As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Janine Manning.
Janine Manning is an experienced business professional with a proven track record in leading startups and early-stage companies to successful outcomes. As a qualified Chartered Accountant (CAANZ), with a MBA and MSt in Social Innovation from The University of Cambridge, Janine has a broad range of financial, management, strategic and practical skills. Janine has a real appreciation of what it takes to grow and scale a business and is recognized for her ability to develop long term quality relationships with a diverse group of stakeholders.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After university, I qualified as an accountant and quickly discovered that I enjoyed ‘rolling my sleeves up’ and working in fast-growing, early stage ventures. To build and broaden my skills, I completed an MBA 10 years later, and more recently a MSt in Social Innovation from The University of Cambridge. I’ve been a business angel for seven years and I mentor a group each year for the New Zealand Women’s Network in London. In 2018, Rebecca Page was a mentee in my start-up group. She was exploring whether she could turn her sewing hobby into a business, and at the end of the 12-week program we co-founded Rebecca Page Ltd.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In my first business, as a new accountant, I looked at the business in ‘black and white’ terms. This is a barrier to having an open mind about new opportunities. Thankfully, my business partner was at the opposing end of the spectrum and had multiple ideas running all of the time. We both learnt to bend so that we had an effective process for filtering and executing opportunities.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
At Rebecca Page, our hands-down fav business book is The Lean Startup by Eric Reis. We made a conscious choice when we started the business to follow the Lean Startup methodology and we refer to it regularly. It’s been a bible for us when we are considering a new project or assessing how our progress is so far.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Rebecca Page’s vision is to digitally disrupt the traditional home-sewing market by building an online B2C business that sells sewing patterns, products and services to a global underserved community with highly specific demographics. Rebecca and I are both New Zealanders (living in the UK), we share the same values, get on well and have complementary skill sets. Rebecca has a double degree in Computer Science and Psychology so she’s in charge of tech, marketing and the team. I’m responsible for finance, capital raising and projects.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Rebecca and I are both life-long learners. This helps us to keep an open mind and an agile mentality.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My children are grown up, so the biggest personal challenge for my husband and I is that we can’t be out and about like we are used to. We live in central London, so there is so much to do, all the time. From a positive perspective, I’ve been using the extra time to sew, read and catch up on television.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Our team, based in 11 countries, have always worked remotely so we did not have the upheaval of transferring from the workplace to home. However, children being at home 24/7 does present our team with challenges. We offer a flexible approach to working, so that our team can adjust during lockdown to fit their work in around their family commitments.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Three of our children are in New Zealand, which has been a good place to be in for the pandemic. The fourth is in London, living with three other young people. No one is alone and we keep in touch with regular family Zoom calls, meaning that any uncertainty can be put into perspective.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Being an online business, with a remote team means that we are well-placed for opportunities during and post-COVID-19. Home sewing with an online, digital focus is a niche, predominantly ‘cottage’ industry. We stand out because of our ability to build an inclusive and engaged global community of over 380,000. We are developing new online verticals such as such as Sewing Summits, sew alongs and courses. Our subscription offering is also very popular with our community.
Rebecca and I both love to sew and we understand how the process of making our own, well-fitting clothes makes us feel as creators. High Street fashion doesn’t cater for everyone in the way a bespoke, made-to-measure outfit can. Our large, active and highly engaged Facebook community enjoy sharing the garments they have created in an inclusive and positive environment.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
We are experiencing a resurgence of people spending their leisure time involved in creative and ‘productive hobbies’ that can be engaged in without physical contact (in other words, online). The unsustainability of high street fashion will be more of a focus, which will present opportunities for other types of fashion to thrive in the market.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We will continue to fine-tune our new online offerings and will focus on growing into new geographies. Currently, 45% of our revenue comes from the US, 15% from the UK, 10% from Australia and 30% from the rest of the world. This presents a huge opportunity.
We also have a new product launch coming up soon that we believe is going to be a game-changer. We’re keeping it under our hat for the moment so watch this space!
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Look at new pain points that have arisen as a result of COVID-19. Can your business address any of these?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,Your thoughts become your words,Your words become your actions,Your actions become your habits,Your habits become your values,Your values become your destiny.”― Gandhi
My first boss, when I was a student, advised me to treat my university day like a work day, and also to clear my in tray each Friday morning. This helped me to develop productive work habits from an early age. More than 30 years later, I still follow his advice… and he still does my tax return. So, a secondary relevance is that it’s always been important to me to develop long-standing relationships with people I work with.
How can our readers further follow your work?