Lingerie & Lovestuff Female Entrepreneur on Raising Money, the Party Plan Business Model and Mentors
A group of 13 female investors, who have formed a group through Addidi Business Angels, have just invested in female entrepreneur Emily Bendell of Blue Bella, the upscale lingerie& Lovestuff 'party plan' shop. The female investors club launched in September 2008, did its first investment in Marketplace Mesh and is now actively looking to more investors (up to 100!) and investment opportunities.
Time for The NextWomen to talk to Emily Bendell of Blue Bella.
An online lingerie and a lovestuff shop. How did you come up with the idea of this start-up?
The idea for BlueBella hatched after a stint working for Ann Summers one university holiday.
At the time Sex in the City was rife and I thought there was a gap in the market for an upmarket but affordable sensual products brand that targeted the new Sex & the City generation of women.
How did you form your team?
I started very small – with just me! Once I was sufficiently convinced of the concept I began looking around for the best direct sales expertise to help me grow the business.
I found my management team by networking really and enthusiastically presenting my concept to them.
How did you fund it, with how much money, and what is the business model?
Initially the business was funded by myself, and I am eternally grateful to my supportive father who also invested.
The business model is party plan. This is a direct sales method of selling in which a self employed Party Plan Consultant goes to the home of a Hostess to present the products to the Hostess and her friends and create a relaxed and fun atmosphere. The Consultant makes sales and earns commission on her sales. She may also recruit new Consultants and build her own down line team. In this way substantial earnings are possible. It’s a great fun, flexible career that fits around a family, another job or other commitments. This method of selling is particularly well suited to the intimate nature of our product plus it’s a robust, scalable, and fast growing route to market.
Can you tell a bit about the funding process? Did you kiss a lot of frogs?
The funding process has been time consuming and at times frustrating – but it has also helped me take a good look at my business and identify areas we can improve.
I have made some great contacts through the process too.
BlueBella is not the typical Angel-investment type business – so yes I did speak to a number of investors but we were fortunate in the end to be oversubscribed.
Do you have a mentor or coach? Or are the investors your biggest advisers?
From the very early days of the business I was fortunate to have a fabulous mentor, who now has a small equity stake in the business. His advice and guidance has been invaluable through the years. He also introduced me to another mentor who has helped me through the investment process – so I am again very grateful to that second mentor.
Our investors bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to BlueBella also. Particularly LoveHoney who, as market leaders online, bring the e-commerce expertise that was missing from my management team.
What makes you different from other players in your sector?
Our mission to help every women enjoy and delight in her own sensuality and sexuality. That means making everyone feel comfortable and fabulous – we present our products in a feminine, tasteful way and we tailor each party to the taste of each individual Hostess and her guests. We want to move beyond the tired ‘Seaside Postcard’ idea of sexiness. Our products are all about sensuality over sleaze, and are comfortable and wearable as well as being sexy and fun – and they are also affordable (bras retail from £15-£30) and accessible via the party plan.
What was your biggest challenge during the development process and how can other start-ups learn from that?
Finding the right people to drive the business to scale. You can’t do it alone. I don’t know if there is a magic formula here but seeking only the best, even from a very early stage is vital.
I think even if you don’t have the resources to tempt recruits with big salaries – the strength of a good idea plus the allure of an equity stake is a powerful tool.
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