Mina has a love for science, animals, and baking. Not necessarily in that order.
Iglika is the Founder and CEO of the mobile beauty spa App, USPAAH. She left a career in finance to launch her own business. Here she takes us through some of her journey and shares some of the knowledge she has gained using crowdfunding platforms to win investment funding.
Mina: Good morning, Iglika. Today I am fortunate enough to speak with Iglika Ghouse who is the founder of USPAAH and she will be giving us an insight into what it is to be a, you know, entrepreneur, and how crowdfunding is really useful for startups, and just really an insight into her life because she's very interesting...so I wanted to start with a really general question which is mostly about connecting with people. When was the last time you've learned something from somebody? It could be surprising, it could be anything.
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Iglika: Right. Well, having been isolated more or less the last year, I think it's obviously limited our social contact more or less. So, we've had...but we have had a chance to catch up with family more than anyone else. And I was speaking to my uncle who lives in America probably about a week or two ago now just complaining, "Oh, you know, I wish this lockdown would end so that I can do this and I can do that. And I just had a second baby and I can't wait for him to, you know, to get to 1 year old so he can start nursery and I can have more time and this and that." And my uncle goes, "Why are you rushing so much?" And, you know, he's late...he's in his late 70s, in fairly good health but some health problems and he's just...and he just keeps on saying, "The one thing that I wish of my age is to slow time down. And all you young people, all you want to do is rush things and get as fast as possible from point A to point B but you end up losing a grip on reality if you keep on doing that and you end up not enjoying the actual time that you have with your family and with your friends."
And it's not that I didn't know this before but I think when he said it, it kinda hit a spot and it made me realize why...yeah, why I am rushing? Why am I rushing to...for my babies to grow up? I mean, why am I rushing to, you know, to get to the summer, or to get to, you know, the next stage of the business? There's no reason for it really. So, I think what I...it just sorta suddenly struck me to really slow down and kinda try and enjoy each day as they come with the challenges. So, it was really...even though I didn't necessarily learn a new thing, it was very useful for me to be reminded of such a basic thing that most of us kind of don't really think about and it could actually have a huge impact on your day-to-day outlook and mood. So yeah. So, I think that was the most recent time when I was speaking to someone, and really learned something about myself, and tried to consciously make an effort to be better from henceforward, from there onwards.
Mina: That's the best kind of thing to learn, though, isn't it, where you can actually put it into practice and, you know, see it improve your existence. If you were to describe yourself in one word, what would it be? We've obviously known each other for a really long time so I'm really interested in this response.
Iglika: I think if I had just one word, I would say ambitious. Only because I've always aimed and strived for bigger and better things, for better or for worse. I mean, this goes back to my...to what I was just saying that I'm almost never satisfied with where I am right now. And again, that could be a good thing and a bad thing. But I think what has come out in terms of positive out of this is that I've always strived for, okay, let's get to the next level. If you've just fundraised, okay, let's work on getting now the next bigger fundraise. If you have completed a degree, okay, should we think about, you know, a higher degree, etc., etc., or even when I was working at banks. Okay. I've reached a certain level. How do we get to the next level, etc? So ambitious is definitely something that I've been from a very young age having grown up in a very slow-moving country such as Bulgaria. I've always wanted to be better, do bigger things and move faster. And yeah. That's what I think. That's something that I can't change unfortunately but I can consciously work on channeling it in a positive direction.
Mina: I think you do. I think you definitely channel it in a positive direction. And so how did you really come up with the idea of USPAAH and sort of its nascent stages in the very beginning? How did you put it together...
Iglika: Well, it was something that I actually really needed. I was working as an investment banker in the city of London working very long hours, 10, 12-hour days, traveling. Very often not being really in charge of my schedule as much as I would like to and I was operating on very high-stress levels, a lot of exhaustion. So, I often needed to unwind with some sort of treatment, maybe a deep tissue massage or just upkeep in terms of maintenance, hair, and nails, etc., because when you are meeting people for a living, you have to look your best. And if you look your best, that ultimately makes you feel better and makes you perform better. So, for me, really wellness and beauty were a part of my maintenance, life maintenance rather than a luxury. And it...this is maybe now six years ago when I was...I would always try and book things last minute because I could never really predict when I would need a massage. You know, pain doesn't come on schedule. It just hits you. One day you're sitting at a desk for 10 hours and suddenly you have this really debilitating pain in your neck and you can't think or do anything. And I would try and get bookings in nearby salons but it was always impossible to get bookings last minute. Salons mostly close around 6:00 p.m. and it's very difficult for people in high-stress careers to get off work at 6:00 p.m. I mean, you ask any doctor, lawyer or many other professions, you know, how often they leave the office before really 6:30 even...so I was just really frustrated by not being able to get treatments on my schedule when I need them on short notice without me having to book weeks in advance. And it was during that time that Uber was really blowing up in London and I just thought to myself, "Why can't there be a service that brings wellness treatments to my door when I need them, and I can book them easily on my phone without having to write an email or call someone, and pay online or via an app, and just be done with it?"
And I researched if there were such services. There were a few companies more sort of mom-and-pop shops that you still had to call to make an appointment or write an email and somebody would come to you in a couple of days' time and it just wasn't working. It wasn't what I saw as a solution. So, I thought, "Well, surely there must be a better way to do this." And that's really where the idea of USPAAH came from. We wanted to build a beauty and wellness service that comes to your door on-demand, same day, and that can be easily booked on your app or computer. And that's when we started.
Mina: And how did you sort of take the idea and really start to make it into, you know, a reality? How did you start to build USPAAH and, you know, have the platform as you have it now? It must be some journey.
Iglika: Well, it's...the first challenge was to find the technical team to work with because I am not a coder, I'm not a developer, and I needed to work with a team of people that could build this for me. So, I spent probably about a couple of months contacting different companies, independent consultants in England, in Eastern Europe, etc., to find the team that understood what I wanted to build and were able to demonstrate a good track record and that were able to build what I wanted to be done at a reasonable cost. So that took about a month. And I think also what was important for me, in the beginning, was to educate myself actually on what I would need. So, I started going to various networking events after work. London, thankfully, is a city where there, at the time, there were tons of networking events and educational events happening for the tech industry. So, one could really learn everything from user experience, design, to building a website, to essentials of marketing. You could learn all these things if you just put yourself out there and went to some classes.
So, I made it a point to go to as many classes and educational events as I could for about six months, find a team. I found a team that was able to put in...on paper really what I wanted to achieve and they were able to do it at a reasonable cost. So, we just started to...working after probably, I would say, yeah, five, six months after idea generation, we started putting code together and started taking...the idea started taking shape.
Mina: If you were to sort of rewind and tell yourself one thing, what would it be? What was the one thing you wish you had known before you actually launched your business, your startup?
Iglika: I wish I had known how hard it would be for a single founder to do this. I really...I really, really, really significantly underestimated the amount of work that goes into starting a business. And I wish that I had cofounders at the time. But I had come from an industry where you were taught to be very much a self-starter, to operate on an extremely high level, and to really take...not take no for an answer. That's the word of investment banking. And you always have to push yourself and you kind of...when you go through 10 years of that, you start feeling a bit invincible and you start thinking, "Oh, I can do anything." You can't. And starting a business is a totally different animal and you don't know what you don't know until you actually start building the company. And it very quickly became obvious that I need help in marketing, I need help in operations, I needed help in obviously tech development, legal, so many areas, HR. I mean, you end up wearing 10 hats as a single founder. And I think it would've been so much easier and I would've achieved more if I had a cofounder, to begin with. And I think I told you this before but there...something that always stuck with me was I was speaking to a friend of mine who had founded a very successful app and he's one of five co-founders. And I kept on asking him like, "How do you guys get anything done? Like, don't you guys fight all the time? And there's so many of you and, you know, and how does that even work?" And he said, "Well, imagine if you had five of you, how much more could you achieve if there were five people dedicated to the cause just as much as you are and they were willing to work hard on making it happen just as much as you are. You would be where you are five times faster."
And I said to myself, "Okay. Yeah. I get it now. I didn't think about that side of the equation but yes, you're right. You're absolutely right." So, one lesson learned. If I ever start any other businesses in the future, get one, minimum, if not two cofounders to really help drive things forward faster.
Mina: And you sort of used crowdfunding to...for your investment purposes, sort of for your company. What has been your experience of crowdfunding as a whole?
Iglika: As a whole, I had a very positive experience with crowdfunding. We obviously raised over half a million pounds in two rounds. And I think we did quite well but it definitely wasn't easy. And again, it's one of those things where you go into it assuming that once you build your company, and once you have a little bit of traction to show, and you have a nice presentation, that people are just going to start throwing millions at you. It doesn't work like that. And a crowdfunding campaign is very hard. You have to spend months preparing for it in terms of your video, your pitch deck, your company presentation and you really have to drum up investor demand even before you get close to launching on the crowdfunding platform. So, it's been a positive experience overall, but I think one has to be very informed about how the process works, and what is required at each stage if you want to be successful because there are a lot of companies that have gone crowdfunding that unfortunately doesn't get to a successful campaign and it's because they're just not prepared. And they can do it better the next time but it'll be good if people get more education about crowdfunding before they launch the first time.
Mina: If you were gonna sort of platform, what would you have included? What did you find the most useful thing sort of about the whole startup?
Iglika: I think one thing that was very useful was the easy access for investors. It's really...investing in a startup can be a very paper-heavy and administrative-heavy process if you were just doing it directly with an investor. You have to get lawyers involved, and you have to have accountants involved and whatnot. And I think a crowdfunding platform makes it so easy for individual investors to participate and you can participate with as little as £10 or as much as you want, really. And you can use your debit or credit card, and the platform takes care of all the legal work for you and all the administrative work for you. So, it's a very streamlined process and I think that has enabled the growth of crowdfunding to this point because it makes it really so easy for everyday people to get involved in their favorite startups or brands and support them. And I think that's definitely something that would be a very beneficial feature of any crowdfunding platform. So yeah, that's one thing that I think works really well.
Mina: And how do you think...you know, having been an entrepreneur for six years now, sort of leaving your finance life behind in some way, I guess it's been a long enough gap, how do you feel your new calling has shaped your connection with people on social media, having used crowdfunding and sort of had a "big" online presence but not as a, you know...not personally in a way, but also because you're the sole founder.
Iglika: Yes. Well, I used to...social media is an interesting question because I used to post a lot more. I had a personal Instagram account, I had...well, I still have my personal Facebook account and Twitter and whatnot. But I have...and in the beginning up until sort of a year and a half ago, I was very open online and I tried to mix my professional and personal life on social media in order to portray that, hey, I'm just a normal person that has a family but also runs a business and, you know, this is what we're doing, and if we can do it, then you can do it too kind of thing. So, I tried to be very open and honest on social media. But having had a little bit of a negative experience with something about a year and a half ago, I decided to pull back on everything personal and just use social media for professional posts and professional reasons, and I think for myself that works better mentally and sort of for my peace of mind. I think I was trying to do too much on social media. When you have both the personal and the professional interests out there, I think that can get convoluted, and that can get conflicted, and can create unnecessary stress for you, whereas now that I just keep my sort of online presence as professional as possible, it really has cleared my mind into what I'm supposed to post, when what topics to share with people, and how to really get a hold of my online presence much better in a much safer and more controlled way.
So, my social media experience has definitely changed in the last couple of years and I've learned a lot. And I think keeping a professional presence online is very important for any entrepreneur, and I think you have to really manage your personal profile very, very well if you choose to keep one out there while also running a company and trying to be a public figure.
Mina: Right. Well, thank you very much for your insight and your time. I know that you're a very busy woman and...
Iglika: You're most welcome. Let's talk later.