Podcast

Ashley Horn on building a retail marketplace, why paid ads are a great choice for startups, and crunching the numbers to get ahead

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Introduction

Ashley Horn is the co-founder of CREOATE, a wholesale marketplace designed to help independent retailers to thrive. She got her retail start in her grandmother’s antiques and collectibles store in California, before moving to London and working for the likes of Lloyd’s Bank and Deloitte. It was when she decided to open a store with friend and business partner, Fahad Khan that they realised how hard retailers have it. This eventually led them to develop CREOATE, a B2B marketplace designed to help independent retail businesses grow, by providing them with a centralised platform to buy wholesale from unique, emerging brands.

What You’ll Hear

  • [1:18 How Ashley became an entrepreneur 
  • [2:12] How the idea of CREOATE came about 
  • [4:02 How Ashley found the motivation to start the business 
  • [5:18] Ashley’s tips for finding paying clients 
  • [8:52] Ashley’s tactics for turning people into clients 
  • [11:09] How Ashley faced and overcame challenges 
  • [14:57] Tips for standing out as a small brand 
  • [16:51] Raising your prices in a recession 
  • [18:23] The sales block 
  • [20:15] How Ashley tracks the numbers 
  • [22:08] Ashley’s advice for someone starting out 
  • [24:16] What catapulted CREOATE’s growth 
  • [25:44] Investments vs self-funding 
  • [27:27] Ashley’s favourite place 
  • [28:30] Final comments
  •  

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How Ashley Became an Entrepreneur 

Ashley says there wasn’t a single stand-out moment that led her to becoming an entrepreneur. She had an itch to create something of her own and she’d had many conversations with friends about it. 

Working for big companies gave her a front row seat to business owners, leaders, & their business challenges. She wanted to do something similar but wasn’t sure what — except that she wanted to build an iconic business. 

It wasn’t until the idea for CREOATE came to her that she knew she had to take action on making it a reality. 

How the Idea of CREOATE Came About 

Ashley was working with retail clients at the time, which gave her insight into the changing retail industry and the opportunities available to fill a gap in the market.

Inspired by technology, changes in demographics, and business dynamics, she launched her first retail store alongside friend and business partner Fahad Khan, with the intention of it being a place where independent business could grow, learn, and thrive. Through this experience, Ashley saw the challenges that independent retailers truly face. 

Seeing it from both sides helped her to nail down what a “better experience” would be, which become the foundation of what CREOATE was built on. 

How Ashley Found the Motivation to Start the Business 

Ashley admits that she was overwhelmed at first, having never started a business before. She was motivated by hitting small milestones along the way, like choosing a name, creating a logo, registering the company, and so on. 

Ashley’s Tips for Finding Paying Clients 

Finding paying clients was the hardest part for Ashley. Coming from a finance background that was so analytical and structured, she found it difficult to create her own plan from scratch.

She had to go through a quick learning curve, figuring out who her customers are, where they are, and what the customer journey looks like, all the while leaning on the numbers to get the best idea of what was working, and what wasn’t. 

Once she knew what the customer journey looked like, she found it easier and more predictable to move people through individual stages, rather than trying to make everyone a paying client. 

Ashley’s Tactics for Turning People Into Clients 

Ashley admits that although it won’t be possible for everyone, she recommends starting with paid channels. She suggests beginning with a small budget, and assures that it’s an excellent way to gain insight into customer behaviour. 

The next step was tapping into communities where potential clients spent time, in order to build an email list. As the platform began to take off, referrals became their main way of winning new business. 

How Ashley Faced & Overcame Challenges 

Ashley believes that you need to enjoy a good challenge to be successful in the startup game. She’s always thinking about how to be better, which she believes gives her a bit of insight into what challenges may be around the corner, and helps her prepare for them. 

She also never gets too comfortable or complacent. Lilach throws in that we need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. 

Ashley also mentions that there are patterns to challenges. Digging into the root cause of an issue can help you avoid it again later. 

Tips for Standing Out As a Small Brand 

Ashley believes there are 3 important things needed to stand out as a small brand: product, price, and a different, unique experience. The experience that you offer is the defining one. Fast service and little extra perks also go a long way. 

Raising Your Price In a Recession 

Ashley suggests focusing on your margin. Can retailers sell your product for more if you increase your price? She recommends having an honest conversation with your retailer to get all the facts and details before making a decision — focus on the numbers! 

The Sales Block 

Ashley struggled with sales because she’d never done it before. Her breakthrough point was understanding what it takes to turn a website visitor or browser into a paying customer. Understanding the numbers and the data helped her to optimise the process. 

How Ashley Tracks the Numbers 

CREOATE uses Google Analytics to analyse traffic and buyer behaviour. Analysing how they land on your website, which pages they’re spending time on, and how long they’re there gives you an idea of where the quality is. 

Ashley’s Advice for Someone Starting Out

Be prepared for the marathon. Ashley mentions that there were plenty of times they could have walked away from CREOATE when it got difficult. 

It’s about seeing it through, being resilient, doing the things, and not giving up. Not everything is a failure, they’re just things that you’re learning along the way. 

Also, don’t go into this without an income stream. Hold onto the job you already have until your new business is bringing in a flow of cash. 

What Catapulted CREOATE’s Growth? 

Paid ads helped growth to come fast, and an engineering team working on the website to optimise conversion greatly helped. Also, tracking the numbers and watching customer behaviour carefully to see what’s working and what’s not has been crucial.

Always aim to improve, every time you analyse. Make the user experience better and it helps you move from a 1% conversion rate to 2%. 

Investments vs Self-Funding 

CREOATE self-funded for its first year. Consider what you’re finding and if it’s likely to pay back soon or not. Equity is more suited for longer-term payback, things like credit cards or short-term loans can be handy if you’re expecting a quick payout. There are many financing options available. 

Ashley’s Favourite Place 

Ashley loves visiting new places and would rather go to a new place than one she’s already been to! If she had to choose, it would be Cuba: a mix of city, nature, and history. 

Final Comments

You can reach Ashley on LinkedIn or check out the CREOATE website today.

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Are you a small business looking for unique one-of-a-kind stock for your shop, eCommerce store or subscription box service?  Want to support independent artists and makers?  CREOATE makes it easy to source stock according to your values with over 300,000 products from more than 7000 independent brands spanning homeware, beauty, fashion and more!  Designed to cater all your wholesale needs CREOATE is super intuitive and easy to use.  You can even send back anything that doesn’t sell in 60 days or get a refund. 

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