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PickYourself UK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year entries

Self-Starter Stories: From senior management to founder of her own swimwear brand

Rosie Cook - Founder of Deakin and Blue

Rosie Cook - Founder of Deakin and Blue

By: Nadine Burzler

This week's #selfstarterstory features Rosie Cook from Deakin and Blue.

' Deakin and Blue is a British-born fitness swimwear brand on a mission to inspire and empower women to swim in style. Whether you’re diving into the deep end or just dipping a toe in the pool, we design and create beautiful technical swimwear for real women’s bodies. '

#PickYourselfUK caught up with Rosie to learn more about her entrepreneurial journey.

Looking back, what lead you to be where you are today?: I think wanting to find and forge a career that offered me both intellectual stimulation and a sense of purpose. And then, most tangibly, the consumer problem I experienced 18 months ago (failing to find an attractive, supportive swimsuit for a weekly swim) which inspired me to solve the problem.

What was the most challenging part of starting a business?: For me personally, I have definitely found the challenge of working alone the most difficult part of starting a business. I find brainstorming ideas with others and bouncing concepts around hugely stimulating and productive, and so it has been a huge learning curve to feel confident to make decisions and take action often without sense checking the idea with anyone else. I've discovered a wide range of entrepreneur communities that have become invaluable in helping plug the gap and provide the support network that is usually provided by colleagues.

What did you want to be when you were a child?: Ha ha - an actress! I have always enjoyed entertaining others and am still a bit of a class clown amongst my friends!

What was your last job?: I was Operations Director at a small digital start up based in London which sought to connect graduates with great career opportunities. My role encompassed product innovation and design, operational process improvement, supplier management, business development, account management and team management. 

I also sat on the Board of Directors, and was a member of the senior management team responsible for developing and executing the business strategy and driving business growth.

When did you choose to PICK YOURSELF instead of waiting to be chosen by someone else?: Good question! I suppose in part, and on a practical side, I run all of the PR for Deakin and Blue and so I am the person responding to the journo requests and advocating for the business. However, I am also incredibly reflective on the decisions I've made since starting a business - some great, some less great, and I always think there is value in sharing the story and the journey with others in the hope that they might be inspired by the good bits and they might just avoid the bad bits, because of your learning.

What did you learn from your worst boss?: The importance of regular feedback rather than letting anything simmer.

The Lean Startup - Eric Ries

The Lean Startup - Eric Ries

What is your favourite business book and why?: It's a cliche but I felt really motivated when I read Lean Start Up when I was first starting my business and I still dip into chapters of it on a regular basis. I have loved applying tech startup theories and exercises to my own fitness swimwear brand. Our first collection very much follows MVP principles.

Do you do everything yourself? What do you outsource?: I do a lot of things myself (business strategy and planning, financials, account management, product design and development, focus group facilitation, marketing & sales, packing and posting our orders, fixing the printer! etc) but I outsource some key activities that don't play to my strengths. For example I hired a web developer to build my vision for our website and I use an accountancy firm to help me with my year end accounts and financial reporting.

What is your productivity secret?: Exercise! I try to work out first thing in the morning to get my day off to a good start - it's always the right decision!

What is your favourite app?: Buffer - I use it to schedule all my social media activity and it's a life saver!

How do you market your business?: We market our products both online and offline.
Online via all the usual channels - paid google advertising and a proactive social media strategy across Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter & Facebook. 
Since launching we have built brilliant relationships with the Swim Community which has seen our products reviewed in publications such as Outdoor Swimmer and the Outdoor Swimming Society. We're also present at key swim events such as the Henley Mile Outdoor Swimmer Show which takes place every July.

Beyond that we are proactive in seeking exposure and PR - through actively responding to journo requests and sharing press releases with relevant bloggers, journalists and influencers.

Deakin and Blue Website July 2017

Deakin and Blue Website July 2017

When you first launched, how did you get your first paying customers?: Through our social media channels - Instagram has been hugely successful for us.

How did you get your first traffic to your website?: Also through our social media activity - both facebook and instagram contribute significant traffic to our site and have done since we launched.

What would you say to someone who is toying with the idea to start a business but haven't yet?: Ask yourself if you are ready to take the risk - emotionally and financially. If you are then go for it! You'll only regret it if you don't.

If you could have dinner with one entrepreneur, who would it be and why?: Sara Blakely - founder of Spanx. 

I think there are some key similarities between our businesses and in particular, on the product side - we both make products that solve a problem for women, support their confidence and their sense of self. I once heard Sara interviewed on a podcast and she talked about having to wear her product for buyers to show them how fantastic it was - that really resonated with me. I'd love to pick her brain on how the business has moved from her original concept to where they are today and how she has managed to retain such successful leadership of the business (Sara still owns 100%).

To keep up to date with Rosie's journey, connect with him via her social media channels below:

Rosie Deakin has qualified for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017. If you'd like to enter yourself or nominate a small business entrepreneur for this award, please submit your story below.