Entrepreneur Country is a UK magazine I enjoy reading for stories that are refreshingly different insights. The views “from across the pond” provide a perspective on entrepreneurship that is distinct from the usual fare in the United States. Instead of a fascination with high-tech start-ups and deal making, the editors choose to feature entrepreneurs from other industries. The stories that are shared bring to light principles that can be applied across many settings.
Identifying a gap in the market to provide a unique solution to a problem can be hard, but very rewarding. Michelle Mone found that helping women get what they want has been a path to success for her company, MJM International. MJM has made her one of the top 3 female entrepreneurs in the UK. Mone shared key points of her entrepreneurial journey in the July issue of the magazine.
In October 1996, at a dinner dance, Michelle was wearing an uncomfortable bra and decided she would invent her own in its place that would be comfortable, cleavage enhancing and improved in appearance. MJM International was born, (and the Ultimo brand was launched.)
Not only (has) Ultimo (been) revolutionizing the lingerie industry, it (is) now taking on cosmetics, with every product going through several rounds of testing ['Every product has to be the best, I don't accept second best' - Michelle] and perfecting before it reaches the high street. “We have new products launching all the time and we have 13 inventions in total. The gel filled bra that we invented 12 years ago as an alternative to plastic surgery was what made us, because Julia Roberts wore it in Erin Brokovich. Then we have the 24 hour bra that you can’t feel that you’re wearing, and now UTan. I think next year we will expand further with a full on cosmetics range”.
Key points in Mone’s life story included:
- Taking a job to support her family as a teen when her father became wheelchair bound,
- Tacking Richard Branson posters on her wall instead of teen idols,
- Hiring 11 other teens to help her with a newspaper delivery route,
- Distributing Avon books,
- Working as sales and marketing lead for Labatt’s in her early 20s, and
- Launching MJM soon thereafter.
After taking her severance pay and putting it to good use with MJM, she moved from idea to commercialization. Here’s how she described the transition to becoming a successful entrepreneur:
“You have to do your research and find out if you have a viable product. See if you can meet a manufacturer too, because there will be issues in terms of shipping and some factories are too large for a new product. Go smaller, work out the volume and do as much homework as possible.”
“You just have to be incredibly organised, but I’m not super woman and I do get things wrong.” Ultimo suffered an enormous setback in 2002 when a married couple, distributors for MJM, fled with £1.6million.
She exhibited tremendous tenacity in overcoming this obstacle. a divorce, and other setbacks. Kelly Dolan, who conducted the interview with Mone, saluted her “ability to leverage MJM’s press position through PR campaigns (comprised of) celebrity endorsements and clever marketing” Dolan asked how young businesses can optimize PR, to which Mone responded,
“If you can’t afford a PR company then remember that there is nobody more passionate about your business than you. Write a press release, send it out to everyone and hope for the best. Hire a PR company if you have the money, but you have to get across to whoever is representing you that real passion for the business.”
Well put! Every entrepreneur–female or male, in fashion or services, regardless of challenges–will meet with greater success if able to convey passion for the target audience and its needs.