We live in the age of technology and so it was only fitting that I met my business partner on the net! As anyone who has moved to Spain knows, it can be difficult to make new friends and meet others in the same situation. Lesley and I had both had babies here in Spain at around the same time and were both having a difficult time finding information and dealing with this huge change in our lives without the network we would have had around us back at home. We both discovered a website called mumsinspain and as we lived near each other we became friends via the site's forum. A while after we met we found that a lot of our conversations were taken up with moans and groans about baby products we wanted to buy but couldn't find here in Spain. After my parents had literally heaved a heavy playpen all the way from the UK we realised there was a definite gap in the market and on whim decided to fill it!
Looking back we were both taking a huge gamble starting a business with someone we barely knew. But right from the start it felt right for both of us and we both felt that our different professional backgrounds would compliment the business and we both believed in what we were doing, agreed on the way we wanted the business to work and trusted each other. And so far so good!
Firstly we had to face the facts … one, we knew little about retail and even less about starting a business in Spain! Two, starting a business with two small (often grumpy) toddlers in tow was not going to be easy! When we started in October 2007 our daughters were both around 10 months old. As they have got older it has become more difficult as our girls need more entertaining and we need more time to work.
One of the reasons we decided to start the business was that we both wanted and needed to work, but neither of us was keen to return to a 9-5 desk job where we would have to leave our babies and not be able to be with them if they needed us. We hoped that working from home would allow us the best of both worlds. Of course in reality it's not as idyllic as that at all. Most days we have found working at home with babies to be a completely unpredictable experience, one day they'll happily play together for hours on end, needing hardly any attention and we can sit at the laptop and smile over at our wonderful daughters, the next they act as if they can't stand each other and cling to our ankles as if we were the meanest, least affectionate mums in the world.
At times like these it's almost impossible to work properly and we have come to realise that starting a business in Spain is all the harder because often there is less extended family around to support you or those that are here work full time. Both the girls start nursery this September and so things will be slightly easier, but at the moment it is a case of juggling the job of being a full time mum with that of being a company director!
However the trials of setting up a business with a baby on your lap are far outweighed by the thought of having to leave them completely and we have been lucky to have had the opportunity to base our work around our children.
So our first hurdle was working our way around the maze of legalities involved in setting up a business in Spain. Do we become an SL or do we work as autonomous? This seemed to be a question that no one had a finite answer too! After a few months we realised that we just wanted to find someone who could tell us what to do, but as helpful as the lawyers, gestors and general business experts were, every meeting simply seemed to just throw up more and more questions. Luckily our two husbands acted as translators, without them the process would have been even more confusing.
We have found that if you go and search for it, help is out there … but it's not easy to find. By chance we stumbled across an office in our local town hall which specialised in helping new business set up. Through this office we have been able to set up our business, and by doing it ourselves with their help we avoided many of the costs of setting up a business with a gestor. It has however been a time consuming and complex process and is only recommended if you have access to a Spanish speaking family member! The lovely lady who took on our 'case' desperately searched for grants to help us, painstakingly typed up our business plans in Spanish, filled out forms for us and on one crazy Easter weekend stayed late just so we could finish and submit a form for a 'women in business' grant before the deadline. She also spent many hours explaining to us how an SL company would work. (All this with our babies creating havoc under the table, pulling apart the plants, taking all the cups out of the water machine and tying the string from the blinds in knots etc etc … you get the idea! ) On her advice we took the paperwork ourselves to the various offices in Malaga such as the Hacienda and waited in line for our papers to be processed. The whole process took several months but when we finally signed our business escritura it was definitely worth all the running around.
Having decided on an online shop, we secured the site domain name and choose and registered our own name (a story in itself as the names we chose kept coming back as 'taken' … in Spain you must submit 3 names but you won't know for a while which name will be chosen, so you just have to keep your fingers crossed it's the one you want!) Our next challenges included the logo design, website design and deciding what we could afford to sell as opposed to what we would really like to sell. This was now several months after we had began and with one expensive trip to London to visit a baby product trade show under our belts, we were feeling the pressure to get the business up and running. Lesley in particular needed everything to be finalised as she had just discovered she was expecting her second child and we needed to be up and running before she gave birth.
We began the 'second phase' of starting our business by 'interviewing' design companies. The look of both the logo and site was very important to us as we wanted both to look professional, sleek and most of all convey our message. Having chosen different companies to work on the logo and the site we excitedly gave both the go ahead to start work. We expected the logo design to take a few weeks but it ended up being nearer to a few months. We wanted the logo to have an 'organic' feel or theme whilst clearly also saying 'baby' and preferably 'pregnancy' too … we went through a number of ideas with our long suffering graphic design company and after exploring teddy bears wearing towelling nappies, babies playing on our name, babies sitting in flowers and bumps and lumps all over the place, we eventually settled on a baby on a leaf in green and brown colours. It took a long time but we are really happy with our logo and have received some really nice compliments on it already which makes the whole process worthwhile.
Once we had our logo colours confirmed we could really get to work on the website design. We wanted a really clear and easy to negotiate shopping section as well as easy to understand pages on baby showers, gift deliveries etc. Choosing a company to work with was difficult and unfortunately we parted ways with our first design company shortly before the 'first' site was due to launch. We lost a lot of money but felt that we had been through a real 'learning curve' and that although this was a major setback and we had to cancel advertising and put the launch date back, in the long run we'd probably had a lucky escape. After a very stressful few weeks during which we both began to wonder if we'd ever actually launch our business and if we could even afford to pay for a new site, we found another company and our 'second' site was created on an extremely unrealistic timescale and with neither of us really sure how it would turn out. Luckily and to the credit of the second company we were delighted with the end product and the site was launched only a month later than first planned.
Choosing products has been really exciting. We started off with a wish list and changed our minds about a lot of products which were either too expensive and we felt wouldn't sell, or weren't quite what we were looking for. We wanted to offer the types of products that we have found we needed over the last 18 months but just couldn't find here in Spain as well as a good organic range. As our babies grow we find there are more things we need ourselves and so we are adding products with experience! We went to the Baby Show in London last year and found some brilliant new products and Lesley has managed to find the time and energy (while pregnant with number 2) to pop over to Thailand twice to source manufacturers, suppliers and products for our own brand items and packaging! One of the things we have had to learn to do is negotiate with suppliers and barter the price down … Lesley was definitely better than me at this! With the products in place we finalised courier companies, delivery prices, packaging options and translating the whole site into Spanish. We organised storage of the products here in Spain, chose a bank with the right business package and organised our monthly accounting with our gestor for when we launched. As with everything none of these things was simple, but we got there in the end.
The last few weeks before the launch were hectic. We had about a week to get all the products and all our information and photos onto the site before it went live. It was lucky that this period co-incided with the summer and we both had families out here. During those weeks we worked around the clock and long into the night once the girls were sleeping.
And so in August 2008, nearly a year after we first started, we finally launched our business! In the time it's taken us to set up a business our daughters have gone from crawling to walking, from purees to three course meals, and from home to nursery. They've celebrated their first birthdays, started to talk and discovered they don't much like us working! Meanwhile Lesley's bump has grown and she is due to give birth any day now!
As for the business, we finally launched and have received some lovely feedback and many positive comments. There is so much still to do and most of our days are spent juggling babies, emails, meetings and whenever possible grabbing just a few minutes here and there researching new products on the net. But the experience has been so fulfilling and so exciting that despite the sleepless nights, babies in meetings, working into the small hours once they are sleeping and ongoing fear it could all be a huge disaster and we might be bankrupt this time next year …. we wouldn't change a thing.
By Samantha Sintes, Indybel - British, International and Organic Products for Pregnancy and Baby in Spain.