Inspirational Woman: Joanne Al Samarae | Founder, Magpie & Co

Joanne Al Samarae

After graduating in the arts, I began a career as a journalist, writing for Martha Stewart Weddings before moving to Forbes Middle East.

While I was there, I wrote about travel, luxury and lifestyle and got to interview amazing people, like Bollywood legend Shah Rukh Khan and fashion designer Reem Acra. During that time, I started to sense there was a gap in the market. Whenever I wrote about gifts, people would email me asking for more ideas and recommendations. Slowly, I realised that a lot of people found gift-buying really difficult and stressful.

Once I started having conversations with people about their experiences surrounding gifting, it became clear that most didn’t enjoy the process. I heard “It’s stressful”, “It’s time-consuming” and “I’m just not a very good gift-giver” a lot. Although a seed had been planted, I continued working as a journalist and then moved into communications for high-end design, jewellery and fashion houses. But I was still giving endless advice to friends, family and colleagues looking for the perfect gift. So, almost seven years after my lightbulb moment, I finally took the plunge and launched Magpie & Co, a gift concierge service for individuals and businesses.

So, how does your service work?

Buying gifts can be stressful and time-consuming, so we find the perfect present, wrap it and arrange delivery. After we receive an inquiry, we send clients a questionnaire or schedule a phone consultation. We ask who they’re gifting to, what the occasion is and how much they’re looking to spend. Once we have all the information info we need, we come up with two gift ideas. Our clients select one, and then we handle the purchasing, custom gift-wrapping and delivery – all in secret.

We offer packages for frequent gift-givers, as well as a corporate service, which focuses on well-planned and radical gifting strategies that elevate brands and delivers results.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I did. A number of times. But my career looks absolutely nothing like anything I imagined. While I was studying, I never imagined being a journalist. And when I was a journalist, I never imagined being an entrepreneur. Over time, I’ve learnt to adjust and adapt. I’ve come to accept that nothing will go exactly as planned, so I need to stay nimble.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Finding mentors who understand what I’m trying to build has been very difficult. Personally, I haven’t had a great experience.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

We’re a new brand and we’re growing every day, but our very first customer felt like a huge victory. Today, receiving positive feedback about our ideas and wrapping means a lot. As do repeat customers. It feels amazing when someone comes back to use our service again.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I have a natural understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses. I know when I need to push through, and I know when I need to seek support from someone who is more experienced.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

From my own experience, finding the right mentors has been incredibly challenging. There is definitely space for a more inclusive and forward-thinking mindset when it comes to mentorship, and fostering a supportive eco-system which will allow more female entrepreneurs to flourish.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be? 

I think one of the most impactful ways to overcome gender barriers is an increased participation by women in local, regional and national legislation. Despite a record number of women being elected to the Commons, men still represent almost two-thirds of seats.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Be ruthless with your energy and time and trust your instincts.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

What don’t I want to achieve? Right now, I’m focusing on growing Magpie & Co in the most organic way possible. In the future, I would love to host pop-ups and bring together amazing makers and designers from across the UK.

WeAreTheCity has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Cherie Blair, Paula Radcliffe MBE, Caprice Bourret, Anna Williamson and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here

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