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How did Olli Ella get started?
It started in 2010, just after my first son was born and it was just a little passion project with my sister and I. I’d been looking for a nursing chair for my son’s nursery and all of the nursing chairs were very traditional and I just wanted something a bit more contemporary. Olivia and I owned an art gallery, which we still do. So we designed one and had it made locally and once I had it in the house a few of my friends saw it and asked if we’d make them one. Word spread quite quickly and we realised we might have a business opportunity there. So with that single nursing chair which we made locally, and then we did a trade show a few months later and were picked up by Harrods which is almost unheard of, with less than two years business trading and things really grew from there. About ten months later we launched in Australia and the company has just expanded into homewares over the past two years.
How did you fund the business?
We self-funded. We each put in a portion of our own money. I think that was one of the great things about manufacturing locally – we knew what we wanted the first product to sell for and when we were having it manufactured we were making the tiniest margin, five to ten per cent. That way we didn’t have to invest in loads of stock because everything was made to order at that time. Sales reached $2 million last year and we’re growing each year.
Is everything still manufactured locally?
It depends. Our furniture, Our furniture is made in Australia and in England. Anything for the Australian and Asia market is made in Australia, anything for Europe is made in England. Then all of our other products are all fair trade but they’re made all around the world.
What would you say your biggest challenges have been so far?
I think entering new markets has had a lot of new challenges because, with every new market the way businesses are run and the customers and retail expectations are completely different. We’ve expanded quite quickly and it’s been surprising just how different every country is and it’s taken a lot of effort to be able to respond to those challenges.
What’s it like working with your sister?
Perhaps it’s a matter of our personalities but it’s been the best partnership I could ever hope for, it really has. We have very different strengths, we have very different weaknesses and it’s been a really nice balance and there’s a level of honesty that we’ve been able to have that perhaps not all business relationships can benefit from. We’ve learnt not to talk about business at family dinners. Besides the fact that it annoys the rest of our family, it’s something that we’ve definitely had to make a conscious effort not to do. She’s really good about it, I find it really difficult to switch off from work.
Do you have a favourite product?
It changes a lot. Right now it’s probably our macrame bassinet, just because I’m getting to use it with our new born and I’m obsessed with it. In general, our storage is my favourite because I’m a total storage junkie, I’ve got about forty baskets in our house and counting!
I think we’re going to continue to expand our product offering and just growing the US market which is quite a big challenge in itself, it’s so different from Australia and England so we’re really just, we’re figuring that out right now.
What’s your advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
You have so many ups and downs as a startup, as an entrepreneur, and I think if you’re not loving what you’re doing it makes the load so much harder to deal with. That’s the thing through this entire journey we’ve been doing Ollie Ella, there’ve been loads of ups and downs but the fact that we really love the business, love the product, love who we’re working with, makes it all worth it. If you’re going to start a company, make sure that you really do believe in it and that you’re not just looking to make a dollar.
Every day, KBB’s Dannie Doughan chats with an entrepreneur and features their story on our website. If your business wants a ‘Date with Dannie’, email us a quick bit about your biz!