Justine Roberts is a very inspirational woman. A terrible family holiday with her toddler twins led her to believe there was a gap in the market for a new kind of internet start-up. Many ups and downs later, Mumsnet now has 7.5 million unique visitors each month.
With the Prime Minister wanting her time and audience, and celebrities fans including Idris Elba, how did Justine do it? We met the lovely Justine to find out everything you want to know.
1. How did Mumsnet come about?
Mumsnet came about because we had a really awful family holiday. It was the first one where I had taken my children and it was such a bad experience. We chose the wrong place, we chose way too far a journey and the kids were ill getting there. When we got there it was a nightmare, there was no kids club as advertised on the website and it was just awful. All the parents were moaning and I came up with the idea for Mumsnet, which was much like TripAdvisor actually but for parenting. There are so many things that parents face that we aren’t trained for. That was the inspiration.
2. What would your advice be to someone wanting to start their own business?
I had that experience so I knew that my idea would be useful to other people. Having a very strong USP is important. It’s very hard to start a business and you really have to believe in it. You will get a lot of knocks and set-backs so you can’t just do something if you just want to make some money.
3. Did you get initial investors to help launch your business idea? How did you go about that?
I tried to get initial investors because I felt that that was what everyone else was doing. It turned out that I failed miserably. There was someone willing to invest but only if I wasn’t running it because I had no track record in running a start-up. We ended up getting only a tiny bit of money from a friend of mine and it was good because it meant that we couldn’t have any costs. We couldn’t afford to hire anyone or to have fancy offices in Clerkenwell, none of that. However the organic low-cost model from the back bedroom was the right one for us. It meant that we had time to spend growing the community and worrying about them first, before thinking about shareholders and investors.
4. What is your advice to young entrepreneurs?
Having the idea first and then the will to execute it is hard work. I don’t know anyone who has started their own business who doesn’t work really, really hard. There is no shortcut. In a way it is a lot easier to go and work for someone else. You can leave work at a reasonable hour and not have all the responsibility of whether the business succeeds or fails. My advice would be to let the business dominate your life for a little bit, at least initially, and work really hard.
5. Have you had any wow moments in your career so far?
I’m about to interview Meryl Streep. I have heard from celebrities such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Idris Elba – my god he was gorgeous! It’s all very surreal. Also politicians reach out to us at election times because they want to speak to our audience. The next minute I’m sitting next to the Prime Minister.
6. Are your a feminist?
I am definitely a feminist. I don’t think that it’s a difficult question because to me being a feminist means that I believe in equal opportunity for men and women. I’m surprised that people find that a difficult question.
7. What do you love most about your job?
I get a lot of confidence from people giving feedback and I’ve been told that the site has saved people’s lives. I have heard that people have been post-natally depressed and hearing stories of others going through the same thing has stopped them from becoming suicidal. These are vitally important things and I knew that we had to carry on running the company, it didn’t really matter about the money as long as we were making a difference.