Meet Rachel Vergis, an entrepreneur, art collector and former banker. Rachel is the Founder and CEO of Gooey. The company teams up with artists and fashion designers from all over the world to create phone cases with an artistic and fashionable difference. Rachel has collaborated with the likes of Milan Fashion Week, Henry Holland and Chelsea Football Club and makes cases for Apple, Samsung and Sony.
Getting to Know Rachel
What values were instilled in you as a child?
My parents were both very high achievers; my Father was a surgeon and my Mother was a GP. The value placed on achievement was therefore extremely high; one degree was not enough; I ended up with two. The expectation was that my siblings and I would do very well. Thus, my siblings have also been extremely successful in their own fields. However, I wouldn’t say that achievement is completely taught; a lot of it comes from within.
“My parents were both very high achievers; my Father was a surgeon and my Mother was a GP. The value placed on achievement was therefore extremely high; one degree was not enough; I ended up with two.”
What was it like to work in a bank?
I started off on the trading floor in 1992, fresh out of university on a graduate training programme. At this time people could smoke inside the building and there’d be a stripper in the office whenever it was someone’s birthday. It felt a lot like Wall Street. People would break their phones with anger and sleep under their desks. It changed very quickly after that as HR bought in a whole set of new rules. I then went on to specialise in risk, working for a variety of banks including Citi Bank and Deutshe Bank. The money was good but stress levels were high. You were constantly being yelled at but every now and again there would be moments of brilliance. You’re surrounded by a whole cohort of incredibly motivated people who put a lot of pressure on themselves, which in turn teaches you how to set your own standards and hit deadlines.
Why did you leave banking?
I reached the age of 38 and decided to have a baby. I always knew that if I ended up doing this later in life, I would not return to the banking world. I had 5 ideas for different businesses as soon as I became a Mum, Gooey was the one I decided to pursue. As a single Mum, I wanted to build something which meant I didn’t have to be away from my son for too many hours in the day. I needed new direction in addition to the lifestyle where I could control my own role.
How did you seek investment for your company?
I knew of one investor I wanted to approach who was very open to different ideas. I took my pitch to him along with my source material over lunch. I needed £30,000 when I was 4 months into the project. I asked him for this, which was nothing to him, but he still wanted to see exactly what the phone case was going to look like. He came on as an investor in return for equity in the company. Since then, he’s pumped more money into it with substantial investment of up to £200,000. I am very grateful to him for this.
How did you grow your team?
There are now 15 of us. Everyone works on a freelance basis: an hour rate, day rate or a half day rate. They are the best I can afford in the fields I require. I didn’t spend money on overheads and fancy offices for employees. Instead, we provide the team with the tools they require such as mac computers, Dropbox and Skype accounts. Everyone works remotely.
“I didn’t spend money on overheads and fancy offices for employees. Instead, we provide the team with the tools they require such as mac computers, Dropbox and Skype accounts. Everyone works remotely.”
What has been your biggest mistake?
Trying to sell to retail distributors because our biggest market is actually our website and Amazon. We had to give this a lot of thought as we’ve launched in 21 countries where you can now buy one of our phone cases from our website. This means a lot of our money is going into SEO and Google ad words. Millennials shop online and you have to respond to the demand. If you’re going into the digital space you need to invest in growth hacking and imagery because these are the two things which will allow people to find you and like you.
What has been your most useful resource?
The London Chamber of Commerce and the UK Trade Board have been extraordinarily helpful. I wish I had gone to them at the beginning but I didn’t know they existed at the time. When you have the UK trade body trying to help you get into countries like Brazil, it’s fantastic. You only have to pay a small membership fee but it seriously benefits anyone looking to expand their trade overseas. It’s exactly what you need when it comes to breaking down barriers to trade. London Chamber of Commerce go as far as providing you with 200 names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers of people who can help you within your chosen industry.
How do you remain headstrong in entrepreneurship?
You have to make sure you don’t self-sabotage your own success. You must manifest belief in yourself in your own mind before it can manifest in the minds of others. A lot of people have self-limiting thoughts. Of course, like anyone else, these thoughts may creep into my mind, but the key is to consciously stop yourself from thinking any thoughts which may negatively shape the way you conduct your business.
“You have to make sure you don’t self-sabotage your own success. You must manifest belief in yourself in your own mind before it can manifest in the minds of others.”
Rebel Wrap Up
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
I was once told by Jean Sherman, a famous art gallerist in Australia, that if you really want to learn something you should completely immerse yourself in it.
What is the one rule you disagree with?
Just ‘go for it and never stop’. It’s important that you’re not afraid to quit. You have to know when it’s time to stop. Not every idea is a great one. Reflection and adaptation are key. If something’s not working, fix it. Don’t consider ‘giving up’ as the end of everything, consider it as an informed decision and change of direction to reach the same goal.
If you could change one law what would it be?
The law of gravity. I would love to learn to fly.
What’s your definition of entrepreneurship?
Taking an idea and making it happen.
What advice would you give to anyone listening to this?
Get your funding sorted at the beginning and pursue your idea with confidence.