'Putting on an ill-fitting black suit is my idea of hell' - Poppy Mardall, Poppy's Funerals

20 QUESTIONS: The entrepreneur and 35 Under 35-er talks about employing poets and fire fighters and why she only has one app on her phone.

by Amber De Smet
Last Updated: 18 Sep 2014

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

I always felt like I would like to be a sculptor. I love the idea of something practical and beautiful - at the end of every day you can say ‘I made this and it is amazing’. I was just not born to sit at a desk.

2.  WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

I remember we were talking about ‘Lighthouse Funerals’ – I quite like the symbolism of a light in the night - but there’s already so much associated with that word. Besides, Poppy’s Funerals makes much more sense. My name is Poppy, and poppies are symbolic of remembrance after all.

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

Madrid, because it is the most fun city in the world and we would have a blast. Not because I think my business would do well there, though. Maybe after my retirement.

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

I made a really active decision to start in the most affordable way that I could. I really didn’t want to get in any debt and I didn’t want to owe investors anything. So I had only a small amount of money – about £3500 – to buy the absolute basic stuff I needed. Then I hired all our equipment from funeral directors whenever we had a job.

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

Not to employ anyone from the funeral industry, because I want people who have a fresh approach. In our team we have someone who used to be a poet, someone who used to be an archery teacher, someone who used to be a florist, and even a couple of fire fighters. I don’t want my employees to use the word ‘deceased’ or tell families how they should be doing things.

6.  WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

At the beginning of my working life, in my early twenties, I had a fun job working as an expert at an auction house. Still, I didn’t realise the world was my oyster back then. I thought I had to stay on that particular career path.

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

Probably Skype – it’s amazing. My brother lives in America, but with Skype I can just see his face whenever I want to and it’s free. It has done so much good connecting people.

8.  HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

I get my husband and my greyhound on the sofa. We have a very small sofa and a giant greyhound, so if we all really squeeze in we just about fit on there and hug each other.

9.  WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

When I was about eight we lived on the Isle of Wright and sold ice creams on the beach. They were completely melted, sticky and horrible, but the adults were always kind enough to buy ice creams from us. I was quite entrepreneurial at eight. The business didn’t last long, though.

10.  WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

Before I started working properly, I had a really miserable work placement at the press department of an art gallery. Everyone there was so unhappy and hated their job, and they dealt with that by being really mean to each other. You just wanted to liberate them all.

11.  WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

I would have to say the job I have now - this is by far the happiest I have ever been in my life. But working at Sotheby’s was really fun too: cataloguing artworks, travelling the world, going to America.

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

I would do so badly on The Apprentice. I hate that show. So my team would have to be called something to do with laughter and being slightly out of control. Something like ‘Hilarious’.

13.  WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

An electric car company. The combination of practical solutions with genuinely trying to make the world a better place is super exciting.

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

Definitely artwork - they are in fact the only expensive things I’ve ever bought. The most expensive thing is a sculpture that I bought for myself when I quit my job, and it makes me unbelievably happy. One of the things about art is that it teaches you that there are other things out here.

15.  SUIT OR JEANS?

Definitely jeans. I hate suits and everything that they communicate. I like stylish, smart clothes, but putting on an ill-fitting black suit is my idea of hell.

16.  FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

Flexible hours, although I feel like I work all the time, so there are no contained hours to that. Maybe once I’m a bit more in control I could start at six in the morning and finish at 4, and hang out with my family afterwards.

17.  WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE OFFICE?

The people who work here. When you start a business on your own – and most people do – it feels wonderful to finally have a team. And I’m bloody lucky, because the people we employed are just fun: they come in smiling in the morning, they make this place comes alive.

18.  WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

I barely even know what that means! I do have an app on my phone, with which I can pay for parking, and it’s so boring. That is the only way in which I communicate with the app world.

19.  WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

My parents run their own company, my husband does too and my brother works for an electric car company in America. They all somehow manage to balance a real focus on work with being great human beings and that’s something I am committed to doing. I call my family on a weekly basis and they give me amazing business advice. Whenever I am stressed they always tell me, ‘Remember that you do this because you love it.’

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINSTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

Most people would probably say that they’d ban things or make them illegal, but I wouldn’t. I’d spend the day in disguise, talking to people. First, I’d talk to kids at a school, then I’d go to a care home and speak to old people and their carers. After that I’d go to a factory. The only way you understand what to do as a prime minister is if you listen to normal people and you care about them.

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