Joanna Mansbridge is the Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer at Flexy. She is also a mother to her beautiful teenage daughter Rosie. She is a lover of all things natural and with a holistic approach to life.
Joanna has spent over 2 decades in Retail, buying and creating wonderful products for high street and designer retailers. She has been travelling the world to source all manner of materials even diamonds and working with some amazingly talented creators and learning their culture. From her role as Buying Director for a big multi billion, omni channel organisation to her more recent venture of starting a business and brand from scratch, she has been someone who is incredibly driven when it’s something she is passionate about.
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
I was lucky to have 2 very loving parents who were supportive of me in different ways. My Dad would always say to me there is no such word as ‘can’t’ which gave me some internal belief that I ‘can’ which has carried me through life, although I still doubt myself from time to time. It seems to be a similar story with so many successful females, we still doubt ourselves! My mum always encouraged me but would also not push me too hard. I was very creative and a bit of a dreamer, often quite shy in school and around new people. I would absorb myself in being creative and loved gymnastics which developed into my passion for yoga in my 20’s. I loved all things fashion and design and knew at school I wanted to get in fashion journalism or buying.
Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.
There were many but 2 really stick in my mind. The first one was early on in my buying career. I was told by one of the Directors at the time that they said they did not think I had what it takes to make it as a Buyer. It was all I wanted so I set about proving them wrong, I worked up the ranks, taking sideways moves to gain experience where I could and then an opportunity came up to cover a Buyer on maternity leave I threw everything I had and ended up with a promotion to Buyer. The Director has since said to me that I became a fantastic buyer. The sense of pride and accomplishment I had in this moment was a poignant message for me – if you want something that badly there is no stopping you! A ‘no’ gave me even more impetus to turn it into a ‘yes’! The second one was the sad passing of my Mum 5 years ago now. After watching her decline with a terminal illness over 2 years it really broke me. My Mum didn’t even know she was really ill until it was too late to cure her, so it was a case of how long the doctors could stretch out the inevitable event of losing her. The pain of grief was like nothing I could ever imagine. There was no way I could put a positive spin on this or paste on a smile and say it was all going to be ok, it wasn’t and accepting this was beyond hard. Grieving for someone when they are alive adds a different dimension to that overwhelming sadness you feel. This whole experience made me realise, life is too short to put up with something that is not working for you or not embracing a new opportunity.
I spent a lot of time focusing on the happiness I would feel when I reached a goal and almost put too much emphasis on this point of success. I will be happier when I make this promotion, I will be happier when we have a bigger house and so on. Learning to live for now, enjoy the journey, not always trying to get something or go somewhere and find happiness in the here and now was a big wake up call for me. I still have to keep reminding myself of this as if not I always find myself chasing down another dream and not enjoying the chase!
Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea that made you start this brand? How did such a unique idea strike you, and what motivated you to “YES, go for it?”
I can’t take full credit for the idea for my business ‘flexy’. An old family friend came to me wanting to do something to help consumers manage their subscriptions, he felt it was a growing problem and he was absolutely right! We both had stories of signing up to multiple subscriptions, food boxes, beauty, streaming services and more. Either losing track of what we had signed up for and it being difficult to cancel. The subscription model was popping up across so many retail and business categories. There was so much choice and we wanted to make it our mission to make it easier for the average consumer to be able to discover and manage their subscriptions. I spent a little time researching the subscription market and working with my soon to be business partner on developing the idea. It was a natural step to say let’s go for it , we had nothing to lose and both wanted to leave our corporate roles behind and build a brand and company around our beliefs. We began raising investment, met our other co-founder that year and began building the brand, app and website. The rest is history.
Tell us something about your initiative or current role. What is it about, and what impact are you trying to make?
The idea behind flexy has pivoted over its development and is now a platform where you can discover and buy from British retailers, both local and national. Buy once or if you find something you love you can easily set up a regular delivery but unlike many of the big brand subscriptions we were frustrated with, flexy subscriptions can be easily managed in one place on a single dashboard. You can pause, cancel or switch to a different product whenever you want. We wanted to make it seamless and flexible to fit products around your lifestyle. As a team we were also passionate about supporting the independent retailers and providing them with a platform to build more recurring revenue and serve their customers in a more flexible way. And to provide consumers with the flexibility and convenience they crave.
Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?
When you are starting something new, there is always a reason not to do something.
Procrastination is our biggest enemy, so I would always prioritise action. Sometimes building your ideal business or product can be overwhelming, it’s such a huge step so I have always broken it down into smaller steps. If you keep taking tiny steps towards your goal, before you know you’re walking faster and the momentum helps to carry you along. Often the first step is the hardest, so make it small and you will be surprised at the sense of accomplishment and the energy it brings to spur you forward.
While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?
It’s an old Chinese proverb that ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, which a friend reminded me once when life had thrown me a curveball. The pandemic was exactly this for those with an entrepreneurial mindset. After 24 years in a corporate career working for multi million and even billion businesses I found myself taking the leap of faith and building my own business in lock down. It was a real rollercoaster, the highs were amazing and the lows felt like physical blows. Financially it was tough, as a family we reduced our overheads overnight, realising how frivolous we had become with our spending. It forced me into a true sustainability mindset , what can I re-use, re-cycle, do I need to buy new? Everytime in the building of flexy, we overcame a low moment, our resilience increased, making us better equipped to face the next one. With this came a sense of there is nothing we cannot achieve and learning sometimes you just need to change your direction a little.
I am lucky to be working alongside my 2 co-founders, so it was easier for one of us to motivate the others and between us we pulled each other along the journey. One of the hardest challenges was the isolation, we all got used to not meeting in person or going out much. Naturally this seemed to reduce my confidence in certain situations as the world began to open up again. I don’t think we have seen the full impact of this situation on our mental health and need to continue to develop our awareness around what the fallout of this might be.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?
To put our planet and people’s best interests first in business, over profits . To think about every aspect of business through the lens of what’s best for the customer, the teams and the planet. I think many will be surprised how successful a business can be with a meaningful mission that will naturally encourage a tribe of like minded people.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?
To achieve real growth ‘transformation’ we have to put ourselves through change however uncomfortable that might feel. The more you can view change as an opportunity, the easier it becomes to embrace it , the more doors will open for you, the more your world and learning will expand in front of you. Along your journey always be kind to yourself, be aware of your mental health and your personal triggers. This underpins your whole existence, your physical health, your energy levels and ability to overcome obstacles. Be aware, protect it and know when you need to pause.
Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?
Women are essential in leadership roles and we need to do everything we can to address the balance. Women leaders offer a different perspective and qualities to their male counterparts. It’s not that men do not make great leaders, for me it’s about having the balance of male and female energy in a business and the different leadership qualities they bring. Both are equally valuable, however the importance is to have both to be truly rounded in thinking about all aspects of building the right culture, teams and overall purpose or mission.
With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?
If you have a real passion for your business or a new idea, believe you can do anything you set your mind to. With true passion, comes determination and real spirit to overcome obstacles. See the ‘no’s’ or ‘closed doors’ as an invite to prove them wrong, an invite to knock louder or an invite to challenge you to find another route. It’s not about what happens but how you frame it in your mind. Hurdles are just that, something to jump over, they make you fitter than just running alone. Enthusiasm and a can do attitude are infectious so make sure you surround yourself with people who emulate this. It’s powerful how it rubs off!