Business: Online4Baby

Sector: Ecommerce

Christy Foster is the MD of Online4baby, a family business she founded with her younger sister Cheryl.

Christy’s route to entrepreneurial success started when she was 12 and worked on a market stall. Although she became one of the first eBay millionaires, she realised she could do better with her own website, and Online4baby was born in 2011.

Christy Foster

When did you make the decision to start your own business and how did your journey begin?

My entrepreneurial journey started when I was about 13. I struggled a bit in school and later found out I was autistic, dyslexic and had ADHD. We needed money, so I started taking lots of evening jobs after school. In each job I got promoted very quickly. I saved up £500 and bought some items which I then managed to sell for £5000.

I left home at 17 and started selling property, buying my first home when I was 20 for £60,000 cash. I then started selling things online, such as clothing, furniture, and baby equipment. The baby equipment sold especially well. I started to buy more and more and then eBay was launched. I didn’t know much about it, but I put loads of products on there, and again, they sold well. My husband was an electrician, and I told him that he’d have to pack in his job to help me out! Later, my sister and her husband also left their jobs to join the business.

On eBay’s tenth anniversary, they ran a huge event. It was on the news, the original founders of eBay were there, and it was broadcast to over 35,000 employees, as well as 1,000 people in the audience. I was invited to attend, and share my story, as one of the first eBay millionaires.

I started with £500 and have so far made £44 million, with no investment.

What did the team around you look like when you started out? What qualities did you look for?

Until two years ago it was all family - me, my husband, my sister, and her husband. We now have about 40 employees, and we have executive-level managers in the business. It has completely changed the way we work.

My brain is very fast. I've had to surround myself with people who understand me because I work differently. I don't use computers; I always say my brain is my computer. Show me something on screen, I can't take anything in, but put it on a piece of paper and I see everything. The team have embraced it. They know they must present to me in a different way.

I’ve learnt to be a bit more patient with people. Because my brain works so quickly, I need to adapt and find the right personalities who understand this.

As a female founder, what has been the most significant barrier in your journey? Have you been confronted with gender related roadblocks and how did you deal with them?

I’ve faced barriers all my life. The difference now is that I'm not as intimidated by them. I'm confident in who I am.

Some barriers in the past have been related to religion. I have lots of Jewish and Indian friends, and in the Jewish culture, 30 or 35 years ago, women did not run businesses. I had challenges because I was a woman, but also challenges with cultural attitudes towards women in business.

I am not sure whether it was because of my gender, but I always remember when we started getting bigger on eBay, there was a German investment banker who had invested in a baby company. They were making about £5 million at that time. At an event we were both attending, he said he was going to shut me down within 12 months. I didn’t argue with him, but I thought; that I’ll hurt you in the pocket later down the line. One year later I bought all his stock, and then took over his business.

On top of these barriers, there is also the fact that I am neurodiverse. I felt ashamed of it when I was younger because I believed that I wasn’t good enough. Now, wherever I go, I tell everybody I am proud of it because it made me the successful woman I am today. You have to be proud of who and what you are.

What do you believe led to your success? Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?

I think the fact that I’m neurodiverse has led to my success. My brain works differently, and I think that's made me entrepreneurial. I'm very good at visual and mental processing. I can just work things out quickly. I think that's what's helped the business, especially in the last 12 months.

All I look at now is data. I was never really data driven. I just used to go off instinct. But when you start spending a lot of money then instinct doesn’t cut it. All the decisions now are based on facts and figures. I feel like I’ve got a formula for the business, and that formula can scale up.

I've always designed great products. I class myself as a value driver, that is, I offer value for money. Instead of offering discounts, I offer bundles. Bundles mean people spend more money, but they get more for their money. I put the bundles together because I've got twins myself. I know what parents really need and what they don’t.

It's a different tactic to nearly everybody else out there. I'm not saying there's nobody else doing it, but I think everybody just wants to sell one thing for the cheapest price. The customer wins at the moment because the price just gets lower and lower. But this is why there's so many businesses going bankrupt, or struggling financially.

We didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. We wanted to create our own lane, and we did that through offering value for money.

Would I have done anything differently? I would have embraced what made me different earlier.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your entrepreneurial journey?

Don't try and change or worry about things that aren’t in your control.

What three tips would you give to the next generation of female founders?

  1. Research fully whatever you want to do.
  2. Be confident.
  3. Back yourself.

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