Hello and welcome to the BCU Alumni podcast. I'm Bethan from the alumni team and in each episode welcome a different member of the BCU alumni community back onto campus to tell us all about what they've been up to since they graduated. Today, we're joined by Shovon Wiggin, a business management graduate and founder of Inspire. Riddell, a toy business which aims to improve the representation of multicultural dolls for young children. In this episode, we're going to find out all about Inspire a Doll Shovon's incredible career journey so far and what really goes into being an entrepreneur. So Shovon, thanks so much for coming on to the podcast. We've been following your, I guess, like an entrepreneurial journey over the last few years, but can you tell listeners all about what Inspire Adult is and the story behind it?
Yeah, sure. So Inspire a Doll is a multicultural doll collection. We have four dolls in the collection and they're all from different cultures. So we have a black doll, we have a white doll, we have a Chinese doll and a Muslim doll, and they're all best friends and they like to go on adventures around the world with each other, discovering new cultures, discovering inspiring women in history. And the inspiration behind the brand was actually my niece, Nyah. So my niece is named after the black doll while the black doll is named after my niece. Yeah, because when my niece was five, she was having some self identity issues where she wasn't really confident with her skin colour. She actually didn't want to be her skin colour. She wanted to be a completely different skin colour and you know, that's not possible. So as her aunty and she was only five at the time said so I felt like it was my responsibility as her aunt just to give her some confidence and let her know she's fine just the way that she is. And I think it was important for me to have dolls that all look completely different to each other to show her and lots of other children that, you know, we're all special in our own unique way, and that's what makes us special. So, yeah.
That's how you chose to be business management at BCU then when did you graduate?
Last year. I did.
So long ago now, but yeah, it was only last year.
Wow. So I guess we you growing the business actually throughout your time at BCU then.
I was. So it all really started to get serious in my second year of university. So that was when lockdown here, when all the COVID and stuff was going around and we had that year. Well, I don't know how long. I think I was like a year and a bit off staying at home. And because I had so much time on my hands, you know, I really enjoyed that period. I felt like it showed me what life was supposed to be like a little bit slow down and you've just got more time to think about what's important. So during that period, I started working on the marketing for the business and naming the dolls and doing the sketches and finding somebody that could do the illustrations because I'm really what we should draw in. So I saw the illustrator on Instagram and she then drew each doll for me. And then once lockdown eased and I went into the start of my third year, that was when I started working with Steam House and the manager of a Steam house heard about my idea and he really liked the idea and he kind of gave me confidence to reach out to manufacturers because I think when you've not done something before, which can seem quite daunting, you know, and he was like, Shovon, just do it like what have you. What are you waiting for? It's a great idea. So I reached out to the manufacturers and then we started the prototyping stage, right? And then it just all took off from there, really. And we launched, I think it was a month before I graduated.
Right. Okay. So how did your degree help you then? Because it's really interesting that you were obviously still learning, was actually setting up your own business as well. So you think with that kind of skills, what you're picking up alongside kind of in real time on your degree?
I think what I gained from my degree was discipline because I was having to juggle so many different things at the same time and I'm a mum as well. So it was just all about time management and organisation and I think as well being around like minded people that were all on our journeys of just wanting to do something amazing with our lives, having those kind of people around you really kept me motivated. But I think my degree with business, it's more. Theoretical stuff that e-learning learning at university and I are more of like a hands on person. But don't get me wrong, it was still important information that I was learning. Yeah. Yeah.
Well, you touched one steam house, so yeah, obviously you got really involved with Steam House. I love the house. Yeah. And I guess kind of like what support and opportunities have you kind of received because of your involvement in State House then?
Um, well, so State House have recently launched their newest um. I know we call it campus location, but of the building? Yes, the building. But before that they had the incubator. Yeah. So they did a massive launch at the millennium point. And I was one of three entrepreneurs to be able to speak at the launch. And I was the only female as well representing for the girls. And I think just having someone, as I mentioned, Richard, the man, the manager, absolutely amazing guy. Just having him in my corner was just something that really money can't buy because I think being an entrepreneur, it might seem really glitzy and glamorous from the outside, but there's a lot of hard work that goes into it and you can just doubt yourself a lot because it's something that you've never done before, you know, and having someone who, you know is in your corner, whether you're having a good day, a bad day, a broke day, everything's going well, you know. Yeah. And they're just so consistent was one thing that, you know, I really, really appreciated. And then moving on from there, I gained so many opportunities just from being attached to Steam House, if you like. And I think because I was one of the first entrepreneurs that really started like creating a buzz, yeah, anytime they would have events, I would be called in to do talks and things like that and kind of like speak to people that were just starting their entrepreneur journey. Yeah, and it was really interesting because I think being ambitious path, you've always just focused on your next goal and you kind of lose track on how much you have accomplished. Yeah, So being around other people where they're kind of like looking up to me, I was like a lot like little old me. But you know, it was nice to be able to pass down some of my trials and tribulations to help them know, you know, if I can do it, so can you. So I think another thing is, well, like minded people, there's so many different types of businesses that come out of Steam House and just speaking to those people and watching them grow and being able to speak to them when they're having bad days as well. Because I think nowadays you don't really like to share if you're having a bad day. But yeah, it's inevitable, especially in business.
Even in life, you know you're going to have a bad day. So to know that you've got that safe space, yeah, that you can just vent and rant and, you know, the next day they're not going to judge you and you can just get straight back to what you were doing the day before. Yeah, it was really it was really good to have that space.
Okay, we've got a couple of the dolls. Yeah, with us. I actually just love these. Who these then?
So that’s Nyah and that is Hannah.
So you must feel so proud when you actually see these in the flesh.
Yeah, I do. I mean, it's taken us quite a while because we only launched with nine first. Yeah. And then since we launched, we've been working on the other prototypes. But they do take quite a long time from start to finish to, to, to arrive. So seeing them, you know, it's, it makes me feel happy. It does. Yeah. Yeah.
How do you decide on like what they're wearing and what their vibe is going to be?
And so like I said, in lockdown, I was working with the illustrator and she created sketches. They all, all of the inspiration came from my head, but she was able to tell what was in my head into something tangible. Yeah. And then from there we sent the sketches over to the manufacturers, who then just basically recreated the sketches and turned it into a prototype.
So what is the feedback that you've had on the dolls, or do you really feel like you've, like, really managed to find a gap in the market?
I do. I actually really do. And, you know, while I was thinking about the marketing because, you know, I think when you speak about race, sometimes it can make people feel uncomfortable. It's just how you go about it. So that was one thing that I was really conscious about, especially launching the Black doll Fast. I didn't want people to think that, you know, only black children could play with a black doll because when I was younger I had loads of white dolls and I've got loads of white friends as well. So you know how I wanted to market the doll was if a little white girl has a black friend at nursery or at school, why not have a black doll in her toy collection? It just mirrors society, really. So, um, we started getting quite a lot of customers, and our customers were white. A lot of customers were white. And I felt really proud of myself because I think, you know. The dolls. It's not just about okay, it's a black doll. It's more of just kind of breaking down barriers, if you like. You know, race barriers. Like, it doesn't matter if she's black, like she's got a personality, she's got a yellow, yellow t shirt. She's, you know, like, see, beyond that, she's just got brown skin because it's just something that people can choose. You know, we don't ask to be this colour. So it's just, you know, we are, we're just people.
You know what I mean? So I think that's why, that's what was really important for me to get across having different races of dolls. I didn't want to just be, you know, this colour can only be played with this colour. It's like, No, we can all play with each other. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah. And I think the feedback has been exactly that. Yeah. So yeah, I'm really proud of myself in that sense because I was a little bit nervous at first. I was like, Oh, you know, are they going to like her? Are they know? But thankfully she's been selling really well and happy about that.
So I guess how much work has really gone into growing the business then? I mean, obviously you're a recent graduate and a graduate last year and a parent, so it must be really hard work to kind of, you know, find the time on the energy to help really grow the business.
Yeah. Um, honestly, the business, you have to work on it every single day because as an entrepreneur you are, let's say, the captain of the ship. If you take a rest, you know, you don't know where your ship is going to end up. Yeah, You don't even know if you ship's going to go forward, you know? So yeah, it does take a lot of work, but I think you've got to have something that motivates you when the going gets tough because it's not always going to be, you know, sunshine and flowers, which no one really tells you about when you set up the business. Yeah. And then you just kind of you just kind of like get to deep.
Like, I can't even turn around now. I'm in too deep.
I've got to ride this wave. But yeah, I think the rewards of the hard work are greater than the hard work.
Yeah. So I guess what are some of the biggest lessons you've learned so far? That and also like, I guess also how do you cope with the kind of the highs and the lows and that like roller coaster of being an entrepreneur?
Um, so firstly what I've learned is that it's really important to be positive and be thankful of the little things, you know, like grateful of the little steps that you move forward. It's not always going to be big giant. Achievements that you get, they're going to be like spread out over the year. You might get five. Yeah, but you've still got to stay positive and know that you're working towards them. Another thing is being organised, prioritising and actually like rewarding yourself when you do achieve something instead of just like I said, I'm ambitious, so I'll just focus on the next goal and it's like I'll forget about the whole year of achievements that I've accomplished. It's like, No, I haven't achieved that. So that the next goal that I need to achieve is more important, which I think can affect your mental health because it's like, okay, you're not even enjoying the, the, the benefits of all your hard work. You know, you just kind of you just kind of like digging yourself into a hole, if you like. Yes. Honestly, how I have felt initially, But then I was like, everyone just go a little bit easy on yourself like you do and really well. And I think as well, having like a supportive circle around you that you can speak to and confide in and they'll pick you up when you sad. And I'm just enjoying life as well. I think that's really important, you know, going out, enjoying yourself, making memories and that I just get on with it.
I think that's good advice. Yeah.
But I just get on with it, I think. So there was a big thing that actually happened. So when? So we were supposed to launch the business. A year before the business launched, and it never went to plan. The dolls came over and the quality of the dolls were not like sufficient. So we had to send the dolls back and start again from scratch. And it really, really depressed me. It was like so sad for me because I think I was putting a lot of pressure on myself as well. And there were like, people that you didn't want to let down. And I felt like I have to be perfect. Like people are looking at me like I'm this perfect entrepreneur and then and I'm a planner as well. So, you know, you don't plan to fail. So when things go wrong, you like what I did plan for that. So having that situation happen, it just taught me, you know, things can go wrong, but it's what you do afterwards. It's how you pick yourself back up and carry on. And, you know, I think you really learn a lot when things go wrong. If you deal with it in the right way, you know, you can cry about it and be sad about it for a little bit, but just don't sit in it for like the next few months and just, you know, wallow in self-pity. Good. You just feel it and then release it and then move on. And then, you know, you look back and you've got a story to tell. It's like you remember when that happened? Yeah. You know, So, yeah, I just think I'm all about living in the moment and. You know, just experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly and learning from it.
So what is the ultimate dream, then? Like, where would you like to kind of see yourself unfold in maybe like ten years time?
I would love to have my doll stocked in the entertainer.
Even Selfridges. I mean, I was going to say Selfridges. I can imagine these in Selfridges.
Yeah. And then we were thinking this because we're currently working on a book. But I would love to have an animation. Yeah, like on TV. Like on CBBC. Yeah, I would absolutely love it. Yeah.
Okay. And I mean, you are, as you probably know, like a real inspiration for so many students and fellow Alumni at BCU because I feel like we've all kind of followed your journey over the last few years. So what would you tell a student or graduate who are who, you know, are keen to really set up their own business?
Um, firstly, I would say believe in yourself. Like that is number one. You've got to believe in yourself because when you first starting out, you know, you work in a vision that's in your own head and not everyone might get it. You know, you might not make money right away, but you've got to believe in yourself the most job in those stages. And then another thing I would say. When things do, start going well, remain humble, like don't get too much of a big head because things can go wrong.
And then I would say really focus on what it is that you want to get out of your business. Because if it's just money, you're going to give up. Know you need something to motivate you more than the money because you might not make money straight away. And then another thing I would say is. Really focus on the customer. Like the target the target market, because that's going to be the people that you sell into. You know, you really got to be specific about what they look like, where they shop, what age they are. And then that will help you then focus your marketing around that customer. And then I would say, last but not least, enjoy the journey because the destination is a long way away. Okay. So online and you know, and you can add new stops onto the destination, so you might get to where you get into, but then realise this is just the beginning. I want to add another stop along and then it's just about enjoying the journey to those destinations. Yeah, that's what I would say.
That's some great advice. Yeah, I think especially the whole thing about being humble, I think that's very key because, you know, you've you've got to remember where you started from. So it doesn't matter how successful you become. You've still got to remember the journey. Yeah, and your experiences and what got you there in the first place.
Yeah, and I think even with being humble, as well, it's just that you're always you're always learning. You know, you don't know everything.
And I think the worst thing you can do is think that you know everything. So I think when you stay humble and you're open to learning, you can always learn from others, from your customers and everything. So I think that's really important.
Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for coming in and talking to us today. It's been great to kind of learn more about the business, the journey, and to see the dolls as well. Like I said, I'm so proud of you and everything that you've done. And I feel like you're really going to be that kind of inspiration for lots of other students who will be tuning into this podcast. So yeah, thank you so much for coming.
Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.