Flossie co-founder Jenene Crossan. (Photo: Supplied.)
Flossie co-founder Jenene Crossan. (Photo: Supplied.)

BusinessDecember 15, 2019

The world’s longest commute: Advice for Kiwi startups trying to make it in the UK

Flossie co-founder Jenene Crossan. (Photo: Supplied.)
Flossie co-founder Jenene Crossan. (Photo: Supplied.)

Kiwi startup founder Jenene Crossan has spent two years enduring jetlag and heinous London Airbnb prices as she builds her latest business.

Jenene Crossan, co-founder and CEO of beauty booking service Flossie, has spent most of the past two years sitting in airport lounges and living out of suitcases in a bid to launch Flossie’s offshoot, Powered by Flossie, in the UK.

Flossie’s aim is to become the world leader in the e-commerce of services. Crossan says beauty salons are losing out on significant amounts of revenue because of poor technology, with cart abandonment rates as high as 70%. Powered by Flossie is a ‘plug-and-play’ solution that extends the capabilities of their existing calendar software, increasing online booking rates and supporting pay-in-advance solutions.

Crossan typically commutes back to New Zealand every six to eight weeks to spend time with her husband and three daughters. Launching in a market where you’re unknown and facing a plethora of battles from cash flow to capital raising, not to mention coping with different time zones and sleep deprivation, has its challenges.

She is no stranger to founding businesses, however, having launched several startups since her first business, the website NZ Girl, in 1999. She gives back to the startup ecosystem by running open office hours for other founders and speaking on the challenges of building businesses, staying motivated, sane, and connected to your loved ones on the other side of the world.

Crossan shares some lessons learned about doing business in London and advice for fellow Kiwi startups.

What were the ‘must dos’ for the business when you first arrived in London?

I’ve been coming to the UK for two years now, initially to seek introductions and then identify the right entry path for Flossie.  This involved asking people to introduce me to everyone they knew in London and I did that publicly on LinkedIn.  It’s amazing how many introductions I received (don’t ask, don’t get!) and some of those have gone on to being the best possible contacts I could have received, including our first client.  Mind you, I had to meet with many dozens of people to make that happen. A lot of peppermint tea was consumed.

Must-dos include always dressing the part – like I mean business, but suitably fashionable for the industry I work in.  Weirdly, this is an important part of the process for me. They need to have confidence in our capability to understand the consumer, and in that moment I am representative of the generation changing their behaviour.  I honour that and respect that my job is to lead. I also live in fear of being seen as a hick from New Zealand, so maybe that’s part of the rationale too.

It also includes doing the social media leg work. I always turn up prepared and knowledgeable, and try to share insights and connect them with information.  They appreciate that they spend time with someone that they can get something out of too.  Being useful is key to building a long term relationship.

I also blatantly use my Kiwi-ness. They like New Zealanders here, we have a good reputation and they’re happy to work with us and connect us. The saying goes, “don’t make friends with Kiwis, as they’ll leave!”, but actually, we have much to offer and I’m bringing a cohort of the people I’ve met down to New Zealand to meet our local entrepreneurs and hopefully they can invest and support them too.

Jenene Crossan and Flossie co-founder Steve Torrance. (Photo: Supplied.)

What were the most unexpected things that have happened while doing business in London?

I never expected to fall in love with London, but I have.  It’s such a wonderful city and the opportunities to do business are vast.  Every day I meet people who are interesting, doing dynamic things, changing the world, challenging the status quo and doing it in their own unique way.  I love that I can be whoever I want to be, without judgement. Wear whatever you like, entirely be you – in fact, embrace it and boldly. Small towns (i.e. New Zealand) aren’t always that open-minded on this front, so being in a big mish-mash of a city like London makes you appreciate all of the diversity and individuality.

What are your tips for making new connections?

Ask people. They’ll happily introduce you (provided that you’re a nice person, of course!) and they love sharing their networks.  I’ve been really impressed with how open to this the people that I’ve met have been, and so I’ve just asked again and again and again.  I’m clear and quick to pay it forward too, you need some good karma to help on this – what goes around comes around.  I’m less for ‘events’ but any opportunity to meet individuals and have a connection and real conversation, I’m there.  I’ve joined a couple of different business clubs (something completely foreign to New Zealand, sadly) and they’ve been wonderful places to take meetings and meet like-minded people.  They’re worth the investment and they become your office space, which is great for people like me who are one-person setups.

Any tips for finding decent accommodation in London?

I wish I could say I have nailed this, but I haven’t.  Airbnb’s growth has really changed the availability of short term furnished rentals, driving up the price.  There are too many host-maker companies not doing a very good job of looking after the properties that are not people’s homes, but purpose-built Airbnbs.  I call them ‘shabby hotels’ – they have none of the upsides, but plenty of the cost.  If I’m staying longer, I try to book further in advance and then go and have a look.  ALWAYS read the reviews and ignore the pretty pictures, as everybody has worked out how to stage those.  Ask them what they have in the kitchen cupboards, that’s usually a good source of truth – did they really consider what you might need or have they just chucked in one glass and one plate (I’ve had that!).

I always stay in the same area though, which gives me some familiarity and is crucial when I’m on the road 80% of the year and missing my home comforts.

Any travel tips?

Carry on luggage essentials are Lyposomal Vitamin C, Blis Throat Probiotics (for regular long haul travellers, these are critical), an extra battery charger, long compression socks, emergency cash, coins to hand out to people who your heart will break for, and Panadol (I don’t like the local version). I also recommend a good backpack that sits on the shoulders well, because I get sore from so much walking around and lugging my laptop everywhere. I only ever fly in and out via Dubai, and my transit ritual involves a shower, massage, glass of champagne, sushi and a long stretch in the lounge.

What does being a Kiwi mean to you when doing business overseas? Or does everyone assume you’re Australian?

When someone gets it right straight off the bat, I applaud them: ‘Thanks for not accusing me of being an Aussie’.  Of course, it’s always said in jest but it is a touch annoying. I’ve got used to it.  But they do love Kiwis here and they all have some kind of Kiwi connection, usually either via marriage or mates.  Our reputation is of being innovative, hard-working, friendly and usually a bit direct. I’ve had to get my head around that being direct isn’t always a good thing.  A little bit of softening has been good for my relationship development.

The team (at Kiwi expat organisation) KEA here in London have been incredible (shout-out to Tania Bearsley and Peter Gillingwater), connecting Kiwis and helping us finding each other here for support and companionship.  There’s nothing quite like being at New Zealand House in Haymarket and watching the haka, singing the anthem and hearing our twang.  I’ve embraced so much more te reo into my everyday business, explaining words and expressions to clients, gifting them pounamu, and helping to show how this special culture of ours is an innovation secret sauce.

Keep going!