In this exciting edition of Startup Stories, J.Allan Longshadow talks to the incredible founder and Voom 2018 Semi-finalist Hannah Clarke, whose online store and social enterprise Apples & Pips offers a unique gift experience for parents.
Tell me something about you and your business:
Founder name: Hannah Clarke
Business name: Apples & Pips
Social profiles: @applesandpips on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
Where are you based? I’m from Grantham, Lincolnshire and I run the business from my home in Lincolnshire, with the odd trips to local coffee shops when I either run out of internet or just need some company!
How long has your business been going? It launched in October 2016, but has been running specifically as a social enterprise gift shop since January 2018.
When did you first become an entrepreneur and what inspired you? I launched my shop in October 2016. It was a combination of motherhood, postnatal depression, lack of career fulfilment, and desire to do something different.
What values / causes etc matter most to you? Supporting parents and parental mental health is a huge factor in what I do and why. Charitable donations and eco-conscious ethics play a large part too.
Tell us a little more about your business Apples & Pips is a bespoke online gift shop for parents and babies, working as a social enterprise through charity donations and a random acts of kindness scheme to support parents across the UK
What makes Apples & Pips so unique? It is the only place offering truly bespoke create-your-own gift hampers for new parents and babies, and the whole ethos of my social enterprise is unlike anything else you’ll find in this sector.
What made you choose this particular niche? It really started when I discovered gorgeous independent brands and wanted to put them all in one place!
What special knowledge / skills / experience do you bring to the business? I have tried and loved every single product I sell, so if a customer has a question then I will know the answer!
How have you helped your business to grow? Social media has been a huge factor – creating a community rather than just hard selling. I have gone forward for awards and was a Virgin VOOM semi finalist, and Lincolnshire Tech and Innovation Awards finalist for Online Retailer of the Year.
What is the ultimate goal of your business? My long-term goal is to not only be the go-to place for bespoke gifts, but also provide on-the-job training for parents wishing to gain new digital skills in order to make a career change that better suits their family life.
What has been your greatest success until now? Being a VOOM semi-finalist was amazing, but also the incredible feedback from IVF couples to my unique IVF gift set (pictured).
Have you won any awards / recognition? As detailed above – VOOM and Lincolnshire Tech and Innovation – I’ll let you know if I win the latter!
What has been the greatest challenge for your business? Marketing without a marketing budget. I’m entirely self-funded, so AdWords campaigns and large Facebook ad campaigns just aren’t an option for me, which makes it hard to get more eyes on the page!
What is the ethos behind your business? Gorgeous, bespoke new parent and baby hampers – the gifts that keep on giving!
What’s next for your business? Expanding my own range of positive affirmation and slogan products which are hand-lettered by my graphic designer husband. Securing media exposure and telling the story of pushing through postnatal depression to launch this social enterprise!
What’s next for you? Coffee!
Let’s talk about the experience of entrepreneurship.
What advice would you give to anybody wanting to start their own business? Be prepared to put your blood, sweat, and tears into it for very little return at first. It’s not a case of ‘build it and they shall come’, but with hard work and passion, it can be the best thing you’ll ever do.
What has been the hardest thing about becoming an entrepreneur? Not being able to shut down. Even at evenings and weekends I’m either working or thinking about work. That, and the lack of holidays!
What has been the best thing about becoming an entrepreneur? The pride of doing something I truly believe in, the amazing feedback from people, and the confidence boost.
Who has been the biggest influence on you as an entrepreneur? Vicki Psarias inspires me daily as a successful mum and entrepreneur.
Which one book would you recommend every aspiring entrepreneur reads? For mums: Vicki Psarias – MumBoss. For everyone else (including mums!): 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Let’s discuss Voom 2018
How did you first find out about Voom and what made you decide to take part? I saw it on Facebook and knew that it was too good an opportunity not to even try! I’ve never done anything like it before and have never had to pitch my business or business plan, so the whole concept terrified me!
What did you do to promote your brand and help to get through to the semi-final? Emailed, text, phoned, tweeted, messaged every contact I’ve ever had, launched a giveaway on social media, and annoyed the hell out of everyone for a few weeks!
What was the hardest part of preparing your pitch? I’ve never been a ‘business person’ in the typical sense, so being confident in my facts and figures while also memorising my elevator pitch took some major brain power!
How did you feel your pitch went? It was amazing – I’d do it again tomorrow! I showed my passion as well as the USPs of the business, which the judges seemed to like.
What would you change if you could do it again? I think I need to refine my medium-term goals to present a more investment-worthy plan. I also think I’d highlight the social enterprise and plans to provide training to parents more, so that the focus wasn’t so much on ‘yet another online shop’
How did you feel when you stood in front of the judges? Surprisingly calm and confident! I actually really enjoyed the experience, and the judges were lovely.
Overall, how would you sum up your experience? Incredible. I’m so pleased I did it.
What are the most important take aways from being part of the Voom process? Popularity vote contests suck and I want to avoid them because of the stress! But pitching is actually empowering and not something I should shy away from.
How do you think the experience will help your business to develop? I picked up some great tips from the experts about ways to help my marketing strategy without needing loads of money
Will we see you in the final next year? I don’t think I’ll do it again unless the public vote stage is scrapped. I pushed my luck with all that vote chasing!
What’s next for your company? I’m a finalist in the Lincolnshire Tech and Innovation Awards which is exciting, but now I need to gain more exposure and hopefully some funding.
What advice would you give to anybody thinking about participating in the next edition of Voom? Go for it, because it’s a fantastic opportunity, but don’t allow public voting to make you feel like your business isn’t s valid as others, because it is in no way a reflection of worth or merit.
Hannah, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. A huge congratulations for getting through to the semi-finals of Voom 2018 and the very best of luck in the Lincolnshire Tech and Innovation award – we certainly think you deserve it!