20 QUESTIONS: Dessi Bell, Zaggora

Former City high-flyer Dessi Bell on avoiding the word cellulite, working at McDonalds and doing away with paper.

by Gabriella Griffith
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE, WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

I probably would have become a fashion designer, it's something I've always wanted to do but I was pushed by my parents to do economics at university and that’s the path I took early on. It’s funny how life turned out, I ended up doing clothes anyway. If I had gone into it early on, I probably would have done couture…or shoes – I’m obsessed with shoes.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

We looked at calling it Celu-lite – it’s obviously a play on cellulite but we realised it was a bad idea and changed our minds. No-one wants to go outside wearing pants which pretty much say ‘cellulite’. Secondly I’d find myself explaining it to everyone. I’m really glad we went with something else.

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY, WHERE WOULD IT BE?

San Francisco in the States – just because its very nice lifestyle out there. Also I run an ecommerce business and it’s the heart of the technology scene so it makes sense. I’ve been over there a few times and I loved it.

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

No it was self funded, we didn’t need to raise any money at all. We were lucky, we had the savings to fund it ourselves and not everyone has that choice.

Whether or not funding is a good idea totally depends on the business itself. We were able to monetise our offering very early on. Other businesses require a lot of investment before they get to that stage.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

The decision to launch the brand through Facebook. We didn't have a website in the early days and simply sent the products to bloggers and ask them to review them on Facebook. We created a community there from the very beginning and it has helped to establish us.

6.  WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

Probably not investing in certain things early enough. For example better systems, and more people. These are things you should invest in as early as possible but it’s obviously hard when you are bootstrapping a company. You always try to manage without these things at first. I wouldn’t call it a mistake necessarily but it’s something I can see with the benefit of hindsight.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

I’ve had lots of good ideas through the years – I had a fantastic idea for a real estate platform but Zoopla ended up doing it. I regret not following through on more of my business ideas.

As for other people’s businesses I would like to have thought of, I suppose my answer would be eBay or Amazon. As someone who works in online retail I can’t help but admire them. But you know what they say, it’s not about the idea but the way you execute it.

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

I try to deal with stress by breaking down problems one at time – it works very well and stops you getting overwhelmed. Other than that I do yoga, I meditate and exercise – well, not so much at the moment as I’m heavily pregnant.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

It was working in the drive-through at McDonald’s on City Road. It was actually the best experience in terms of what it taught me about working hard. I was only there for a few months though.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR JOB BEFORE YOU STARTED YOUR BUSINESS?

I used to be an investment banker at JP Morgan. I really admire the chief executive and chairman Jamie Dimon. I have a huge amount of respect for him. He always seems able to look at the bigger picture as well as the small details. He’s incredibly pragmatic.

11. WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

What I’m doing now. I love getting up in the morning and going to work. I like the fact every day there is a new challenge; it’s very intellectually challenging, fixing customer problems, coming up with new product ideas etc. I’ve learnt more in the past two years than I have ever learnt I’d say.

Zaggora, calorie-burning exercise gear in action

12. IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE, WHAT WOULD YOUR TEAM NAME BE?

Team Epic – it’s a word we use a lot in the team here so why not carry it on?

13. WHICH COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

I would invest in a storage company like Safestore. Space is such an expensive commodity – I think investing in something like that would pay off.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT’S THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

I bought my husband a Range Rover a few years ago. It’s a very comfortable car, really easy to drive. My husband drives it but obviously I get driven around in it so I enjoy it as well.

15. SUITS OR JEANS?

Both. I obviously work in jeans a lot but I like suits just as much - I love dressing up. There’s nothing quite like a well-cut suit, it just makes you feel good.

16. FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

Flexible - I couldn’t care less if people come at 9am or 10am as long as the job gets done and that's the way we work around here.

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT YOUR OFFICE?

The buzz in the office – we have a fantastic team, great people, a good environment and we are always exchanging ideas.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

Evernote – I love it. I’ve literally stopped taking paper notes all together, I use it on my phone my laptop and my iPad. It's really convenient and the rest of the team uses it too.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

Jeff Bezos. He saw an opportunity and went after it very early on in ecommerce. Amazon has amazing customer service, it’s a smart business which is incredibly efficient and great at diversifying into different areas. I’ve never met him but he’s very inspiring.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINISTER FOR A DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

I would create equal paternity and maternity leave. There’s such a huge debate around women in the workplace and with my maternity leave starting in a few weeks’ time, it’s on my mind. It’s interesting, as people congratulate me and say what are you going to do about work? It’s unfair that unless you’re in a position to pay for childcare, it’s hard to go back to work. My partner on the other hand only gets just two weeks off. I’m sure a lot of fathers would like the chance to be more involved in their children’s lives. If I was prime minister, I’d do something to equalise the time off parents get.  

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