From mum to a digital phenomenon
‘Work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life’
What sparked the idea?
The idea for Mumsnet came from a disastrous family holiday in Florida... If only, I thought, we could have tapped into a network of people who’d already worked out that under-fives and jet lag don’t mix – before we’d shelled out a small fortune. And what if that network could also advise about sleep, pushchairs, going back to work and nits – all those things that so many new parents are unprepared for?
How did you get started?
When I first had the idea, I was turned down by pretty much every tech investor going, except for the one who generously offered to put in his money if he could run the company instead of me! But I thought the idea was a good one, so I just went ahead from the back bedroom without the money. It took several years before we started to make money, but I knew from the start that the strong response the service was getting showed it was useful. At some point, I felt sure the business model would work itself out.
What’s been the toughest challenge?
Getting sued several times, most notably by childcare guru Gina Ford in 2006, plus inevitable online attacks and hacks are challenges the team have faced. In some ways, Mumsnet was ahead of its time. It took Facebook and Twitter to come along before brands really begun to engage with the social web. That meant it was about eight years before we could pay meaningful salaries to the people who were putting in the hours. During that time, we worked on a shoestring budget.
What are your golden rules?
Work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. Thankfully, the skills you need for parenting – coping with pressure, negotiation, multitasking – turned out to be useful in business, too.
And the secret of your success?
A few cakes and bottles of gin! Seriously, remember that dealing with adversity can have its positive side, too. It got the Mumsnet team and community pulling together in an incredible way.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Learn how to make difficult decisions, change direction where necessary and bounce back from disappointment. Even if you’ve done your research and you know that there’s a real need that you can address, you still might require patience.