The Entrepreneur: Lu Li, Blooms London
Having founded a successful social network for female entrepreneurs, Lu Li's latest venture gives female founders an environment in which they can flourish
Founder: Lu Li
Company: Blooming Founders/Blooms London
Description in one line: Blooms London, part of Blooming Founders, is the UK’s first workspace and members club with a focus on female entrepreneurs.
Previous companies: Captivate China, a boutique consulting firm in the travel industry.
Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:
- Blooms London is a co-working space that came from a community, not the other way around.
- We work around flexibility, offering our members different types of membership that fit their specific needs.
- We think about the person behind the entrepreneur and have an onsite creche fully equipped for our members’ children.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
Launching the whole damn thing! Within a month of opening we already have 90 members, so it is fulfilling to see how our space has been validated through the community.
What numbers do you look at every day in your business?
The company account is the first thing I check, along with our cash flow.
I look at a pipeline of numbers throughout the day that show interest from potential new members. I also keep an eye on the number of unread emails in my growing inbox!
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
We already have international members in Berlin, Barcelona, and Amsterdam.
We give these companies flexible access to a professional work and meeting space in London – whether they come here every week or just twice a year. Growing internationally is part of our expansion plans, Berlin is quite attractive since I’m German and have friends in the startup ecosystem there, but we want to nail the concept and execution first – and for that, we are looking to open two more locations in London.
Describe your growth funding path:
We are starting to raise our seed round within the next six months to grow our team and expand into new locations. Our ideal investors are private individuals who truly believe in the concept and ethos behind our company.
In 12 months time, we would be looking to raise further growth capital from institutional investors.
What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?
Facebook Groups was key to building the Blooming Founders community.
Without that tool, we wouldn’t have created the sticky community that we have today. Eventbrite was also crucial to our business. We are now working on launching our own platform to migrate everyone from Facebook and use it to facilitate investment discussions and funding for our members.
Where would you like your business to be in three years?
We want to focus on expanding internationally, having three other locations in London and another two abroad, with a turnover of £3m.
We also want to make sure entrepreneurs understand that it should be a no-brainer to be a member of the Blooms workspaces, where they will meet like-minded entrepreneurs in the community and build their own network to grow their businesses.
The membership itself should not be considered as a cost, as members will end up using each other’s services, getting revenue from the contacts they make here. Another thing we want to accomplish in the upcoming years is to smooth out the transition for as many people as possible that come from a corporate background into entrepreneurship.
What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?
The transition from being a solo founder to building a team was definitely a challenge and one that continues as the Blooms brand continues to grow.
What was your biggest business mistake?
Mistakes are important in every entrepreneur’s journey. All the mistakes I made led me where I am today and I’m grateful for them. The best lesson I took out of them so far is to ask for help. You can’t really build a network without asking for feedback.
Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:
We have completely bootstrapped to date, which means growth has been purely organic. There is only that much you can do with a small team. We need more cash to expand the team, set up processes to deliver an outstanding customer experience and start replicating the model to other locations.
What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
There are quite a few. Starting from being too in love with your own idea and doing everything on your own – which is something a lot of women do.
You have to ask for help and surround yourself with people you can honestly speak too. We have to escape that mindset that we have to be perfect because we don’t. I also think that people could be more successful if they would demonstrate more grit.
Building a company is a marathon, not a sprint. It took me over 3 years just to find the business model that I can build scalably and sustainably – and I didn’t know anyone when I arrived in London. So, if I can do it, then anyone can.
How will your market look in three years?
We want to build the Blooms brand as a network of workspaces that moves away from the testosterone-driven mentality that the startup industry currently has because that isn’t healthy and excludes a big group of entrepreneurs.
We want to be inclusive and focus on collaboration and knowledge sharing. We want a bit more calm and less hustling for the sake of hustling!
What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?
As cheesy as it may sound, believe in yourself and take action today. Now. Right now!
Executive education or learn it on the job?
Learn it on the job.
What would make you a better leader?
More time to spend with my team.
What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?
That it takes bloody forever! Also I wish I'd known the importance of networks when I first started.
One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:
Whatsapp for both business and personal life. And Tide, my business bank account.
Dear Female Founder, a collection of letters of advice from 66 extraordinary female entrepreneurs and investors that is aimed to give women more confidence to pursue their own business ideas (full disclosure: I published it!).