Second time start-up: An interview with Jo Malone

Fragrance pioneer Jo Malone MBE talks building a business the second time around, social media and her tech needs

About Jo

In 1999, Jo Malone sold her eponymous luxury fragrance and skincare business to beauty behemoth Estée Lauder, remaining as the brand’s creative director until 2006.

She returned to the High Street in 2011 with a new luxury fragrance brand – Jo Loves. Her latest innovation, the Shot CandleTM, which allows customers to create their own candle combinations, is causing quite a stir.

“Creativity, passion and resilience are the most important skills in business. If you’ve got those, you’re ready for the journey,” says Jo Malone. We discuss why building one global enterprise wasn’t enough for her. And she reveals what she’s got right, and wrong, the second time around.

Digital technology has changed the rules of the game, and Jo talks about how a powerful website and an experimental approach to social media can add muscle to even the smallest of start-ups.

Hello Jo. What tempted you to start all over again?

“I missed the industry and creating fragrance – it’s what I love and do best. I guess I could have opened a small white studio and created fragrances as a folly, but I wasn’t looking for a hobby. I’m a working class girl and I believe that when you’re successful in life, you have a responsibility to keep building.
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“My dream is to build another global business.”

“All the money we make goes back into the business and, every time we can afford to, we take on a new team member. My dream is to build another global business and that’s been my vision for Jo Loves from the start.”

How close are you to your global ambitions?

“I’ve got one store in London, but thanks to digital technology, Jo Loves is already a global brand. When I set up Jo Malone, retail was all about owning stores and our website was secondary. The internet has completely changed things and the Jo Loves website is our global shop – our platform to the world.”

“The internet has completely changed things and the Jo Loves website is our global shop – our platform to the world.”

Is building a business easier the second time around?

“The fact that I’ve done it before gives me confidence that my dream is within reach. The focus this time is on how to get there rather than whether it’s possible. I’ve also got lots of passion, resilience and creativity and I think they’re the three greatest things you can have in business.


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“But the experience so far has been very different, and sometimes quite difficult. The first time around, my husband Gary and I were the only people who had expectations for the business and we were able to make mistakes and learn along the way behind closed doors. This time the world was watching and my early successes and failures were played out on an open stage.”

Anything other entrepreneurs can learn from?

“I was so excited to be back that I ran at it like a bull in a china shop and made basic mistakes. The most significant was that I hadn’t created hunger for my product and that’s really important in retail. I’d assumed that everyone knew I was no longer part of Jo Malone, but that simply wasn’t the case.

“I was so excited to be back that I ran at it like a bull in a china shop and made basic mistakes.”

“My customers were confused and Jo Loves was caught in the middle. I needed to take a step back and find my inner entrepreneur.”
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What was the turning point?

“I created my favourite ever fragrance – Pomelo – and she gave me my confidence back. I’d lost Jo and now I feel like I’ve found her again. I’ve never felt so full of life and creativity, I’m fired up by the new Shot CandleTM, I’m building a fantastic team and sales are going through the roof.”

How important is technology to the Jo Loves business?

“The company couldn’t exist without it. It’s not just the website, but the way technology enables every element of the brand experience and helps our team of 14 to communicate with a huge audience. There’s no doubt things happen more quickly and more efficiently thanks to technology, but things can go very wrong quickly too.”

“There’s no doubt things happen more quickly and more efficiently thanks to technology, but things can go very wrong quickly too.”

“Finding your voice as a brand, and communicating it clearly, is more important than ever.”

Any technology challenges along the way?

“Getting your website right is always a challenge. The minute you’ve finished it, you start seeing things you would have done differently. Inevitably you make mistakes along the way, but sometimes learning how not to do something can teach you as much as getting it right the first time.”

“Inevitably you make mistakes along the way, but sometimes learning how not to do something can teach you as much as getting it right the first time.”

Does social media deliver results for your business?

“Yes, social media plays a huge role in getting Jo Loves talked about. Every brand is different, but the visual channels, such as Instagram, seem to work best in engaging our audience and, importantly, they create conversations and word of mouth recommendations that translate into sales. Young, fresh minds seem to have an eye for it as they do for social media and I’ve learnt to follow their instinct.

“Every brand is different, but the visual channels, such as Instagram, seem to work best in engaging our audience and, importantly, they create conversations and word of mouth recommendations that translate into sales.”

“We’re feeling our way and we’re discovering that you have to tailor your activity every time. It’s like revving a car – you have to get the bite just right. Try something one day it works superbly. Repeat it at exactly the same time the following week and it doesn’t.”

“Print media is still vital to our business and, when we support it with social media, we give it extra power. I was blown away when the combination of print and social media around the launch of White Rose and Lemon Leaves sold four months’ worth of product in three weeks.”

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“I was blown away when the combination of print and social media around the launch of White Rose and Lemon Leaves sold four months’ worth of product in three weeks.”

How does technology work for you personally Jo?

“Technology is my office and I run my business from anywhere and everywhere using my phone. I travel a lot in my role as an ambassador for British creativity, but the business can’t stop when I’m away, so I rely on my phone to help me get things done.

“The business can’t stop when I’m away, so I rely on my phone to help me get things done.”

“I use it to put a blog or newsletter together, design packaging, do press interviews and develop ideas. I don’t need an office but I do need communication, and my phone is my best friend.”

For more information on Jo Loves and her latest innovation, the Shot CandleTM, go to www.joloves.com. Next month, I’ll be sharing Jo Malone’s five top tips for all new start-ups and I’d love to hear your feedback on both articles. Please tweet me at @AngelaDMunroe

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