Jessica was employed in the corporate finance sector when she decided that she “wasn’t loving the 9 to 5 grind” – although, as she quips, “it was more like 8 to 8.” After all, if you’re going to pour so many hours into your day job – wouldn’t you want to choose those hours, and be in control of your own decisions?
“One of the most appealing benefits of becoming an entrepreneur is gaining control over your professional life.” (Jayson Demers, www.entrepreneur.com)
At a time when the online group buying model was gaining momentum in the market, Jessica and her partner together seized an opportunity and founded their own deals website which offered discounts on a range of lifestyle related experiences. In January 2011, EZdeals.com.au was born.
“My partner and I funded the launch of EZdeals with a mix of savings and a small business loan. Going half-half in the business was really important to both of us to ensure we were evenly committed,” said Jessica.
Riding the wave Jessica and her partner saw coming, EZdeals experienced rapid growth, acquiring a database of over 65,000 subscribers and launching across all major Australian cities. And why stop there. Introduced as an “offshoot of EZdeals” the entrepreneur duo diversified their online business venture and launched The Escape Lounge, a one-stop-shop for travellers wanting to build and book a customised holiday.
Jessica said “after a number of discussions with hotels and tourism bodies, we identified some key opportunities in the online travel space and jumped at the chance to learn more about the industry. The Escape Lounge evolved from there.”
Starting a business could be likened to a series of hurdles: no sooner have you cleared the start-up hurdle and you’re already staring ahead at the next one in the transition to a sustainable, growing business. While EZdeals and The Escape lounge enjoyed a successful launch and strong initial growth, Jessica comments that their next challenge was finding a way to grow the business in a market dominated by competitors with greater financial clout.
“I think our biggest challenge was the competition. We were both surprised at how quickly competitive sites were popping up, how quickly they were innovating and how much money they seemed to have to spend on marketing. Trying to build brand awareness and attract customers in a market dominated by a few big players was a challenge,” said Jessica.
Two years into their first venture and with another hurdle upon them, along came an opportunity “too good to pass up,” says Jessica. In 2013, The Escape Lounge captured the interest of ASX listed Disruptive Investment Group Limited and the owner of Check-in.com.au and was ultimately bought out. By the end of 2013, both businesses had been sold to private buyers.
But once that entrepreneurial appetite has been whet – it’s hard to turn back.
“Once you’ve had a taste of that freedom, it’s incredibly difficult to go back,” said Jessica.
“For me, the main attraction is the freedom and the flexibility. I work long days but I can dictate my own hours and being online, I can still run and connect with the business from anywhere in the world.”
In 2014, no sooner had the dust settled on the sale of her first two ventures, Jessica joined forces with her two current business partners to launch Say It With Polish. Funded equally by herself and her two partners Ariana and Anthea, Say It With Polish offers personalised nail polish for the gift market. And after recently celebrating their first birthday, it appears Jessica’s start-up luck hasn’t gone anywhere. Say It With Polish now ships to 37 countries across the globe and is in the process of launching a retail arm to their business.
“We have been overwhelmed with the response to the concept and the amount of orders coming through since launch,” Jessica said.
For Jessica – the entrepreneurial pathway has been a tremendous success. It has delivered to her the flexibility and autonomy she sought to achieve when turning her back on employment; and her businesses have been successful. But her experience brings a fresh perspective on the meaning of entrepreneurialism: for some, it’s about getting back up again after failures, for others it’s about growing a garage start-up into a large multinational; but for Jessica, it has so far been about mastering the start-up phase and planting the seeds for growth – irrespective of whether you remain at the helm.
Jessica commented that there are three key lessons she has learned from her ventures: “You come last; identify tasks you’re not strong at and delegate; you can’t plan for everything; and you can’t do everything!”