17 May 2021|Latest Posts, Launching a business, Meet the Successful Founder
Isobel Berman is the founder and CEO of I SHO – the first influencer concierge and agency for mid-premium fashion and lifestyle. Having worked with Givenchy, Karen Millen, Superdry and ASOS using I SHO’s roster of premium fashion influencers, Isobel explains why she quit her job, launching I SHO as a market leader in under 8 months:
“In March 2020 I was in the midst of Paris fashion week and despite rumours of a pandemic, I felt really unstoppable (possible due to the earlier rosé). I remember calling my mum and saying ‘I feel so lucky, I don’t understand why my life gets to be this good; I’m in a job I love, I’m at Paris fashion week! I feel like I’m waiting for it all to get snatched away…’”
One year ago Isobel had no idea she would start a business, let alone resign from her self-confessed dream job. But on return from Paris she discovered a lump in her breast. After a series of biopsies and mammograms the lump was found to be benign – but in the days that followed Isobel realised her career and lifestyle wasn’t as idyllic as she had thought just a week earlier:
“I worked every living hour, missed time with my boyfriend, I even forgot to acknowledge my best friend’s birthday thanks to a last min meeting… up until the lump, none of this had mattered. I loved what I did and the people who I was working for, but I had blurred the lines between friends and colleagues and when I didn’t receive the support or friendship I expected in my time of need, I (rightfully or wrongfully) was hurt. I signed off sick as we entered the national lockdown and after being chased to work even further, decided that I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
Creating brand awareness:
Launching a business is no small feat, but raising awareness is often a struggle – especially in a pandemic when networking events and launch parties are a no-go. We asked Isobel how she spread awareness of I SHO so quickly:
“I was lucky in the sense that I had loads of industry experience and with this began letting my network know what I was doing and why I SHO would be different from anything we’d all seen before.
I focussed on delivering a great service rather than a huge push on growth. I had based my business around being able to provide a brilliant service so I had to have faith in that and focus instead on action; trusting my USP’s would be an incentive for clients to recommend us. A huge amount of our requests to join I SHO still come from word of mouth.
As a founder we sometimes count really cool achievements as just another thing to be ticked off the list. It can be easy to forget other people need to know what we’re up to! I tell my clients they need to make a bigger deal out of their successes and we’re the same. The more people hear about your success, the more they will buy into it!
In the early days of I SHO I made sure to post everything, even though some posts are no longer relevant or live anymore; I shared every collaboration so that when people did their research, they could see what we could do for them!”
Isobel was running a digital service with low set-up costs, but with no other income, relied on funding to get I SHO off the ground,
“I re-invested initial profits so I could offer the services to differentiate I SHO. I didn’t launch with savings – growth happened quickly and I had to adapt.”
Isobel applied for funding via Virgin’s StartUp programme: “My advisor warned me that these documents [business plans, cash-flow forecasts and market research] would need months of reviewing to get funding, but I prepared clear objectives, strategy and USP’s – my application was approved first time and I received funding in two weeks.”
Isobel’s key successes:
Isobel explains that I SHO’s key success has been securing long term, high value contracts, “…by always going above and beyond to deliver results, we’ve had lots of people agree to work together on a retainer basis, or on a huge scale. We’ve worked on some really exciting launches and projects as a result of successful, smaller, collaborations which progress into larger relationships” Isobel explains that taking on larger, regular deals allowed I SHO to make new hires and investments essential to its growth.
“I’m definitely one to play it by ear!” says Berman when discussing her future:
“Our growth has snowballed completely since launch, everything I planned for 6-12 months ends up happening in 1 or 2! Increasing sustainability and diversity levels is integral. It’s a huge part of our ethos, we prefer to work with brands who don’t promote throw-away fashion. We’ve started offsetting our HQ carbon footprint by planting trees, but there is always more to do in both areas. Achieving a business that is as ethically responsible as it is profitable remains my greatest priority.”
Isobel’s tips for success:
We asked Isobel for her advice to entrepreneurs looking to launch their own businesses:
“Don’t have a plan B! You have to believe in your dream 100% (otherwise how can you expect future clients/customers too?) having a back-up doesn’t allow that. The time will never be ‘right’ but when you have the means to do so properly (you can only knock on some doors once) you need to be prepared to throw your entire being into it – there’s no room for doing anything by halves!”
- #NeverStopNetworking – I live by this. You never know when someone or something could be an opportunity, never say no to a conversation.
- Stay in touch – if rejected always be polite. One ‘no’ could always be yes in the future. Say ‘thank you’ and reconnect later.
- Imposter syndrome is real – you have to tell it to f**k off. Believing you’re capable is the first stop to success.
- Treat everything like a job interview – provide your absolute best whenever humanly possible, everything you do counts towards your businesses reputation.
- Learn when to say ‘no’ – so many of our competitors will take on as many clients and campaigns as possible. If we did this, we couldn’t provide the same level of service to my current clients so we’d lose our USP. Long term success is more important than short-term cash flow.
My Mum – the ultimate strong woman. Since her and my (also inspirational) dad split up in my teens I’ve seen her work every waking hour to provide for her family and achieve her long term goals. Anything she wants, she makes happen – even if at times it seemed impossible!
Daisy Kalnina @daisykalnina – founded The GelBottle Inc from nothing into a huge powerhouse. She was my first (and last!) good boss! She is compassionate, powerful and unstoppable. A great example to any female entrepreneur.
Phadria Prendergast @phadriaantoinette – I love the work Phadria is doing to empower women in business. Her growth, voice and branding are all hugely inspirational to me.
Sali Hughes @salihughes and Jo Jones @jolijones – I think what Sali and Jo are doing with @thebeautybanks is great, hygiene should never be a privilege.
Nancy Twine @nancytwine – is the founder of Briogeo and the youngest black woman to launch a product line at Sephora. She created Briogeo out of necessity and focussed on providing quality within her niche, resulting in a great product and long term success – that is my ultimate goal in relation to our services.
Connect with Isobel and I SHO: