Interview with Vicky and Caroline, founders of Pink Spaghetti

When their high-flying corporate roles didn’t provide enough time or flexibility for family life, friends Vicky Matthews and Caroline Gowing joined forces, took their careers in to their own hands and enabled other mums do the same though their business, Pink Spaghetti.

What are your career backgrounds?

Vicky: I worked for Alliance & Leicester for 12 years in a variety of areas, including a lot of different project management type roles and as PA to the MD.

Caroline: I started my career in retail management, working my way up and ending up in head office roles. I then moved into IT consultancy, specialising in retail IT.

How did your careers change after having children?

Vicky: After I had my first child, I still wanted a career but I wanted to have some time with my daughter too.  I asked for part time work, was refused initially, and had to fight to get it.

Although I eventually got the hours I wanted, I had to take a lower graded role and, after that, my career prospects with A&L vanished.  So when voluntary redundancy came along I didn’t hesitate to move on and look for a more flexible opportunity.

Caroline: My work took me all over the world, and clearly that doesn’t work with children!  I managed to get a contract in this country, but even just working a couple of days a week I was still away from home and missing putting my baby to bed.

It also put additional pressure on my husband who had to get home in time for nursery pick-ups.

What was it about the role of a Virtual PA that was appealing?

Vicky: I love lists and I love being organised.  I also love helping people achieve things by working smarter.  I love the variety of our tasks and the flexibility I have with it.

Caroline: I research and organise everything in my life!  It was a natural fit.  My background means I am always looking for a more efficient and better process for doing things, and this means we can help so many people.

Where did the idea for Pink Spaghetti come from?

Vicky: Caroline and I had talked about the idea for many years. We were both the organised ones and we thought this was a great opportunity to use our skills to best effect. The opportunity arose for both of us to take the plunge and we decided to go for it.

Caroline: We both knew what it was like to be the busy parent – there are not enough hours in the day, even before you have children, and then they come along and take up many more!

What has been the best thing about starting a business together?

Vicky: Having a fabulous friend and business partner to work with and bounce ideas off. We both have different skills which complement each other and together work really well.

Caroline: The comfort of having someone else there on the good AND the bad days, and knowing there’s someone you can check an idea with. We have some very similar skills, but also a lot of very different ones – neither of us could have done it on our own.

Has it been a strain on your relationship?

Vicky: No. We don’t have time to ‘chat’ as much as we did before as we’re so focused and busy but we are still good friends. We have never disagreed about the big decisions and are on the same wavelength.

Caroline: Never a strain. We could never have planned this, ever, but it has been like a marriage – we have our own roles, and know how each other works.

We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and play to those big time. We hear each other recite the same stories to different people – again, just like a marriage!

What makes Pink Spaghetti different to other Virtual PA services?

Vicky: Our virtual PA’s all have a corporate background and come fully equipped with a huge range of skills. Typically a stand-alone PA will not have the training and back up of a large organisation, which our PA’s have.

We support people in the home and the small business and, importantly, all of our PA’s are small business owners themselves so understand what it is like. We are experts in outsourcing and we understand how to support a small business.

Caroline: We are not just there for the diary management and typing. We are the solution finders, the ones who have been there, done that, and have the network of people to ask if we haven’t. We suggest, plan, research and we are fast and efficient.

We work with the business owners as well as for them, we are integral to many businesses, not just doing one task at a time. We work in many different ways, to suit their businesses, not just our business.

Why was enabling flexible working a key part of your business plan?

Vicky: We started the business because we wanted to work flexibly around our families and we passionately believe that there are so many really great people out there who want a career but not at the expense of everything else. By offering flexible working we have attracted a fabulous team.

Caroline: It was the reason we started our business; if flexible working had been available we would have gone out to work for someone else.

Who knew it would end up being such a cornerstone of our business? We have found some amazing people with incredible skills who want the same thing.

What made you decide to franchise your business?

Vicky: We knew we wanted to grow the business but we also knew that key to our success was the passion a small business owner has for their business. If we had employed teams all over the UK we would not have had that same passion from people.

By going the franchise route we have empowered many other women to have their own successful businesses that fit around their families.

Caroline: The fact that Vicky and I started the business together, with the support we gave each other, the encouragement, the question answering – we knew there were other people looking at starting up similar businesses but without that level of support.  From day one we offered that support, unlimited, to our franchisees.

You were recently voted ‘Best New Entry’ at the Best Franchise Awards and scored 99% in the Franchise Satisfaction Benchmark (FSB). What has this meant to you?

Vicky: This meant so much as the award was based on feedback from our own franchisees. It meant that we are doing things right and that the franchise is really working. A hugely proud moment.

Caroline: I can honestly say that when we heard our score, it could not have meant more. We believe passionately in growing our network slowly to support our franchisees, we have an absolute “no question is a stupid one” policy and to get that sort of feedback when we have gone against the grain a little in franchising, was a very proud moment in our business journey.

How do you think more businesses can attract and retain talented women?

Vicky: By offering a flexible opportunity. Women who work flexibly are more focused and driven to make things work and are incredibly loyal.

Caroline: Flexibility! These talented and brilliant women have made a decision as a family to be there for their children as they grow up.

This does not mean they want to be stay at home mums in the original sense of the phrase – they want a purpose, they want to earn their own money, but they also want to be able to be at home for a sick child, be at every sports day, every school run. Why more companies don’t offer this is beyond me – they are loyal because they get the best of both worlds.

What is your vision for Pink Spaghetti?

Vicky: To continue to grow the franchise network. We want slow and steady growth each year to ensure we maintain our high standards and the unlimited support for our existing franchisees.

Caroline: As Vicky says, slow and steady growth. We want to become the go-to PA service nationally for small business owners who are brilliant at what they do (and we meet many) but who simply do not have enough hours in the day.

What advice would you give to women who aspire to launch their own businesses?

Vicky: Go for it! Although it is extremely hard work we have never looked back and we would never go back to being employees. You will love it!

Caroline: I say go for it too! It is an unknown world to people in corporate life, but more people do it than you can ever imagine. Ask people for help and advice, anyone who has done it will be happy to help. I have never met anyone yet who left corporate life to start their own business and would go back.

You can find out more about Pink Spaghetti on their website.