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She’s The Business: Interview with Anastasia Kenyon, CEO, Lifestyler

Ahead of the She's The Business event on 15 November - aimed at young women with great business ideas - we're speaking to some of our guest speakers about their entrepreneurial journey. Anastasia Kenyon is the Manchester-based Chief Executive Officer of Lifestyler, a social booking site which enables individuals to discover, connect and book their next lifestyle professional. She will be hosting a pod in the upcoming She’s The Business ‘festival hub’ and sharing her experiences with attendees.

How did you get the idea to start your business?

Pre-Lifestyler I owned a company called Palette. This company was inspired by my little sister’s love for makeup. Her resilience to drop out of college and pursue her dream as a makeup artist is why I'm here today. 

I was really impressed by her determination and wanted to help her the best way I could, which in my case was marketing and management. I then spent around five days trawling the internet and social media platforms, asking makeup artists how they took their deposit and to my surprise I found that one of the fastest growing industries had no distinct market place. I then decided to lock myself away and using plenty of magazines and coffee, I designed the layout for my website using paper overnight.

Obviously Lifestyler is a new entity but the premise is the same; enabling creatives to be booked on a safe and collaborative platform. I guess the beginning of the whole journey is quite far from where we are now but I think that's the best bit. 

What - or who - inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

I think the only people who have truly ever inspired me are my now co-founders; Debbie Wosskow OBE and Anna Jones. 

To put this into context they recently acquired Palette, merged it with their own company Lifestyler and appointed me to be the CEO of the company. Pretty cool but until I met them I'd never met a woman who actually impressed me to the point where I was willing to trust them 100 percent. 

Being entrepreneurial and resilient is having a different mind frame and that's something that myself, Debbie and Anna all share. As Debbie likes to put it, the “3 G's; Graft, Grace and Grit.”

What has been the biggest challenge to date in running your business?

You can't run a business without money, that's for sure. I had a side job while running Palette, set up a second company Kandi Cosmetics (to run Palette) and was always chasing my tail. I am now in a very fortunate position where I have investors and backers but at the end of the day it’s still cash and therefore it's always in the back of my head to spend it wisely. 

Don't ever start a company on the pretence of spending other people's money, I didn't and it made me savvy, scrappy and probably skint. I know how to adapt and how to push things with no cash though. That's a real life saver when you’re dealing with other people's money; they want to know you're going to push it to the next level.

What’s been the most exciting/interesting/surprising part of being an entrepreneur?

The most exciting thing for me is definitely the merger. I met Anna and Debs at an All Bright panel where they found me and introduced me to this new world of business. 

Within six weeks the company was signed over and I went from walking the floors of Selfridges spraying perfume to travelling to London for nine hour meetings, talking business models, redesigning brands and planning what I'd actually do with a marketing budget. 

It's crazy days like that, which mean more to me than going to fancy talks and presenting on panels, because that's not what's going to push me forward, knowing the ins and outs of building a successful company will.

How important is location in setting up a business? Is starting a business in a big city like Manchester a benefit or hindrance for being unique and standing out?

So you're surrounded by incredible people, amazing networks and enough tech companies that you can find the best possible mentor to fit you. However sometimes this can have its downsides.

Firstly, you can network for days but it’s important to make sure you're connecting with incredible people who want to see you succeed. 

Secondly, if you’re going to get into this world and try to stand out you've got to be different and sometimes being unique in a place full of such head-strong people is hard. I've never had a problem with standing out; I've been called arrogant, annoying (by an investor I would not leave alone) and also told a lot of people 'where to go'. 

And finally remember you've got hundreds of start-ups coming to the UK every day and there will be at least one who's a competitor.  I was part of an accelerator and it would be incredible when someone got a big deal or a round of investment but sometimes I would think, “why haven't I got that?” You do compare yourself and that can be hard. 

Sometimes you don't feel like you're standing out but you are because as original as your idea is, nothing else matters but your determination.

Lastly, what advice would you give to any young women out there interested in starting their own business?

Just do it. Failing to plan is planning to fail, so have an idea of where you want to be in a year and if you're not too close, it's time to get back to the drawing board. I know so many people who have given their lives to ideas that just haven't materialised and it's through no fault of their own. It can be a bad investor, partnership or even you just can't handle the pressure. However, I think it’s important to know the difference of flogging a dead horse and being on the right track. 

Never be afraid of having to give up and start again, because that's where the fun is, in not knowing.