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Female Founders: Mellisa Seddon Of The Mouse Trap On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

You can’t do it all on your own. My advice would be to always try and do something yourself first, and if you’re no good at it, find someone who can do it better. You can’t be an expert in everything, so hire people whose strengths lie in your weaker areas.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mellissa Seddon.

Mellissa Seddon is the Company Director at The Mouse Trap, a cheese, wine and cocktail bar based in Ramsbottom, UK. The business was incorporated in 2015 and has undergone numerous transformations along the way — both physically and in terms of the business offerings. Here, Mellissa shares her journey so far and imparts wisdom to other aspiring female founders.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Before becoming Company Director at The Mouse Trap, I had honestly hated every job I’d ever had. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or which path to take. We were looking to move house and I saw a pub up for sale, which I looked into buying.

I knew a couple of pub owners who said it wasn’t a great way of life and put me off making the move. I was telling this story to the man who owned a cheese and coffee shop around the corner from where I lived. It just so happened that he was planning on selling it, and he asked if I’d like to buy it. Immediately I said yes, and the rest is history!

We took the place in 2015 and did a huge refurbishment in 2016. The previous owner was turning over around £50k, and in our second year we brought in £294k, so a massive turnaround.

We had to close during the pandemic, so instead of our customers coming to us, we came to them through offering cheese boards available for delivery. It became so popular that we decided to keep it as one of our main business services. We now have a second premises and offer outside catering and delivery nationwide on our products.

The business really has gone from strength to strength! Every day is a school day, but I love the path that I’m on now.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I think this story is unexpectedly interesting! Last August, we received a negative Trustpilot review titled ‘The Real Housewives of Rammy Outing’, calling our bar ‘full of pretentious prats with their babies’ and claiming that we buy our cheese from a local supermarket.

We decided to turn the negative into a positive and created a lighthearted post on Facebook, which went a bit viral! People loved it, our locals will defend Ramsbottom to the grave. It got so much traction that it became a news story and was featured in the Manchester Evening News, so it ended up benefiting us through the free PR!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

During our first Christmas running the bar, I ordered an insane amount of truckles/cheese wheels, thinking they’d be hugely popular. We didn’t even nearly get through enough because I was a novice — it taught me not to over order!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

If I had to pick just one person, it would be my husband, Gareth, for fully backing me along the way. He has a flexible job so he’s able to pick up the slack with our children. I can work some pretty unsociable hours at the bar, so it’s great that he can be there to support me on that side. He’s my sounding board and calms me down when I’m stressed, which is a lot — that’s just the nature of running a business! He’s always there to give me confidence and support when I’m struggling.

I’d also like to thank my mum as well, she allowed me to mortgage her house to buy the bar originally.

Of course, I also have to thank my amazing team — the bar staff who work so hard giving amazing service and keeping our customers happy day to day, and especially my management team of other strong female figures who all have the same vision for The Mouse Trap brand as I do.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I think society as a whole is holding women back from founding companies. Society still expects us to do the jobs that women have always historically done. We still have so much pressure on us with children to look after, a house to run, meals to cook and prepare… the list is endless.

Now, female founders are having to run a business whilst still having another ‘job’. 50–60 years ago, managing a household was a woman’s full time job. Now we have a 40+ hour workweek and the job of running a house on top of that.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I think the UK government should definitely help more when it comes to childcare. I think it’s outrageous that there is no real childcare support for children until they turn three years old. How do you fill that gap whilst you run a business, waiting three whole years to get free childcare? It’s ludicrous.

A lot of the time if you’re running a business you’re essentially working to pay for childcare — we pay more for childcare than we do for our mortgage, and that’s also with a lot of help from grandparents and flexible jobs. It is a problem with society that we don’t have that essential support.

I started the business at a similar time to having children, so for a majority of time, growing the business over five years, I’ve had young children. Before that, I did treat my business like my baby. Working open until close six days a week was fine, because I had no commitments. I have to divide my time between the business and my children now.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I think more women should become founders because we have such a natural ability to multitask. I also think we are naturally very nurturing when it comes to taking on staff and growing them as part of both their day to day work life and further career.

When we do take on staff members, particularly women, it allows you to extend that empathy, especially when they go off to have children of their own. It’s easy for us to relate to each other and understand how difficult it is coming back to the workplace — it can be so simple to lose yourself in your new identity as a mum.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

A lot of people look at you and think you don’t work as hard as someone who has a conventional job, especially because I can pick and choose when I work. A lot of my friends who have traditional jobs tend to think it’s not proper work, but I’ll be on my laptop in the evening after spending the day with my children. When you can’t show up to plans because you’re catching up on work, they don’t get it — they think because you’re not in work, you’re not working.

Another myth is that you tend to have the same sort of responsibilities over time. That hasn’t been true for me at all. At the start, I was very hands-on every day, working more hours than everyone else. As the business grew and staff could take on my earlier responsibilities, I started to work on other areas, such as accounting spreadsheets. A big part of my role now is more strategy-based, looking at profits, losses and setting new targets. I work more on the business itself rather than in the business now.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

No — I always say it takes a special kind of idiot to do it! You need to be the type of person who’s thirsty for knowledge. I’m always reading business-related books and listening to helpful podcasts. A lot of the time I wish I could go home and not think about work or care about it as much, but as a founder you are obsessed with it.

For those who aren’t already in relationships, it’s important that you look for someone who’s really understanding and gets why you are the way you are. I feel like I do neglect my husband sometimes. For me, it’s business and children first.

I tend to employ people who want to eventually run their own business. The aim of this is so that they can work on my business like they would their own until they move on. I’ve accepted that they probably will leave, but I’ll get the best of their abilities whilst they work for me.

My husband uses a good analogy, he says a lot of young boys want to be footballers, but not all of them make it. The same goes for business owners. It does take a special kind of person. Even for those who do become founders, there are certain people who are better at it than others. Just look at companies within the same sector — there can be huge differences in net worth. Some business owners have better strategies, understanding and knowledge. There’s a reason why one business is doing better than the other.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You can’t do it all on your own. My advice would be to always try and do something yourself first, and if you’re no good at it, find someone who can do it better. You can’t be an expert in everything, so hire people whose strengths lie in your weaker areas.
  2. It’s okay to not know something. There’s so much to learn, especially for someone like me who had no formal education in business. Like I say, every day is a school day for me, there’s so much info out there to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
  3. Have a vision for what you want the company to be. Share this with the team so you know you’re all going in the same direction. Have values that you stick by with that vision and don’t compromise — customers can sense it when you’re not invested in your product.
  4. Don’t be afraid to admit defeat when it comes to ideas, or try alternative suggestions. Where we are now as a business is worlds apart from where we started — we’ve had to evolve and change based on customer needs and our competitors.
  5. Always be consistent with your standards, marketing and products. Never let them slip.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I think brightening people’s days during lockdown by delivering delicious cheese boxes was a good way to go about it!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I don’t feel like I am a person of influence, I just try to be true to myself. I’d love to inspire a movement around helping women do it all though — that’s what’s expected of us. Society is gradually changing, but there’s still a long way to go, especially when it comes to the pay gap. Equality is getting better, but in terms of leveling the playing field for men and women, we’re nowhere near there yet.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’d absolutely love to have lunch with Karren Brady — she’s a sensational businesswoman who carries herself so well. She’s achieved so much in the male-dominated business world, so I’d love to sit down with her and pick her brains.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Female Founders: Mellisa Seddon Of The Mouse Trap On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.