Back in 2015, OH! Director Robyn Dooley found herself dropping out of college. Frustrated just six months into her Fashion BTEC, Robyn realised the course she was on wasn’t going to give her the practical skills she needed to get the career she deserved. However, soon after leaving Robyn found that when looking for jobs in the creative and digital sector none were going to give her the time she needed to grow into her role. All too often experience was expected even for basic, entry-level roles. With limited opportunities in the job market, unpaid internships feeling like the only option and her confidence dashed, Robyn set out to do something a little different.
For a year, Robyn researched how to close the gap around education and employment. The problem became clear; the skills graduates were coming out with were not matching the expectation employers had for entry-level roles. Something had to be done to fill that gap and create a network of skilled, proactive creatives. Robyn spent the next year speaking with businesses, freelancers, young people, universities, colleges, and decision makers to listen to their perspective on it all.
The more she listened, the more she knew the problems weren’t going to go away – if anything they’d only get bigger given the nature of the industry. Unsure of what it was going to become, Robyn set out to create a solution to benefit everyone.
I caught up with Robyn to hear how she created the now legendary OH! programme and her journey along the way.
1. Why did you start your business? What spurred you on?
One of the main drivers for me at that time, and still is, was creating accessible opportunities for creatives. I was living and breathing this into every conversation I was having and strangely enough, this built a movement, and the movement became a brand, and the brand became the company it is today.
2. What are the unique challenges you have faced as a female founder?
Perhaps I’m naive to think I haven’t been affected, but some of the incidents I’ve come across are laughable;
I went to a networking event once when I was just starting out, 7.30am (I know) and a room full of men. One of them kindly came up to me to ask whether I was with my dad. That was my cue to leave, and it reminded me of the rooms I wanted to be in and rooms I didn’t.
For me, I’ve found that it’s better to laugh about these things and separate myself from the situation than to be angry about it.
3. What were the 3 steepest learning curves during your first year in business?
Understand your finances — It’s important to get your head around it and while you don’t need to understand it all because you can get an accountant for that, there needs to be a degree of confidence with it.
Find your balance — I invested everything into this in the first year and I was constantly working, leaving very little time to spend with friends and family. There’s a huge cost that comes with this, and it’s not a good place to be when you realise how much you’ve distanced yourself from what is just as important, if not even more important.
Value time — I would and still could spend two/three hours meeting with people, listening and conversations have contributed a lot towards what I’ve learned and my knowledge of the industry. But time is valuable and as much as I enjoyed speaking with people, I also had to respect the time they had and the time I needed to dedicate to work that helps towards moving things forward.
4. What is your favourite thing about founding your own company?
I’ve never been academic and was never well suited for the classroom. I’m more of a sleeves-up hands-on type of person and this feels like the perfect fit for me to learn what I needed to learn — there’s no way I would have learned half the things I have over the last three years if was I stuck inside a classroom.
I’m also very independent which isn’t always a good thing, but being able to start something up of my own and figuring it out along the way has the most enjoyable part throughout this whole process.
While the vision has always been the same, how I get there has changed and I love the fact I can have that flexibility and I can adapt what I’m creating.
5. What is the best business advice you have been given by someone else?
I very rarely give advice. Business isn’t linear and circumstances will always be different; something that might work for one, might not work for another. And, I still have no idea what I’m doing so I’m not best placed to give somebody else advice.
I only ever share experiences and what’s worked for me; so the best thing I’ve learned from my personal experience has been to embrace naivety in business.
Whilst experiences give credibility, naivety allows you to view things with more curiosity and from a different perspective. This helps to encourage new, alternative approaches that could lead to a transformation in whatever it is you’re working on.
6. Do you ever suffer from Imposter Syndrome? If so, what do you do to tackle it and move forward?
When I’ve experienced it it’s because I’ve lacked the confidence due to preconceptions I think people might have of me… I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a battle with myself in the toilets before going into a meeting or an event to help me believe that I belong there.
Since day one I’ve lived by the mantra of if there’s not a seat at the table for you, bring your own but to even say that there needs to be a level confidence I simply don’t have. So I force it, and I push through it, and I turn up because I do belong there just as much as anybody else does.
7. What’s the best book on business you’ve read?
One of my favourites and one that I know I’ll go back to years to come is Obliquity.
I’ve always questioned myself when it came to the notion of the goal for OH never to be focused on money and this book helped me to understand why and how that approach can help achieve more success than when all you’re focused on is making profit and growth.
8. Tell us about another brilliant business woman you think our readers should know about
Can I have three? Debbie Millman, Tina Risenberg, and Maria Popova. They’re incredible because they value conversations, take joy from sharing what they find, and are generous in sharing what they know.
9. What piece of advice would you give yourself if you were starting your business now?
You could save a lot of time by trusting and listening to your intuition. Don’t be afraid to walk away, say no, or grab an opportunity by its horns if it feels right.
10. If you were working with a marketing budget of £1,000 what would you spend the money on?
I’d commission an illustrator.
I bloody love illustration for all the playfulness and character it can add to a brand. It was a big part of our rebrand earlier this year and I feel it says more about who we are than words could.