Chloe Brookman founded her children’s furniture, bedding and decor business Olli Ella with her sister, Olivia, in London back 2010.
Today, Chloe lives in Australia and the business is turning over just under $2 million – a figure they never thought possible when making the decision to strike out on their own and sell modern nursery furniture.
SmartCompany spoke to Chloe to find out why she forged ahead with the business despite the advice of her accountant and what it’s like to have your business partner living halfway across the world.
The business started as a side project. My sister and I were living in London and had an art gallery.
We started off making some modern nursery furniture purely based off the fact I was pregnant with my first child.
When it came to nursing chairs, at the time nothing I liked existed.
So we designed a chair, had it made locally, and when I brought it into my home within a few weeks I had about 15 friends asking if we could make one for them.
So Olivia and I got talking and said we might have a business here.
Within three months we were picked up by Harrods and were shipping chairs to Russia and Australia.
We started off in the children’s and baby furniture category and in the following year we moved into homewares and textiles.
We saw there was such a demand. We didn’t have massive social circles; word of mouth just travels very quickly.
We didn’t think for a minute it was going to be a company the size it is right now.
We both just have a very entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to do it.
We wanted to manufacture locally, so our margins were low.
Our accountant said we didn’t have a business and don’t pursue it, but we still did.
Social media has been great for us. It’s not about selling; it’s about connecting with your customers and having fun.
Our nursing chair now accounts for a very small part of our business now.
When we bring out a product we’ve got three to four months before we get companies copying us.
But the way you combat that is by always innovating and maintaining a strong relationship with customers and retailers.
Try not to focus on what other people are doing and just move forward.
I would say our biggest challenge at the moment is managing our growth.
We have gone from a small business to medium size and I never could have anticipated the challenges that come with that.
Forecasting and organisation are probably the things that I’m most focused on right now – cash flow comes into that.
A few pieces of advice for budding entrepreneurs are to set goals.
Set yourself a 90-day plan. Try to have fun and not focus on the negative side of things – you should be in business because you love it.
A lot of the time business owners overinflate the issues they have at hand.
Don’t get down on yourself. Things are never as bad as you think.
All the greatest parts of the business are also some of the most challenging.
It’s terrific we’re growing really quickly but it’s also really challenging to manage that growth. It’s been very humbling.
When I’ve got a million emails to respond to and my kids are running around like crazy, I just have to embrace the mayhem and think this is not something I’m going to stress about in two years’ time.
I work from 9am to 2.30pm during the day, go get my kids, and when they’re in bed I work again in the evenings.
Most nights I do another two or three hours at night when the UK office is open.
Olivia [who is based in London] and I Skype a couple of times a week. So we’re figuring out the time difference.
I do try to enjoy the mayhem, which works in family life as well.
If you have the passion and genuinely love what you do, the difficult times don’t feel so difficult.
Without the passion, I wouldn’t have a business.
You can help us (and help yourself)
Small and medium businesses and startups have never needed credible, independent journalism and information more than now.
That’s our job at SmartCompany: to keep you informed with the news, interviews and analysis you need to manage your way through this unprecedented crisis.
Now, there’s a way you can help us keep doing this: by becoming a SmartCompany supporter.
Even a small contribution will help us to keep doing the journalism that keeps Australia’s entrepreneurs informed.