Startup Diaries: It’s All About The People
Frankie Armstrong tells us about her move away from her first passion - fashion - and explains the non-hierarchical leadership approach which she applies to her hospitality business Conoco.
I started my career working in fashion, after studying at Central St Martin’s and Kingston University. From a young age I have loved fashion in the way that it can make you feel, look and be.
It was in my final year at university whilst putting together my own collection/business that I realised what I really excelled at and enjoyed was the elements behind the clothes and the business behind great brands.
For me, looking at the commercial viability of a product and implementing efficient processes was a real strong point. Although fashion and design was what I had always thought I wanted to do,
I had never really explored using the fundamental skills I had gained from years of focused creative thinking and problem solving to excel in other areas.
It was these elements and skills that I was subconsciously bringing to Connoco - the business that my partner Tim and I had already started up, and it got to the point where what we were doing within hospitality and music really started taking off. It then came to making a decision to come away from what I was doing in fashion and to really focus and develop Connoco.
Of course I am still passionate about design and fashion, and haven’t ruled it out. One day there will probably be a design / fashion arm to Connoco.
For now I am enjoying wearing fashion as opposed to working in fashion!
Growing our business to the size it is today in such a short space of time, I remember it feeling really surreal when we first started building up our team and thinking ‘this is serious now’, I am responsible for other people’s livelihoods as well as my own. This aside, for us it is not about just the business and its size, but about driving growth so that we can continue taking on and developing driven people to build something great for the future.
I feel in life, whatever your age, it is really easy to get lost in the cycle of what is expected of you, often taking away from what you are doing.
Whether it is a path you are going down with university, your career, or the route of having a family. Too often, a change in direction is seen as failure or giving up, but that is not the case. Not long ago I was on that same university path with the time frames that are expected of you. Interning, graduating and achieving, yet feeling like it would be years before I could really do what I wanted and express my strengths. I wanted more, I wanted it quicker!
These are perspectives we have put into Connoco as a business, and what we look at when recruiting, that no matter the age, qualifications and, at times - experience, we look for the potential, the drive and quick thinking ability. For us it is about fast, calculated growth and development…. not just for the business, but for everyone involved with building it - supporting and valuing young people for their skills and abilities and not just putting people in a box because of where they should be.
Due to this form of recruitment we have built a team that are not inside a box, so think outside the box - that will go to all lengths to deliver great products, great service and solutions. ‘No’ is not a solution – there is always something that can be done. Our ethos is built around people. If we build with people the business grows for all of us.
We are all constantly learning and developing, and we see that when working for Connoco you are working with us not for us.
Where necessary we have tried to eliminate a hierarchy, we may be there to lead and guide but we are also just another part of a great team. Each person is the leader of their area and specialism within the business.
For us it has been about looking past how people are taught to present and show themselves and looking at what they really have to offer.
It's about believing in people that are willing to do things differently and not just follow one set approach.
In terms of the future, we are currently pushing a lot of development and resources within our hospitality arm at Connoco, with a lot of exciting new partnerships and contracts in motion in the next 12 months.
Entertainment and hospitality is often presented in a set form and for us it’s about creating that great experience bespoke to each customer’s needs.
In ten years' time I see myself somewhere great! I love to plan and organise everything for our company, but the thing is you can plan as much as you like, but when you are open to pushing your own boundaries you very often can surpass your own expectations and plans.
Francesca Armstrong is the Development and Operations Director of Connoco - a leading business in the entertainment and hospitality field, founded in 2008. The company includes a&a Wines, Showcase Live and Connoco Hospitality in its portfolio. Previously Francesca has worked for brands such as Burberry and has been signed to Models 1.
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