‘Stay super-positive and focused on what you want’

Pitching was something which terrified me, so I put it off for as long as possible. But it really gets easier, the more you do it.”

Kim Knowles, a management consultant, established eCommerce business ColdLilies.com in 2012 with her college friend Ciara McKenna, a human rights lawyer. Before setting up the business, Kim had worked previously with Morgan Stanley and Deloitte Consulting on a range of business strategy and change management assignments.

ColdLilies.com aims to bridge a gap Kim and Ciara identified in the market between mass produced and luxury branded jewellery. Their collection features over 40 designers from Ireland, the UK and around the world. A test website launched in 2012 and generated sales immediately.

Having received €50,000 early stage investment from Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund in 2014, the pair went on to secure seed funding in 2015.

Based in Dublin 8, ColdLilies.com is focused on winning export sales, primarily in the US market.

What’s your business’s elevator pitch?

ColdLilies.com aims to be a global eCommerce destination for fine and high fashion jewellery. The name ‘Cold Lilies’ comes from a W.B. Yeats poem ‘He Remembers Forgotten Beauty’, and in particular the line, “the dew-cold lilies ladies bore”. We’re all about the return to real luxury, which is not about labels or even trends, but the luxury of fine craftsmanship, materials and design.

What do you regard as your business’s greatest achievement?

Being invited to host a panel, opening the Style-X sessions at South by South West in Austin, Texas in 2014, was an incredible opportunity. It helped open up the US as a market for us just as our research was showing us it was the place to be. We’re opening an office in New York, and our first key hire will be sales and marketing there.

What was the lowest moment?

It sounds like a cliché, but I don’t think there is just one I could pinpoint. The nature of being an entrepreneur is that you have a series of serious highs and a variety of lows.

How have you coped with setbacks?

You stay super-positive and focused on what it is you want to achieve. That’s actually really important because when you’re starting a business, so many people will tell you why it won’t work and you have to be able to filter the noise.

Not everybody will understand what you are doing. And that’s fine because, in our case, it’s a niche segment. There are only a handful of investors out there who will get it, and they’re the ones we want on our team.

“Do your research and always challenge your assumptions. And don’t be afraid to ask for help”

What’s your attitude to risk?

Any entrepreneur has to be comfortable with risk, especially at start-up stage, because you’re stepping into the unknown every day.

What kind of marketing is most effective for you and why?

We invest a lot in brand-building, through establishing relationships with the media and fashion writers, bloggers and influencers. Customers want to feel like they are part of the conversation, part of the decision-making process. They don’t want to feel that you’re telling them what to buy.

Pinterest and Instagram are our primary social channels – visual platforms are how we best tell our story and interact with our customers. We do all our own PR. Again, it’s about being able to connect with others on the basis of your story and product. Of course it’s also hugely important to make sure the site is optimised for search engines – that is the foundation from which all other digital strategies are executed.

Who has inspired or motivated you and why?

In terms of other start-ups, I’m a big fan of Warby Parker. It’s an online glasses retailer that has revolutionised the eye-glass business, through having a deep understanding of their customers and knowing exactly how to converse with them. Glasses are not an everyday purchase, and the fact that they are able to keep their consumers engaged between purchases is quite phenomenal. I’m actually wearing a pair now.

What do you do, if anything, to switch off from the business?

As a business owner I think you’re always on, but cooking is something I do to unwind. I travel quite a bit at the moment, but yoga is something you can take anywhere. I started stand-up paddle-boarding last year too, which I love.

What would you do differently if you were starting your business today?

I think I would put myself out there sooner than I did. For instance, pitching was something which terrified me, so I put it off for as long as possible. But it really gets easier, the more you do it. Also, if you know you will have export markets in the future, go there, be on the ground there, learning as much as possible about every facet of your business, as early as possible.

What lessons have you learned in business that others could apply?

Do your research and always challenge your assumptions. And don’t be afraid to ask for help – that was something I wasn’t very comfortable with starting out, but it comes much easier now. Most people genuinely do want to help, and you just never know who they might connect you with.

Finally, if there was one piece of business advice you’d like to give to another business owner, what would that be?

Trust your instincts – they are right 99% of the time!

Visit the online jewellery store shop that Kim and Ciara created.