Five tips from Connie Nam on how to be a successful business founder and the story of how she built her lucrative jewellery brand, Astrid & Miyu
Ex-investment banker Connie Nam saw a niche in the UK jewellery market and built a £10m business from her kitchen table. Today, as CEO and founder of Astrid & Miyu, she is continuing to grow her business alongside using her experience to help budding entrepreneurs get their business off the ground with her business mentoring schemes.
Astrid & Miyu was set up as a challenger brand from Nam’s kitchen table in 2012 after working as in investment banker and was no stranger to 18-hour working days. It was through her experience working in corporate finance that she developed a keen interest in the tech start-ups she worked with, observing how they approached business and the language that was used during corporate fundraising rounds.
Prior to founding Astrid & Miyu, Nam saw a gap in the market for affordable, well-branded and well-made jewellery. At the time, Nam observed that consumers either shopped costume jewellery from high street brands or had to invest in expensive designer jewellery that was inaccessible for many, and so Astrid & Miyu was born.
Initially Astrid & Miyu was an online brand, only opening its first physical store in 2015 after gaining a cult following on social media. The brand has grown exponentially and, in the last three years alone, it has achieved 1000% growth to a £10m turnover with four stores, two concessions and c.80 staff. In 2018, Nam introduced in-store piercing and in 2019 added tattooing, which boosted her turnover by 350% in 2019. The retail store network has been complemented by pop up stores in the UK and USA with capital secured through two successful funding rounds and Nam has plans for expansion both in the UK and internationally having already built up a loyal fanbase stateside.
The brand’s online community has flourished recently, with 100% year-on-year sales growth in 2020 Q1 amid frequent and inspired innovation from product launches to digital initiatives such as appointments with an online stylist. Nam ensured that during the national Covid-19 lockdown, digital procedures were in place that meant that the business was resilient when ‘non-essential retailers’ had to shut up shop overnight due to lockdown.
However, Nam’s entrepreneurial journey wasn’t always so easy. She remembers a lonely period when she first set up her business with no business partner or colleagues in the earlier days, Nam had to make big business decisions alone. Which is why, this year, Nam set up the Business Accelerator Programme, a mentorship programme for small independent businesses looking to establish their name in UK retail, with Nam at helm giving her first-hand entrepreneurial advice on how to successfully launch and scale a business.
On the back of its success, Connie launched another Accelerator Programme in June 2020, specifically to support black-owned businesses. From a minority background herself, South Korean-born Nam felt it was only right that she supported the Black Lives Matter movement and gave back to the BAME entrepreneurial community.
The Accelerator Programme is a three-month scheme, with the first month focusing on developing the vision of the businesses and long-term goals; the second month centred on brand positioning, go-to market strategies and financial planning; and the final month looking at refining financial reporting. Each founder has a virtual one-to-one session with Nam and the senior leadership team at Astrid & Miyu each month with a bespoke programme established to help each business reach its maximum potential.
Through her mentorship scheme Nam provides founders with invaluable business and entrepreneurial knowledge, whilst sharing experience from her own start-up journey. For budding entrepreneurs and business founders, Nam has five top five tips:
- Ask for help if you need it – “When you’re only starting out, don’t be afraid to seek advice from someone who is successful in business, as there will be many areas you haven’t planned for or considered at this stage. It is so important to ensure you have financial planning in the early stages to help cover all manners of business expenses and unforeseen costs which to the inexperienced eye, can easily be missed.”
- Know your teams strengths and weaknesses – “Sharing skills within a team is crucial to success as an entrepreneur, it’s unlikely that you have the skills just yet to do everything perfectly in your business so draw on the help of others around you to support in areas that may not be your strong point. Whether that’s with finances, product development and creative ideas.”
- Build a strong support network – “Meeting and getting to know others at the same stage of your business journey helps, as you and your businesses should grow together, creating a strong support network that you can lean on throughout your career. At the moment there are various creative ways to do this, through reaching out to founders on Instagram, webinars and LinkedIn and asking for virtual coffee dates.”
- Create a company ethos – “Regardless of the business you are setting up, creating a company ethos and values from the start is really valuable as it sets the business up with a clear focus and end goals to work towards. I have created a strong set of values for Astrid & Miyu and I have a team of over 80 people so creating an inclusive and positive business culture is important and I’m passionate for other businesses to promote. It gives your business meaning and a purpose and means that when your business grows, your workforce will be working towards the same end goal as a team.”
- Be a leader, not a follower – “It’s important to take risks and think outside of the box. Astrid & Miyu is an innovative business, with new collections launching every few months, an engaging and sought-after social media platform, industry-leading in store experiences that other brands look to for inspiration and during the pandemic, we prototyped 100% of recent designs through 3D printing in London. This reduced lead times by a month and helped with our carbon footprint.”
Being a creative thinker, taking risks, asking for help and being passionate about your business are all high on Nam’s list of advice for those wishing to start out on their own business journey. It’s important to remember that you need lots of guts and determination to start your own business, it won’t always be plain sailing but Connie Nam’s story proves that you can start a new business from your kitchen table if you put your mind to it and follow her insightful tips on how to start-out.