Hi Olivia, tell us about your inner drive and the wave you are making in the world at the moment?
I’m driven by my principles. I’m a socialist, a feminist and an environmentalist and now that I’m starting my own business I’m hoping to prove that my isms are compatible with enterprise!
We launch Patchwork Present* in February. It’s a site that lets friends come together to collectively fund a single gift or experience that is really wanted. It’s about helping people meet needs in tough economic times and also about reducing the amount of unwanted gifts that end up in landfill! I don’t think I’m starting a wave so much as joining one – a really important and powerful movement that challenges conventional consumption and instead celebrates a more creative, collaborative and resourceful approach to living … and giving.
* See how Patchwork Present's project unfolds until the Big Launch, here.
Can business contribute to solve today’s global challenges?
Individual products and services certainly can yes and I believe businesses can too, but only if those of us working in the brand and business world take personal responsibility.
I read Caitlin Moran’s book ‘How To Be A Woman’ recently and think her point of view on pornography offers an interesting parallel with big business. Moran points out that her issue with pornography is not sex on film. After all humans have always explored erotic desires through art, literature and any other available media. The problem with porn is that it is an industry dominated by men, owned by big players, driven entirely by profits, not properly regulated, with dodgy working practices. It’s an industry that doesn’t offer true choice and instead churns out the same cheap, formulaic, crappy products for us to ‘consume’. The problem with pornography is that it’s an industry that promotes unrealistic and unhealthy body images, plays out ridiculous gender stereotypes and reduces all the rich and diverse pleasures of human intimacy down to a single ‘money shot’.
Caitlin is talking about pornography but she may as well be talking about global capitalism. But her answer is simple and compelling. Rather than rejecting, demonizing or trying to deny pornography’s existence, women need to take control of the machine that makes it. And I think the same can be said for big business. We can make it good but we need to take control ourselves in order to challenge and change things. There are so many enterprising women already running businesses that offer unique and useful products, that not only genuinely help people but also help our planet, where workers rights are respected and where principles come before profits.
I’d like to see more women running businesses – the ones I know do a bloody brilliant job. And if women made porn I’d like to see that too.
Branding is one of your many expertises, what can branding's contribution be?
To me branding is simply is about projecting an identity and communicating a set of beliefs and an ambition for an organization, product or service.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Branding, marketing, advertising is all just communication – language, theatre, ritual. We communicate in order to connect, engage, inspire and influence others. The crucial question for me is ‘To what end?’ In general most marketing money is used to persuade us to buy more, fly more, shop more and consume more - activitites that aren’t so great for the planet. But saying marketing is good or bad is like saying language is good or bad. It’s a hugely powerful tool that we can use for good if we choose.
Can you share three top obstacles or dilemmas you have faced as a professional woman and how you overcame them?
1. Deciding to leave my job to start my own thing.
In the end I just had to take the leap because my indecision was driving me mad.
2. Knowing that my experience was limited.
Not having a tech background I was worried about starting a tech business. But two things have helped me to get beyond the problem. Firstly I’ve ensured that I have a team around me who are super tech, whose experience I respect and whose decisions I trust. And secondly I’ve recognized the value that my naivety also brings. It’s important to able to ask those simple, human questions of the build team that tech people might take for granted.
3. How to raise money.
I knew I needed to raise money to start my business and the banks weren’t looking favourably on me so I decided to go down the investor route. But against conventional wisdom I’ve decided to create a Patchwork of investors. So instead of looking for a single investor I’ve raised £250,000 capital from 25 individuals who each bring not just money but a huge range of experience and expertise. It wasn’t the easiest decision, it wont be the easiest thing to manage in practice. But my instinct says it’s right for the brand, for the business and for me …. So I hope so.
What networks work best for you?
Real ones, where I can meet people face to face. The best event I’ve been to recently was called Find Better Problems and it was hosted by http://www.goodfornothing.com/ I prefer events where you feel like your contributing something valuable and not just collecting business cards – it’s nice to feel useful. And I don’t know if it’s a woman thing but I can’t network in that goal oriented way. I’m happy to offer help and also comfortable asking for it. My attitude to networking is pretty much my attitude to life in general – be open, honest and generous, always. Works for me.
Can you share the name of three amazing women social leaders you want us to watch?
In the last week I have heard these three women speak about their amazing social ad-ventures:
Katee Hui – Founder of Hacky Laces community football club. http://www.hackneylaces.co.uk/
Lucy Gilliam writer, adventurer, activist http://lucyandthenewdawntraders.com/mission/
Bella Acton, Founder of Never Liked it Any way. http://www.neverlikeditanyway.com/
Finally, what question would you have loved to ask your sixteen year old self?
Why are you wearing those shoes?
Follow Olivia on Twitter @projectpatchwrk