Ahead of International Women’s Day 2018, inspirational women share the things they wish they’d known earlier in their careers. Here, entrepreneur Lana Elie shares her advice; catch up on thoughts from MP Chi Onwurah.
Lana Elie’s CV would be a lifetime’s work for many, documenting her progress from personal assistant to CEO. But Elie, now 30, did it in just six years – and is still frustrated she didn’t get there sooner. “I had lots of moments when I tried to do it when I was younger. I would start things, not finish them and get down on myself about it,” she admits.
Starting in a PA role at Burberry, Parisian born Elie quickly moved on to a creative role at an agency, then to iD magazine as their head of branded content. Despite working full time, her entrepreneurial mind was racing.
It was the idea for Floom - an online marketplace for artisanal florists across the UK, and now the US - that finally made her hand in her notice and go solo. “I am impatient, I see a lot of people just sitting around being comfortable,” she says.
Now Floom has eight employees working at the brand’s HQ in Vauxhall, south London, and more than £1,300,000 raised in investments. “I have sleeping issues, but I am thinking about addressing it,” admits Elie.
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If she could talk to her younger self, what advice would she give? Initially Elie is reluctant to be drawn: this is exactly where she always thought she would be, she says, although she still hasn’t purchased the house she promised she would.
After a little more probing, she concedes slightly - “I would tell myself focus on what you are doing. I am one of those people who thinks they learn things a lot faster than they do.”
Early on, this impatience meant she was always looking for new challenges so her career trajectory was steep. But her inability to stand still also has other effects. “When you manage people and you act like that, people start to think you disrespect them. When really it’s just my own anxiety wanting to fix things if they don’t work right away,” she says.
Elie, who lived in Japan, Bali, California and Melbourne before settling in London, says she would have wanted her younger self to focus on the job in hand, rather than always looking one step ahead. “So much work experience is building confidence. I needed to do that first.”
“I really pushed myself probably at times. There’s a difference between pushing for something which isn’t right and for something that is,” she adds.
Even now, she says this is something she hasn’t quite learned how to do – just as she was opening Floom she starting consulting on another business, which she then shut a couple of months later.
I was always very insistent, potentially in an annoying way, but I wanted to learn...”
On the other hand, her indisputable drive has been the absolute bedrock of her successes. While working at Burberry, despite being in a very junior role, Elie repeatedly pushed for training and courses to develop her skillset. “I was always very insistent, potentially in an annoying way, but I wanted to learn.”
And when it finally came time to leave her salaried role for a startup – a time she describes as “exciting” not terrifying – she already had thousands of pounds in investment behind her, because she’d done her homework. “Nothing is going to go wrong. I believe in it so much.”
Musing on her future, Elie says people often ask what she will do after Floom - take a beach holiday perhaps? “But I get annoyed with myself when I lose my drive: why am I going home, it’s only nine o’clock?,” she says.
We won’t hold our breath on that holiday then.