who help me keep life in perspective. Before I had children I would have described myself as a workaholic. Now, I have a much more rounded view on what's important. Sometimes I should be working when I'm with my children, sometimes I should be with my children when I'm working. There's no balance, just compromises. Travelling all over the world is the only part of the job I find hard, because I hate being away from my family.

"Cocoa Brown launched in Australia and Sweden this year, and it's on the shelves in Penneys' first store in Boston, which is incredible. We have lots of new developments in America and two new products that just launched here in Ireland."

Emer O'Daly, CEO, Love & Robots

Love & Robots makes customised and personalised jewellery using 3D printing - the name comes from the fact that the pieces are made with love, but built with robots. Customers choose a basic design and then add their own touches to it. Last year, the company won the ESB Spark of Genius award at the global Web Summit in Dublin, and prize money of €25,000. CEO Emer is 36 and from Portobello in Dublin.

"I originally trained as an architect. I worked for five years on large buildings both in Ireland and abroad and in 2009, I decided to study for a Masters in Architecture at Yale University. There I gained extensive experience in design and digital manufacturing techniques including 3D printing, and I could see how it was going to change the way the world designs and makes products.

"When I returned to Ireland I teamed up with my sisters and a few others to form Love & Robots. We make 3D-printed customisable accessories and gifts - so you can choose the kind of necklace you want, and have it customised with your name, or a saying.

"I think perseverance in the face of adversity is important to a business succeeding, and also a lot of luck in being in the right place at the right time. Our aim is to keep growing Love & Robots over the next few years into an online platform for customisation of products globally.

"It's hard to say how I've been received as a young woman in business as I've never experienced life as, say, an older man! However, I suppose when those in decision-making positions are a different gender, age and have different interests to you, it is a little harder to establish a rapport. In our case, with customisable and personalised fashion, it's just not in their scope. Still, I think we have a particularly interesting story in manufacturing, and usually that engages people.

"I spend my spare time with friends and family. The only issue with this is that if I hang out with family, then business inevitably comes up because my co-founders are my sisters Kate (Chief Operations Officer) and Aoibheann (Chief Commercial Officer).

"With this type of position, every day is different and I'm constantly improvising and problem-solving which can be fun but can also be quite stressful. Walking every day is good therapy and I always make sure I get a minimum of seven hours' sleep."

Katie Jane Gold, CEO, Gold Hair Enterprises

Katie (31) from Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin founded Gold Hair Enterprises last year and oversees production, marketing and distribution of Gold Fever hair extensions. She was previously the CEO of Great Lengths Ireland, a brand her family was involved with for 25 years. Katie also runs the Paul Goldin Clinic and works as a hypnotherapist. In 2013, she was awarded IMAGE's Young Businesswoman of the Year title. There are 21 people working for Gold Fever internationally, and the company employs 200 people in hair manufacturing and production in India. The brand is relatively new, but growing rapidly across the world. They supply directly to salons by invitation only, and now have 62 on their books.

"I grew up watching my brother David build his international hair extensions business Great Lengths, and always wanted to be just like him. I knew inside that I could run a successful company; you pick up things from the people around you and I guess I had a hunger for it.

"I did well in my first lead position as CEO with Great Lengths, which supplied the Republic of Ireland's domestic market. Then after my husband Barry and I got married, we decided to work together and started Gold Hair Enterprises for Gold Fever Hair Extensions.

"Maybe in the beauty industry it's more expected for a young woman to be the MD or CEO, but nobody has ever expressed surprise at my position - and if they did they'd be the exception rather than the norm. Gender doesn't have much relevance when it comes to getting the deal done, in my experience.

"I have never been particularly age-conscious either. I think being young in business actually offers a distinct advantage. If you have the right attitude people will listen and engage, but I also found that there was an element of intrigue to hear what the younger generation might bring to the table.

"There's no secret to the success of Gold Fever, but we have some major points of difference that allow us to stand above our competitors.

"Gold Fever is the only hair extension company in the world that owns its own supply chain and can guarantee ethicality and traceability, something that is fundamental to our company philosophy. All our hair is Indian Temple Hair, and we are the manufacturer selling directly to the salon - there is no middle man. Our production facility is based in Bangalore and allows us to maintain our quality.

"Everything that we do now is influenced by 25 years of family heritage and pioneering in the industry. David's patents and inventions were the catalyst for growth and expansion of hair extensions on a global scale.

"We're already launched in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the USA, so the challenge for us now is to become the premier hair extensions company worldwide. By the end of 2016, we plan to be in every country in continental Europe.

"I'm still involved in The Paul Goldin Clinic. It was my father's business and something that will always be very dear and sentimental to me. I'm going to be taking that business in a new direction in 2016 and focusing it online with new MP3 downloads and webinars.

"Like most CEOs, I am up at the crack of dawn but these days its with my new baby boy Spencer. He was born July 15 and all my spare time is spent with him these days. I wouldn't have it any other way.

"A baby brings an added sense of motivation and determination to succeed on an even higher level. Spencer's the boss now and we're all working for him!"

Jennie McGinn, CEO, OPSH

OPSH launched in 2014 and is run by sisters Jennie (31), Grace and Sarah McGinn from Naas, Co Kildare and a workforce of 14 people. It's an online shopping portal that allows you to search for a particular item - say, black boots- across lots of different high street stores and to purchase from several shops using only one online account. The brand is getting ready to launch in the UK, and this year was named one of the top 50 digital retail innovations in Great Britain and Ireland.

"I'm not going to lie, it's been a rocky road so far. My background is in communications and although I always had a desire to set up a company, I wasn't prepared for the sheer ferocity of start-up business. I got a crash-course in building a start-up company via the National Digital Research Centre LaunchPad programme - an investment and mentoring programme for digital start-ups -but everything else has been a learn-by-doing process.

"As the company CEO, I'm jack of all trades and master of none. I work with my sisters Grace and Sarah. We all co-founded the business, and now Grace looks after product and Sarah marketing. As a female team working in fashion we've experienced our fair share of explicit and unconscious bias but ultimately, that made us more determined in our ambitions. At this stage of our journey we have enough credentials behind us for gender to be irrelevant. However, tech and investment is a predominantly male-dominated arena and it can be brutish.

"There is no secret sauce in this business, no set path or guarantees. Personally, I believe business is just about holding your nerve. Hiring the right people at the right time is the only not-so-secret secret.

"I thought the perks of running a business was having private Pilates sessions at lunch and having someone collect your dry cleaning. The reality is that you have to be at full capacity seven days a week, and you are responsible for everything - from ensuring there is toilet roll to securing investment. I'm always on, even at the weekend.

"I genuinely couldn't imagine being in business with anyone else but my family. We share the highs, lows and in-betweens, and we're all in it together. It was a bumpy road at the start, as we were all trying to figure out how the hell we run a business, and there will always be times when we have differences of opinion, but our bond only makes us more determined.

"A very serious issue for business-owners is managing stress and anxiety. My poor husband has to be pulled into business tasks in order for us to spend time together! Managing stress is a constant challenge and in my spare time, all of my energies are focused on this. I believe in the power of yoga, and I'm obsessed with surfing.

"OPSH is aiming to be a serious contender in the fashion e-commerce market, so that means a major roll-out in the UK next year. We're opening another round of investment and with this, we'll be investing heavily in technology, staffing and customers.

"When this is all over though, I have a very definite goal - set up a surf shop slash organic café, live six months in Ireland, six months in Costa Rica and write a book about the Power of Doing Nothing."

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