In this exclusive interview, discover what inspired Justine Roberts to create Mumsnet and what businesses can learn from her experience. Justine is recognised for her popularity as a public speaker, having been listed as one of the UK’s Top Female Motivational Speakers by The Female Motivational Speakers Agency. Hear Justine’s insight first-hand in this exciting Q&A.
What inspired you to launch Mumsnet?
I launched Mumsnet, because I had newborn twins, and I had an awful lot of questions. An awful lot of questions to which my immediate circle of family and friends couldn’t provide all the answers for.
It was at the time of the dot com bubble and everyone you met in the street was discussing what their internet idea was. In some respects, it was the right time. I’d had a full-on career in the city, and I felt like I’d earned a bit of time to take a risk.
So, with all these things, I think it’s as much about luck and timing as anything. But my inspiration was really to tap into the wisdom of other parents, with the idea that it would make all our lives easier, because we’re not trained for this parenting thing.
It was just simply to meet that need. I thought, ‘well, if it’s useful for me, it might be useful for someone else too.’
How can entrepreneurs identify a gap in the market?
I think very often with entrepreneurs, what they do is fulfill their own needs, really. Certainly, true of my case with Mumsnet.
I was a new parent of young twins, and I needed all the advice and help I could get. My immediate circle didn’t quite have all the answers for me, so I wanted to expand that and tap into the wisdom of millions of other people via this wonderful thing called the internet.
I think that’s often where people get their inspiration from, they find a gap in the market because they need that product or service really badly for their own life. The great thing is, if you’re constructing something to meet your own needs, you’re very clear on what you actually want, and how it should work.
It gets harder as you grow; you get more and more divorced from the original target market. So, in my case now, I’m slightly outside the target market for Mumsnet, so I have to work really hard to stay in touch.
But originally, for the ideas, I think it’s about finding something that would make the world a better place because you know what that product or service should be from your own experience.
What can businesses learn from your experience of founding Mumsnet?
Well, Mumsnet, in many ways, was founded at completely the wrong time. So, we came about sort of five or six years before Twitter and Facebook and the business model wasn’t ready for the business.
We had to go very slowly on a shoestring budget, build the community by word of mouth and wait, if you’d like, for the business model to materialise.
We built a very large community before we could really generate any revenue and I think there’s a lesson in that. If I had raised a lot of money and hired a lot of people, it would have been just at the time of the dot com crash, and I would have had to fire a lot of people. We probably would have gone out of business.
I think the lesson really is that you need to adapt the pace at which you go, according to the market. Then, when the time is right, then you can go all guns blazing, raise money, hire people, really go for growth.
But growth isn’t always the right model. Sometimes the right model is easy: build your brand, build your trust, and wait for the economics to come right for you.
What is your proudest personal or professional achievement?
I’m proud of the fact that… I was a child of the 80s and I remember Mrs. Thatcher saying, ‘there’s no such thing as society, it’s all about individuals.’
I think Mumsnet proves that wrong, because every day, complete strangers are going out of their way to show consideration and kindness. From people staying up to counsel someone through breastfeeding in the middle of the night, to others, who will send secret Santa gifts to strangers who say they can’t afford Christmas presents.
I mean, it’s extraordinary the level of care and attention that people go to for complete strangers. It proves to me there is such a thing as community, there is such a thing as society. For no individual or personal gain, people are happy to give their time and give their expertise.
That’s what I’m proud of, really, it’s basically the users, the users make me proud every day.
Stacey Sheppard is the founder of The Tribe, a small community-driven coworking space in Totnes that caters to creative, growth-oriented female entrepreneurs by providing an inspiring working environment designed to foster collaboration, connection and community.