Posted: 6 July, 2020

Alumnae Perspectives: The Challenges of being an Entrepreneur

Alumnae, Careers, News

Any job is testing at times, but being a business owner during a pandemic has some unique challenges. Two alumnae share their stories of what it is like to be an entrepreneur at the moment

Rachel Prince (née Jones)

Class of 2002; Founder of re|Born

Tell us a bit about what have done since leaving Putney?
After leaving Putney High I went on to study Maths at Bristol University achieving a 1st with honours. Although this opened up a lot of job opportunities, I was unsure of what I actually wanted to do.
I started off interning at a boutique Investment Bank and subsequently being hired by the company. I soon realised this wasn’t for me and as I had a passion for problem solving and retail/fashion I moved into retail consulting. As the industry changed with the importance of online, I decided to gain more experience in this area and moved in-house to work for Amazon for four years and subsequently Mountain Warehouse heading up their online Marketplaces business.

Did you always know you wanted to start your own business?
I have always wanted to run my own business and would come up with ideas daily, but I never had the courage to pursue them. It was probably due to a lack of passion in the idea to see it through (or it had already been done!).

So what inspired you to eventually go for it?
It was only when I fell pregnant that I saw an opportunity that excited me. There wasn’t enough education and dedicated support surrounding exercise and training for women trying to conceive, during pregnancy and postpartum.

How did you respond to this need?
I decided to leave my existing career and re-train as a Pre & Post Natal Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist.
My brand re|Born was created shortly after, but it also happened to be just before lockdown.

How has lockdown effected your brand launch?
My ability to get my brand out in the world through planned events and workshops rapidly diminished. I had to switch my approach and so spent time in the first week developing my website (alone) and setting up an Instagram handle. I also started to partner with antenatal groups and a well-known mum meet up app to both help mothers stuck at home during lockdown and to build brand awareness without spending money on online advertising which was flooded with trainers and gyms all competing for top search results (very expensive)!

As we are starting to see lockdown lift, how are you hoping to develop your brand?
My business was always going to have a large online focus due to my prior career and experience. I want to make personal training more accessible and affordable for mums, but to also enable trainers to earn incremental revenue through a focus on digital.
I have a long term vision for the brand but testing the concept first on a small scale is important. The market changed during lockdown which while providing competitive challenges, will hopefully benefit my brand in the longer term. I’m in the very early stages but I am happier than I have been in any previous job.

What advice would you share with someone looking to set up their own business?
My advice for anyone looking to start their own business is firstly to have a real interest in what you are about to do. Starting your own business is a lot of hard work and you will have days where you wonder if it is all worth it, particularly from a cash flow perspective. Passion drives you forward and others can see this in what you do. Continue to develop yourself personally and professionally and have a back-up plan in case things don’t work out. For example, I am doing a digital marketing and social media professional diploma on the side to keep me relevant in the digital/online space in the event that I need to go back, but this also has ties to growing my own business.

If there is one thing that Putney High has taught me is don’t just work hard, work smart. Sometimes you need to take a step back to see the bigger opportunity, create your vision and set manageable goals to achieve it.

Ali Pumfrey

Class of 2010; Founder of Ali Pumfrey Chef

You started your business in 2016, what first inspired you to go for it?
After realising that I just didn’t enjoy the job I had at the time as much as I loved to cook, I took the plunge and decided to do a cookery course, gaining a Diploma in Food and Wine at Leiths Cookery School. It was after this, in 2016, that I established Ali Pumfrey Chef, a catering company, offering food services and creating tailor-made events for London and beyond.


What has it been like for you as a business owner in lockdown?
Lockdown has been a learning curve where I have had to adapt and be inventive with new ideas and revenue streams for my business. I have both corporate and private clients and the corporate office in London, where I am their resident chef, was one of the first offices to shut. This was quickly followed by a number of private event cancellations, including a wedding, that I had lined up. With no future work in the diary, I had to ask myself what I could do with my business in order to be proactive and stay connected to clients.

What are some of the things you have done during lockdown?
I quickly learnt that lockdown was an opportunity to reach out to people via online platforms. Writing recipes is something I do on a daily basis, but don’t usually have the time to share them with others. Besides, being creative with new delicious menu ideas is what I am passionate about and why I love cooking.

How have you been reaching out to people online?
I started to upload my recipes and giving online cooking lessons. The cooking classes started on Instagram Live, and I found that being part of a group who were all making the same dish, and then sitting down to eat the same meal, rather comforting amongst all of the frightening mayhem associated with the global pandemic. I adore bringing people together through food and learnt that I was able to do this online, which was something I hadn’t considered before.

Now, I run regular online cooking courses on Zoom for those that want to learn new cooking skills and recipes in the comfort of their own home. In addition, I am performing live cooking classes for corporate teams as a bonding exercise to bring a bit of fun to the monotony of their day as work from home. I have also greatly enjoyed demonstrating key culinary techniques to a number of children who have had little experience of food and nutrition from their curriculum.

Looking ahead as lockdown lifts, what do you think some of the challenges will be?
At this current time, it is difficult to make future plans as the outcome of easing lockdown is unclear. However, it is important to stay positive and accept that being flexible is something that is necessary in order to adhere to what is being advised. It is inevitable that I will be creating and learning new ways to keep my catering business current and accessible to clients as much as possible. I envisage an increased online presence and more food delivery services until social gatherings with large groups of people are back on the agenda.


How are you planning to respond to this ‘new normal’?
For the time being I have relocated my catering business to Cornwall, which is where I have been living since the beginning of lockdown. My services are continuously evolving as government guidelines develop. Currently I am offering food delivery packages for the Cornish clientele, as well as a private chef service where COVID-19 health and safety requirements can be met.

I can only have an optimistic outlook to the “new normal” as it is not helpful to mourn over changes that are out of my control. I am hopeful and excited about the future of the A.P. Chef brand and looking forward to a potential busy summer catering in Cornwall.

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