Mini Exchange's Sarah Jones on how to stay ahead of the game

Sarah Jones, founder and CEO of Mini Exchange, an online marketplace for childcare products, shares her top tips to success.
Mini Exchange now features more than 30,000 items.
By Sarah Jones
Thu 05 Jan 2017 11:46 AM

‘A true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer’. Mini Exchange Chief Sarah Jones is living proof of this.

Bitten by the bug at just 14, Sarah set up a profitable eBay business importing items from across the globe and selling in the UK, igniting a love for e-commerce and developing an acute business mind in the process.

Four years later, a degree in Economics at Edinburgh University beckoned, which not only heightened Sarah’s financial acumen, but also her highly competitive nature. Her placement at Deloitte London in the retail M&A team led to an international secondment in the Middle East just a few years later.

That is where the Mini Exchange story really begins, and to a point, where Sarah the CEO figure emerges.

Described by her friends, as “a relentless enterprise of fresh ideas and innovations” she has never lost the thirst for clinching a business deal firsthand and is a self-confessed workaholic. Her phone is never off, her mind is always active and her passion to drive the business forward is unrivalled.

Spotting a gap in the e-commerce market on arrival in the UAE, Sarah quickly secured funding to make her idea a reality and Mini Exchange was born.

Here, she shares her top 10 tips to creating a successful start-up…

I’m asked a lot about what it takes to succeed in business all the time and my answer never varies – passion and tenacity.

You need to do your research, have an idea that’s innovative, you need business acumen and a pitch that will inspire people to believe in you, but it’s passion that gets you out of bed in the morning, passion that keeps you going at 3am when there’s an urgent site issue to solve, and tenacity which allows you to keep going on this rollercoaster ride of a start-up, even when the going gets tough. In the two years that I’ve been on this journey, I’ve learnt a lot and will try to pass on some tips for starting a business. I won’t call them words of wisdom, because that sounds far too glamorous.

1. Launch With A Minimal Viable Product

You may have a great idea, but will it work in the market? If there’s a gap, is it because others have tried and failed? Test out your idea, speak to people in the same industry and conduct your own market research - there’s nothing better than getting honest feedback from real consumers. Don’t spend months and months perfecting the business. It will change and adapt as soon as you launch so just get it live and start getting that feedback.

2. Hire A Rockstar Team

It’s very easy when you start a business to cut corners and try to do everything yourself. Sure, this keeps your costs down in the short term, but if you want a rockstar product, you need to hire a rockstar team. People who are motivated, passionate and who will believe in your vision. You want them to enjoy coming to work each day - you definitely can’t pay for that.

3. Build A Great Team Culture

Look after your team and they will repay you in loyalty and the odd packet of chocolate digestive biscuits. Be flexible, have an open door policy and reward your team for their hard work. There really isn’t a formula for this, it’s just good sense.

4. Let It Go

This one is tough. Picture the scene. You build up your business, aka your baby, you get it to a certain point, and then… you need to hand over some control – A) for your own sanity and B) because you can’t do everything on your own. Trust the people you have hired to do their job, with you there for guidance if they need it. After all, you know the business better than anyone… who better to train the team?!

5. Stay Agile

Nowadays the market moves within a blink of an eye and if you don’t have your finger on the pulse, then chances are you will have missed out. The nature of having an online business means you are constantly evolving, hiring, developing tech, innovating - the second you rest on your laurels, it’s over.

6. Don’t Expect Fundraising To Be Easy

Because it always takes longer than expected! Prepare early, take your time and most of all don’t panic if it doesn’t happen straight away. There will be ups and downs, as there are in any business, and it’s how you choose to motivate yourself and power through.

Don’t be disheartened if all conversations don’t go as expected, keep going. If you have a good product, you will find the right people to invest in your business. Work on a brilliant pitch deck and make a good first impression that will stand you out from the crowd. Finally, be gracious if you hear the word ‘no’. There will be knock backs, but it’s how you deal with it which shows the measure of you, both as a person and as a business.

7. Prepare To Put Your Life On Hold

Here’s another ‘ouch’ but true moment… For your business to succeed, you have to throw yourself into it 100 percent otherwise it’s not going to work. Functions may have to take a back seat and that is one of the toughest realisations - the compromises you need to make are very real. I took work calls on the morning of my wedding and worked every day of my honeymoon, BUT – see, I can deliver good news too! – the rewards you reap when you see your business succeed feel incredible.

8. Make Mistakes

Now, I’m not actively encouraging this, but I do believe making mistakes and learning from them is all part of the journey. If you are just starting out, then mistakes are a way of life - even the most perfect person can’t get it right all the time. Don’t beat yourself up, move on and don’t make the same mistake again… It is all a learning curve.

9. Be Proud

Every now and then, stop and take stock of your achievements. Take 10 minutes away from the office, away from your phone, away from your laptop and appreciate just how far you have come. I guarantee there’s nothing quite like it, you feel euphoric… In that moment, you realise it has all been worth it.

10. Enjoy It

This may seem like the most basic bit of advice, but you can get so swept up in building your business and working day and night, you forget to actually enjoy the process! Savour every moment, because it goes by so quickly.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.