‘I felt my life was miss­ing some­thing cre­ative’

Boss of on­line jew­ellery com­pany Mis­soma tells Matthew Caines how she had to start out on her own to ful­fil a life­long am­bi­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - Tele­graph Small Busi­ness Con­nect is a spe­cial­ist com­mu­nity ded­i­cated to help­ing small busi­ness own­ers – find out more at tgr.ph/sme­con­nect

Marisa Hordern can trace the ori­gins of her on­line jew­ellery busi­ness, Mis­soma, all the way back to when she was five, when her mother gave her a shard of blue labradorite. “It all started when I got my first crys­tal,” re­calls the founder.

The young­ster was so en­am­oured with the gift that she spent all of her pocket money on gems, fill­ing her bed­room with mala­chites and rain­bow moon­stones. The ob­ses­sion per­sisted through school and univer­sity, where she stud­ied his­tory. “I al­ways felt like my life was miss­ing some­thing cre­ative,” she says. Hordern tried to fill the void by join­ing lux­ury brand con­glom­er­ate Richemont in 2002. But in­stead of get­ting hands-on with Cartier rings, the grad­u­ate drowned in Ex­cel spread­sheets.

She did have one artis­tic out­let – homemade jew­ellery. Hordern crafted beaded gem­stone belts and other pieces at the kitchen ta­ble, sell­ing her cre­ations to de­sign bou­tiques.

Lend­ing a hand was mother, Michele, and sis­ter, So­phie, who also pro­vided in­spi­ra­tion for the Mis­soma moniker (a com­bi­na­tion of be­gin­nings of each of their first names).

Two years later, in 2004, de­mand had grown enough that two jobs was too much, so Hordern quit Richemont to fo­cus full-time on her side-busi­ness. She “went for it”, trav­el­ling to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shen­zhen and Jaipur to se­cure sup­pli­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Her found­ing mis­sion was to cre­ate high-qual­ity jew­ellery for every­day wardrobes. Whether an an­klet, bracelet or stud ear­ring, each piece is de­signed so that it can be mixed and matched with oth­ers or worn alone.

“There was a lot of self-doubt and con­stant worry about whether we were go­ing to suc­ceed,” re­mem­bers the founder, who made mis­takes early on. “I didn’t have a busi­ness plan, which a lot of peo­ple say you don’t need, but a frame­work and some goals would have helped me [to fo­cus].”

She also could have used a part­ner. “It was quite lonely.” Hordern rec­om­mends that peo­ple go into busi­ness to­gether and spe­cialise. “I’m very ca­pa­ble, but I’m not an ex­pert in fi­nance, mar­ket­ing or even de­sign,” she says. “It’s im­por­tant to have some­one who can com­pli­ment your ca­pa­bil­i­ties, where one might be fo­cused on op­er­a­tions and the other on cre­ative.”

Hordern learnt as she went, se­cur­ing list­ings at Fort­num & Ma­son, Har­vey Nichols, Har­rods and oth­ers. But it wasn’t bring­ing busi­ness suc­cess. “Just be­cause you’re in all the mag­a­zines and depart­ment stores doesn’t mean that you’re mak­ing money,” says the brand owner, whose prod­uct was orig­i­nally tar­geted at an older de­mo­graphic. “We were ca­ter­ing to a tiny per­cent­age of the pop­u­la­tion, so I had to find a way to scale things up.” She moved away from whole­sale to fo­cus on di­rect sales via a web­site – and with con­trol over the sales process and costs, she was able to bring the price of pieces down from an av­er­age of £200 to less than £150. “We started to ap­peal to younger shop­pers,” she says. It was a key turn­ing point for the firm. “We be­came a tech­nol­ogy com­pany,” says Hordern. She swot­ted up on web de­sign and on­line ad­ver­tis­ing. “With­out an IT or dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing de­gree, you’re al­ways play­ing catch-up.”

She brought in con­sul­tants to bridge the skills gap. “I’m a big fan and our head of dig­i­tal is one,” she ex­plains. “When you’re small and not ready to hire at a cer­tain level, it’s a good idea to bring in ex­pe­ri­enced free­lancers for what you can af­ford – one, two or three days a week.” Hordern has also hired an HR con­sul­tant to help with the brand’s re­cent growth. It came fourth in the lat­est Fast Track 100 league ta­ble of British pri­vate com­pa­nies with fast-grow­ing sales. An­nual turnover is up by a 150pc com­pound an­nual growth rate over the past three years to £6m in 2017-18, while head­count has more than dou­bled to 40. “When we had 15 staff, we used to talk to each other from across the room, but now it’s all in­ter­de­part­men­tal meet­ings,” she says. “You need a com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy and re­port­ing struc­ture – it’s a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish.”

In terms of fund­ing, Mis­soma took on a part­ner at the out­set who was an es­tab­lished jew­ellery whole­saler and in­vested £100,000. “It was paid back with in­ter­est within a few years,” says Hordern. Cap­i­tal Gen­er­a­tion Part­ners bought out that share­hold­ing, in­vest­ing an undis­closed sum last year.

The brand’s growth has pri­mar­ily come from celebri­ties and in­flu­en­tial peo­ple on so­cial me­dia (so-called “in­flu­encers”). The Duchess of Sus­sex, ac­tress Mar­got Rob­bie and model Clau­dia Schif­fer are all fans.

It’s flat­ter­ing when fa­mous faces like your de­signs enough to wear them, but a lot of hard work goes on be­hind the scenes to put Mis­soma jew­ellery front of peo­ple’s minds, says Hordern. “We go to re­tailer and trade shows, and spend time build­ing re­la­tion­ships with stylists, man­agers, PRs and ed­i­tors.

“I just went to New York for three days to do 30 press vis­its. I’ve never spo­ken so much in my life!”

The founder doesn’t want all of her brand’s in­flu­encer part­ner­ships to be trans­ac­tional. “When they’re paid-for ads, they la­bel it as such and wear the item once, but if a per­son wears your prod­ucts ev­ery day be­cause they gen­uinely love them, that’s authen­tic­ity and what we strive for.” In terms of what is next, Hordern is keep­ing one eye on coun­ter­feits from China. “It’s one of our big­gest chal­lenges,” says the en­tre­pre­neur, whose le­gal spend­ing has gone up sig­nif­i­cantly. “It’s a sign of suc­cess, but also up­set­ting when you can’t stop cheap copies flood­ing the mar­ket and de­valu­ing your of­fer­ing.”

She’s also look­ing to sell more jew­ellery State­side. “About 46pc of sales are in­ter­na­tional, one fifth of which is to the US, so there’s more to be done there.” Hordern wants to spend more time this year fo­cus­ing on Mis­soma’s so­cial im­pact.

The found­ing mis­sion for Marisa Hordern was to cre­ate high-qual­ity jew­ellery for every­day wardrobes. Mis­soma’s fans in­clude the Duchess of Sus­sex, ac­tress Mar­got Rob­bie and model Clau­dia Schif­fer

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.