As a parent business owner myself (I run www.amazingfutures.co.uk as well as this blog and also co-founded ealingbusinessbuddies.co.uk) I love to support other parent business owners in West London and I’m always interested in hearing the story behind the business and the people who run it. Hence the idea of running regular articles, featuring local parent run businesses was born! In the first of these articles, I speak to Laura Cross, Founder of the fabulous children’s holiday and after-school club in Ealing, Inventors & Makers.
1. Where about in West London do you live?
I live in Ealing, but only moved here in 2017 from Hackney and before that San Francisco. We decided to come West because my family live in Wales and being this side of London cut an hour off the journey. However, since moving we’ve found out that West London has so much more to offer than a reduced journey time! We’ve made lovely friends and really feel a part of the community in Ealing. I mean we’ll obviously all be happier here when Cross Rail opens… 😉
2. How do you find being a parent in London? What are the main advantages and disadvantages?
I remember moving to London and saying I’d never bring kids up here after I grew up in the countryside by the sea. But now as a parent I realise how much London has to offer parents. For example, I love that your identity is more localised than just London. Ealing feels like a small community within London and we’ve made lots of great friends and often bump into people in the park here. And at the same time, we can jump on the tube and watch Cirque du Soleil in the Royal Albert Hall like we did a couple of weeks ago.
Of course, I don’t love the traffic and the pollution, but I just see those as what you have to put up with to be a Londoner and hopefully with electric buses and cars, the city pollution will be a lot better in a few years. Or so my futurist husband keeps telling me!
3. What inspired you to start your business?
My husband and I lived in San Francisco for three years and I worked in education technology. While I was there, I visited pioneering schools, spoke with thought leaders in education and witnessed for myself the reality of the 21st-century digital workplace.
Then when we moved back to London, I started looking for the types of activities I’d seen in California, such as Maker clubs. I wanted to find things that I felt adequately prepared my children for the realities of working and living in the future. I’m not talking about learning to code, but about learning future proofing skills like problem solving, creativity and collaboration. These skills are widely recognised as being some of the ultimate transferrable skills: they can be applied to anything, and forever. After a brief foray back into teaching in a school, I decided that if I couldn’t see what I wanted out there, I should just set something up myself. So I did!
4. Where do you prefer to work?
I love working in coffee shops in Ealing, my favourites being Artisan and Cafe Zee. It’s often lonely to work by yourself and so being in a coffee shop with other people around feels a bit less like I’m on my own.
However a lot of my work now involves preparing equipment and resources so I have to be in my house with all my stuff. We have a nanny two days a week so I get to be in my house and hear my children playing happily downstairs. It also means that I get little visits for hugs every now and then, so that makes it a pretty special place to work.
5. When did you first realize you wanted to run your own business?
To be honest I would never have thought about starting my own business until living in San Francisco. Everyone has a startup or an idea for a startup there. You go in a bar and everyone is talking about their big startup idea. It’s kind of contagious as it makes anything seem possible, so when I came back to London and saw a gap in the market, it didn’t feel like too much of a big deal to have a go at filling it myself.
6. What’s your favourite West London restaurant to eat out as a family?
We’re a pub family, although we do eat at restaurants too. I love a big family pub where it’s really relaxed and ideally there’s an outdoor play area in the garden. I think it’s great how a lot of pubs have really embraced that family feel – it feels very British. My daughter who is 4 often asks to go to “the pub” (our local – the Drayton Court in West Ealing) on a Sunday (much to my mum’s horror!) because she associates it with having a yummy relaxed lunch and playing on the swings and slides.
7. Any family holiday plans made for the next year yet?
We are going skiing as a family for the first time this year. Our youngest is only 2 so it’s probably a bit premature, but we thought they’d at least enjoy playing in the snow. I haven’t skied for about 5 years so I’m a bit worried I’m going to have total mum-fear and be too scared to do anything that has more than a 25% chance of breaking my leg. I previously fractured my pelvis skiing so this is a legitimate fear. My parents are coming too as my daughters are lucky enough to have amazing grandparents who will definitely (I hope) do some babysitting while mummy and daddy go out skiing – yay!
8. What motivates you to run your business?
My children are my why, as cheesy as that sounds! I think about what I as a parent would want for my children and then what my children would want themselves. I want to offer workshops and classes that are genuinely educational and help prepare children in vital future-proofing skills. But I also want to make sure that the children have a brilliant time and maybe even discover a new passion.
9. What are your main self-development goals for the next few years?
On a personal level, this is probably something that all business owners need to do, but I want to be less sensitive about feedback. I think feedback and self-reflection are so important in improving what I do. However, I can be too sensitive to feedback and have found myself going to ridiculous lengths to incorporate things at considerable effort after one tiny piece of feedback from one parent. It’s actually made me way more aware of the feedback I give to others now. People keep telling me you can’t please everyone, but I’m a people pleaser so I can’t help wanting to make everyone happy. I’m working on it…!
From a business point of view, we’ve seen really big growth given we only ran our first class in February 2019. It’s a year on and we regularly sell out holiday workshops; we have two sell-out toddler-preschooler classes; our first after-school club sold out in one minute; and we are starting to go into schools to do workshops. The demand is there but managing to meet it on my own is becoming almost impossible. I’m therefore looking to take on teachers to run different classes for me, always with Inventors & Makers curriculum, resources and general ethos.
10. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Well I knew what I didn’t want to be: a teacher. My entire family were primary teachers, including both my parents and my aunts and uncles. My husband’s family were actually all primary teachers too. I saw my parents constantly working and how stressed their jobs made them. I vowed to never be a teacher and instead went my own way and became a lawyer, practising in the city for a few years.
It was in my late-20’s that I realised that teaching is in the DNA, and suddenly there I was as a teacher, working constantly and stressed! I think I’m still working constantly and stressed, but I love teaching and even more so now I teach things that I think are important and on my own terms.
11. Any advice for a parent thinking of starting their own business?
Don’t do it!…Kidding.
I’d genuinely say though not to go into it thinking it’s going to provide better work-life balance. There are so many franchises or work from home jobs out there that allow you to better switch off when you’re having family time. You have to be really passionate about what you’re doing to start your own business from scratch because it’s going to inevitably mean spending less quality time with your children than you imagine and it might not even work out in the end.
Something that I have changed recently is to move my day off from a Friday to a Wednesday. Having a day off in the middle of the week means you can ignore more emails and your to-do list and leave it until tomorrow. I used to find myself logging on more when I took Fridays off because I didn’t like the thought of something sitting there until the Monday.
I’m also able to do dinner and bedtime every night as well as drop offs and pick ups from school and nursery a couple of times a week because even if I have loads to do I can go back to work after bedtime. My Netflix viewing has taken a serious hit though.
Find out More
Thank you Laura for being the first guest in our new series of Meet the Parent Biz Founder interviews. Inventors & Makers is a West London Kids Tried & Tested class and holiday club and we highly recommend it. There are a series of holiday workshops running during the half-term and Easter holidays. For more information visit: https://www.inventorsandmakers.com/ You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.