Alice takes a trip to notonthehightstreet's HQ in Richmond to catch up with co-founder, Holly Tucker.

There are success stories and then there are success stories, the genius of e-commerce site, notonthehighstreet.com is certainly of the more impressive kind. In fact when I first decided to write about the site that champions small businesses, I was greeted with the following words from a trusted friend and colleague, ‘They were listed on GWG when they first launched and look at them now - Super snazzy offices with Macs aplenty,’ and I have to say the sentiment couldn’t be more accurate, but what the Macs represent isn’t the burgeoning design aesthetic of notonthehighstreet.com’s trendy Richmond offices, but the evidence of a brand that has experienced a stratospheric ascent since its humble beginnings in 2006.

HOW TO BUILD A BUSINESS...

Employing upwards of 100 people, entrepreneurs Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish have now turned an altruistic hand to writing their own book; Build a Business from Your Kitchen Table… A handy ‘How To' packed brimful with business acumen; a godsend for anyone hoping to expand, build or start a small operation, largely from home. So how did they do it? How did they not only build an empire but also write the manual to match? On a rain sodden Friday morning I had the pleasure of hearing from the horse’s mouth (in the form of Holly Tucker) how notonthehighstreet.com will by the end of this year have ‘pumped over a hundred million pounds into companies that prior to us coming along had nothing.’

HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?

That’s quite a claim, but nevertheless a pretty accurate appraisal. So how did it all start? ‘The concept of a local fair,' Holly explains, ‘You could put on the most brilliant event, have the most brilliant people, but it would pour with rain.’ The entrepreneur noticed a gap in the market, aiming to bring the same cornucopia of products to the masses, via the web (and no rain to contend with). Launched in April 2006, the site started with only 95 partners, and 3000 products. It survived - more than that - it boomed in a flailing economy.

How did the pair facilitate this growth I wonder? ‘The recession teaches you huge discipline about how you spend your money and about the customer,’ Holly explains, ‘you cannot let your eye start flickering away from those important things. Businesses that start up now and survive, they’re really well-run, strong companies.’ Tucker and Cornish in fact have known nothing else; ‘We can’t wait for the period of time when things are booming,’ she laughs. ‘We won’t know ourselves!’

THE ORIGINS OF SUCCESS

I push Tucker to condense it; can she pin down the origins of their success? For this entrepreneur it’s all about the customer, ‘know them inside out, they are at the heart of everything,’ she asserts. ‘Until you do, you cannot make any good decisions.’ Advice is where Tucker excels; this is one entrepreneur who is media savvy and then some. One of her top tips is for gaining investment; ‘Recognise it’s a marriage. You would definitely not walk up the aisle with anybody that you had any doubt about.’ A tip Tucker and Cornish heeded as their iron clad partnership has served them well, with numerous ideas to grow the business further, ‘Almost every day we feel like we haven’t even started, which is actually, sometimes, quite exhausting.’

FRIENDS AND BUSINESS PARTNERS

So two women, friends as well as business partners; this combination brings to mind the challenges of being female, being a mother, being a boss; Tucker has a seven year old son; Harry, what are her thoughts on the age old working mother conundrum? ‘The golden rule is that there are no rules, and there isn’t a silver bullet… You know it’s going to be a bit of a mess, that some things will fall; you need to be okay with that.’ She is, however, impassioned by the question; ‘Unless we start [as a society] dealing with the elephant in the room, about childcare, basically we’re not going to get any further.’ Perhaps why there are more male entrepreneurs in the field of e-commerce I venture, Tucker agrees, ‘It’s very, very difficult; normally you have the female party of the relationship allowing the male to go out and be riskier.’ Thanks to their unwavering work ethic, neither she nor Cornish are in this situation, with plans for world domination at the forefront, ‘I believe notonthehighstreet.com will turn into a very large global brand…’

INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS

This is the quality that most strikes me about her; the incredible self belief that echoes through her voice; doubt it seems has seldom been an option - even when the pair were faced with the possibility of having to sell their homes, ‘If this company went down, it was going to take us down personally. Even at those points, when you’re doing those types of spreadsheets, you still believed that it was going to succeed.’ So hard work, loyalty, attention to detail - all ingredients in Tucker’s recipe for success, ‘You have to be very creative in your solutions. For me, it’s about that passion, the willingness to give it everything. Sophie and I don’t accept no – no is not an option.’

TALK THE TALK, WALK THE WALK

She certainly talks the talk, and the numbers prove she walks the walk, a quality that makes her well placed to impart advice to a burgeoning league of followers; an army of women building empires from their kitchen tables. ‘The time was right,’ Tucker explains; as with everything they put their noses and souls to the grindstone, seeing it through from proposal to published tome in three short months, ‘We just thought that everything we had to say was so useful - right now with the economy the way it is.’ Evenings, weekends, days spent brainstorming with ghost writer Jessica Fellowes, ‘It was a labour of love,’ Tucker says; one that will no doubt inspire a whole legion of women.

To finish I ask Tucker what has been the most rewarding aspect of her journey thus far; she pauses, I can tell she is moved, visibly so, ‘When you understand that you’ve been able to take people from the playground, with an amazing idea that might only turnover £5,000 a year, and that same business (six years on) is turning over £750,000… That they’ve been able to pay for their children’s school fees, been able to go away on holiday, their husband’s been able to give up his job… You change lives. There’s not many businesses that can genuinely say that.’ There it is; a business ethos to be commended; Macs or no Macs.

Alice Kahrmann

July 2012.