On 30 May 2019, Holly Tucker MBE was one of 14 of the UK’s most committed supporters of entrepreneurship inducted into the Great British Entrepreneurs Champions Hall of Fame in association with NatWest and JD&Co, a brand new initiative led by the Great British & Northern Irish Entrepreneur Awards.
In a special issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs magazine, we sat down with Holly to look back at her entrepreneurial career so far.
While most entrepreneurs claim to innovate or disrupt, there are relatively few who really bring about genuine, significant change to an industry. One entrepreneur who can certainly say they have done so is Holly Tucker MBE, co-founder of notonthehighstreet.com and founder of Holly & Co.
“The internet was in its infancy when we launched Notonthehighstreet. Not only were we trying to get people to join our unknown site, we were also teaching them about the internet,” Holly starts.
Online shopping was yet to take off, and Holly admits “people didn’t like to put their bank details into websites” at the time, adding that the word ‘marketplace’ barely existed – at least not in its current meaning.
She adds: “We passionately believed in our business, so I called people I wanted to join the site every day. I didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and persevered because I knew that I was creating something amazing.”
Holly admits she has always been entrepreneurial, launching and running her school’s first sweet shop. So it may be that she was always going to become an entrepreneur one way or another. But it was her childhood spent abroad that Holly believes gave her a grounding that has served her so well in later, entrepreneurial life.
Holly says: “As a child, I grew up in the Netherlands. My father’s job took us there and I went to an international school. I think that was a very early introduction to different cultures, languages and backgrounds gave me the most amazing grounding in being able to talk to anyone.
“Being able to make connections quickly, to find common ground quickly and to have the confidence to speak to anyone absolutely set me up to be a successful entrepreneur.”
Holly began her working life in advertising in 1995 at Publicis, before running Brides magazine from 1999. A year later, things started to go wrong for Holly, and she knew she needed to do something about it.
Holly explains: “At 23, I was going through a divorce and I had been diagnosed with a brain tumour. Things were not going to plan, and I knew I had to take control.”
She turned to her natural creative passion and talent, making wreaths out of vegetables. “I know! I really thought they were brilliant and thought I’d make my fortune,” Holly laughs.
Intent on starting to build her fortune somewhere, Holly sought out her local Christmas fair but was astounded when there wasn’t one. She hired the local town hall herself and approached a number of creative businesses from the area to run her own Christmas fair, of course giving herself the best table.
Holly recalls: “The fair was a huge success, and whilst I never wanted to see another vegetable wreath, there was a kind of magic that happens when you bring together creative businesses and customers.”
It was the start of Holly’s first business, Your Local Fair, which operated fairs across London’s most cosmopolitan areas. Although successful, Your Local Fair was limited by things like weather or even a big football match. And there sparked the idea for Notonthehighstreet.com – a 24/7 fair for creative businesses that wouldn’t be disrupted by rain or football matches.
Holly launched Notonthehighstreet.com with her co-founder Sophie Cornish in 2006. Together they built the company on a shoestring budget with a skeleton staff, underwriting the business’ debts and not taking a salary for over a year.
Thirteen years on since it began, Notonthehighstreet.com supports over 5,000 small and independent creative businesses, with more than 20 generating over £1 million a year in revenue.
“To me, that is success. Seeing small, creative businesses being empowered and support, and it’s a mission I plan to continue with.”
Central to Holly’s values as an entrepreneur has evidently been championing and supporting other entrepreneurs, providing them with a platform to succeed. In 2013, she was awarded an MBE for her services to small businesses and enterprise. Two years later, Prime Minister David Cameron invited Holly to become a UK Ambassador to Creative Small Businesses.
Later that year, Holly shifted her focus away from providing a platform to enable small businesses grow to directly providing advice and support. She launched Instadvice, a video-based business advice blog which offered instant advice to small, independent and creative entrepreneurs.
It was a move that would provide the inspiration and foundations of Holly’s current focus – Holly & Co, where Holly works with a wide range of businesses to offer advice and ideas through a series of events and a podcast series, which was launched in September 2018.
Explaining why supporting entrepreneurs is so important to her, Holly says: “Life is short. We have an average of 29,000 days on this planet and it’s so important to make every single one count.
“With less interaction, less community, longer working hours, depression going up – I believe that the key to living a happy, fulfilled life, is building a business doing what you love.
“My life’s mission is to support as many people as I can at whatever point of their business journey.”
In particular, Holly’s passion lies within supporting younger people.
“I want to show them that you can build a business from your passions,” she says. “It’s so important that when the education system is teaching our kids that they must follow the set path, they must get certain grades, that they can excel outside of this and that they see their own happiness as the main goal of life.”
With an estimated 40% of the UK workforce working as a freelancer by 2020, Holly believes it is no longer enough to be born entrepreneurial, instead it must be taught.
“I think business can be portrayed as grey, cutthroat and all about boardrooms. I want to dispel this myth and bring colour to it. Business is fun, it’s creative and definitely colourful.”