While rewarding, being a stay at home mum can also be challenging, exhausting, lonely, and at times incredibly under-stimulating – particularly for someone who was previously in a busy work environment with great skills to offer the workforce. Nikki Cochrane saw this need for mums to keep busy and earn a salary, while still being available for their children – and so started Digital Mums. We spoke to her to find out more.

Can you briefly tell us a bit more about your business and what it offers?

Our business is called Digital Mums, and we train mums to be social media managers – the perfect job for a mum as it’s flexible and you can do it remotely and while on the go. We then match these mums to businesses who need help with social media. A lot of businesses know they should be thinking social but don’t have the expertise, or big budgets. So we get mums back into flexible employment and help businesses grow with social media, solving two problems with a single solution.

Startup_Digital Mums

And how long have you been working on this business?

We came up with the idea in October 2013, so a bit under two years in total.

What makes you so passionate about this business and how did you come up with the idea for it?

We’re both passionate about the mums we’re helping. When you’re a mum, having a job that fits around your family can seem a pipe dream – being able to actually make that a reality is hugely fulfilling.

My business partner Kathryn Tyler and I originally started a marketing consultancy in Hackney. We were only working on it in our free time and nearly every client was asking us to take over their social media channels, which we didn’t have time for. At the same time we saw a report from the Fawcett Society on maternal unemployment being at a 25 year high. And it just clicked – social media management was a perfect job for a mum looking for flexible work that fits around their family commitments.

Can you tell us a bit more about your background and how you came to be an entrepreneur?

My background is fairly eclectic. I left school without any qualifications and not one GCSE to my name. It wasn’t because I wasn’t academic, I was just always more interested in what was going on in the world. I spent my twenties travelling the world, living in LA and Tokyo, and came back to London at aged 29. By that time, all my friends had a career and I had to start from scratch.

I started out in relatively low-skill administrative roles. I knew that I was smarter than that but I couldn’t get round the fact that I had little experience. I got my first break at a consultancy working as a programme manager on international projects. I got to travel with that job and worked with academics, which made me realise I wanted more, so I did a Psychology Degree while working fulltime. While studying I joined M&C Saatchi – they encourage and nurture entrepreneurial thinking – this definitely shaped me to become an entrepreneur. I was working for the founders David Kershaw and Jeremy Sinclair, who are entrepreneurs themselves so it was only a matter of time really before I went and did it myself. It was at M&C Saatchi where I got the bug for digital marketing and social media.

I made the transition when I was thinking of what I want to do next. There was no one job that fitted everything I wanted so I decided to create one that did.

And your family background? Did you have any entrepreneurs in your family who influenced you?

My dad passed away when I was four, leaving my mum with three children under the age of four to bring up. She didn’t have the opportunities that people have now. When I was at school she cleaned people’s houses to help us get by. It was tough growing up in a low-income family. If I wanted money to buy something I had to work for it, so I got my first job at 13 doing a paper round, then had Saturday jobs throughout school. I’ve always considered myself a grafter.

My mum was amazing and is still my inspiration today. It only seems apt for me to be running a business focused on supporting mums – it’s because of her.

You mentioned your business partner? How did you meet and how did the partnership come about?

Yep, my co-founder is Kathryn Tyler, and we met in Thailand on a yoga retreat 8 years ago. We’re both from Hackney and just clicked from the first day we met.

Funnily enough, she was originally a biochemist, but her most recent background is as a digital marketing guru in the social enterprise world. She was the Head of Digital Communications at the Innovation Unit, which used to be part of the UK’s Department of Education. This informed a lot of the thinking around how we created our innovative training programme.

How do you think your business differs from other companies and your competitors?
We’re not selling a training course, we’re selling a vision and a new lifestyle. The old way of working – long hours sitting in an office – it’s just an out date model of working with the technology available today. There’s definitely negative aspects to freelancing too – zero hour contracts and instability with employment – but there’s a flipside to it, which offers flexibility and freedom for certain career types.

There’s loads of part-time job agencies out there but we’ve identified a new type of job and a new solution for it.  And what’s different about us is that mums are joining a network and a community. Traditionally in freelancing work you work in a silo, by yourself, which can be lonely and frankly a bit boring over the long-term. With us, they join a vibrant community of like-minded professionals. They help and support each other during their training and once they’ve graduated, which means that they’re never in it alone. Many of our students come back and work for us, so we are now creating an eco-system of sorts.

Tell us about any challenges that you have encountered in setting up your own business and how you learnt from these experiences.

The biggest challenge we’ve faced was definitely pre-investment – the classic bootstrapping start-up story. We were working crazy hours and we weren’t paying ourselves yet – I couldn’t even go out with my friends because I was too busy and too poor! I learnt that you have to hustle to get off the ground but also that hard work pays off!

And our last business transformed into Digital Mums rather than going under. So I guess what we learnt was the importance of pivoting when you need to.

What would you say is the most exciting or inspirational moment to date running this business, or even just life in general?

It’s hard to pick just one exciting moment! Digital Mums is moving at such a speed at the moment and we only launched in Sept 2014 and everyday something exciting and inspirational happens! I guess the most exciting and scary moment for me personally was taking the leap from the safety of full time employment into becoming an entrepreneur. Also the fact that we feel that Digital Mums are pioneers of a really important movement happening. It’s not just a training provider, it’s offering a new lifestyle and opening doors which were previously shut to so many amazing women and that feels so good.

And your future vision for your company in say the next 3 to 6 years?

In three years’ time we want to have supported over 1000 mums getting back into the workplace. If we get that right everything else will come together.

Finally, if there was one bit of advice that you could give to someone considering a startup, what would it be?

Get yourself an awesome co-founder who compliments your skill set and shares your vision.

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