Fiona Quinn is, in her own words, “a part time adventurer, engaging and action-focused coach for entrepreneurs, a cycle instructor, and an inspiring public speaker”! She decided very quickly into her working life that the corporate world was not for her, and has instead spent her time figuring out exactly what does work, and helping others to achieve the same. Having connected with Fiona through NOI Club, she has kindly taken the time to answer 10 questions for the ToGetHer Further audience, to share her inspiring story and maybe motivate you to get that bit further with your goals. Enjoy!
- What was the corporate job that you tried for that short period of time?
I studied real estate at undergrad and postgrad, then went on to work as a graduate surveyor in a large corporate company in London in a Global Corporate Services department.
- How did you know for sure that it wasn’t right for you?
I always felt like I didn’t fit in, both in this job and in previous work experience roles. I felt like I had to conform to how other people expected me to act, dress, work etc. and that there was no room to think differently.
I was constantly tired, I didn’t enjoy the work and I wasn’t happy. I decided I would rather spend my time figuring out how I wanted to live and work, creating a life that worked for me, so I knew I had to leave. It wasn’t worth selling my life now for the prospect of a stable income and more money in the future.
Plus, I’ve always been a bit of a rebel and seemed to view the world a bit differently to most people. I was so glad for the freedom to explore this once I’d left my job.
- What was the first business you founded?
It was an online shop for organic skin care products. I had my own website (which was a very steep learning curve) and stocked 12 different brands. Sustainability was key for me, so they were all British brands and every single product was certified organic by the Soil Association.
While at university I realised there’s no regulation around how skin care is classified as organic or natural in the UK, and there’s also huge variation between different certification labels, which makes it very difficult to know what you’re buying. The Soil Association is considered the strictest certification body for products labelled as organic, so I decided to create a shop were customers would know that every single product was certified to this high standard.
What I’ve since learnt though, is that it’s not just about the gap in the market that you need to consider when starting a business. It’s really important to start with you – how and where do you want to work, how much time do you want to put in and what are your expectations around how much this idea can support you financially. When you start with you, with your idea criteria, you’re far more likely to create a business that is not only successful, but that importantly works for you.
- Did you have any business partners or financial backers to help with your first business(es)?
Yes, my parents were very supportive. They gave me some money to start my first business, but honestly, I think this was a bad thing. If I had had less money but more support from people who had experience in startup, I would have been more creative with overcoming issues and I would have figured out quicker that the model wasn’t working.
No matter what your business idea, there is always a way to trial the core concept without spending much, if any money. This lean approach is the best way to figure out which model is going to work and means that anyone can start today – not having financial backing is not a reason to put off starting.
In terms of partners, for all my previous businesses I’ve always been a sole founder. Any future business, however, where they’re not based around me – such as coaching or speaking – I’ll always look to team up with someone first. A business partner is hugely valuable in terms of having a different skill set, contacts and ideas, as well as being able to help keep you motivated when things don’t seem to be working out.
- Were there any inspiring people that helped/supported you along the way – either directly or indirectly?
Reading about or listening to other startups share their approach and journey has inspired me the most. There’s a lot you can learn about what works and what doesn’t from seeing how other people have approached things.
Don’t always go to the big names, seek out founders who are just a year or two ahead of you. Find out what they’ve struggled with most and what’s worked best for them. They’re the closest to where you are now and can provide a lot of useful knowledge.
- Did you notice you were treated any differently due to the fact that you were a female founder?
Not at all. I’ve always found the world outside corporate life to be, on the whole, super friendly and supportive. When I was working in my corporate role it felt like a very male dominated environment, with a men’s club culture. Even though the majority of entrepreneurs are male, the culture is markedly different here. The start up world is very welcoming and open.
- What advice would you give other young women starting out on their career paths?
Don’t be afraid to do it your way. You might not know what that is yet, but through trying different things, being sure to step back and think about why it worked or didn’t work for you, and then following what feels right, you’ll be well on your way to creating a life you’ll love.
- You’ve taken on some extreme challenges in your time – which one did you enjoy the most?
I don’t know if I’d class them as extreme, but I’ve certainly loved doing them. Cycling Lands End to John O’Groats over 3 weeks in 2016 was my favourite. It was so much fun even though it was really hard at times. It also reaffirmed in me a belief in myself and from then on I know I had to make adventure a key part of my life. Watch this space for my next 1000 mile adventure!
- What made you decide to create & tackle the challenge of the Cam Triathlon?
I’d done a couple of small one day cycling challenges and I wanted to try something a little bigger, but I also liked the idea of throwing in some other disciplines. I’m not one for running and I’m pretty scared of deep water, which meant swimming was out. As I mentioned I’m a huge advocate for doing things your own way, so I figured I’d create my own Triathlon based on cycling, walking and stand up paddle boarding. Plus, the Cam is just down the road from my mums so I had an adventure base ready and waiting.
- How do you choose to switch off in your down time?
I like reading, particularly about adventure and non-fiction books. So much so that I’ve recently launched a new book club (Adventure Book Club) to help other people read similar types of books on a regular basis. I also love getting out on my bike. It’s great for really switching off.
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