Interview with Lindy, Anoesjcka and Michelle, founders of Students of Design
Read how three friends – Lindy, Anoesjcka and Michelle – decided to help design students launch their careers with a curated marketplace website that focuses on emerging designers and products.
What’s your career background?
Lindy: Before starting Students of Design (SODS) I had recently moved back to being a full time university student after a career working in marketing and events.
Anoesjcka: Fashion design, manufacturing and marketing. I’ve started my career at GQ as an intern and went on to working in design and manufacturing in Milan. I’ve launched a bespoke shirt company and a luxury leather handbag brand.
Michelle: Business development, covering everything from development, marketing to communications.
How did your career change after having children?
Lindy: We live vicariously through Michelle who hasn’t yet had children. We make a conscious effort not to scare her with too many horror stories. When your children are little you can miss so much in a day, I would never dream of working at a job now that wasn’t flexible
Anoesjcka: I always thought once you have children, life stops and your dreams are over. It is far from it and on the contrary it just begins.
I became a lot more focused and even more determined after having a child. I’m clearer on what I want and what it means to me. With all the multi-tasking skills I’ve discovered I had after I had my baby, I’m now convinced us women can run the world in a three-day workweek.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Lindy: Somewhere between the morning sickness and the Final Major Project – I started to talk to my now business partners and long-time best friends Anoesjcka and Michelle.
We became aware of the starry-eyed and talented youngsters both at the university I attended and those who Anoesjcka crossed paths with.
We noticed how difficult it was to get an internship and find work experience and wondered seriously how many of the people I shared the university journey with would ever see their work brought to market. The costs which we discussed as a group, just weren’t compatible with what graduates and start-ups could afford.
Anoesjcka had a very real grasp, as a designer, of what it’s like to start a business and she talked Michelle and I through her ideal set up – a platform that did more than just retail designers’ work – it actively promoted design and brought goods to both consumers and industry buyers.
There just wasn’t anything like that. Michelle encouraged us to take the plunge, she really pushed us to try. We often say if it wasn’t for her and her persistence we wouldn’t have taken the first step.
How did you move from idea to actual business venture?
Lindy: It was after Anoesjcka became pregnant with her daughter and me with my second child that, we decided it was now or never. We did our research, formulated a business plan and started meeting developers.
We finally settled on our ideal developer in Milan who developed some of the largest e-commerce sites in the world. It was imperative to have someone who knew the ins and outs in e-commerce but also from a creative’s perspective.
The three of us celebrated Anoesjcka’s daughter’s first Birthday in Milan around a very long meeting to finalise our wish list for the platform. We are so fortunate to share very strong family values. We work hard but are always there to see our children walk, talk and misbehave.
What’s your USP?
We are a curated marketplace website, focused on emerging designers and products – to a worldwide audience.
Who’s your target audience?
On-line shoppers, looking for something unique, gift buyers and of course women and mothers looking for a bit of glamour, especially at some mothers most unglamorous moments – those early mornings expressing milk sessions when you have had no sleep for days.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
Networking and word of mouth is a big part of our strategy. It is essential to partner with arts-based businesses and organisations. They have the power to give a young company credibility fast.
Their recommendations to their clients/customers is worth gold. We also do on-line advertising and have the best PR guru, Sally Keeble to spread the word and get the right media attention for us.
What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?
Social media has been incredible for us. We have found some of our designers on it and our first sales have come off the back of using it extensively.
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
We had to sell our platform while it was being developed to enable us to launch with designers in place. We were basically selling our idea that could easily have ended up as a pipe dream with nothing to show for it. A marketplace website fits perfectly into the chicken and egg cliché. We were fortunate to have people believe in us.
And your proudest moment so far?
From a business aspect our proudest moment was our first sale. There was a lot of embarrassing squealing and dancing around the room.
It was a double delight not only for the realisation that the business concept we envisioned worked from start to finish, but that we’ve made another persons business vision a reality also. It felt pretty good. A very rewarding moment!
Why is work so important to you?
Lindy: So many reasons, we come from families where our mothers worked, it’s something we have grown up with, it certainly made me believe and see that women and mothers could do anything they wanted.
We do have the best of both worlds working in a team with mothers and women, we get so much more flexibility. We started our business with our children in mind and our company is growing up around our families.
Anoesjcka: I can’t sit still and have never been good at being employed. I’m too restless. Working on something I love doing and with people I choose to spend my time with does not make it feel like work. I need to be creative and stimulated whilst learning something new all the time. It is a big part of who I am.
Michelle: Work helps satisfy another aspect of your mind, in life you have a space for your family, friends, and personal hobbies.
With work you satisfy a different part of you and your mind that is independent of those who love you unconditionally, it is a different space to challenge yourself in and achieve things that give a different satisfaction and sense of achievement.
Who inspires you?
Lindy: I work with two very inspirational women, both Michelle and Anoesjcka are successful entrepreneurs. They keep me motivated, buy me coffee when I’m knackered and feed me wine after a long week.
Anoesjcka: Everyone who’s made lemonade out of their lemon and mothers! All mothers! Single, working and married. Especially married… the big baby needs the most patience sometimes.
Michelle: Anyone who effortlessly (or at least appears that way) manages the perfect balance between family, work, self, spirituality and still looks great doing it …my business partners in SODs are inspirational and excellent at doing this!
How do you balance your business with your family?
Lindy: We are fortunate to be a three, we are in constant contact and flag days that we have important commitments with kids.
We cover for each other when kids get sick and we make meetings, work trips and appointments around our shared calendar. We have to be extremely organised and focussed. We stay up late and we drink too much coffee
Anoesjcka: It takes a lot of discipline to manage your diary and switch from business mode to mom mode. I try to wake up before my two-year old to catch up on e-mails and take full advantage of her love for her two hour nap in the afternoon to dedicate it to work.
I recently employed a nanny that looks after her two or three days a week so can schedule meetings back-to-back, but before she was pretty much coming everywhere with me. Now that she is nearly 2 it is a bit more tricky. We are lucky that it is an Internet based business and most of the work can be done remotely.
Michelle: I am yet to have my children, but have other family challenges and pressures, as we all do. It is never easy to balance all these aspects in life, especially with all the expectations of being a woman, first and foremost you have to really enjoy what you do and believe in it… hopefully then, the rest is less of a balancing act
What are your three top pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Lindy: Starting a market place website is particularly challenging because you need to get the right product, it’s not a quick fix – be patient, be selective and work with people who share your passion. If you have the right products the customers will come.
Anoesjcka: When you start working with friends, your friendship needs to be like a sisterhood. You need to be family to survive the pressures of building a business whilst also being a hands-on mum.
With the right team, you can achieve the impossible. You must have unwavering trust and respect for each other before starting a venture together.
Michelle: The one I already touched on, really enjoy what you set out do and believe in it, passion is a huge driving force, without it things become a task and you won’t succeed, making yourself and those around you unhappy.
Find out more about Students of Design on their website.