26th May 2016
Starting off with an idea inspired by a trip to Belgium, Jo Hockley is the founder of the remarkably successful Toddlebike
The first time Jo Hockley set eyes on a ‘pre’ balance bike was on a trip to Belgium in 2009. Her son simply would not put it down, and Jo knew that she had to get one for him.
On returning home however, Jo realised that the bikes were not available in the UK. From that point onwards, things moved incredibly quickly. Jo contacted a manufacturer in Germany, and secured sole distribution rights, subsequently changing the design to make Toddlebike2 unique. The Toddlebike is now a bestseller on Amazon, and is shipping abroad through UKTI’s Exporting is Great campaign.
The first challenge was to get Toddlebike into the mainstream; parents that were buying balance bikes for their children tended to be part of the niche world of cycling. This made the first milestones of the business all the more exhilarating, “I remember the day that I first sold five Toddlebikes, and it was just so exciting. It is always the measurable goals and victories that give you the biggest satisfaction.”
Entering – and winning – the John Lewis PitchUp competition for startups was the next big victory for the business, and Toddlebikes were soon being stocked in stores up and down the country. The brand and sales were rising fast, but enjoying this success from her own home, Jo came to realise that she missed the pat on the back that usually comes from working in a team. “You really have to manage the peaks and troughs, the highs and lows that come from working for yourself.” She stresses that anyone looking to set up at the kitchen table needs to believe in themselves every day and put in place the mechanisms that make you feel like you have made a big win.
Whilst she enjoyed cycling in her spare time, Jo does not exactly have the profile of a bike maker. She spent most of her career in events marketing and management, and the need to learn on the job has been a real selling point of setting up from home: “My skill set is amazingly broad now – I am the CEO, accountant, receptionist and cleaner all rolled into one.”
Relying on her own skills in this way allows Jo to take full control of the business and put her ideas into action instantaneously: “Getting rid of the process of bigger teams I can come up with a new concept in the morning and put it into play in the afternoon.”
This flexibility also suits her life as a mum. “It works on a personal level for me. It works because I am a mum, not in spite of it.” Having started the business to keep her kids active and outdoors, Jo’s children are an ever-present inspiration as well as the key factor in her decision to keep the business running from home. “I have considered moving out into office space but then I remember that I wouldn’t have started the business if it weren’t for them.”
And for Jo, running a business from home is all about work-life blend: “It is difficult to put it down, but you are always thinking it over and making new ideas.” The work-life blend is an area where her life as a mum has also had an impact. “Once you’ve had a few children you are like dynamite and you can achieve in a few hours what you used to achieve in a day.”
Jo is quick to support bypassing the big teams of office life, but she is also an advocate of fostering a wider community: “It would have been unbelievably valuable to me when I was first starting out to have had a mentor, or someone to help me tap into a community of business owners. I think we work well when we work together, and you don’t naturally get that when you are a home business.”