Leadership & Productivity

Tragedy to triumph: How starting a business changed the lives of these entrepreneurs

16 min read

07 August 2019

Editorial Director

Entrepreneurship may be the modern-day answer to stoicism. These business owners share how they quietly but surely overcame adversity, including depression, debilitating disease and bankruptcy by starting their own businesses against all odds.

At least 53% of small business owners ranked their happiness level at a nine or above after launching their businesses, and with the average Brit working just over 42 hours a week, it suggests that people who have taken the plunge to go it alone, will reap more rewards when it comes to fulfillment. Here are six Brits that did just that.  

Sara Prior, Cloud Nine Knits

Location:  Liphook, Hampshire, UK

Company website: www.cloudnineknits.co.uk

When did you start your own business?

February 2018

Is it a full-time or part-time job? 

Full-time job with part-time hours that revolve around childcare.

Previous job role 

Operations Manager

What is your business? 

I run arm knitting and giant crochet workshops using giant yarn. I also make and sell giant and super chunky yarn products online and through different retailers.

What was the adversity that led you to start your business?

In 2017, my husband and I each suffered the unexpected loss of a parent within a week of each other. It was a tough time dealing with grief that made us seriously reevaluate our lifestyle and re-prioritise how and where we spent our time. To try and recover, we took a break from employment and this inspired us to start businesses based on our hobbies We love what we do now and have never looked back and would recommend anyone to follow their passions.

How has your business enhanced your life?

It allows me to work from home and spend more time with my family. My stress levels are generally far lower as doing what you love for a living tends to make you feel very fulfilled. 

What is your top tip for anyone starting a business?

You have to wear many hats when you’re launching your own startup so I would highly recommend automating as many tasks and processes as possible. Ascend by Wix helps me do just that for invoicing, workshop bookings and emails as it helps me reduce multiple spreadsheets and paper diaries. It also allows you to set up a free website. 

How much do you earn from your business?

£10,000 – £20,000

Rafael Rozenson, Drink Vieve


Location
: London  

Company website: www.drink-vieve.com

When did you start your own business?
July 2017

Is it a full-time or part-time job?
Full time job

Previous job role

Sales and Marketing 

What is your business?  

Vieve is disrupting the sports nutrition market with a game-changing new protein drink which is water based, packed with 20g protein, zero sugar, dairy free and superior in taste to anything else on the market. 

What was the life-changing moment/obstacle that lead you to starting your business?

I battled depression for almost all my life and a few years ago I became so overwhelmed with feelings of self doubt and worthlessness so I decided I needed professional help. After spending a week in therapy I decided to examine my life to see how I could structure my life to be happier. After realising that working for a lot of big companies in an extremely structured environment was part of what was making me really unhappy, I decided to break free and start up my own business.

How has your business enhanced your life?

I’ve found both professional and personal happiness in running my business.  It has challenged and stretched me like nothing else in my life as I’ve learned many new skills I never knew before such as fundraising.  I now have a sense of self confidence and resilience. 

What is your top tip for anyone starting a business?

Many companies duplicate successful products with something similar as they get to penetrate an already existing market and it helps with manufacturing and marketing as you generally don’t have to be that inventive. However, I would advise going against that route; instead, make create something that is truly distinctive. 

What are the struggles or disadvantages you have faced after launching a business?

The biggest challenge has been the fact that I run the business by myself and operate in two of the most competitive categories out there (sports nutrition & soft drinks). 

Another big challenge is resource – both people and financial – to really act on a lot of the opportunities that are available to us.

Suzanne Moloney, HidraWear


Location
: Galway, Ireland 

Company website: www.hidrawearskin.com

When did you start your own business? 

April 2016

Is it a full-time or part-time job:

Full-time since January 2018

Previous job role

Bakery Owner

What is your business?  

HidraMed Solutions is a wound care company developing adhesive-free, intuitive and easy to use would dressings for people living with Hidradenitis Suppurativa. Current dressing options are suitable as they regularly leak, move and fall off. The constant use of adhesives on the skin also causes further unnecessary pain and distress to patients. Our product, HidraWear is quick and easy to apply, adjust and remove and most importantly eliminates adhesive skin contact.

What was the adversity that led you to start your business?

I live with a debilitating skin disease called Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS), which causes lesions of the skin and requires regular wound care. I’ve had 10+ surgeries for my HS and each time, wound care was next to impossible. After surgery, I would be unable to walk, or use my arms, and was so frustrated with the lack of suitable wound dressings that I had to develop something to help myself, and people living with HS.

How has your business enhanced your life?

Starting the company has enhanced my life so much as I know the product we have developed will enhance other people’s lives too. The ultimate goal is to make a meaningful improvement in the lives of people living with HS and chronic wounds.

What is your top tip for anyone starting a business? 

Keep going, even when it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, ask for help and take advice from experienced entrepreneurs. Also, don’t be afraid to make changes to your business if necessary. Nothing works out 100% to plan, so make the changes and keep going.

What are the struggles or disadvantages you have faced after launching a business?

I do not have a medical background so learning everything required to develop and commercialise a medical product was difficult at the beginning. However, now I have a great team of highly skilled people working with me now and we are making a lot of progress.

10 entrepreneurs share their toughest battles and darkest times to inspire and empower other business owners."I came precariously close to running out of cash and was on a countdown to collapse.""Mentally exhausted. Crying on kitchen steps. Saying to my wife 'if I die, please tell the children how hard I worked'...""No one around me seemed bothered that I was silently struggling with my world, yet I knew that if I 'went down' they would all be brought down with me.""I was on the brink. I just wanted to run away.""I was burnt out for years, barely able to function, scared and alone.""My business partner wanted me to buy him out as we'd had a terrible year and he felt under threat. At the same time, my mother was on life support and I'd recently discovered that my father had sexually abused both my sisters.""Brink of divorce, destitution and helplessness. No self-worth.""It creates a lot of stress that cannot be relieved very easily, especially as often there is a sense that I have chosen this life.""Sleepless nights. My hair started to go dull and dry. There wasn't enough time with the kids and my marriage fell apart.""I felt completely alone, without anyone to speak to about my feelings as my professional and personal issues became intertwined."

Danny Toffel, Watches2U

Location: Surrey, UK 

Company website: www.Watches2U.com

When did you start your own business?

2002

Is it a full-time or part-time job?

Full-time job

Previous job role

Volume Sales Manager at Northamber PLC

What is your business?  

Watches2U is the UK’s largest independent online retailer of over 120 world-leading fashion brands including Casio, Radley, Fossil, Swatch, Daniel Wellington and many more.

What was the adversity that led you to start your business?

Bankruptcy. It made me think outside the box and look for new ways to support my family. I lost everything, but it made me refocus my ambition into something more tangible. When you’re making £5 for everything you pack, that profit means earning more than £800k in a day. Bankruptcy made me a better businessman. 

How has your business enhanced your life?

Being able to pursue a career you love is a real luxury that all business owners can enjoy. I love to purchase all the specials for the company and get a real buzz out of making good deals. Plus, there’s also the excitement of building something for yourself and watching it grow. 

What is your top tip for anyone starting a business?  

Make the most of online marketplaces. eBay helped me launch my business and in the early days, we did a lot through Amazon too. While it’s always good to develop your own channels, marketplaces are a great way to start building a customer base.

If you’re working with brands, always play by their rules. It takes time to build relationships and often in the early days you need them more than they need you, so be respectful.

What are the struggles or disadvantages you have faced after launching a business?

The pressure of running your own business 24/7 can be insane. You never get a day off. After a health scare two years ago, I had a stomach operation and have lost over 100lbs since then. Although it was very tough for me to take a step back at the beginning, I’ve learned to let go of some of the control and now spend more time with my family. 

How much do you earn from your business?

£50,000+ 

Sarah Cooper, My1stPhotos.co.uk


Location
: Guildford, Surrey

Company website: www.my1stphotos.co.uk

When did you start your own business?

December 2017

Is it a full-time or part-time job?

Full-time

Previous job role

Recruitment Director

What is your business?  

We make fabric photo albums for babies and toddlers. All the products are handcrafts in our studio in Guildford, Surrey, and each album is completely bespoke to each customer. you choose the photos and the text. 

What was the adversity that led you to start your business?

I was diagnosed with preeclampsia when I was 31 weeks pregnant and had an emergency c-section a couple of hours later. It was highly traumatic and my daughter was 9 weeks early and weighed only 3lbs. We wanted a way to be connected when we were apart as we had to leave her in special care for four weeks whilst we went home every night. My business partner printed off some photos of us to put in her incubator so she could see us – and our idea stemmed from there.

How has your business enhanced your life?

We love what we do and have learned so much. Becoming mums have given us a different focus and has definitely helped us understand our target market. We taught ourselves to sew, designed our own products, learned printing techniques, researched social media marketing, PR, etc. 

What is your top tip for anyone starting a business?

Keep going. Immediate success is very rare, so believe in yourself and push on through the tough times.

What are the struggles or disadvantages you have faced after launching a business?

Juggling motherhood and working, but luckily I have a very supportive house husband which allows me to be flexible.

Carmen Liu, Gi Collection

Location: London, UK

Company website: www.gicollection.co.uk

When did you start your own/new business?

July 2018

Is it a full-time or part-time job?

Full-time

Previous job role 

Business development manager  

What is your business?

GI Collection is a company for transgender women, providing the community with products we genuinely need. We launched the company with the UK’s first lingerie brand Carmen Liu for transwomen.

What was the adversity that led you to start your business?

In January 2018, I had to cut ties with a business partner. It was a stressful time but this was the point I had to make the decision to either take a gamble and start the business I have always wanted to or find a job working for someone else and leave the life I had built for myself behind.

How has your business enhanced your life?

My business has given me a greater meaning in life, as a transwoman, to be able to help women like myself around the world. It has finally allowed me to fully accept myself and to be a proud transwoman.

What is your top tip for anyone starting a business? 

Believe in your business idea. People will always have something to say about any new business but do not let this alter your vision for your business.

What are the struggles or disadvantages you have faced after launching a business?

The biggest disadvantage was the uncertainty of how transwomen would accept our products, where in the world our customers would be and their ages. This had a knock-on effect when preempting orders and designing the lingerie.

Do you have a story to share about overcoming adversity? Share your experience with us for a chance to be featured on RealBusiness.co.uk.