Welcome to the Real Women, Real Business series!
This is the second interview series that I have done. The first one was very popular so I decided to do another one!
Before I left my corporate job, I was so in awe (and still am) of women who had taken the leap and set up their own business. I wanted to know how they came up with their idea and what gave them the courage to finally go for it.
When I set up IWMLBproject I decided to interview women who had launched their own successful businesses. It is so interesting to read about the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ from real-life down-to-earth women just like you and me.
Here are the other interviews if you want to have a read!
- Interview 1: Ellie Frost, Brand Strategist, and Business Coach
- Interview 2: Rachel Creeger. A comedian, writer, and director
- Interview 3: Laura Peli. Executive Career Coach
- Interview 4: Monika Wawrzyczek. Mystique Lash Salon, and Academy
- Interview 5: Louise Winter: A Modern Funeral Director
- Interview 6: Georgia Gallone. Digital Marketing Consultant and App Founder
- Interview 7: Ekua Kant Afterwork Drinks Service Founder
- Interview 8: Hannah Xu: Tax Consultancy Founder
This week’s interview is with the founder of a Virtual And Augmented Reality Company.
An interview with Emma Parker, founder of Isonomic, a virtual reality company!
What is your business?
I own and run a Virtual and Augmented Reality company, delivering educational, training and immersive experiences.
What was your previous job?
I was a business consultant on change and transformation for over 15 years, before that I was a Human Resource director.
What made you decide you wanted to leave your corporate job?
I have never really been fully immersed in the corporate world, hence consulting.
Setting up a company doing something totally different came about from being exposed to business problems, the changing pace of technology.
So I started to consider how I could marry my knowledge and expertise into something that would be both interesting and make a difference.
What was the first step you took once you decided to start the business?
The first step was to look for a client. I didn’t set up a website or do any branding until I knew I could actually deliver on a product.
I was lucky I pitched for a big government job and because of my background in change management and special effects we were awarded the job.
It was about being in the right place at the right time. I only set the website up 6 months into delivering our first major client work.
Was everyone supportive of your idea?
Yes, I was lucky I had friends in the AR/VR industry and I tapped into every relationship I had.
As it something a few people love talking about it’s meant that we have a mini problem-solving community when we are looking at a problem to solve.
Did you have an ‘emergency fund’ to tide you over while you set up your business or did you start it on the side while still at work?
I had money saved up but there were no real start costs except paying to set the actual business name up. I made sure I had enough funds to cover me for 6 months at a minimal salary.
Which even now we are making money I’ve stuck to as I’ve found I don’t really need that much to live off.
Often we get used to a big salary but actually when you have less you just buy what you need. For me, all my money goes back into research trips, technology, and philanthropy.
Did you have to get any outside investment to get going?
No, I won a contract and charged 33 % up front and that paid for all the technology investment required to deliver the job.
Did you take any courses or qualifications?
I was already a qualified change manager, I have a psychology degree and research masters. I have a coaching masters and my job required user experience design. So I was able to apply all these to the new role.
The rest, in terms of different types of technology and how to use them I have learned on the job from people that know more than me.
Did you have any particular fears about starting a business and if so how did you get over them?
Yes, it was traumatic going for the first major contract and not being sure if a) you could win the job b) if you were good enough to deliver it and c) whether the technology would even work (we were using experimental technology of the HoloLens).
It did mean a lot of sleepless nights and long days pitching and storyboarding over a 3 month period. To get through it I meditated, swam and took long long walks.
The best thing I found was to clear my mind and talk to someone who could distract me so I didn’t think about it all the time. I also had to believe that we would win the work, which was up and down some days.
What was the hardest thing about setting up the business?
Winning your first major job and then having the time to capitalise on that. For us it has meant being present at conferences, seeing lots of potential clients, some of which will be dead ends.
With limited resources and being the main person it means you live, sleep and breathe the business.
Did you make any mistakes when you were setting up?
No major mistakes as I am a control freak. But the first part of the job we delivered took 4 weeks longer than anticipated so that affected the budget and the team morale.
However, we managed to re-organise and come up with a simpler process for the next two parts of the project and we recouped time and got the project back on track.
We did this by putting in systems like Slack to monitor elements of the project and approve/comment on visuals and frames. It became a production line.
How long did it take before you made enough for a full-time income?
We have been able to run the company off the first job and have now secured other work.
How do you manage your time?
I don’t have days off really, even weekends are just another working day. I also have to travel a lot for work so I try to give myself the weekend off.
I just got back from 4 weeks in the USA and managed to get two weekends off so that was great. Because we do Virtual Reality experiences I always have my video camera or drone ready to film content that we can use, like waterfalls and streams in Alaska – where I just went for 8 days.
But doing these things is fun so it doesn’t really feel like “work”. I have no dependents so it is easier to run the company.
Do you ever procrastinate and how do you deal with it?
No, I don’t really procrastinate, I am very focused. I like to work in the quiet and I set myself tasks for the day.
I am used to running complex projects and writing papers. Plus I have always had a home office so I am able to switch off easy and get work done.
How do you market your business?
I have a website and Facebook but have honestly found them to only be of use once I’ve actually made a contact.
For me, my background and friends are my main word of mouth, plus the product we have delivered. This has been our best word of mouth as people actually want to see and experience the product.
What is your favourite thing about having your own business?
I get to work from anywhere in the world and I choose how I spend the profits.
I deliberately set Isonomic up so I could give back. This first job has enabled me to fund 4 charities and a major philanthropic project I am in the middle of developing to aid refugees.
This is my favourite thing. I get to set the tone and where I want to invest my time and money.
I actually pay myself less than a quarter of what I did when I worked in consulting and it doesn’t bother me at all.
You get more psychological benefits of setting your own agenda, work, time and investment than you ever will being told what to do and when.
What book, podcast or anything else would you recommend to women who want to start their own business.
I think its actually better to connect yourself with someone in the field you are interested in working in and explore it in more detail.
Get acquainted with experience you might be missing so you can tool up and start to build a network in that area.
Once you are confident you are filling a gap in the market or you have a better product, you are then better equipped to take the leap.
Amazing, thanks, Emma!
If you want to find out more about Emma and Isonomic, you can check out the links below.