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I quit my job to start a business during Covid; here’s what I’ve learnt

An interview with Clen founder, Arianna Namaki.

By Joy Molan.


Everything you wanted to know about starting a business in lockdown.

Despite a pandemic raging across the world and a recession wreaking havoc on the economy, many new small businesses have sprung up throughout the UK in 2020. Redundancies, furloughs and disappearing grad schemes are prompting many young people to consider forging their own paths and start their own ventures. But it’s easier said than done. The number of young people starting businesses is up eightfold since 2009, but it takes the vast majority of us as long as two years to quit a job that’s not satisfying us. What if it doesn’t work out? What if you don’t know how to do everything right away? How do you find your gap in the market? To help answer these questions and provide insight into her experience, I caught up with Arianna Namaki, 25, who recently left her job in advertising to found antibacterial and antiviral phone accessories company, Clen.

Hi Arianna, thanks for talking to us. First up, can you tell me a bit about what inspired your decision to leave full-time employment and start working for yourself?


I was happy in my previous job in advertising. I don’t think I would have thought about changing roles (let alone careers) if the pandemic hadn’t happened. I’ve always thought in the back of my mind one day I would love to start a business and work for myself, but I think the comfort and security of being in a company and having an office and colleagues to see every day meant that was unlikely to be something I acted on for quite a while.


Once the pandemic hit and our routines suddenly changed so much and we were forced out of our comfort zones, I started realising it might actually be the right time for a new challenge in my work life too. 


So, how did you come up with the idea for Clen? It seems like you landed on something very timely!?


Thank you! I kept noticing during the start of the pandemic that people were becoming more aware of their surroundings; how dirty certain everyday items were. Phones were a particular source of anxiety. Endless “YOUR PHONE IS TEEMING WITH GERMS” articles and videos were popping up, and I noticed friends using antibacterial wipes to clean their phones. My first thought was “what a waste of wipes”. And, secondly, “that really can’t be very good for your phone?!”.


I started thinking how great it would be if there was a solution to this. I think that’s one of the best things about advertising (the industry I worked in at the time); you learn how to identify problems and help brands create solutions to them. In this instance, I thought maybe I could actually create a brand to be the solution. I started researching products that were both antibacterial and antiviral and found this amazing surface coating called Titano by German company Hecosol, that was currently being used in corporate places like offices and airlines. I reached out to them, tested spraying some cases and was able to get them on board to allow me to use their product to create Clen. 


Finding a real gap in the market or a problem to solve sounds like a smart way to start a venture. On a personal level, what’s made your transition from full-time to self-employed easier?


I think working from home already made it easier. If I’d gone from being in an office with hundreds of colleagues every day to being alone in my flat it would’ve been quite a shock! I do miss having a lot of people to speak too throughout the day. I work with designers and paid social specialists and manufacturers etc., but it’s pretty different to having a full team like you have in a corporate job.


What were your biggest worries when making the change? Did you find they were confirmed or were you surprised?


Honestly, I was most worried about not having a fixed salary coming into my bank account at the end of every month! Starting a business is a big risk. Especially during a pandemic, where I was lucky enough to have a job to begin with.


What would you say to other people in their twenties considering starting their own businesses?


Hearing feedback from people you don’t know about how the product is something they’ve never known they needed, but has made their lives much easier, is very rewarding. 


But, having a business is also very tough. You are responsible for everything. When you’re working in a corporate company, you are somewhat protected from certain parts of the business, but when you're starting a company, you have to do everything yourself. So, when things go wrong, you have to deal with it. I found it especially tough at the beginning (it feels like absolutely everything that could go wrong, did). But, a few months in, I’ve already somewhat gotten used to it! I’m learning not to let it impact me as much and to just expect delays and problems so I don’t get stressed when they happen. It’s also rewarding to challenge yourself to try learning things yourself, like building a website, setting up analytics etc.


Also, whilst a lot of people are lovely and willing to help when you ask, everyone has a lot going on in their lives. I think learning that you won’t hear back from around 90% of the people you reach out to (e.g. influencers, press) if you don’t know them directly and aren’t paying them a big sum, is helpful. 

Many of our readers have seen their work dry up, have been made redundant or are struggling to find grad jobs after uni. Would you recommend they explore a self-employed venture?


I would say yes, of course it’s something to explore, but it has to be a product or service that you really really believe in. And don’t expect it to be easy; it’s VERY hard. And it can be quite lonely at times. But if you believe in the brand and are committed to try your absolute best to make it work, and (I know this is especially difficult, but it’s important to mention) have some money that you can live off until you're making enough revenue to pay yourself a salary, it’s incredibly rewarding. 


Finally, any last reflections?


If you have someone you can partner with that you think has the same drive but different skill sets than you, that can be great. I started so quickly that I wasn’t able to find a partner, and when that’s the case, bouncing ideas/brainstorming with friends, family etc. is really invaluable. And chatting to people who have experience, whether in a similar field to what you're looking into going into or something completely different (the more the better), can also give you a very helpful perspective. 


Image interviewee's own.


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