merlie calvert - founder of farillio
Farillio has been a dream in the building for some time...ever since I was a very young and green lawyer working for the music industry in the late 1990s, when Napster suddenly launched and it was the first time that tech demonstrated how the big guys no longer had the power – we the consumers did! I’ve been trying to work out a way to ‘stream’ law on demand ever since...
1. Who inspires you?
People who get up when they fall down and carry on, no matter how hard the road ahead. Courage is an attribute that is never emphasised enough when it comes to running a business. It takes serious guts – not just to start a business … in many ways, that’s one of the easiest and most exciting bits. The real test comes from keeping going, holding your nerve and your self-belief, ignoring the ‘trolls’, finding solutions to what looks insurmountable, and making a success of it.
The people who achieve that are the people that inspire me – and they come in all varieties. I admire them all – because they prove that any of us can succeed, if we’re brave, resilient and resourceful enough. They’re not celebrities or figureheads, they’re everyday people just like us. CostartupandGo’s Sian Wingfield is a brilliant example of this.
2. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My cat, my kids and my phone – which is constantly buzzing with fresh ideas from our team, contacts from the other side of the world, updates on our social feeds… It’s great to wake up to positive thoughts, vibrant images and the enthusiasm of so many others in our community. One of the greatest rewards in running a small business is when others feel your brand and its objectives as strongly as you do – and they want to actively support it.
3. What keeps you awake at night?
Very little. Even when I’m quite stressed or anxious, I practically pass out when I go to sleep, which is probably a good thing after a crazily-packed day of running a startup and juggling a young family. It is definitely not easy, but I do try very hard to clear my mind when I go to bed, because never switching off is a very common and unhealthy founder trait. Good quality sleep makes a big difference to your perspective as well as your clarity of thought and purpose.
4. What’s your signature meal and who would you cook it for?
I love making a good Sunday roast with all the trimmings. And I make a mean bread and butter pudding (with marmalade and white chocolate…).
As for whom? My family. Firstly, because they’re used to my cooking and have learned the hard way not to criticise.. or to be surprised!
But also, because while I love the fact that what I do brings me in touch with extraordinary people whose company I value greatly, Sunday roasts are ‘home-cooking’, and my home is where the people who matter the most are. Sometimes, that gets unintentionally forgotten when you’re caught up in the maelstrom of your to-do list at work.
5. How do you manage your time?
With military precision as far as I can, because there is just so much to do. It’s like conducting an orchestra most days and if you take your eye off one group of musicians, everything can get out of sync very fast! So, I try hard to be super-efficient with my time and to not drop the baton!
But, there are times when you just have to accept that you’re writing off the day and going with the flow of some unexpected opportunity or event. And you learn not to beat yourself up about these moments. Flexibility is often as important as being organised.
I’ve got better at being more succinct, stricter with who I meet, where I meet them and who I speak to by phone only – so that I can better optimise my time.
And I’ve learned to say ‘no’ a bit more. You want to say yes all the time when you start out – because every conversation can hold potential opportunity and I’ve learned so many times over that if I hadn’t made the time or the effort, something really big and exciting that makes a material difference to our business would never have happened.
But, if you always say yes, you end up horribly over-stretched. So being a bit smarter about why you’re connecting (or being connected) with someone and what you both want the outcome to be, can help you work out whether a ‘not today, thank you’ approach is a better response to some invites or opportunities.
Having said that, it’s very easy to get stuck to your chair for long hours, so attending a meeting that involves a walk and some fresh air is one of the ways that I try to look after myself on days when I know the hours will be long. It’s little things like this that help to keep you sane and healthy, as well as better focused.
6. Best bits (s) of advice ever received?
Two of them, and I quote them all the time:
- Give help where you can. And never be afraid to ask for it when you need it. A good entrepreneur reaches down and carries others with them, as often as they reach up for help themselves.
- Linked to the first point: no entrepreneur succeeds alone. Build the best network that you can (it’s never too early to start), and then don’t hide away building something that nobody knows about – you’ll never know its true potential and nobody else can help you if they’ve no clue what you’re doing. Your network will help you make the magic happen – so empower them to do so.
7. What is the best and worst purchase you’ve ever made?
Apart from shoes you mean?!
Best - Can team members count as a ‘purchase’? If so, the team that we’ve built is by far and away the very best money I have ever spent as a business founder. I love working with people who are as passionate about our brand and our customers as I am.
Worst - hmm… if buying the services of (it turns out) a rather awful contractor doesn’t count, then I’d say the most useless thing I ever bought was a piece of portable WIFI tech that promised the earth and never delivered anything but hours of stress while I tried to figure it out and felt really stupid… probably not a great admission from someone who runs a tech business, I know. Happily, people vastly more competent than me are actually in charge of Farillio’s tech and our kit works!
8. What is the closest thing to magic?
Time. Finding time and spending it with people who inspire you, ground you or make you laugh, or even just finding those precious quiet moments to empty your mind and be a blank canvas again – that’s magic. There’s nothing like it.
Oh… and that moment when you say to your team ‘I know it’s not been done before, but I don’t suppose we can we do this?’ and they say ‘yes’, and then come up with something 50 times better even than that! What our development team can achieve with something that looks like utter gibberish on screen to me is truly magical. I still feel a sense of Harry Potter wizardry whenever they show me what they’re creating out of our ideas.
9. Do you have a mentor? What value do you think a mentor brings to a business?
Yes! Several – and for different reasons. Though none of them probably think of themselves that way and they’ve all fallen into the rhythm of acting as a mentor just because of our relationship. In my experience, it’s better not to force the relationship or to try to formalise it too greatly – and while you definitely want to like and respect them, you shouldn’t be looking to be best friends. A good mentor is not blinded to your vulnerabilities and will be constructively honest with their views without fear of hurting your feelings or compromising a friendship. And you need to keep them free to feel that way.
You’ll also probably need different mentors at different stages of your life, career, business journey.
They bring tremendous value. Being a sole founder can be a lonely and at times, bewildering place to be. It’s all on you. And however great your team as you build it, there will be things that you simply have to handle on your own – and they’re generally the hardest and scariest things. Having great mentors who have been there and done, it, who love to be sounding boards and to work through your ideas or roadblocks supportively but dispassionately, and who can remind you to act like a human being (rather than a robot when you risk getting a little bit too obsessed!) is priceless...
When I was told a while back that I shouldn’t expect to succeed in starting my own business without a male co-founder, it was these mentors that convinced me to ignore that advice and who have been there throughout Farillio’s journey to show me that ignoring it was the right thing to do.
10. What unusual food combinations do you enjoy?
Um… anything with cheese – apple, chocolate, tuna – I’m basically addicted to cheese. Marmite and chili flakes on dark chocolate comes a close second.
11. How can female entrepreneurs further support each other?
By being less anxious or unwilling to reach out to each other.
By better supporting the funding of female ventures. There’s still too little of this and it’s holding back many female founders.
And by collaborating more. We put such pressure on ourselves! There are so many amazing women doing really cool stuff on their own – which can be very tough. If they collaborated more, they’d have a wider market and opportunities to go conquer together. I’ve seen it done so well by some of the female founders in my network recently, and they are smashing the opportunities together, when I know that 12 months ago, they were individually suffering the same self-doubt and profile-building challenges that we all encounter at some point. So, wherever you can, team up more, ladies.
Farillio has a wonderful mix of male and female collaborators, who are now collaborating with each other whether we’re there or not. There is business to be won in often unexpected places when you sit down and work out what you have in common and how you might go adventuring together.
Most of all, I think we should be more honest with each other. And share more. If you have something that works, share it. If you know someone that’s brilliant, share your testimonial and introduce them to others. If you have an idea and want support, say so. Only if we know, can we help each other.
12. What’s something that will always be in fashion, no matter how much time passes?
Authenticity. Wear it like a fashion staple and never compromise it. Be you. Nobody else can be.
13. What was the last thing you did that made you really proud?
I’m not sure I have a particular thing – yet. I suppose if I am proud of anything it’s discovering that a year in to our startup journey, I am braver than I imagined, more resilient and resourceful than I thought I could be and proud I guess, of the fact that I am still here, and we’re still going, that the perfect people have joined us and believe in the brand, and that our target customers tell us they really like what I started…
14. If you were to give advice to a fellow female entrepreneur what would it be?
Believe in yourself. Never stop. It will be tough, you will be tested, and there will be days when you wonder what the hell possessed you to take on something so hard. And there are always people who will make you doubt yourself. But you can do this. You are not alone. Your anxieties and challenges are unlikely to be unique – others will be able to help. Let them know if you need that help.
15. What does success look like to you?
Leaving the house on time with two children correctly dressed and with all the right school kit, so that I can get to the office without feeling like I have already masterminded a major military manoeuvre. (Still working on that one...) If there is one thing that parents are generally brilliant at by the time their kids reach school age, it is logistical co-ordination and an immunity to being indelibly smeared with chocolate croissant, which they only discover once they’re in that all important meeting…
Sometimes it’s easier to define what it’s not, than to describe what success looks like. For me, it’s not about money (though I’d like some and I want Farillio to be successful) and it’s not about status or titles – when you’re a founder, you wear all the titles that nobody else wants or that you can’t afford to pay someone else to do. You get title- and status-agnostic pretty quickly!
So, I think it’s having a sense of purpose, knowing that you’ve made a genuine difference and achieved something good, that helps others – whatever that might look like. That could be little, it could be big, it might be little known, but hugely felt. Ultimately, it’s about knowing that you’ve made something great happen. Recognition for that is great – but it’s the icing on the cake, not the real deal.
Website - https://www.farill.io/