Running a business has its ups and downs, but how is your experience shaped by the age you start out at? We spoke to Rebecca, Square seller and owner at Two Dogs & Co, about the mechanics of starting your own venture at half the age of most founders.
Rebecca, can you give us a brief introduction to Two Dogs & Co?
Two Dogs & Co is the UK’s first producer of dog accessories made from Piñatex, which is a vegan leather alternative fabricated from pineapple fibres. I fell into it without a plan really. I was making leads for my own dogs, and eventually found a niche in sustainable and ethical materials. It’s been a very organic process.
You started out on Etsy. How long was it between listing and making a sale?
It took about a week, so quite quickly.
In your opinion — given that most people are in their forties when they become a founder, and you were just 20 — what are the pros and cons of starting a company so young?
I speak to a lot of small business owners at events who say “I wish I’d done it then”. These people are in their thirties, but they first had their ideas in their early twenties. They didn’t feel like they could do it back then because they were “supposed to” take all these other predetermined steps.
There’s no reason not to go for it when you’re my age — I certainly can’t think of anything that meant I needed to wait. I had my idea now, not in 10 years time.
The only con is that sometimes I just feel too young. Even at the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Course that I’m on, most people are in their late twenties, early thirties. Still, the benefits of doing it now — when I don’t have extra risk and responsibility in my life — outweighs that.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you can offer to budding business owners in their late teens and early 20s?
Just do it. It’s worth a shot. I know everyone says this, but just start on a small scale — think of it as a hobby. You don’t need to quit everything one day and go into it full-time. If your idea is going to work, it’s going to work. If not, and you’ve taken it slow, the worst case scenario is that it’s a bit of extra cash on the side.
And don’t let your age put you off. Yes, I feel young, but there’s nothing that says you definitely have to wait until you’re in your forties. So don’t.
Animals have always been your passion, but you’ve expressed that the career path wasn’t always clear. How did you know that Two Dogs & Co was the right opportunity — what was the “aha” moment (if it existed at all)?
It came from getting feedback. Whilst I was still doing this as a hobby, people would comment on the leads when I was out walking my dogs (some of the leads are really brightly-coloured). And they’d ask where I got them from. That interest made me consider the possibility of selling them, and turning the hobby into a money-making project.
What networks or systems have you developed to help with the lack of interaction and collaboration that often comes with being a sole trader?
I’m actually very comfortable working without lots of people around me, so the sole trader lifestyle suits me. You get better at learning through trial and error.
Bouncing ideas off other people is still valuable though. I treat markets not just as a place to sell, but somewhere to have conversations and get feedback. I also get a lot of my ideas through speaking to others on the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Course, my family and on social media groups.
How did you come across Piñatex (the vegan material used in your products)? Why did you opt for this green approach, especially when it must bump up your production costs?
I started with the Piñatex a couple of months ago. I’m a vegetarian, but the decision was more about using a product that wasn’t well-known or used by everyone. There are lots of dog accessory brands out there, but not a lot of differentiation. I wanted to give people a clear reason to use me. I was hoping I’d be the first to use Piñatex, but after a 6-month application process, someone from Australia got in there first. I’m one of the first two people in the world though, which isn’t bad.
Using ethical materials doesn’t necessarily increase the cost of making dog leads that much. Leads are traditionally made with leather, which itself is expensive. When you think that some leather dog collars sell for £40 or £50, mine are still really cheap.
You’ve been admirably open about overcoming anxiety and depression, and how starting a business played a role in this — can you tell us a bit more?
I’d tried lots of treatment options over the years that never really helped. The business gave me something to do where I didn’t feel too pressured — I was able to do it in my time. It got me out of the house, got me talking and gave me purpose.
One of the reasons I’ve been so open is that people buy from you, not just your business — they connect with your story as well as your product. I thought there may have been a stigma, but that was proven wrong. Customers find my story interesting, they look into the business and see how far I’ve come. I’ve had so many people express how their business has helped them too.
Is there anything you’d like to say to people whose mental health is proving a barrier to them setting up or running their own business?
This isn’t something you have to do quickly at the start. It depends on the individual situation and the type of business, but set yourself up so that if you need to take some time out you can. Every business owner is at risk of burnout, you’ve just got to be in tune with your needs. I know some professionals who don’t list their phone number anywhere, so that they can be in control of their time. Don’t put undue pressure on yourself — enjoy the fact that you can call the shots. Take things slowly.
What can you tell us about The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Course? What skills did you develop?
It’s a two-year course, starting with a 4-day programme where you learn the fundamentals of running your business. Once you complete that, you get access to optional workshops on things like social media marketing and defining your audience. You also get a mentor who checks up on you once a month.
The main thing I’ve taken away from it is confidence. Yes, it’s influenced the way I manage my business, but the transformation to the way I communicate and see myself are really noticeable.
Tell us about the importance of the partnerships you have with artists.
The real benefit of these is cost-reduction. You rack up quite a lot in stand fees if you’re doing markets regularly, so you can split the stall with another seller. You help each other grow. The trick is choosing businesses to collaborate with who complement and enhance yours — no competitors, obviously!
You’re an omnichannel seller, trading online through Etsy and your website, and also at markets and fairs. How have you adapted the way you take payments to support this diverse approach?
I made a huge mistake last year that I’ll never forget. It was a 3-day festival, and I decided against using a card reader. On the Saturday alone I missed out on about £200-worth of sales. So make sure you have a card reader! There are a lot of providers, I chose Square for their low fee.
I’d like to make more of my website too. I considered platforms like Amazon Handmade and eBay, but in the end, they didn’t feel right. You’ve got to choose platforms that suit your product and your price point, or it’s just not worth it.
If there was one thing you could tell yourself when this all began last year, what would it be?
Just “you can do it, you’ll amaze yourself and everyone around you”.
Find out more about Two Dogs & Co