...was the decision my husband and co-founder Jamie and I made to sell Toast products direct to our customers, primarily by mail order. Before starting Toast, we had a wholesale business selling knitwear, and we frequently found ourselves in a position of having to relinquish control of the presentation of our work. We didn't have an interface between us and our customers, and we often found that retail buyers had their own agendas. So when we started Toast, we wanted to control the entire image and presentation of our clothes, and have a dialogue with our customers in order to see what they liked.
Now, we get letters from them telling us how fantastic things are, which is brilliant, but we also get those telling us when we're cocking up, and that is such a spur for us to improve.
Another advantage to selling direct to our customers has been that we can sell our clothes at a better price, which means that we have a broader base of people to sell to and more potential growth.
MY WORST......was not realising early enough that it's just not viable to do everything in the business yourself – which is less a decision and more a way of working. It's often said that as an entrepreneur, you should recruit people who are better than you as soon as possible, and not become the classic owner-manager who can't let go.
For me, it wasn't really a control thing, it was having to do things economically. Having built the company from nothing, I learnt how to do everything without it costing a fortune, including the recruitment. When you build a business on a shoestring, you always have to have an eye for the cost implication of a recruitment decision. In the early days, you have to do it your way, because you've created something that is very personal to you; but you learn that you can't carry on like that – nobody is that big a person. You make the transition from carrying it all yourself to hiring people more experienced than you. The irritating thing is that if you'd sat me down four years ago, I'd have been able to tell you that.