We are delighted to have the opportunity to meet with Nancy Cruickshank who has several careers in one. In addition to being the founder of MyShowcase.com, Nancy is also a non-Executive director of TelecityGroup, a member of the Mode Media European advisory board, and a non-Executive Director of OnMobile Global (listed in Bangalore).
Despite a more than busy schedule, Nancy agreed to talk about her rich and interesting career path, but also her experience, her feelings and her vision of the role of women in the business world.
You started working over 20 years ago. You have held nearly 17 different challenging roles (several simultaneously). Can you sum up your career?
In a nutshell – full of interesting challenges, often coalescing around innovative ideas and with the great privilege of working with many talented and diverse colleagues.
My career began on Vogue magazine, as Marketing & Research Manager. It went on to other great opportunities at Conde Nast, initially as Advertising Manager at the World of Interiors magazine and in 1995, Commercial Director of Conde Nast Online. I was able to launch Vogue, GQ and all of the other wonderful Conde Nast publications online, which gave me my addiction for technology and how it can deliver innovative and exciting new customer experiences.
Then in 2000, I founded a business called Handbag.com. It became the no.1 fashion and beauty site in the UK in the noughties. 1.5m women visited the site every month and I discovered that women between the ages of 25 and 55 talked regularly about a desire to launch their own business and find a flexible way to work whilst bringing up a family or fulfilling other life goals. Yet there seemed to be many barriers to making this possible and not enough great opportunities to succeed in a supported manner. At the same time, I sat on the beauty industry trade board, Cosmetic Executive Women. I saw so much innovation, passion and great products from new beauty brands, but they often found it challenging to build distribution in the traditional department stores up against larger global beauty players.
These two fascinating conundrums brewed in my mind over the years and led me to conceive the idea for MyShowcase.
Can you tell us a bit more about the concept of MyShowcase?
Of course! The press has often dubbed it as “Avon meets Space NK”, it’s a completely fresh and contemporary way to discover and buy beauty and also to make beauty your business.
We sell 35+ independent beauty brands via our network of female Stylists. These brands are not widely available on the UK high street but each has an amazing story to tell. Some of them are well known– James Read Tan, Neom, Aurelia Probiotic Skincare and others like Beatitude, Connock London and Jane Scrivner are slightly lesser known beauty gems. Our Stylists are women (most of them have no background whatsoever in beauty) who want to work, but flexibly. They organise showcases in homes (and occasionally in offices too) where they showcase our brands. Customers can buy at our events and also via myshowcase.com.
We’re on a mission to enable tens of thousands of women around the globe to launch their own flexible & sustainable beauty businesses. That’s the heart of the business – no glass ceilings, absolute control for our Stylists, you get out what you put in. Simple as that, which is the ultimate empowerment in my mind.
What inspired the choices you made for your career?
The rise of digital technology from the mid-nineties was central to my career choices. It was fascinating to see how consumer behaviour was changing with the rise of the internet, offering many opportunities to create new businesses enabled by tech.
I discovered that I enjoy creating businesses from scratch, taking a risk, operating across areas of business that might not be your personal vertical area of expertise. Finding the energy and time required to build your own successful business is demanding. There is no doubt about that…but for me, the satisfaction of seeing something develop and succeed is a great pleasure and source of satisfaction.
With your extensive experience, you have seen first-hand the challenges surrounding gender equality. How did you find career opportunities for women in your sector/industry?
I have spent 20 years working in the media and beauty industries. There was no shortage of great opportunities for women in these sectors, although the usual pattern of finding fewer women at the top prevails to some extent.
In the past 8 years, I have taken on non-Executive roles alongside my day job and this is where I have been particularly aware of fewer women than is reasonable. We have all reviewed the data and very sensible arguments that having more women on boards is good for business. Better representation of the staff and customer base and more diverse viewpoints and approaches to produce great results and diminish any ‘group think’. The reality, however, is that board seats are a precious commodity. There are circa 1,500 NED seats across all of the FTSE 250 companies, and many of the most talented NEDs occupy seats on multiple boards. In my experience, I think that the best Chairmen fill each NED position with an individual that can tick multiple boxes – excellent experience in corporate governance, commercial acumen, a deep vertical expertise, industry or sector expertise (especially digital) and increasingly, bringing some diversity (of age, gender or background) to the board. This does make it challenging to bias any individual NED seat on one characteristic – i.e. gender. I am not excusing the scarcity of women on boards, far from it. I fundamentally believe that a diverse board is a more dynamic and high-performing group.
Many women are juggling family and work life and do not wish to (or are not able to) conform to the realities of corporate life and what’s presently required to break through the glass ceiling. This is a great loss for business and presents a lack of challenging opportunities for women to work, but more flexibly to accommodate a family life alongside. This is a fundamental part of what inspired me to launch MyShowcase.
There are so many incredibly talented women who would like to launch their own business and operate at the top if their game, but perhaps require some flexibility, additional support and mentoring to get a business off the ground. MyShowcase takes the administrative part of setting-up a business away from entrepreneurs who want to launch their own MyShowcase business (as a full-time career or alongside another job) and allows them to focus on building the business and seeing it thrive. We also place enormous emphasis on training and mentoring with our Stylist community, providing our Stylists with the tools that they require to succeed, as well as being members of a community of like-minded entrepreneurs.
The press call you a serial entrepreneur, how do you approach each new business creation? Once you have the idea, what steps do you follow?
I approach each new venture with a renewed sense of excitement and energy. Every new opportunity deserves your full passion and commitment from the word go. You get what you put in!
The first step for me is finding the right talent and team. The right people, fully committed, passionate about what they do and working really hard to bring something to market – this is my critical ingredient required to build a successful business. Of course, having the right concept is important, enabling technology to scale and support…all of these are vital too but without the best talent, I believe that the chances of success are dramatically diminished (and it’s also a lot less fun!).
When I conceived the idea for MyShowcase, I began to discuss it with my long-time industry friends, Rodrigo Dauster (ex-Visual DNA, Gekko, Imagini), Kate Shapland (Telegraph Beauty Editor) and Olivier Beau de Lomenie (who built the technology platform at Ocado). They loved the idea and joined me as co-founders, and have been integral to the journey and development of MyShowcase thus far.
Your opinions and tips:
It is not easy to have a balance between personal and professional life. How do you manage it with all your responsibilities?
Launching a business offers loads of challenges, especially when you have a young family and you are constantly juggling your time. When I am with my children, I don’t feel guilty about what I am not doing in business and vice versa. You have to get organised and I try really hard to make my time in each environment count! Of course there are moments when that falls apart but I am always really transparent on both sides to try to make this work. My daughters know a lot about what I do and why and I think that they like the fact that I share this with them. I want to offer them a positive role model that tells them that they can do whatever they want in life – be that in business, sport, the arts, science, having a family. It doesn’t have to be single dimensional in my view but you do need to set your own and everyone else’s expectations about what that means. I don’t make it to every sports match at school but I never miss anything that they tell me matters dearly to them.
How do you handle the pressure? What do you do to clear your mind?
We are lucky enough to own a home in Devon, where my family and I escape to from London at least once, sometimes twice, each month which really helps me unwind.
It has the most breath-taking views, the water laps up the house at high tide, it is nestled in a beautiful village and represents really vital & participative family time to me. When we are there, we walk every day with our two dogs – on many different stunning beaches and on Dartmoor.
It is often said that being organized is the key to success, what does your typical day look like?
I wake up by 6.30am. Then it’s a mad scramble to get showered, dressed, chat to my husband & daughters about everything coming up that day and make sure that the girls are ready for school.
My days in the office can include a fairly eclectic mix, which I love. Talking to potential MyShowcase stylists, training and mentoring our network, working with our brand partners, talking to the press in all of its fantastic and varied forms, working with our investors, considering new product development and running occasional showcases myself every week so as to keep closely in touch with our clients and what they want.
Like my entrepreneur husband, I work pretty late most nights. I can survive on not much sleep, although I am mindful that over extended periods, it’s not great to sleep deprive yourself as I think it really impacts on the quality of anyone’s productivity & output.
The future and attitudes:
What differences do you think exist for the younger generation and their opportunities for the future?
It’s fundamentally more accessible to launch a business today than ever before. Cloud computing reduces the cost of entry, access to funding is improved (especially with the dawn of crowd funding), societal and cultural attitudes increasingly herald the entrepreneur and many other factors point positively to trying to build your own start up.
Increasingly, there are role models in the UK & Europe (successful home grown entrepreneurs) to be inspired by. I love the organization Founders for Schools, that offers free talks for schools from Founders who can emphasise the importance today of STEM subjects (Science, Tech, Engineering, Maths), especially for girls.
Social media enables you to become a Vlogger or blogger with hundreds, thousands or even millions of followers from your bedroom – to road test ideas and get a head start on building awareness of your concept.
All of this is vital stuff alongside a background where there are not the jobs for every university graduate, let alone every student who has passed their GCSEs or A levels and decided to directly enter the workforce.
Younger generations have different values and attitudes to work to take into consideration. Many reject the extended hours that I worked as a matter of course as a twenty year old in the nineties, and a rubbish or non-existent Corporate Social Responsibility attitude can be the reason for a twenty-something NOT to join a company.
The reality is that opportunities are there for the younger generation if they are prepared to work hard, take some risks and utilize the many resources that technology supplies.
And on the flip side, I think it’s vital for businesses to embrace the younger generation and figure out how to manage & motivate a multi-generational workforce. One size does not fit all.
You are deeply involved in several companies, so you necessarily have a long-term vision. What changes in companies / mentalities do you expect?
My top 10!
- More data-driven
- Digital (& specifically, Mobile) first
- Greater customer-centricity
- More focus on diversity
- A more flexible workforce
- Embracing Europe as a single entity with tremendous opportunity to scale across
- Greater membership of the communities in which companies operate
- A meaningful approach to Corporate Social Responsibility
- More constraining corporate governance to navigate
- Retirement at 70+ for many members of the workforce
A self-confessed beauty junkie and technology addict, Nancy is passionate about sharing business success with other women, supporting and encouraging budding female entrepreneurs. Among her successful business start-ups are myshowcase.com and the world-renowned handbag.com, which both provide prime examples of the potential for women in business. Nancy has also successfully managed that crucial work/life balance, right from her early career with Condé Nast – launching Vogue, World of Interiors and GQ online – to her time as CEO and advisor in several tech companies. She was MD at Hearst Digital, Launch CEO of Weve, Global CEO of VideoJug and Executive Director of Telegraph Media Group’s digital development. She lives between London and Devon, enjoying quality downtime with her family and daily walks with their dogs along the beaches or on Dartmoor.
I’m turning my passion into empowerment for women entrepreneurs, where is your passion leading you?