Alongside £25,000 funding to get their business off the ground and business insurance in their first year from AXA, the two winners will receive mentoring and support from the AXA Startup Angels: Holly Tucker; Raphael Sofoluke of the UK Black Business Show; and Ian and Henry, co-founders of BOSH!

Here, Holly tells her story from startup to success and reveals why she wants to mentor the next generation of businesses with AXA Startup Angel.


Hi Holly! Can you tell our readers who you are and what you do?

Well I’m Holly Tucker and in 2006 I started Not On The High Street with the aim of connecting amazing customers with phenomenally talented small businesses. Today I find myself not only the co-founder of Not On The High Street, but also the co-founder of Holly & Co, which is an inspiration and advice platform for all small businesses to feel very much at home with. I like to call myself the cheerleader, so I can help people build a life that they love and build a business doing what they love.


Can you tell us what led to the launch of Not On The High Street in 2006?

Not On The High Street was there to connect discerning customers who were looking to vote with their money with small businesses who were finding it hard to not only get a space on the high street, but to advertise themselves. To make themselves feel connected with the consumer. So we decided to create what we now call a marketplace – at the time the only other marketplaces in the world were Amazon and eBay. We thought it would be easy – it was far from easy. Two women who don’t have a technical background building a marketplace for thousands of small businesses was not an easy task. But it was one that led to the most glorious journey that I’ve been on, and that ultimately helped 900 small businesses become million-pound businesses within a year. And who would have thought as we sat at our kitchen table that this would be our destiny.


Did it start as a side project? Was it a hobby that you realised could be a full-time thing?

Well it was definitely a dream that started from my first business, Your Local Fair, where I put on events in town halls where I got together amazing businesses under the town hall roof and invited customers to shop with them. And that’s where the seed of the Not On The High Street idea came from.

I then was lucky enough to have my son Harry, so that first year I had a very young child. We launched April 2006 and the first year was one that potentially I would never sign up for again. The first year saw all the highs and lows of a normal startup. We ran out of money, we were desperately hiring people, all our friends and family were brought in to be our soldiers as we launched something that really had never been seen before. So there were highs and lows, and the lows were ones I’d never like to repeat.


I imagine it’s incredibly difficult to start a business when you’re also a new mum. How did you juggle that?

I just didn’t know any different. So being an entrepreneur, building a business and being a first-time mum, that was my life. I basically decided very early on that it was going to be about quality of time, not quantity of time. So that meant that every time I was with my child I was spending good quality time with him. Turning off my phone, really being with him, because building something like Not On The High Street was a 24 hour a day job. So I had to make sure I fulfilled the role of a mother, which I had always wanted to be, while building my dream.

Some of the other challenges were that I had nothing to be influenced by. We were in uncharted territory. I didn’t have a business where I could look at what they’ve done and learn from it or copy it. And that was incredibly challenging for us. And one of the other age-old issues, and one where I’m so happy to be working with AXA to try and solve, is that money is queen. Cash is queen. So with the AXA Startup Angel competition, the £25,000 going to these amazing founders will be so important. If you run out of money it doesn’t matter what your vision is, or how much you’re going to change the world, it stops right there.


What led to the creation of Holly & Co? What made you realise that providing small business inspiration was your passion?

There wasn’t really a choice in starting Holly & Co. When I had this bird’s eye view, over 16 years, of all these thousands of business starting their journey, I realised everyone felt alone. Everyone felt that they were on this solo journey. And what I could see was that absolutely they had a unique product, proposition, vision, dream, but their journeys were all very similar. And that feeling of being alone didn’t need to exist. So I felt that I had to build what I call ‘the home of small businesses’ so that everyone felt that I was Mum. Standing at the door with a cup of tea, slice of toast, welcoming them into a world and a home that I had created for them, so they could feel part of something.


Holly & Co is all about helping others and providing advice and inspiration – but who do you turn to for advice? Who inspires you?

Wow. It’s a difficult one. I have a podcast called Conversations of Inspiration, where I’ve interviewed 110 amazing business founders. The stories of every founder who’s built a phenomenal brand inspire me. Because it’s difficult when you’re a founder, you can feel quite alone, so who do you turn to for advice? I’ve never found it’s just one person. I’ve actually found that along your business journey, there will be different stages for different types of advice and inspiration.

Every single day I watch founders strive to fulfil their dreams. Balance their family and their love of business. They’re brave, courageous. A lot of them have come through difficult times and have found themselves in a place where they’re now trying to do good. So that’s my world and I feel like the luckiest person alive at this point in time. Because not only do I have people who inspire me as a business leader, but I also have a flock of people around me who every day are courageous with their dreams.


You were named the UK Ambassador for Creative Small Businesses in 2015. How important is it for a small business to be creative in their thinking?

If money is the blood that runs through a business, then creativity is the air that we breathe. I think that creativity has to sit at the very heart of a business. Ultimately, if your creativity fire is not burning, then so many other things will lack oxygen. Like your ability to amplify your company. Your ability to tell a story. To capture people’s attention. So with creativity, we’re not talking about paint and a canvas, I’m talking about innovative thinking. Feeling visionary. Seeing the future and being able to craft that vision into something compelling. That’s the creative process I’m talking about and I try to foster it in anybody that I can.


The pandemic has been devastating for businesses. Do you think we’ll see more startups this year, and do you think the types of businesses starting up will change as a result of the pandemic?

What we’ve all gone through has been catastrophic for many people’s lives, but for a lot of people it has been a moment to pause and think. I do believe people might be thinking twice about the commute. I do think that someone might have a moment to say ‘you know what? I’ve been talking about this dream for a decade. I’m going to go for it.’ And certainly when you look at the numbers in June last year I think it was one of our all-time record highs for people starting a business. And I don’t think that is going to stop.

I also believe that with the era we’re in, a lot of businesses understand that it’s not just about the utilitarian nature of your business, or what service or product you provide. A much greater question that people are asking themselves is ‘how am I going to help people?’ How am I going to help a community, better people’s lives, help the environment? So I do believe that we’re going to see many more businesses starting up with a bigger vision than just what they’re creating, but why they’re creating it.


What are you looking for in the entries to the AXA Startup Angel competition? What would stand out for you in a submission?

The two Ps: Passion and Purpose. Having a purpose that is bigger than just what you hope to sell. And passion. I think that’s one of the most underrated tools that we have. It’s totally free. And when you believe in something wholeheartedly for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you can’t help but have passion ooze out of you. So what I’m looking for is the energy that comes off of these founders where you know they’re going to do this no matter what. Because actually they’ve found their purpose, found their reason and they’re determined. So I’m really excited to witness that.


You said you’ve made 900 people into millionaires. Are you hoping to repeat that success with the winners of AXA Startup Angel?

Absolutely. But I would say that money isn’t the only sign of success. When we realise that we only have 29,000 days on this planet, of course we’re here to earn a living, live a nice life, pay our bills, go on a nice holiday… but ultimately, really living a good life is what we should strive for. So absolutely I want people to run and create profitable businesses, but I also want them to create a business that allow them to be the happiest version of themselves.


When it comes to mentoring, what type of mentor will you be? What do you want people to come away with after a mentoring session with you?

These days you can definitely Google so many things, like profit and loss, how to hire your first staff member and so on. And these are things I can help with. But ultimately what I’m there to do is break down their imposter syndrome. Be their virtual cheerleader. Understand what their vision is and help them know that potentially they’re the only people on the entire planet that can do what they do. But that they’re going to need to be focused, confident, they’re going to need to have passion, and they’re going to have to have so much enthusiasm along the way.

And know that I believe in them.


Business funding made easier with AXA Startup Angel

At AXA, we're committed to helping small businesses achieve their full potential. That's why we created the AXA Startup Angel competition, which helps support two new businesses every year with £25,000 funding, mentoring from business experts and business insurance too, so we can help set you up for success.


AXA brings you Startup Angel in partnership with Heart. Hear from the other AXA Startup Angels here: