Rear-view Mirror: Misfortune favours the brave in start-up business
Published on 19 December 2019
Many business owners and entrepreneurs can relate to being employed full time with big, bold business ideas they sit with until the ‘perfect’ time to launch.
Elize Hattin, Smart Hub Business Manager sits down with Leah Samson from Queen Cherry Bomb to discuss how a home invasion and theft inspired a business idea that also empowers women.
Kickstarting a new venture
Twenty weeks ago, Leah Samson’s life looked very different considering that she was entering her 20th year working in the child protection sector and disability services as a Community Service Manager. While it was a rewarding career, it was heavy in bureaucracy and lacked a creative outlet.
Leah recounted the last three and a half years of her career where she found herself working with a lot of young people who were traumatised and living difficult lives.
“These kids were not going to school and they were living in a situation without their families. But what I could see is that these young people have the most amazing skills, talents, qualities, they're resilient … some of the qualities that would make a really good businessperson.
“I managed a community service and I really wanted to make a difference, but sometimes the systems that we worked within were very rigid. I thought our system was letting these young people fall through the gaps.
“I was ready for a career change and I really wanted to start a business, something creative. I really wanted to give back in a different way,” Leah explained.
Rather than operating in the regimented system she was used to, Leah wanted to empower young people, particularly young girls and women by starting her own business and leading by example, from the start of concept through to reality of implementation.
NICHE IS THE NEW BLACK
Away from work, Leah spends her spare time riding motorbikes, a recreation she has enjoyed for more than 12 years. Her love of riding was marred by the frustration of being unable to find functional and fashionable gear designed specifically for female motorcyclists.
“Normally what happens is you go to a shop, you try things on, you spend your hard-earned money on good quality things, and you make that choice, to pay your hard-earned money and get something back. What I found was that women are paying the same amount of money that men are paying, but we're not getting the quality or the gear that fits women,” Leah said.
While female riding fashion is an emerging industry in Australia, Brazil and America, Leah acknowledges most brands were focussed only on certain items, rather than an entire clothing range designed for women.
“There are great things happening, but it's small… it’s pretty much accessories and jackets. My idea is to branch into other things such as jumpsuits, pants, tops, the whole range.
“I love fashion. I want to be able to express myself on and off the bike … it’s an extension of me. There is also a safety element too. If you wear a jacket that's too big or doesn't fit well, it's not as safe as wearing something that's actually made for you,” Leah said.
Leah explains the current retail landscape for motorbike attire is generally 20-30% female with limited sizing and colour options. Queen Cherry Bomb solves the problem of having fitting, feminine gear that women riders want to wear, rather than something oversized that looks like it was made for a man.
BREAK-IN INSPIRES BREAK THROUGH
Still working in her human services role and riding motorbikes in her spare time, behind the scenes Leah began researching, speaking to other female riders about this niche gap and attending industry events.
While her idea was gaining traction, it took the misfortune of a home invasion to really rev things up.
“Eighteen months ago my home was broken into and I had all of my motorcycle gear stolen. All my leathers, dirt bike gear, racing gear. All that was left were my very first cases of gear, which were falling apart.
“I remembered it had taken me so long to find that gear, wear it in, find something that fits. I’d go from shop to shop to shop, trying to find something and spending a lot of money on it, and now it's all gone and I have to start again,” Leah recounted.
Reluctant to start researching again knowing there was nothing out there, riding with other women and discussing the clothing gap only reinforced there was nothing women were confident buying.
“I thought this is the moment for me. Instead of going out and spending my hard-earned money, I'm going to do something about it,” Lead said.
The transition was difficult for Leah, who had created a 20-year life for herself in the human services sector, having studied in the field and forging a successful career full of achievements.
“To move away from that was scary, but I had to really look deep inside and work out what is it that is important to me?
“I also had confidence in myself. I knew that wherever this was going to go, I was confident enough that I already had access to resources, support networks and confidence in my skills that whatever happens, I'll be able to pick myself up and keep going,” Leah said.
Leah admits it took a few months to finally hand in her resignation, after contemplating "is it time yet? Is it the right time? Do I need to finish these tasks? But in the end, she ignored these and listened to her gut instead.
“I knew that I could either solve my own problem or I could help to solve a problem worldwide and that excited me more,” she said.
Not long after resigning, Leah heard about the Turbo-Traction Lab and having already participated in a Start-up weekend, she saw an opportunity to try something different.
“I love new experiences, so I jumped in and I just loved it.
“The people I met from all age groups and as young as 16 … everyone was so engaged, so excited. They had so many ideas and it was just really refreshing because I didn't get a lot of this in the human services sector because there's a whole kind of governing body around it and it takes a long time for things to shift,” Leah recalled.
For Leah, the instant community that came with being part of the Start-Up Weekend and Turbo-Traction Lab was invaluable.
“When I'm talking to people about problems that we have today and five people are throwing ideas at that problem, that's really exciting. You know when people said that they found their tribe? This is what it feels like,” she said.
Throughout the Turbo-Traction Lab process Leah said she learned some of the basic foundations of running her own business, including ways of asking questions to get solid information to then take the next step.
“One of the things our facilitator drilled into us is actually just asking the question. Putting yourself out there and asking what you really want to know or asking for support or asking for somebody to buy your product.
“It's a bit scary asking that question. I was afraid to get a, "No, I'm not really interested and move on” and kind of be left standing here with an idea that I have and nowhere to go with it. But instead what I got was people saying, "Yes," or "Not right now, but I am interested." Leah admitted.
Leah acknowledged the value of accessing high-calibre facilitators and mentors through the Turbo-Traction Lab who provided advice relevant to where she was at in her business journey.
“I love looking back in my first and second week where I was at, what I was thinking, where my mind was at, to now – it is just miles apart,” Leah reflected.
Twenty weeks later, Leah has taken receivership of her first MVP (minimum viable product) she designed herself, based on her own needs and those of other female riders.
“I designed the jacket and ordered within the first few weeks. I was very hesitant because I knew that there were things that I wanted to change and there was communication I needed to get across. With the support of the Turbo-Traction Lab Facilitator and Mentors, they suggested I order it now and make changes down the track. But I'm so happy with my very first MVP,” she said.
Unique design elements include a small change pocket on the arm, designed for storing keys, earbuds and small items, for hop-on/hop-off stops.
“I received overwhelming feedback from women saying I just need something small and really easy access,” she said.
Other key design elements include adjustable ties on both side of the waist, to accommodate changing body shapes of women.
The reverse of the jacket features a curved dip to cover and protect the lower back area when sitting on the bike.
“A lot of women's gear are short jackets…I don't know why, the industry seems to believe that women want short jackets, we don't! When we're sitting on a bike and the jacket's short it's going to rise up to expose your back,” Leah explained.
The experienced rider has also incorporated different specifications throughout her design for ventilation while not compromising on safety; vents are designed for areas of the jacket where there is less contact with the road if riders do come off.
The removeable, interchangeable jacket lining comes with a signature range or a custom option, as well as customisable embellishments such as zip colours, plus more pockets!
“This design has five pockets in total. That was another huge feedback, pockets, pockets, pockets! As many pockets as you can fit in is what women were saying, because you're not going to take your handbag riding,” Leah said.
Currently Leah is working with her manufacturers to fine-tune her design, while also engaging Rockhampton experts in patent making and sewing, to do some of the groundwork prior to it going to the manufacturer.
Her team first mocks up a jacket so they can try it on, pull it apart, make sure the measurements are correct; acknowledging while there is a sizing chart for selling fashion internationally, designing and manufacturing customised gear needs to be very specific.
Queen Cherry Bomb is currently taking pre-orders through the business’ Facebook page and website. Leah also welcomes women riders to provide her with their ‘wish list’ for female motorcyclist fashion.
- Be bold - going into the unknown isn't as scary as you think it is. Go for it and don’t look back.
- Multiple manufacturers – don’t stick with just one. Leah currently works with three; things can change and sometimes the batch might not be what the previous one was.
- Trust yourself - do things from the heart, do things with compassion. Go with your gut.
- Get a mentor - Leah admits while she knows where some of her strengths and weaknesses lie, she needs someone to challenge her. “If you're running your own business and it's only you, having a mentor to bounce things off is really helpful.
- Find your tribe – a big advantage of working with fellow business owners and entrepreneurs is leveraging other people's experience to travel the more ‘known’ path.
The SmartHub encourages entrepreneurs and business owners to adopt technology and modern based business practice to make the whole business journey more profitable, more enjoyable, more effective and more efficient.
Being part of the SmartHub gives local business owners opportunities to meet with and learn from mentors, to help them learn the discipline required to succeed in business. If you’d like to learn more about becoming part of the SmartHub, message SmartHub Rockhampton on Facebook or just head over to Customs House at 208 Quay Street, Rockhampton for a tour.