Each week we catch up with a different entrepreneur to discover what makes them tick, their top tips and more. We chat to Fiona Jarvis founder of Blue Badge Style.
This week we spend five minutes with Fiona Jarvis, founder of Blue Badge Style.
Hi Fiona Jarvis! Can you explain a little bit about yourself and your business?
I am a later-in-life, disabled entrepreneur who founded Blue Badge Style after a career in IT sales. Blue Badge Style is an online Vogue/Michelin-like guide for less-physically-able people, their friends and their families. It rates and recommends places based on style, accessibility and disabled facilities. Our aim is for ‘As Recommended by Blue Badge Style’ to be aspirational goal for any item, organisation or establishment. We are starting in Europe, but hoping to go global.
What time does your day usually start and end?
I’m usually at my desk by 9am, but then often out reviewing places in the evening, so a day can go on for as long as the fun!
What is your favourite part of your job and what is your least favourite part?
My favourite part is finding people within organisations who get it. I’m not interested in sympathy, I’d rather be asked what I want to drink and be in a great venue. I was recently inspired by working with Brunel students on designs for wheelchair users. They came up with some great ideas, like bags which sit on your wheelchair handles, but have a side opening, a holder for any type of glass, and a way to charge your mobile using your wheelchair! The least favourite part is pitching to investors. I’ve done anything from one minute to 15 minute pitches. I also hate being filmed, it’s like hearing your voice on tape for the first time but worse.
What inspired you to start your business?
Becoming increasingly disabled was the inspiration for starting my own business. I first realised I might have multiple sclerosis when I kept falling off my high-heels, without being drunk! I’ve since used a stick and now a wheelchair to glide through life, so I have a good understanding of a range of mobility issues. I also found there was little or no information on style with disability, especially when it came to going out to cool places. You always have to make at least three phone calls to ascertain whether you can be accommodated at a venue and even then there’s usually a surprise waiting for you, like a flight of stairs or a disabled loo with no grab bars.
What has been the biggest challenge for your business?
Funding! That and managing growth. Putting your baby on the line to potential partners, investors and customers can be excruciating. It’s a challenge to stay dispassionate.
What do you feel are the biggest obstacles to growth for SMEs in the UK?
Lack of funds – although the money is out there. If it’s from government the application process is still onerous, as is the form -filling for the brokers to money. I’ve yet to meet an investor without going through a third-party; the City Boys are alive and well and keeping their contacts close to their chests.
Have you made any mistakes along the way and how did you overcome them?
I’ve probably made lots of mistakes but I try not to dwell on them. Rejection is still a hard thing to handle but you have to keep going for the sake of the business and your own sanity. Selling your idea is a passionate business and I’ve made the mistake of believing that that should be enough. You also need hard facts and figures behind the idea and I present these in a more clinical way, along with the passion.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start their own business?
Whether disabled or not you need to believe in what you’re doing and enjoy the journey. I’m the poorest I’ve ever been setting up my own business, but I’m the happiest and don’t regret my decision. I wish I’d had the courage to do it earlier in my career. My advice is consider the risks in anything you do, but in my experience working with people you like and respect gave me a successful career in software sales and more latterly with my own business.
Would you do anything differently if you could start again from scratch?
I’d spend less time entering funding competitions and be more selective. I would also spend more time selling to customers, as this is the best way to achieve growth, rather than looking for that perfect investor.