I love a ‘start-up story’, hearing how someone has taken an idea and turned it into a business is so inspiring. Couple that with partnering with your sister and I couldn’t wait to read on. This is the story of how @squirrelsisters came to be…

My sister and I started Squirrel Sisters in October 2015; a blog we would do as a hobby to document our recipes and tips on having a real life and being healthy. We didn’t ever imagine that 4 years on our products would be available on nearly every high street in the UK in over 2000 stores, including Holland and Barrett, Waitrose, Ocado, but still only be the two employees of our company. Cringey as it sounds, it has been a real journey as two female founders of a start- up ….and it really has been a roller-coaster. 

• We really didn’t think it would be that hard and couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t do it….then when it was too late to turn back, too much time and some money invested (but still a hell of a lot of belief in the business becoming a success) we realised! 

• We always thought it would be a success and believed in our brand and products and that’s what got us through any moments of doubt (or missing regular income from working for someone else) 

• Having a co-founder has also been the best thing – ‘divide and conquer’ has been the way we’ve run the business and got everything done, I don’t think we could have done it any other way (or on our own!) 

• Having a business with your sister is brilliant – the trust and respect we have between us is what keeps the business going and means we never argue because we always put our relationship first.

• Trust is so important when it comes to owning your own business, we have trusted people who have let us down but we don’t want to change the way that we are so will carry on and tread carefully to begin with rather than be suspicious and micro-manage….that’s just a waste of time in our opinion 

• We now get why women in business get celebrated – it is hard out there! And males really do get a step-up and have more automatic faith instilled in them by strangers than women do when it comes to business 

• Apparently only 15% of venture capital funding is allocated to female founders! 

• Even though female founders outperform male founders – according to a recent study from Boston Consulting Group, for every dollar investment raised, female-run startups generated 78 cents in revenue, whereas male- run startups generated only 31 cents (less than half!) 

• We’ve used sexism to our advantage though, the ‘silly girls with their little business’ sometimes get the last laugh when we know people have made that assumption… 

• Still working on the confidence when it comes to asking for investment, valuing our business and negotiating with retailers – it’s hard to do things which aren’t an inbuilt part of your nature! 

• Having your own business can sound like you’re living the dream, but cash flow is a bitch and bigger than it sounds and can crush those feelings completely…the grass always seems greener (so it’s important to remind yourself why you started the business and consider whether those things still ring true for you) 

• Investors can be bastards, and sometimes carrying on without them can be the best decision even if it feels like you’re looking a gift horse in the mouth! If you don’t feel right, the likelihood is it isn’t right (easier said than done but unlikely that you’ll regret it) 

• We had to say no to a big opportunity because one of the main investors had a problem with me being pregnant and ‘joked’ about writing into the shareholders’ agreement that we should have a clause if I ‘went off the rails’ as a mother – I know, that was just one ‘joke’ too far! 

• Invoice financing has been a really crucial part of managing our cash flow and tiding us over whilst we waited to find the right investor – we asked friends and family to lend us money against our invoices rather than paying a big corporate and gave them interest on the amounts we borrowed – win win 

• Disappointments can actually be the most motivating thing ever – whenever we’ve had some disappointing news / something has gone wrong, you regroup, pick yourself up and do it all better than you would have done it anyway! 

• Not having investment also means you have to be really careful with where you spend money and this is an incredibly valuable lesson and we have built the business to be very ‘lean’ as we haven’t had the means to take many risks. 

• You also really do learn from your mistakes – when people say what would you have done differently, we really wouldn’t have because everything that hasn’t gone as we’d hoped has led us to where we are today.

• We found the things we thought would be hard easier, and the things we didn’t even consider as being challenging as hard. 

• Hiring was really tricky – you can only imagine how you would do / act in a role and when people don’t share the same values or passion for your business as you it can be hard 

• You want to give people and opportunities a chance, but you’re not a charity. Again sometimes you have to turn down opportunities if they aren’t going to pay off and will cost you money…it’s so hard to do in reality, but we had to always think in the longer term what is right for our business 

• Sometimes you will find real gems though and those people will become key parts of your journey, even if they’re just supporters and not directly part of the business 

• It’s also hard to believe but some people will help you just because they really like your business and are keen to contribute 

• Creating a network of supporters and advisors has been key for us; our friends and family have been our biggest cheerleaders, and other businesses we’ve met and had advice from have helped to shape our business 

• Working remotely has been successful for us – we have to ensure we’re always in communication with us, but we’re trying to build the business as a lean and flexible model to make sure we get those gems of people who have a lot of talent, but can’t necessarily work 9-5 in Central London 

• We have done it the office way to, but found that even as founders we were doing ‘face time’ and working flexibly and either from home or cafes meant we were more productive and could also do the other things that were important to us in our lives by committing less time to a commute and needing to be in a specific place in order to work 

• Offices are also a big expense so make sure you really need one before you commit! 

• Outsourcing certain services can also be a really effective way to manage tasks and keep costs down – i.e. we outsource our warehousing so it can either dial up or down in terms of how much we need to store, then we don’t have a warehouse as a constant overhead 

• Our way isn’t necessarily THE way, running your own business should really be about how you want to build it, the kind of company you want to work for and how to attract the people you want to work for you 

• Celebrating wins dwindle as you’re constantly focusing on what you’re not doing as time goes on….you know you should, but you’re always focusing on the next thing or things take so long that you’ve moved on to the next thing 

• When you do celebrate and take time to think about what you’ve achieved, it really is the best thing and you get such a buzz when you reflect on the successes you’ve had and challenges you’ve overcome 

• You really feel like part of a very supportive club – anyone who’s started a business, whether it’s been a success or not, understands how you feel and what you’re going through and is always willing to chat about it 

• Working is so much more than just working when it is for yourself; you are responsible for your productivity and it is so motivating – you really learn so much and every learning is so valuable 

• Suddenly those jobs you hated but stuck out come into their own with the experience you gained, as running a business requires being a jack of all trades and every experience you’ve had will have taught you something which comes in useful (even if it’s learning what not to do) 

• You might start a business because you want a better work/life balance and that can be harder than you think because you want to give your everything to it, so it’s really important to actually force yourself to take breaks and enjoy that ‘life’ bit although when you do what you love they really do merge into one! 

• Sometimes you just have to ‘fake it until you make it’ – we soon realised most people are doing just that! 

• Women-owned businesses are growing much faster than all businesses, from 2007 to 2018 women-owned businesses grew by 58% in terms of number of firms and 46% in terms of revenue!! (according to American Express) 

• We want to grow as a food brand but also empower and inspire women as we grow – we have experienced all sorts of support as well as prejudice and when women support each other (and when men support women!), it is just the best thing! As two sisters who have grown up supporting each other it is the foundation that we have grown a successful brand that we hope will continue to thrive. 

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