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
- Interview 9: Emma Parker: Virtual Reality Company Founder
- Interview 10: Alexandra Taylor: Founder of a Cognitive Hypnotherapy, Coaching, and Wellbeing business.
This week’s interview is with the founder of Lilla Rugs, an online rug store.
An interview with Camilla Ahwazian, founder of Lilla Rugs!
What is your business?
Lilla Rugs. We’re here to help people find the perfect rug, at the most sensible price. Every Lilla Rug is made 100% by hand, so each and every rug is one of a kind. No two rugs are the same.
What was your previous job?
I worked for a global Advertising agency, in Account Management.
What made you decide you wanted to leave your corporate job?
I initially set up Lilla Rugs as a ‘side-hustle’ as I wanted a creative outlet and a project to work on that felt truly mine.
As I got a few months in, I hoped there would be a possibility I could run the business full time one day, simply because I loved every minute of it and I loved the idea of running my own business and having greater life flexibility.
I would get into work a couple of hours early in the morning to get my Lilla Rugs worked done. I’d really struggle to put my laptop down and get back to the day job at 9am, and just wanted to spend all day working on Lilla Rugs.
As each month went by this feeling just got stronger and stronger, and I started to resent the time I was giving to my day job.
The turning point came in October 2017. I had joined a course ran by Escape the City (the Start-up Accelerator) and it completely opened my eyes to the entrepreneurial world, and I just had to be a part of it.
It was this same month that I had 3 months of making enough sales to cover my living expenses. So, in November 2017 I handed in my notice, to start Lilla Rugs full time in January 2018.
How did you decide what business to set up?
I always loved Interior Design and had a plan to do a course at some point, perhaps when I had a family, as I knew I wouldn’t want to be in such a time and stress demanding job when that happened.
In the meantime, I decided to set up an Instagram page to share interior inspiration. I ended up sharing a lot of Persian rugs, as they have always been a huge part of my life.
My dad is Iranian, and back in 1992 he and my mum set up a Persian rug wholesale company, called Ahwazian Ltd.
Suddenly I realised that the rugs were at the heart of my interior preferences, and there was no reason why I couldn’t create my own rug retail brand, that put the rugs at the heart of interiors. So that’s exactly what I decided to do!
What was the first step you took once you decided to start the business?
I actually set up the Instagram page before I decided it would be starting a business.
Once I decided it was to be a business, I made a selection of 10 rugs to start with and photographed them to get them listed on Etsy.
Was everyone supportive of your idea?
I remember not really telling very many people about it before I launched it, so I think there was a lot of surprise when I announced it.
As soon as I did, everyone was incredibly supportive and complementary.
Much more so than I had expected – I think that’s why I kept it quiet at first, as I was a little afraid people wouldn’t take me seriously.
There are always people that will give you advice you disagree with or ask you if you’re sure it’s the ‘right time’ to quit your job, but that’s just protection, and you have to follow your gut.
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 did on the side for almost a year. It wasn’t until I was covering my living costs that I took the plunge.
I was very lucky to have the support of my family, so when I was a little short I could take little loans.
Did you have to get any outside investment to get going?
No, I didn’t. As my family are in the business, I agreed with them that I would take 10 of their rugs to sell as the first phase and would only pay for them once they had sold.
They helped me with the costs of the first phase of photography, and luckily as soon as the rugs sold, this could be paid back. So it was a very low-cost start-up.
Did you take any courses or qualifications?
I did the Escape the City Start-Up Accelerator which taught me all the basics I needed to know about running a lean business and also opened up an amazing network of people in the same/ similar positions to me, which has been invaluable.
I still don’t think I really know what I’m doing though! You can only really learn by doing.
Did you have any particular fears about starting a business and if so how did you get over them?
Growing up with parents that ran their own business meant that it was never really a scary thing for me. Of course, as soon as I committed to doing it myself, I was scared to go full-time from a financial point of view.
I was also scared that nobody would take me seriously, because I was quite young at the time.
The financial fear will always be there a little bit, but the way to be ok with it is to really believe that one day it will all pay off and will no longer be a worry.
For now, it’s worth the worry to do what you love and to have a career with flexibility.
The longer I’m working on Lilla Rugs, the more I believe that being young is actually an amazing thing.
I have less commitments and pressure, and I have a fresh perspective to bring into the industry. I’m learning every day and will hold my hands up if I don’t know what’s going on!
P.S If you haven’t come up with your business idea yet, I have made a free ‘Business Idea Worksheet’ for you to use.
You can go through the sheet to brainstorm your business ideas and select one to get started with. Click on the link below to get your worksheet.
What was the hardest thing about setting up the business?
In the beginning, the hardest thing was time. Advertising is hardly a 9-5 career, so I had to use my early mornings and weekends for Lilla Rugs.
I never resented doing so, but it did eat into my social life and probably made me a little more tired and burnt out than I otherwise would have been.
A year and a half in, I know believe the persistence and patience are the hardest things. You have to accept that you’ll have to keep pushing for a very long time, before you really feel the benefits.
You have to accept that it takes time to build trust and credibility. That’s why passion is so key. If you’re not passionate about your business, you’ll give up before you feel any benefits.
Did you make any mistakes when you were setting up?
I can’t think of a big mistake I made, but I certainly made hundreds of little ones!
When people say you have to make mistakes to grow, it couldn’t be more spot on. I made inventory mistakes, pricing mistakes, investment mistakes, the list goes on…
How long did it take before you made enough for a full-time income?
11 months, so basically a year.
How do you manage your time?
I try my best to work a normal working week. I always get up and out in the morning, try to wrap up by around 6 and not do too much in the evenings (unless something is pressing).
I think it’s more about ensuring you’re very present when you are with people.
If I’m out for dinner with my boyfriend, I’m fully there. If I’m out with the girls, I’m fully there.
Some elements of your life will be affected, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it affect your nearest and dearest too much.
Plus, they are the people that love you most and will be supportive and direct when they need your time.
Do you ever procrastinate and how do you deal with it?
Of course, I do! I’ve realised that working from home, for me, is just asking for major procrastination.
There are just too many other things to do there – put a wash on, watch TV, do some hoovering…
Providing I get up and out – to the office or to a coworking space, I usually stay in the zone.
How do you market your business?
I try to keep my Instagram community engaged, it’s been a great platform for Lilla Rugs. This year I’ve started working with a PR agency, SEO team, and have someone on Google Ads.
I have to say I do think word of mouth is the most powerful. I do a lot of networking and go to a lot of events, to ensure I’m always getting the Lilla Rugs name out there.
What is your favourite thing about having your own business?
Life flexibility. It’s amazing.
I can choose where to work, when to work, when to go on holiday, when I need more sleep, everything.
Of course, you’re not doing exactly what you want every minute of every day but knowing that even that is actually your own decision, makes it so much better.
What book, podcast or anything else would you recommend to women who want to start their own business.
I am a huge fan of the ‘How I Built This’ Podcast, with Guy Raz. Hearing such a variation of inspirational stories gives me momentum, perspective, and insights.
It’s cliché but Sophia Amoruso’s ‘Girlboss’ book was such a relatable and inspirational read as a young female entrepreneur.
I also really loved ‘The Working Woman’s Handbook’ by Phoebe Lovatt. It has great tips and insights, but also gets you thinking and applying info to yourself, as it has sections for you to fill and interact with.
Which female entrepreneur most inspires you?
After listening to her ‘How I Built This’ podcast, I think Eileen Fisher is amazing. She was so relatable, inspirational and honest.
Also, Sophia Amoruso for building Nasty Gal from nothing! & I think was Ella Woodward has built for Deliciously Ella is admirable.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to women who want to start a business?
If you have an idea you’re passionate about and you have the drive for it, just start!
Don’t waste time trying to make it perfect before even beginning.
Just start with something small (like your Instagram page), as it will hold you accountable by sharing your idea with the world.
Then you can just build, build, build. We need more amazing #girlboss women in the world!
Amazing, thanks, Camilla!
If you want to find out more about Camilla and Lilla Rugs, you can check out the links below.