Dessi Bell: Founder, Zaggora: 500,000 Products Sold & 90 Jobs Created in 18 Months!

Dessi Bell is the Founder of Zaggoraa comany with the core aim of providing technologically driven health and wellbeing products. The flagship product, HotPants, raises women’s metabolism rate during exercise compared with standard exercise clothes. 

Since its launch in July 2011, Zaggora has become one of the fastest-growing e-retailers in the UK. Under Dessi's leadership, the company has sold over 500,000 products worldwide and created 90 jobs globally. 

Dessi attributes the rapid success of her business to her use of social media. Eschewing more traditional market research routes she went straight to the consumer instead, engaging on Twitter and Facebook (the Zaggora page now has 321,000 fans).

Prior to running Zaggora full-time, Dessi was a debt capital associate at J.P. Morgan Securities. She had always loved working in the City but wanted to branch out and start up her own venture.

She was nominated for this year's prestigious Women of the Future Awards, which champion young women breaking boundaries in business. 

We spoke to Dessi about leaving her corporate job to launch Zaggora; how she built such a strong social media presence so quickly; and the moment she realised her new venture would really take off.

TNW: Tell us about the decision making process which led you to leave the security of your corporate role and create something of your own.

DB: I always wanted to run my own business; it was just a matter of finding something I believed in and that I thought I could really sink my teeth into.

TNW: How did you feel after you’d left JP Morgan and what were your hopes for your new business at that time?

DB: I was excited and hoped to continue to find a loyal customer base as well as build a business that would be a leader in exciting and motivating people to be active through a variety of ways and a variety of product categories. I want, as I did then, Zaggora to be known as the fun and social active lifestyle brand. We are already an international brand, selling in more than 100 countries, and I hope to continue to build both our distribution and product offerings that people want, and to be seen in places where people want to see us.

TNW: Was there a moment when you realised that your business was really going to take off?

DB:

I first realised we were really onto something when we started talking with people about the project in the very early days, and everyone’s response was: “When can we get a pair?”.

We knew that we had something with broad appeal. A big question for us was how to overcome people’s scepticism about our product, which is why we turned to social media in the first place. In addition to connecting with them, we wanted to understand how people would want to use our product.

TNW: What lessons did you learn in your corporate career and go on to apply to founding and running Zaggora?

DB:

The biggest lesson I learned in my career at JP Morgan is that you can succeed or fail on the back of your hard work and strength of ideas.

Luck always helps of course but I find that the harder I work the luckier I get. Working at a financial institution is in essence perfect competition: you’re working with many people who are as bright or brighter than you, so it really boils down to how good you are - at communicating with people, at putting your ideas forward and at executing them.

TNW: What makes your company different from your competitors?

DB: I believe that Zaggora is different from our competitors in two important ways:

1. Our products genuinely do what they say

2. We have a community of people who are ready to back us up, i.e. social proof

In the technology-motivated sphere, for many people, there’s a big trend toward increasingly expecting to get a little more from products they purchase.  We seem to have struck a chord with our consumers in terms of exciting them and motivating them to share their experiences. This support goes a long way in helping us with the best form of marketing – word of mouth – and giving us credibility with new customers.

TNW: What are your top tips for building social media presence, especially for startups, who may have limited time and budget?

DB: It’s important to excite people – and strike up a conversation which is useful to both sides.

Building a social media presence is also all about investing the time: not only building a relationship and ongoing conversation with customers, but caring about what they have to say. It’s a two-way street.

Consumers really want to connect and give their opinions on social media, with people and with companies, so what we have found that has helped to build our social media presence is learning what people want and being part of what is helpful to them.

TNW: What lessons have you taken from your successes and failures?

DB:

I’ve learned two major lessons from my experiences. The first is that you have to have faith that everything will work out. Starting is more of a challenge than anything.

Every day, focus on moving forward. Faith in yourself is many times the only thing that keeps you going.

The second lesson is that you need to absolutely love what you do. If you don’t, you will find it difficult to keep on going. Everyone’s been in situations where they have to do something they don’t want to do, but I believe that if you try to dedicate yourself to something fully when your heart isn’t in it, it will be short-lived. The key factor in this sense lies in what you are dedicating your time to.

TNW: Do you have any tips or advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

DB:

Yes: they should just do it. Simply find the most cost-effective way of doing what you would like to and then try it.

I know that people have different circumstances and it’s not always possible, but to the extent that you are able given your time and resources, find a cost-effective way to test out your idea. You’ll learn things along the way and also possibly generate some cash to help you start the business.

The hardest part is starting; afterward you get into a flow and can stay focused.

TNW: Do you believe it is better to find customers than funding or vice versa?

DB: Yes, I definitely believe it’s better to find customers. Regardless of whether you have investment or not, a time will come when you will have to depend on customers buying your products. Therefore, understanding how the business can be most useful to the customer as early as possible will help you get it off the ground, and in terms of fundraising also allow for a much more solid concept to be presented to any stakeholder, which increases the business owner’s leverage.

Of course, more volume-driven businesses may need more initial investment; that’s fine, but regardless, focus on the customer first and foremost. If you don’t have customers then you don’t have a business.

TNW: Do you think that attitudes toward female entrepreneurs are changing?

DB: I find, being a female entrepreneur, that there is too much emphasis on whether you’re a man or a woman.

I get a lot of questions that a man never would about work/life balance, do I feel proud of myself, etc.

At the end of the day, yes, men and women work differently, but in the business world it doesn’t matter: focus on driving your business and you will succeed.

I do also find that with this rise in female entrepreneurs, as a woman I attract more interest than my male colleagues, which I cannot complain about as it helps our marketing. Recognition like being shortlisted for the Women of the Future Awards, in association with Shell, is also a wonderful boost.

TNW: How would you describe your leadership style today?

DB: I believe that people need to feel valued at work in the most profound way, whether it’s seeing their work valued, coming to fruition, or being used. As a leader, I entrust people with responsibility for and full ownership of their work. People need to be rewarded in the right way, but I also believe that if things need to get done, they need to get done. If I need my employees to work evenings and weekends, they need to do it. Rewards also need to be shared with all who participate, in a fair way.

I am also a big believer in promoting people’s work, as opposed to taking control of other people’s ideas. Promoting their work to others is one of the best tools for motivating people.

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