Interview by Servane Mouazan CEO Ogunte Ltd and founder Make a Wave, Pre-Incubator for Women Social Entrepreneurs.
Shazia Mustafa, CEO and co-founder of Third Door, nursery & co-working space.
How did the idea of Third Door come about?
I was on maternity leave 5 years ago and had been working for a large telecommunication company. I didn’t really want to go back to the corporate world, do a lot of traveling and leave my baby. So I found myself brainstorming business ideas with a friend who just had a little girl too. However, on that day, we found it really difficult to get any work done between our babies, the nappy changing, feeding and entertaining them. We were in my flat, then we moved to Starbucks, then moved to the park and it still made absolutely no difference. I was really frustrated.
I remember saying to my friend: “Wouldn’t be great to have a place, where we could go and work for a few hours and still be near them?”. That’s where the initial idea came from.
I originally worked in customer research for various companies so I did my homework and I found a similar place in the US (combining creche, yoga, co-working).
I really wanted a professional workspace based on what customers would want, so I researched the trends: for instance mobile technology, remote working, the desire to work in the community, people’s willingness to work near their children. My husband was doing his MBA at the time, and I persuaded him to use our project as a case-study. He completely saw the benefit of the idea and started to do the feasibility plan and got a distinction for that!
Where does the name Third Door come from?
The name Third Door is like another space, a third space, like a coffee shop.
It’s a place where you belong, not your work, not your home, it’s a place where you can be with your loved ones…
It sounds professional and not totally linked to children. Our customers are the adults, we look after their children and they don’t have to worry about them. We provide them with ancillary services that help them develop their business or their working life, ultimately.
What’s special about your business concept and why hasn’t it been developed before in the UK?
I come across a few people saying “I had the idea before”… Co-working is a relatively new concept and childcare of course isn’t new. We put the old and new together and mix them up. It’s easy to think about it but in practice, there are a few obstacles you need to overcome. We really thought about the free-lance market so we made the childcare flexible. More and more people don’t always want to commit to the same days. A flexible nursery is a huge USP for us. You know running a childcare business is difficult, you have Ofsted regulations, getting the right staff… Having this co-working concept when we set up was just being ahead of the curve. Lots of people from all over the world approach us now as we are doing this successfully.
This is here to stay. It’s the way forward.
What is the point of a nursery combined with a workhub?
The combination of a co-working hub and nursery offers lots of benefits: flexible nursery that works with your needs, you can always downgrade or upgrade your package according to your current lifestyle. People who have similar business backgrounds and share caring responsibilities can connect and share ideas, processes, contacts, and understand each other. If you are living nearby, you don’t have to rush to commute to the city or back home; you can also see your child (id you feel like it) at any time, if they are sick or feeling down, or if you want to have lunch with them! You have a better relationship with the staff that runs the nursery because you see them on a regular basis, not just in the mornings, evenings, when you do the drop-off.
We also organise seminars, workshops and speaker events in-doors that suit members’ needs. Overall you are striking a work life balance when you are able to be on location at 9am, and work until 5pm, and spend more time during the rest of the day with your little one.
A co-working space is also a way to feed your need to “belong” to a community. This is a very important trend at the moment.
What would be an ideal investor for you?
They would need to understand our mission to make lives of working parents easier. They would help us expand nationally and globally, and be as just passionate as us about growing this business and its social side. Investors need to come and feel the place we have created, meet the staff, talk to our members to see how they benefitted, and then we would talk numbers!
What obstacles have you overcome?
Being a mother, I juggle my family life and my work. But as a woman entrepreneur, I wouldn’t have had the idea of Third Door if i hadn’t had a child. If I were child-free, I would work even more than what I do now (even though I work 24/7!).
I am happy with the balance we have now. My husband and I used to do everything ourselves but we are now much better at delegating.
I think that overcoming that loss of self-belief is an accomplishment as well. You have got to find the tiny little bit of tenacity, confidence, character, that’s left in you, connect with supportive people around you, people who remind you about your goals.
What are your top 3 tips for budding entrepreneurs?
- Definitely understand your strengths and weaknesses and that of your team.
- Delegate what you can, as long as what you delegate still fits with your vision.
- Believe in yourself! When we first set Third door, we were completely believing in the project. There was nothing like that anywhere else. At that point, I did loose some self-belief. I asked myself: “Did we make a mistake?” “Are we ever going to get customers?”
I am very passionate about what we are trying to achieve here. I am confident we can achieve that vision. And it does help when we are talking to suppliers, partners, and when we speak to customers and manage to get them on board.
What would you like to say to your younger self?
Save some more money, for yourself, your business, and the future.
Have as many experiences as you can… Go on as many holidays as you can… When you are in business, you might not have the time to do so later on!
Shazia Mustafa is a fellow of the Ogunte Make a Wave Pre-Incubator for Women Social Entrepreneurs.