Posted on June 22 2016
This week's Wednesday Woman is social entrepreneur Nikki Cochrane - Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Digital Mums, a company which provides training to mums so that they can become social media managers for companies and brands thus allowing them to return to the workforce on a more flexible basis. Alongside running Digital Mums with co-founder Kathryn, who we interviewed back in 2014, Nikki is responsible for the company’s business development, sales & marketing, developing client relationships and overall operations. She also recently led the startup's successful fundraising round. Here's her story:
Danielle Newnham: What is your background and what is your role at Digital Mums?
Nikki Cochrane: I’m the Co-Founder & Co-CEO at Digital Mums where I lead on the sales and marketing, and oversee company operations. My background is a bit eclectic and maybe not your standard entrepreneurial journey - I only started a business in my forties! Much to my mum’s disappointment, I left school without any qualifications - it wasn’t that I wasn’t academic, I was just more interested in what was happening in the world around me. I spent most of my twenties in LA and Tokyo where I had a blast and learned a lot more than my entire time at school. When I finally returned to London, I worked at a brilliant organisation called Emerging Market Economics. While there, I was inspired to do a degree and signed up to Open University where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology - that was about 10 years ago.
I then went on to work Executive Assistant to the Founders of M&C Saatchi and it was there that I got the entrepreneurial bug. If you are interested in how to run a business, forget about doing an MBA - go and work for an entrepreneur. It was through them I learnt about business models, international scaling, branding, marketing - all things I’ve put to good use at Digital Mums. After a few years there, I felt more and more the pull to have a go myself and start a business. My co-founder Kathryn and I started talking more and more about it, and we finally took the plunge in 2013 - we haven’t looked back since.
Newnham: What has been happening at Digital Mums since we spoke to Kathryn at the end of 2014?
Cochrane: So much has happened since then! At the end of 2014,we had just secured £50,000 loan from the Big Issue Invest which meant Kathryn and I could give up our jobs and start working at Digital Mums full time. We had only just officially launched Digital Mums and had 20 students in training in total.
Since then, we have now grown to a team of 36 and have 340 mums in our community. 170 of them have now graduated with 85% now working which can be attributed to doing our training. By next year, we’ll have over 1000 in our community! Our progress has been beyond our wildest expectations - we even got chosen as one of startups.co.uk’s 100 best UK start-ups.
A lot of our focus for the last year has been on developing our new training course, which launches this September. We developed this specifically for mums without a marketing background who want to explore a career in social media marketing. It’s focused on getting students hands-on experience of running a successful social media campaign, so they can go on to get paid to do it immediately afterwards. Our first group of students graduated about a month ago and 50% of them have already found work - a fantastic start, which we’re hoping to build off.
Newnham: What would you say is one of the hardest parts of growing the company and how do you manage it?
Cochrane: We have quite a unique problem in that we have a mostly remote team - 75% of our team work from home. This has massive business advantages that have allowed us to grow unbelievably quickly, but one of the challenges it brings is how to create and maintain a company culture when you’re not in the same place as one another.
Our team are the heart and soul of the business so Kathryn and I are always thinking of ways that we can improve our culture. We use collaborative tools like Slack, Trello and Google Hangouts, which work really well. We do videos using this amazing interactive video technology called Touchcast (which we use in the training) to send a weekly update to our team and shout out any of the team who’s done something particularly brilliant. And we make sure that we meet up in real life when we can, with drinks and events where everyone can meet each other and relax together as a team. It definitely is a challenge being remote, but one that is well worth having for all the benefits we get from it.
Newnham: What was the process of fundraising like and can you offer any advice to others about to do the same?
Cochrane: Everyone says fundraising is difficult and time consuming. They are right, it really is! We were lucky in that we had a lot of interest early, so for us it was about finding the right partners. It wasn’t just about the money for us - finding investors who would add value, and help us grow and scale was key for us.
My advice would be to think about where you need to get to and look for the right investors that can help you get there. You want investors that support you and believe in your vision, but who will also challenge you and force you to be better. We’ve now got four investors who are all equally brilliant in their own right.
Newnham: What are the most important lessons you have learned from Digital Mums - whether it be business lessons, personal lessons etc?
Cochrane: It’s been a crazy couple of years and I’ve learned a lot both professionally and personally. Probably the biggest mindset shift I’ve had is to accept that it’s OK not to have all the answers and it’s OK to ask for help when you need it. Not having all the answers is not a weakness!
I’ve also learned that making mistakes is a fundamental part of learning and building a business - it shows you’re willing to test things out and see if they work. If you aren’t willing to make mistakes then you will never succeed as an entrepreneur. It’s as simple as that.
Last year I got a business coach and we ended up working on a lot of personal stuff around my own confidence and self-belief, which I wasn’t expecting but this has had a huge impact on making me a better founder.
Taking time out and looking after yourself is really important too when setting up and running a business. It can become all-consuming and you can easily burn out. Kathryn and I go on a yoga retreat at least once a year to completely unwind
Newnham: If you could go back in time and offer one piece of advice to yourself pre-starting your own business, what would it be?
Cochrane: If I could go back in time I’d tell myself believe in yourself and that you can achieve absolutely anything you put your mind to. Anything is possible if you are passionate about what you want to do and prepared to put some serious hard work in - I’m doing this in my forties and loving every minute of it. I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Digital Mums Website / Twitter / Instagram Nikki Cochrane on Twitter