When I first meet serial entrepreneur and beauty junkie Nancy Cruickshank, I feel it only right to confess that my morning routine involves slapping on E45, that, aged 30, I have never had a facial and that the only thing in my makeup bag is a blusher whose make evades me.
However, I add, inertia towards my beauty regimen is not down to lack of interest: I would love to know about the best anti-aging, glow-inducing, undereye-bag-shrinking creams, or how to apply eyeliner without looking like Lily Savage. Just not enough to navigate the hundreds and thousands of products out there, or try out online tutorials.
I am, down to a tee, Cruickshank's target audience. Her latest in a series of ventures is MyShowcase.com, a personalised online beauty shopping service. But it's more than an online marketplace: it helps female entrepreneurs expand their beauty businesses; offers customers access to thousands of stylists (via "showcases", held either in homes or offices); and gives over 40 different beauty brands access to a new - and growing - market. Let us not forget that beauty is a £17bn industry here in Britain, nor that 40 per cent of the patents applied for every year in Europe relate to health and beauty. The opportunity could be huge.
Beauty may be in Cruickshank's blood (her father worked for Revlon, Max Factor and others), but her foray into tech was less predestined. It was 1995, and Cruickshank was working for Vogue at a time when desktops were novel and email was something you checked once a fortnight. She was asked by the Condé Nast powers-that-be if she'd like to launch Vogue and GQ online. It provided the perfect opportunity to be entrepreneurial within a protected environment, and it gave Cruickshank the bug for "using tech to enable new interactions with customers".
From there, via a stint at Sky, she set up SmartMove, a property website, with her husband. "Six months later, the dotcom bubble burst," she says. "It was a disaster, but we got lucky and sold the business less than a year after launch to Norwich Union [now Aviva]." Given that Cruickshank went on to create the hugely successful fashion and beauty website Handbag.com (sold to Hearst in 2006), and now to MyShowcase.com, you wonder how big a role luck really played.
Indeed, ask Cruickshank what makes a great serial entrepreneur, and she'll say passion, determination and energy. "Building a business has highs and lows. You're doing everything, from the menial to the cerebral. You have to have vision and you have to have the drive to make it a reality." But, she adds, no amount of grit will get you where you want to go unless you have the right people on the bus. It's why she has three co-founders: long-standing Telegraph beauty columnist Kate Shapland; internet entrepreneur Rodrigo Dauster; and Olivier Beau de Lomenie, who previously helped build Ocado.
Arguably the most important part of Cruickshank's vision is giving women across the country the opportunity to work flexibly. She's a fierce exponent of the sharing economy and its ability to provide future entrepreneurs with the support they need to build something new. But it's on the subject of female entrepreneurship that Cruickshank is her most passionate. At a recent Female Founders Forum roundtable supported by Barclays, she said: "I don't see a competence gap; I see a confidence gap. We have to steal ourselves against it and encourage each other to go for it."
Again, this is why the sharing economy is so important. "I don't see a binary choice between opting out or leaning in. There are 100 shades of grey in between." A mother of two, Cruickshank is regularly asked how she juggles entrepreneurship with family life. "I don't believe in work-life balance," she says. "I just believe in life and in mindfulness." That's not to say the serial entrepreneur spends hours meditating, rather that she ensures she is present in every moment. "It means not looking at my phone when I'm with my kids; and not wondering about school when I'm at the office."
Her philosophy goes against the stereotypical woman managing multiple tasks at once. "In fact, when you're a busy entrepreneur, often it's about what you don't do," she says. "You might have a list of 500 jobs to do, but what's important is putting 497 on the back-burner to focus on three." The most successful entrepreneurs of our time are the ones who keep their singular focus, no matter the circumstances. By adhering to this philosophy, Cruickshank is paving her own road to the top.
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