I was fortunate enough to steal an hour or two of Charlotte's time over breakfast at The Hospital Club. Given I am in contention with a plethora of other journalists, mentees, entrepreneurs and even Buckingham Palace, I am overjoyed to have had the opportunity to learn more about her inspirational journey to date. Charlotte is the founder and CEO of Inkpact which aims to bring handwriting back into today's digital world by helping businesses communicate with their clients in a meaningful way through personalised handwritten letters and notecards. Technology makes it all too easy to be lazy - Inkpact hopes to make it easier to get noticed again and reinvigorate our communication mediums. I hope to have captured her mesmeric qualities in the interview below - but I have never met someone so ambitious, kind and amazingly charismatic in equal measure.
Current Job CEO and founder of Inkpact
Education Management with Entrepreneurship at University of Southampton. I can't say it helped like it sounds like it would. Significantly more influential was running an organisation called Enactus whilst I was supposed to be doing my degree.
Favourite productivity tool Old fashioned pen and paper to do lists every morning and evening.
Favourite book A great book I read recently was The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. It's about how typically we put happiness after success and why we should reverse that formula.
Go to meeting spot The Hospital Club
How do you switch off Mindfulness colouring books!
Guilty pleasure Grey's Anatomy & designer bargain hunting
Female inspiration in business
- Tamara Lohan - Cofounder of Mr and Mrs Smith and also one of Inkpact's investors! I hugely respect the way she has built her business, her family life and how she is successful but also still so down to earth, kind and will go above and beyond to help.
- Sophia Amoruso - I really resonate with her as someone that is a bit of a rebel. Loved her book too!
- Emma Sinclair - The women has so much such drive and ambition and simply gets Sh*t done, I have learnt so much from her and still so much to learn!
Top networking tip Be interested and interesting. So often networking can feel clinical and formulaic, simply treat people like people!
Tell us more about Inkpact - where did the idea come from and your successes to date?
The beginnings of Inkpact were serendipitous and initially unplanned! At a personal development conference, I met a business coach who shared that he found handwritten letters an excellent communication tool to market to existing and prospective clients. Given this was not where his expertise resided I offered to write the correspondence on his behalf for payment. Shortly after he told me that these letters were receiving 100% read rates – an incredible conversion compared to his conventional 15% email open rate. He began to spread the word within his network and I rapidly acquired 5 clients and took on 5 letter writers. We wrote on white A4 paper and used blue envelopes to make it different! This was Inkpact 1.0!
Upon graduation I married my Company with my other passion – Enactus a social enterprise society– and realised that I could extend employment to a group of individuals who could not necessarily land a typical 9-5 job. I raised a little bit of funding and branded the Company Inkpact – making an impact to our clients and to people’s lives. I was able to prove the operating model from inception - customers wanted handwritten marketing communication and we were profitable from the first client. Around 7 months ago we looked to technology to help us scale. We built an online platform that enabled us to integrate with CRM systems and this contributed to our growth to 100 writers and 6 people in HQ. The core of Inkpact remains the people but it is very exciting that we can leverage technology to scale the social impact and stickiness for clients.
I didn't appreciate how mentally difficult starting a business was. I was making money but it was still just me and my laptop before NEF. Being on the program gave me the impetus to build a team of amazing people, raise investment and be more ambitious. The most motivating factor about NEF is the support network of individuals who are going through what you are going through, and can ride the highest highs and lowest lows alongside. After NEF we spoke to pretty much every accelerator, as well as debating the merits of being on one, but we decided that Wayra could really advance Inkpact. Wayra understood B2B, SaaS, as well as the pain points of big corporates which could tangibly help us on our journey. Wayra is also 12 months facilitating longer B2B client relationships.
NEF provided me with the mental stimulus to go bigger and Wayra has enabled the scaling/growth and execution!
How did you raise finance and navigate the investment paradigm?
When I first started Inkpact if you had asked me if I was going to raise capital I would have said absolutely not, and propounded organic growth. Having that 'client pays for your next client' mentality was great and was pivotal in us learning from customers, however, I quickly realised that if I wanted to scale the Company I needed to raise investment. I thought too small initially. I was going to raise a small round with a few investors, but they ended up helping me think bigger and facilitating a much larger raise to fund ambitions to scale across the UK and Europe.
- Surround yourself with good people to give you great advice - I had never raised before so I had no idea how much to raise at what valuation! Talking to people who has been through it for a sounding board is crucial.
- Raise more money than you need - Just because of the sheer time and effort involved - give yourself more headroom.
- Smart money - Take the time out of your Company to invest in the fundraise to ensure you identify value add investors.
What are some of your other ventures that you are involved with alongside running Inkpact?
When I first started the business I was making money but I wanted to earn additional income from something which would challenge me and also benefit Inkpact. I started doing consultancy work for big corporates and realised I had stumbled upon an insatiable demand from them wanting to know how entrepreneurs think and how to be innovative! However, consultancy is not scalable, and with the take-off of Inkpact I decided to marry my network of young entrepreneurs with my corporate clients and take a small cut - this company is called OR. Now I just joined the dots!
What is your motivation?
I have a personal goal to be financially free by the age of 28. It is a big passion of mine to help young people become more financially literate; my aim is to be able to fund this social ambition whilst proving that age is not a limit to success. I aspire to be the Young relatable role model I never had when I was also young- all I saw at the age of 16 were 50 year old men running companies - it is hardly relatable. I also consistently endorse making money whilst helping people. Everything I am building shows that you can do both and this is something that drives me every day.
What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge at the beginning was not thinking big enough - I was my own limitation despite being quite a positive person! I thought starting a business was ambitious let alone building a team, going global and selling it for millions. Now the biggest challenge is to scale properly rather than just scale. I want to ensure I don't pursue growth and compromise quality; I want to keep the integrity of people at our core.
What are your future ambitions?
We want Inkpact to be the go to destination that enables companies to go above and beyond for their customers. In the age of digital, switching costs for consumers have never been lower, therefore customer engagement is key! We envisage Inkpact right along the client life-cycle, be it lead generation, engagement with VIPs or churn minimisation. From a social perspective we will also continue to provide employment for people across geographies and backgrounds who couldn't otherwise obtain typical jobs.
Are we doing enough in the UK to encourage start-ups, particularly with young people?
Not everyone should and can start a business, but I think more people should be aware that it as a fantastic option! We need to teach innovative thinking, problem solving and financial literacy at a young age, we need to break the misconception that to start a business you need to have a revolutionary idea, I didn't invent handwriting or entrepreneurs, yet I have started Companies from both by joining the dots and executing something better or in a different way from our competitors. Teaching that type of thinking is key - how do you make something commercially viable, how can you solve that problem and generate finance whilst doing it - it is a different mind-set to box ticking like we are taught as school.
Women in Technology
What is your opinion on the focus of the women in technology debate?
There are lots of amazing women in technology and in business but it is still not enough! However, rather than focusing on the negative narrative and statistics, I believe we need to see a shift to knowledge sharing, showcasing and celebrating these female role models. Getting more women to invest in women, be it financially or otherwise. Inkpact currently has four female investors which is great!
What business support networks do you value and how did you curate them?
When I first moved to London I said yes to everything without knowing the outcome. I didn't understand the eco-system so this was the most effective way of navigating and eventually curating my network. Appreciating that you are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with, I was determined to surround myself with inspirational kick ass people.
I also very quickly realised the benefits of coaching. So much so that I decided to get myself a coach in every aspect of my life. I have a coach for nutrition, fitness, life, public speaking and mental/wellbeing! If you look at the best in class athletes and the most successful people in business they all have the best coaches. Once I got over the erroneous stereotype that you only require a coach if you are doing badly, I reaped the benefits of immersing myself with experts in their field. I would encourage anyone to figure out what they want to improve on and then seek out help.
What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?
- Win win goals - I advocate that businesses can do a lot of good as well as make money. I would encourage everyone to remain cognisant of this from the embryonic stages of their venture.
- Be a hustler - People don't ask enough. Individuals tell me how lucky I am that I met this person or got something for free but it's just as simple as offering a win win solution and asking.
- Being likeable - I think that being likeable is massively undervalued. Being interested in others, being a nice person, doing the right thing and treating people well is critically important. People do business with people they like and trust and that is too often forgotten. If you want to persuade individuals to give you their time and invest in you, them liking and trusting you is half the battle.