Business is a fascinating industry to study and work in. Just take these five entrepreneurial women who have rocked our business world. From Swedish stationary, muesli to DIY heels… Entirely different fields but they all began with an idea, took a risk and achieved their business dreams with perseverance and passion.
We take a closer look at five Australian businesses and the women behind them who overcame the odds to become some of the most successful business mavericks in the country.
Emma Isaacs, Business Chicks
“Nothing will replace hard work.”
Emma Isaacs’ business career began when she was seven-years-old. She convinced the kids on her street to pool their pocket money to buy lollies and sold them to their parents at an inflated price. “It was a great lesson in bringing people together,” she says, “and making a profit at the same time.“
Business was a calling for Emma. She’s sure her parents lost sleep over her decision to become an entrepreneur at a young age, hoping she might get a “real job,” but her career beckoned. Emma started her first business proper when she was 18. At 19, she bought her first property. At 25, she bought Business Chicks. Now 36, Business Chicks is Australia’s largest networking community for women with its member base growing from 250 to 35,000 in that time.
Centred around its online network, Business Chicks is designed to bring together “like-minded souls,” giving them a chance to connect and collaborate, swap ideas and share stories. The organisation holds over 90 live talks and events every year, playing host to some pretty incredible personalities from the business world and beyond, including Sir Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver, Michelle Bridges, Arianna Huffington and Sir Bob Geldof – just to give you a taste.
Emma’s advice to aspiring business mavericks is “Know your worth. Speak up. Ask questions, read books, and most importantly, become a Business Chicks member!”
Jodie Fox, Shoes of Prey
“Do it before you’re ready.”
Jodie Fox was well aware of the risks when she began an online footwear startup. “I knew the statistics going in.” The numbers are pretty daunting – nine out of ten online businesses fail within the first 4 months – but it was the passion for an idea that carried Jodie through.
Jodie started Shoes of Prey to solve her own problem. “I couldn’t find shoes that I loved.” She was traveling when she stumbled upon someone who made custom shoes to order. Returning home, it wasn’t long before people were asking where she’d found her killer footwear. Jodie saw a business opportunity, seized on it and hasn’t looked back.
Their design-your-own-shoes website was as close to an overnight success as you can get. In two months they broke even and in two years they had a multi-million dollar revenue stream. Now Shoes of Prey is an international retail brand with six stores in the USA, two in Australia and two in Tokyo, with 150 staff and five offices across the globe. (And all the girl wanted was some decent shoes!)
For a business maverick, tenacity and confidence is key. “I do think that the entrepreneurial instinct has always been there. Most certainly the fierce independence part.” For Jodie, it was all about putting herself out there and giving it a go, despite any doubts she might have had. “The biggest one that I had to learn was just to do everything before you’re ready.”
Jacinta McDonell, Anytime Fitness
“Looking back, we had no idea what we were doing.”
When Jacinta McDonell and her brother began telling people they were opening a chain of 24-hour gyms everyone told them they were crazy. But haters gonna hate, and Anytime Fitness Australia is now the biggest health club chain in the country.
Jacinta read about the 24-hour gym model in a fitness magazine and recognised a gap in the Australian gym market. “There was nothing like it,” she says. In the year following Jacinta and her brother made 5 trips back and forth to the USA to secure the rights to the gym chain.
The first Anytime Fitness gym opened in Australia 2008. Initially, Jacinta focussed on regional areas. “Six years ago, gyms in small towns were just terrible. People jumped straight in when they saw our brand-new equipment and club.”
Today, Anytime Fitness Australia has an annual turnover of $200 million, with 400 locations and delivering health and wellbeing services to over 400,000 members across Australia.
The key to Jacinta’s success is outlook. “We stay positive and never see anything as doom and gloom. We try to think outside the square and find a solution.”
Kristina “Kikki” Karlsson, kikki.K
“Don’t say no, say how?”
Kristina ‘Kikki’ Karlsson’s first job was riding her bike around the snowy streets of Falkenberg, Sweden, selling Christmas books door-to-door. Now, Kikki’s customers come to her.
Kikki is the founder of award-winning retailer kikki.K that specialises in stationery, gifts and organisational solutions inspired by functional and stylish Swedish design.
In 1995, 24-year-old Kikki left Sweden and moved to Australia. Her eureka moment came one morning at 3am. “The stylish stationery and organisation tools I had grown used to were not widely available outside of Sweden.” She soon realised she wasn’t alone.
Kikki borrowed $3,000 to create a sample range and, in 2001, convinced her husband to sell the house to bankroll the first kikki.K boutique. Six months later, it was named Melbourne’s Most Innovative Store. Today, there are more than 70 kikki.K boutiques across Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, as well as online.
According to Kikki, the secret to being a successful business maverick is passion and perseverance. She says it’s important to keep asking questions – and don’t take “no” for an answer. “In my experience, if I had accepted ‘no’ every time it was said to me, I would have held my business back immeasurably. There is always a way to achieve what you need in a win/win way.”
Carolyn Creswell, Carman’s Fine Foods
“I am not an overnight success.”
Most university students, if told they were losing their job, would probably go looking for another one. But when this happened to Carolyn Creswell, she bought the business. The 18-year-old was working at small business that made home-made muesli for a few cafés and delis around Melbourne when its owners put it up for sale.
“I worked there one day a week while I was at uni, and I loved it.” To save her job, Carolyn and her friend bought the business for $1,000 each. Originally, the owners scoffed at the offer but, when they failed to find another buyer, they eventually accepted. At the time, she didn’t realise what she was in for. “I’ve always bitten off more than I could chew,” says Carolyn, “and then chewed like crazy.”
That $1,000 investment has paid off in spades. That little cottage business in Melbourne went on to become Carman’s Fine Foods and is now estimated to be worth $83 million, exporting to 32 countries around the world. But it was no easy feat. “It’s taken 20 long, hard years to get here.”
In that time, Carolyn has won a raft awards, including the InStyle Women of Style Award, Ernst & Young’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year and the Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year.
Could you be Australia’s next business maverick?
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