Onacara: Aysem Ober
Offering both fresh flowers and artisanal products, Onacara provides the opportunity to find the perfect gift via its online shop
Name of founder: Aysem Ober
Age of founder: 40
Date launched: September 2020
Number of employees: 1
Which university, if any, did you attend? I have studied Advertising and PR at Universite de Galatasaray in Istanbul, Turkey. It's one of the ten best universities in Turkey.
Founder Aysem Ober loves giving gifts and writing letters, and it was this passion that inspired the launch of Onacara. It was created out of Ober’s personal and professional experiences, as well as moving to London. Ober explains more…
What does your business do?
Onacara is an online gift studio that combines well-designed items from talented, up-and-coming artists, with fresh flowers. As a brand, we’re especially interested in working with emerging designers, as we believe in investing in their work and supporting them as artists. So we bring together beautiful fresh flowers and artisanal products.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I love giving presents and writing letters. When I was little, I wrote to people all over the world, and that exciting experience of opening a letter from afar continues to inspire me.
I can wholeheartedly express myself through stories and gifting: to my family, my friends, and now, even my children. I believe in the magical world of combining words and gifts, sharing my thoughts and sentiments with loved ones in a way that adds a personalised touch.
However, we might have an idea for a present, but most of the time, it’s challenging to find the perfect way to bring that idea to life and find the ideal combination. And I always loved flowers.
After moving to the UK in 2017, I was nicely surprised to see those two things were deeply ingrained in the culture. After some research, I quickly understood the size of the gift and flower business in the UK.
Being in one of the biggest markets in the area, I wanted to combine my professional and personal background – that’s how Onacara was born.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Once I had the idea of bringing together gifts and flowers in an online shop, I did research to prove to myself that the idea can be transformed into a business model:
- Internet search – I looked at the online gift and flower market sizes in the UK, as well as consumer trends via insight report websites. It was very obvious those two areas were growing
- Face-to-face meeting – By following the famous startup book Running Lean by Eric Ries, I found and met 20 local women. I asked them if my problems were their problems too, and tried to learn their spending habits while buying gifts. Those women were our target profile
I worked on this for over a month and was pretty sure about the market for flowers and gifts.
What were you doing before launching your business?
I have 12 years of experience in marketing and communications. I worked mostly on the advertising side, but I also spent five years in business development for a supplier of promotional products of global cosmetic brands. My last role was as an Executive Director in the Warner Bros. consumer products office in Istanbul.
I had a career break of 3.5 years due to extended maternity leave, and moving to the UK. I moved to London in 2017, and two years later I decided to build up Onacara.
Have you always dreamed of starting a business?
I knew I would use all of my personal and professional experiences for one big business model, and that I would also use my creativity for my project.
But honestly, I haven't dreamed my whole life – there was the right time!
How did you finance your business?
At first, my family supported me, to be able to launch the brand and test products.
Now, I’ve started to sell my products. On top of that, I am looking for funding to scale the brand in the next six months.
Explain your business model and how you make money.
Onacara is an online shop where we sell flowers and different products. We now have a B2C model where unique consumers are buying products via our website.
We're also working on building a B2B model where we will have bulk orders for special occasions from companies.
We're buying products with wholesale prices from designers, and sell at a retail price, while adding flowers. We do not work as a commission-based system for now.
What are the main challenges you have faced? And how did you overcome them?
– Limited resource (time, money, people)
I’ve always worked closely with creative teams. We were used to working in quick iterations to transform an idea to a product. I believe a startup is a learning experiment, and I'm looking to employ the skills I've learned to bring Onacara to its best version. So I know how to go fast, when you have a very limited time.
I also worked with production teams designing bags and exclusive gift ideas. That's where I learned sourcing, pricing and negotiating. While creating products for Onacara, I believe those skills are an absolute necessity – I know how to use money.
– Feeling alone
I had many freelancers and we were working as a very connected team, but I had the strong feeling that I was alone by the end of the day. It isn't easy to overcome this feeling when you build a startup. My family and my friends supported me during those hard times, and I did it.
What has your experience been of starting a business during a pandemic?
Onacara's main purpose was to build bridges between people with beautiful flowers and gifts. During a pandemic, this idea encouraged me more to finalise and launch the brand.
It was very good timing for me, so I worked harder despite many different challenges, such as being at home with kids, and having very limited time for yourself etc. But still, I always felt that this strong business idea would work if I could launch it.
Describe your first breakthrough.
To be able to have funding and scale the business, while having my own place (a warehouse and an office). So I will focus more on business development, other than packing and sending things.
How has Brexit impacted your business? Do you think it will in the future?
I try to work and source locally. We are only delivering in the UK, and we're underlying that with supporting local artists and producers. We even support local charities, like the National Trust.
So, Brexit hasn't impacted my business, and I knew Brexit was coming while I was setting up the business.
No, it won't.
What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?
1. Exploring and finding out our primary skills and ambitions in our life
What do we know well, what do we enjoy, what are we good at? We need to find that out.
2. Go out and connect with people
To try, go out, meet people, ask their opinions. Explore what’s going on outside.
3. Work hard and be patient, while believing in yourself
There is the right time, we need to keep trying.
What is one resolution you have for your business this year?
To avoid using any plastic material in our boxes, including all packaging materials.
How do you see your business developing in the next three years?
I would like to see Onacara as a dynamic global platform bringing together different artisanal products and ideas. It should inspire people for sharing and connecting. As we grow, one of our goals is to implement new strategies that can help nurture our environment more.
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