Hannah and Sophie Pycroft have been dazzling the beauty industry and social media with their mermaid and unicorn-inspired make-up brushes for nearly four years.
The two sisters launched Spectrum Collections from Sophie’s garage in Barry in April 2014, and have since gone on to social media stardom with ‘the world’s most Instagrammable make-up brushes’.
A deal with Boots and collaboration with Paramount Pictures later, Hannah & Sophie scooped up the ‘Family Business Entrepreneur of the Year’ prize and ‘Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ award at the 2017 NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards for Wales and the South West.
Hannah and Sophie then went on to replicate their success at the National Winners’ Evening, winning both the ‘Family Business’ and overall ‘Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ awards for the whole of the UK.
Before that, though, we caught up the ‘Spectrum Sisters’ for a chat about Barry, business and brushes.
You started off with the ‘Family Business’ award before claiming the overall ‘Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ award. How does it feel?
Sophie: We were very surprised, weren’t we?!
Hannah: Yeah, REALLY surprised!
S: We love the idea and concept behind the Awards, celebrating entrepreneurship and the achievements of everyone who were also nominated. But to be the overall winners was such a huge achievement for us.
H: It was amazing! Like Sophie said, it was such a fantastic celebration of entrepreneurial spirit. Everyone had done so well, so we were just so surprised that we won ‘Family’, let alone the overall award.
What would it mean to go on and win the ‘Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ award for the whole of the UK?
S: We don’t go into anything with expectations beyond what we feel can achieve, but I think we’ve got a chance, haven’t we?
H: I’d like to think so. Considering all the past winners, it would be incredible. I’d feel so honoured.
S: Definitely! Considering we’re not ‘business’ people as such, we just started the company ourselves off the back of the lack of opportunities and jobs available for us in Wales, to then potentially be the overall winners of the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards, we’d be blown away.
What is the single biggest factor in your success so far?
H: Partnership is a good one, and hard work! It’s not easy being an entrepreneur by any means – every day is different and every day is a challenge. Like Sophie said, we’ve never had business experience, we haven’t got a business degree. We’ve literally gone with our gut instinct and…
S: …really worked our butts off! That’s the crux of any business’ success – how hard the people behind that business are willing to work to make it successful. Although now our Instagram makes things look all glamorous, last year was bit of a nightmare, so to come through that and pushing the business forward and to be in with a chance of winning awards that recognise that is amazing.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
S: Double whammy awards, two in one night was pretty good, wasn’t it?
H: Yeah that was a massive highlight. As Sophie said, last year was our toughest year yet – we had a devastating warehouse fire and nearly lost the entire business. Fortunately, we didn’t lose the business and we survived…
S: Just! We had to scrape together cash to be able to buy stock to have over Christmas.
H: We almost lost everything. But highlights wise, we’ve launched into 252 Boots stores which was incredible. We never, ever, thought we would achieve that at this point in the business, because it’s only three and a half years old. We had our launch and collaboration with Paramount Pictures and Mean Girls – to think that we started in Barry and now we’re collaborating with Hollywood brands is just insane.
But definitely the best is yet to come!
Let’s go back to the start. How did entrepreneurial life start for you? What inspired you?
S: We’ve always had entrepreneurial spirit in our family. Our grandparents were wheelers and dealers, buying antiques on the cheap and selling them. Our Dad was always trying to set up his own businesses – he set up quite a few, but never really took off. Between us, we’ve got the spirit… That’s always been a help for us, hasn’t it?
H: Yeah, I think we’ve watched mainly our Dad and how hard he’s worked. He’s always had the drive and ambition to work for himself, so we took his lead. He inspired us a lot. But we’ve never had a mentor or anyone to guide us, as such, we’ve just gone with our gut.
You spent the early days in a dimly-let garage, packing orders yourselves. Do you think that helped to shape you as entrepreneurs?
S: I don’t ever regret the garage days. They’re golden to me now!
H: Because we started the business from scratch, doing everything ourselves, just the two of us, we know the entire business inside out. Even though now, we’re at a point where we’re fortunate enough to be able to outsource the fulfilment and freed ourselves from the garage, which was the best day ever. We know exactly how we want things done and how things should be done because we’ve physically been there and driven it from the ground up. It’s shaped us massively. Like we said, you need hard work, you can’t expect things to fall at your feet and things to be given to you on a plate, so we’ve grafted to make the business what it is.
S: That’s been really good in terms of our staff, because they’ve seen how hard that we’ve worked right from the beginning and they’ve got huge respect for us as grafters and business women, now. They all work really hard and the payoff is there. They work just as hard as we do every day.
What’s it like working so closely with a family member? Do you end up talking about work in your own time, or talking about personal things at the office?
S: We hate each other….!! No, honestly, it’s the best bit. The ultimate goal for us was to work together. We do talk about work in our leisure time, but that’s because it’s not work to us, it’s our love. I think that’s one of the other main reasons we started Spectrum. Fortunately, we get on well enough but also balance each other out really well. Hannah’s very technical and operational. I’ll come up with an idea, feed it through her and she makes it happen.
H: Whenever we were working freelance, we would engineer it so that we could work together anyway, purely because our skillsets complement each other, we work well together and we can’t get rid of each other, so we thought we might as well try to work together. We just love it! We do talk about work quite a lot and it does take over our ‘lives’ quite a bit, but we love it. It is our life, so we don’t have any qualms talking about it 24/7.
S: It’s quite nice when we’re out of the office to actually sit down together and actually talk about work because we genuinely do get a buzz out of it.
Do you ever see yourselves working separately?
H: It would be really awkward if one of us said “yes”!
S: Yeah, I might just take this opportunity to tell you…
H: See ya!
We hear you’ve got some big things coming up in 2018. Can you tell us about them?
H: Not yet, sorry… but it won’t be long!
S: It won’t be long. It’s another collaboration with a huge brand…
H: … which is like ultimate goals, for us anyway! We never ever thought it would happen, but they got in touch with us early last year, so we’ve been working throughout 2017 on production, development and planning. We’re going to launch that collaboration at the end of April this year.
S: We are working on some other stuff, though! We’re launching a range of cosmetics, which will be made in the UK and we’re sticking with our business ethics of being vegan and cruelty free. That’s another big step for us, because although it goes hand-in-hand with makeup brushes, making a high-quality product in the UK that follows those principles is a big challenge at the moment. That’s coming in the next few months!
Sounds exciting! It’s probably fair to say most people expect Spectrum to be based in London, Manchester or even the US, not Wales, let alone Barry. What makes it a great place to base the business?
S: I think a big part of it is maintaining the work-life balance. We are workaholics at the end of the day, and if we didn’t live five minutes from home, we would never be at home. So, it’s quite nice that the office is literally five minutes away.
H: I don’t think being in Wales has limited the business at all. Like you said, people think it’s an American brand, and that we’re an international company. I think, when they know our backstory – that we started in a garage in Barry – they love it even more because it shows it’s attainable for people and if you want to be an entrepreneur, you can start it in your garage or bedroom. You don’t need to be in London or a big city centre to make it work.
What would you say to someone who is considering entering the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards in 2018, but doesn’t think they’ll win so won’t bother?
H: 100% do it! Even if you don’t win, we met so many amazing people at the networking event and regional final, so you’re going to meet contacts who might be able to help your business, and you can support their business. We never thought we were going to win, especially when we saw the competition in the categories. We still are gobsmacked. It’s amazing to celebrate your business because you work damn hard, so you need to shout about your success.
Applications for the 2018 NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards open in March. You can register your interest here.