Posted: Thu 25th Jan 2018
Enterprise Nation member Joy Foster is the founder of TechPixies, which helps women upskill with technology and return to work.
She also won Enterprise Nation's Female Start-up of the Year in 2017. Here, Joy tells her story and how winning the competition has helped her business.
How did you come up with your idea and turn it into an actual business?
The idea came from the fact that I am a mother of two and I wanted to be able to work flexibly around my children. The great irony is that setting up a business can often be harder than a job but it has given me the ability to be available to my children when they need me most of the time.
Over the time that I had babies and toddlers, I never really stopped working on small projects, one, in particular, turned into a very successful blog. That helped me get a digital marketing manager job for a leading charity in London. Having learned how to build websites and market them, I thought I could help others by doing it for them.
I soon found many women who had taken career breaks wanting to learn these same skills and that is when I thought if I put them all together in a room, I could impact several lives at once!
And this is exactly what we do at TechPixies; help change women's lives by giving them their confidence back with technology.
How have you funded your business?
Family and friends
Explain how you secured the funding for your business.
To launch our original idea (a web development company for charities), we started out with a grant for £5,000 from UnLtd in 2014. In 2015, we received a government contract worth £16,000 to launch our pilot TechPixies programme.
Following a successful launch, we received a 'Grow it' award from UnLtd at the end of 2016 for £15,000. During 2017, we ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised £7,000.
I took out a loan of £11,000 towards the end of 2017 which I am now paying back with the revenue of the company.
Much of the reason that the company exists today is that my business partner and I have salary sacrificed. While we have not put money in, we have taken very little out. Changing this is one of my major goals in 2018. We want to become a financially viable, non-debt laden company.
What start-up challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Where to start! I think the biggest challenge is being financially sustainable. At one point, we provided so many free places to women whose household incomes are below the living wage that we couldn't afford to keep staff and I had to let four amazing women go.
That was a wake-up call to me and we have had to make strategic decisions to get increase our revenue and expand our reach.
We don't know how it will turn out yet, but I am comforted by the fact that so many people in business have gone through the same thing!
What has been your biggest achievement with your business so far?
It was very exciting to win the Enterprise Nation Female Start-up of the Year in 2017. The prime minister also visited us in 2017 which really put us on the national map. Both opportunities have opened up a lot of doors.
I also feel very lucky to have been supported by UnLtd for so long. Without UnLtd, TechPixies wouldn't exist. It is my job to take what they have given us and find a way forwards.
What is your next big business goal?
We have a big goal of helping 100 women by July 2018. We are currently 75% the way there. It is really important to me that we hit this goal. Equally, we are looking ahead and trying to think through how we can impact 1500+ women by 2022.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge getting there?
Our biggest challenge will be growing our leads but this is a big challenge for any business.
We have a very high conversion rate once people go from our mailing list to a taster session to a course. We also have a lot of women coming to us because of word of mouth.
Making sure we keep our reputation and quality in tact as we grow will be important. Also making sure the business doesn't rely solely on me is super important.
How has Enterprise Nation helped your business?
Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones is the most connected woman I know. After winning the award, she has made several introductions to people who are now helping our business. I also appeared on LBC radio as a result of winning. I am thankful for those introductions.
I've also had a lot of help from the prizes and advisors who have given me some of their time to think through the business.
Tell us about the experience of pitching at Enterprise Nation Female Start-up of the Year in 2017.
It was nerve-wracking! I knew we had a strong proposition but the other ladies I was pitching against did as well. It was a fantastic experience though and it really helped me gain confidence in pitching.
Why do you think the judges picked you as a winner?
I think they picked me because we have a model which is already driving revenue, changing lives and also plans to go national.
I was really thankful that they did pick me as it has been a very good award to have won and has raised our profile quite a lot!
What advice would give to entrepreneurs considering entering the competition this year?
Be prepared and practise your pitch until you know it by heart. Make sure you know your numbers. Do your research on the judges!
Which other entrepreneur inspires you and why?
I am inspired by so many, but I must say Dame Steve Shirley is by far and away the entrepreneur who I am most inspired by. She built a business which employed women, in their own homes which she took public.
The company was worth £3billion and she made 70 of the women in her company millionaires and provided employment to over 8,000 people. She also gave 25% of her company up to her employees. I would love to see TechPixies do the same thing someday.
What are your three tips for business success based on your experiences so far?
Get the money right. Always work on trying to come up with a financially sustainable solution
Find advisors in your field who are willing to share their expertise. Be wary of the ones who just want you to become a client
Treat people well. Customers and employees will remember how you treat them. The experience can be more impactful than the product, especially in our industry
Anything else you would like to share?
Coming off of letting four people go, it is hard to think of something funny but I can say that one of my favourite things has been getting to know so many fabulous women.
Each woman who has come through TechPixies has something amazing to offer but often they have lost or forgotten or not yet discovered what it is. It is my hope that we can ignite their sparkle within and help them get started on the next phase of their life.