Interview with Zoe Smith, founder of Ooohh

Find out what inspired Zoe Smith tp launch Ooohh, a revolutionary service that provides in-house or virtual personal assistants to an incredible array of startups, entrepreneurs and emerging brands.

What’s your career background?

I started my working life at an FX brokerage in the City. Safe to say that was an experience! I was the only (young!) woman in the entire office. Most of my day was spent doing personal tasks for the CEO, COO and Managing Director, let’s just say they were a little bit ‘out there’.

While I didn’t appreciate it at the time, it was a steep learning curve in being resourceful, ultra efficient and managing big personalities. From there, I worked as product manager at an investment management firm before starting my own PA business serving the needs of the many small businesses out there. 

How did your career change after having children?

I naively thought that I had set my business up to make working once I had children very simple. I quickly found out that the moment children come along, nothing about work is simple. Having children made my priorities crystal clear though. I lost a lot of clients when I had my first child because they didn’t want to give me the opportunity to prove that we could deliver as good a service now that I had a baby relying on me.

It stung! But after I got over it, I had much more confidence about putting in place boundaries, enforcing our pricing and contract terms properly, and turning away clients that I knew we wouldn’t gel with. Losing those clients had taught me that some people aren’t worth breaking your back for. I suppose having children made me much more fierce when it came to respecting my time, and the work life balance of the people working with me. 

Where did the idea for your business come from?

Some of my friends with their own product lines or businesses needed help here and there, but didn’t need to employ a full-time member of staff. They found agencies too expensive, and hard to trust. So, I stepped in to help out and quickly realised that there were hundreds of people in the same boat.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I started putting feelers out there for a flexible/on-demand personal assistant service for small businesses, entrepreneurs and brands, and friends helped spread the word in their networks too. I juggled my new business alongside my day job for the first 18-months, working when I got home until 1am, and all weekend. I resigned from my job when I had enough clients to almost match the salary I had. 

Who’s your target audience?

We love to work with women, no offense to all the men out there! I will never forget my male boss telling me in my first job that women were ‘a nightmare’ to work for. It makes me so happy that I have consistently found that to be total rubbish. Small businesses, creatives, freelancers and makers are our target audience. Our services suit them best, and they are the people that we feel we can add real value to. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

We rely heavily on female founder networks, as well as word of mouth. I have found that in our line of work, a good reference is priceless. Many of our clients have come to us because they were sent our way by another client. 

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Offering a free-trial to prospective new clients. Taking on outside help for your business can feel a bit daunting, not least because of all the training and handover exercises you need to get through. So we try to make it worth our client’s while to take the first step. It has without a doubt been the best thing we have thought up. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Pricing, pricing, pricing. When I started Ooohh, I got my pricing very wrong. It meant that even though one of my largest clients was paying a good amount each month, they were actually costing me £1.13 every hour that we worked for them. It took a while to see this because on a cash flow basis, they looked like a profitable client to have.

It can be tough explaining pricing to clients who think that we should charge less without knowing about all of the running costs involved in doing what we do. I have learnt not to justify our pricing strategy anymore, I know that our fee is worth its weight in gold and the clients that we have know that too. 

And your proudest moment so far?

Surviving COVID. When COVID hit, we lost 90% of our business in three days. It had taken me five years to get to that point and it just disintegrated in front of me. But we made it, and we have more clients now than we have ever had. 

Why is work so important to you?

I live for being with my kids, but work reminds me that I have a brain that can actually be used to help people achieve amazing things in their business too. I’ve always loved being helpful and useful, and doing good work is gratifying. I’d never have said this pre-kids, but having some uninterrupted work time actually feels quite refreshing! 

Who inspires you?

Tough question! I work with so many women who inspire me every day. Either for the way they manage the juggle, how they consistently show up in industries that have tried to shut them out, or for their creativity or resilience. Can I single someone out? Impossible! 

How do you balance your work with your family?

I try to stick to set working hours so that I can be 100% present for work, and 100% present for my children at different times. On the days where I have to juggle both, I try to remind myself that the world won’t end if I need to close my screen and come back to it when the kids are in bed. 

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. Understand that some days the anxiety will be all-consuming, and some days you will question why you didn’t do it sooner. It’s a rollercoaster!
  2. Don’t be afraid to turn work down to protect the wellbeing of yourself, or your team. Some income comes at a hidden cost!
  3. Expect to constantly be learning, sometimes failing, learning again. If you’re not learning then you’re stagnating, so be prepared to make the time you’re not too busy count towards your own development.

Find out more about Ooohh.