My best mistake

Basic instincts of a small-business guru

Words: Emma Broomfield

My best mistake

Holly Tucker MBE, 39, co-founded the gift website in 2006. This month she launches Holly & Co, a platform that champions small businesses

When I started, I was 28. It was my first big gig. Like all new entrepreneurs, I thought everyone else knew what they were doing. It isn’t until you’re much older that you realise nobody has a real clue when they set out.

Starting a business is like riding a bullet train, and your gut instinct should be your compass. My biggest mistake has been not listening to it — and the number of tortuous hours I’ve spent dealing with the aftermath of ignoring my gut.

When we launched 10 years ago, we were building one of the first marketplaces in the UK, uncovering a hidden army of small businesses, with about 20,000 things happening at once. Deep down we knew that the company we were using to launch our site wasn’t going to deliver the goods. And 48 hours before launch date, we had no checkout. We had to launch as preview-only while somebody else rebuilt it, before we launched properly a couple of weeks later.

Other times, I’ve known in my gut for six months that a member of staff wasn’t working out, and every time I’d force the Cinderella shoe on my foot before later admitting that my hunch was right. Looking back, there isn’t a single decision that my gut wasn’t right about. Acknowledging that has changed how I work. I’ve always been called Holly Hurricane, but now I’ve I trained myself to say: “I’m going to sleep on it.”

The turning point was in 2014, and the business was getting really big. By then we’d employed around 175 people, but I had too many holes in the skills chart. So I began to employ my instinct on every decision. Almost overnight, my confidence in it grew.

That was a long journey, and that’s what I want to try and stop other businesses going through with Holly & Co. It’s so scary to just act on your gut because you don’t have an Excel spreadsheet to show people, but sometimes your subconscious can be an even more powerful tool. Visit: