Kiran Branch talks to Nancy Cruickshank, the co-founder of new beauty retail concept MyShowcase, to find out what drives her entrepreneurial spirit and how she stays balanced
With an illustrious career in the digital industry spanning over fifteen years and including an impressive array of high profile roles such as Managing Director at Hearst Digital, Digital CEO at The Telegraph and CEO & Founder of Handbag.com, Nancy Cruickshank is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Extolled for her entrepreneurial flair, Nancy launched MyShowcase.com in May 2012 and sat down with Kiran Branch to talk about the brand new retail concept, launching a new business and finding a work-life balance.
KB: What led you to start MyShowcase?
NC: In 2000, I founded a business called Handbag.com which went on to become the number one fashion and beauty site in the UK in the noughties. 1.5m women visited the site every month and 400,000 of these chatted in our discussion areas – about all sorts of things. I discovered that women between the ages of 25 and 55 talked regularly about a desire to launch their own business and find a flexible way to work, whilst bringing up a family or fulfilling other life goals. However, there seemed to be many barriers to making this possible and not enough great opportunities to succeed in a supported manner. At the same time, I sat on the beauty industry trade board, Cosmetic Executive Women. I saw so much innovation, passion and great products from new beauty brands, yet they often found it challenging to build distribution in the traditional department stores where they were up against larger global beauty players.
These two fascinating conundrums brewed in my mind over the years and in 2011,as I conceived the idea for MyShowcase, I began to discuss it with my long-time industry friends, Rodrigo Dauster (ex-Visual DNA, Gekko, Imagini), Kate Shapland (Telegraph Beauty Editor) and Olivier Beau de Lomenie (who built the technology platform at Ocado). They loved the idea and joined me as co-founders in MyShowcase.
KB: Where did the name MyShowcase come from?
NC: When I began discussing the idea of MyShowcase with one of my co-founders, Rodrigo, we both noticed that I kept talking about ‘showcasing’ stuff – entrepreneurial talents, new brands etc. The word seemed critical to so many elements of our business, so I researched buying the URL, MyShowcase.com as the ‘my’ represented a completely individual, personal and flexible approach to represent the many different ways that women might get involved with MyShowcase. And we were off…
KB: The concept behind MyShowcase is fairly unique in beauty retail - how would you explain the general premise?
NC: MyShowcase has a passion for supporting female entrepreneurs in building or expanding their own beauty businesses. We sell over twenty-two different beauty brands which are not widely available on the UK high street but each has an amazing story to tell. Some of them are better known than others – Balance Me, Blink, T Leclerc, Neom, and others are lesser known at present – Beatitude, Ruth Mastenbroek and Antonia Burrell – to name just a few. Selling is done via our network of female Stylists who are women (most of whom have no background whatsoever in beauty) who want to work, but flexibly. They organise showcases (largely in homes, but occasionally in offices too) where they showcase our brands. Customers can buy at our events and also via our website www.myshowcase.com .
KB: What are your bestselling products?
NC: This changes season by season but there are a few items that consistently sell really well. Orba's Goats’ Milk Skin Soother, £11.99, is a favourite with our customers, as is Antonia Burrell's Natural Glow Cleansing Oi l, £59.50. Elizabeth's Daughter makes a really good Eye Make-up Remover , £12.50, with a clever plunge dispenser, which appeals whatever the season. Almost every one of our customers seems to add a New CID i-Smoulder Eye Pencil & Shadow or i-Gloss Light Up Gloss with Mirror to their order. My personal favourite is the i-Smoulder in Ember , £18.50, and Minky Pink i-gloss , £16.
KB: Have you always been fascinated by beauty?
NC: My dad worked in the beauty industry, for Revlon, Max Factor, Giorgio Beverly Hills and Halston Borghese, so the beauty industry was always part of our family life. We lived in Hong Kong and New York as a result of this and I was always fascinated by what my dad did - having a dad who sold lipsticks was something that a little girl could really get excited about! He enjoyed lots of success in the beauty industry and it was probably what he achieved via sheer hard work and determination, as much as the innovative and glamorous industry that he worked in, that captured my attention and admiration over the years.
KB: You've had various senior and high profile roles within the digital industry for over fifteen years - how techie are you and do you ever go offline?
NC: To many, I am very techie, but to the real engineers, I am devoid of technical skill! I love and enjoy technology, but very much as a means to create fantastic products and solutions that we can all utilise to save time and offer new experiences every day. To me, the important thing is to understand and appreciate how technology can be leveraged, even though I couldn’t code my own way out of a paper bag!
Do I ever go offline? Not for long periods. However, I do love long walks on the beach or across Dartmoor, when I am down in Devon - there isn’t much signal there so then I am well and truly offline.
KB: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
NC: The highlight of my career to date was the launch of MyShowcase in May 2012. It was the culmination of many months of hard work with some of the most talented and creative people that I have ever had the pleasure to work with. That includes my amazing business partners, our Stylists and brand partners. Our entire community is entrepreneurial at the core. Nothing is too difficult to attempt to achieve - people are passionate about their businesses and the whole environment feels exciting, innovative and mutually supportive.
KB: What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?
NC: There is no substitute for passion, determination and giving something a go! Creating a business from scratch, taking a risk, operating across areas of business that might not be your personal vertical areas of expertise and finding the energy and time required to build your own successful business is demanding. There is no doubt about that… but for me, the satisfaction of seeing something develop and succeed is a great pleasure and source of satisfaction.
I think that women are good at collaborating and sharing. This is a vital skill in business today in my view and never more so than when you are juggling family and business life so my advice would be to find ways to get support to be able to juggle both aspects of your life. This is a fundamental part of what inspired me to launch MyShowcase. There are so many incredibly talented women who would like to launch their own business, but perhaps require some flexibility, additional support and mentoring to get a business off the ground.
KB: What is your personal beauty philosophy?
NC: I have always been slightly obsessive about having clean, hydrated skin. I love to try new products but new items only make it into my own bathroom cabinet if they are effective, smell great and are easy to use. I am a busy working mother, so speed and making me feel great morning and evening, when I cleanse and nourish my skin, are at the core of my beauty philosophy.
KB: What is your skincare routine and what products are in your make-up bag?
NC: I am addicted to properly cleansing my skin. Why? Because it makes such a huge difference to the feel and tone of the skin plus how effective my serum and moisturiser are. I adore Aurelia Miracle Cleanser, £34. Probiotics in skincare have been pioneered by Aurelia’s Founder, Claire Vero. Their role in skincare is to reduce any inflammation caused by sensitivities in the skin often caused by pollution, consuming too little water, stress etc. By settling the skin with probiotics, other active ingredients can work much harder to moisturise the skin and plump cells to make the skin look and feel dewy, soft and bright. Healthy-looking skin makes such a difference to how I feel and how my make-up appears.
KB: What’s your personal favourite hair and beauty look?
NC: I like things that are simple and quick to achieve. A good blow-dry with a little volume always makes me feel great. I like my make-up to be fresh and natural but occasionally I accent my look with a striking seasonal colour on my nails, a streak of gold, marine or azure liquid liner across my eyelids or a fantastic blue-toned red lipstick.
KB: Who are your top people in health, beauty and fitness? Who do you rely on in a crisis?
NC: Annee de Mamiel is a source of huge inspiration for me. She takes a very holistic approach to health and beauty through her work as a facial acupuncturist, drawing on Chinese medicine, a product range full of extraordinary seasonal ingredients and a philosophy that celebrates the idea of taking a little time out for oneself to re-balance the effects of our sometimes crazily busy lives. I don’t claim to always live by Annee’s mantra but it’s certainly a personal aspiration to work towards.
In a health and beauty crisis, I rely on my brilliant business partner in crime, Kate Shapland. Her twenty-five years in the industry stand her in excellent stead to address an occasional health, beauty or fitness crisis for me! She always has great impartial advice to offer up, which I highly value.
For all other crises, I rely on my husband, best girlfriends and my mum!
KB: What does a typical day comprise of for you?
NC: I wake up by 6.30am. Then it’s a mad scramble to get showered, dressed, chat to my husband [Jim] and daughters about everything coming up that day and make sure that the girls are ready for school. We eat a quick breakfast together (always made by Jim – who also makes an excellent cup of tea and feeds the dogs first thing) and then I drop the girls off at school by 8.05am. I am usually in my first meeting by 8.30-9am as I do not live far from my office or the West End, where I inevitably end up at some point most days.
My days can include a fairly eclectic mix, which I love. Talking to potential MyShowcase Stylists, training and mentoring our stylist network, working with our brand partners, talking to the press in all of its fantastic and varied forms, working with our investors, considering new product development, running two-to-three showcases myself every week and even packing and unpacking boxes in our warehouse when orders are too fast and furious for our team to handle!
I don’t pick the girls up every day from school or make it to every netball match but when it really matters to them, I try to be there. I don’t bake cakes for the school fetes or volunteer to be class rep as I recognise that you can’t do everything. I am home for bedtime and plenty of fascinating girlie discussions at least three weeknights every week (and always at weekends) even if I then go out afterwards – to a showcase, for dinner or to a business meeting. Like my entrepreneur husband, I work pretty late most nights.
KB: How do you juggle work with children and living between London and Devon? How do you keep on top of it all?
NC: Launching a business offers loads of challenges, especially when you have a young family and you are constantly juggling your time, and I think it’s vital to rely on your vision, market insights and belief in what can be achieved to make it happen.
When I am with my children, I don’t feel guilty about what I am not doing in business and vice versa. You have to get organised and I try really hard to make my time in each environment count. Of course there are moments when that falls apart but I am always really transparent on both sides to try to make this work. My daughters know loads about what I do and why and I think that they like the fact that I share this with them. I want to offer them a positive role model that tells them that they can do whatever they want in life – be that in business, sport, the arts, science or having a family. It doesn’t have to be single dimensional in my view but you do need to set your own and everyone else’s expectations about what that means.
KB: How do you unwind?
NC: We are lucky enough to have a home in Devon, where we escape to from London at least once, sometimes twice, each month. We have owned our little house on the beach for seven years. It has the most breathtaking views; the water laps up the house at high tide. It’s nestled in a beautiful village and represents really vital and participative family time to me. When we are there we walk every day, go out on the water and can occasionally be found on horseback with our daughters, although this last pursuit does seem to become more painful as each year passes!
KB: What does the future hold for MyShowcase? Are there any exciting developments in the pipeline?
NC: I want to see MyShowcase fulfil its potential in the UK and other markets around the world. We are launching in Monaco this month to test our international capabilities and hope to extend into larger international markets next year.
Take a look at the MyShowcase beauty edit for this week's GO SHOP! here .