Molly Juma interview
I have always loved people who do things with their hands. I am not good with mine (well apart from typing and writing). It is a nice thing getting to see them put in those hours and just come up with something that is very good; the whole process just makes you want to know what to make them tick. So when I saw Molly Juma’s business page Hashtag designs on Instagram I became quickly interested with her work. I reached out and had this conversation with her.
How did you start Hashtag designs?
I have a creative and perfectionist side and I wanted a mat. I wanted a particular size and shape and I decided to make one. I decided on the design and colors and the particulars that I wouldn’t get in a shop.
Once I was done with it a friend also wanted one and then someone else wanted one and then I decided that it could actually be a business. I was doing a double degree and I was in thinking of what to once I was out of campus. I really do not want to get employed but I had not figured what I wanted to do with myself. I still did not have a name for it in December 2015. A professor friend of mine told me it was very simple because no one does it in large scale and you are disrupting a market. So why not create a trend and one that stays, you know how hash tags only trend for a couple of hours and then disappear. So I figured to go I’d go with Hashtag Designs.
You did a double major in?
No I have bachelors in Economics and an Associate degree in Human Resource.
How does that help you in forming business structure, does it help?
One thing is I would never discount education, not actually education but learning. You know how everyone says you really do not have to go to school? I think it is the purpose of why you are going to school. Go beyond the books, for me it has helped in game theory and prioritizing and also how to be able to infuse information and dissect it. It is also a bit practical even in policies and people we work with. You get to know peak seasons, when to pick orders because it is a small period, when to open a sale etc. for human resource it is about managing and dealing with human personalities from clients to co workers and suppliers.
You talk about the importance of education, but what would you tell that person who has that perfectionist artist style but not that business acumen. What would you tell them if they are starting out?
I feel a person needs to know what makes them tick. When you are starting out or still in school figure out what makes you tick Learn, network get to know from other people then experiment and it is going to take a year or two before the market accepts you and trust your craft and be patient with yourself. Like I said before you do not discount education. Do not just go for the grades go to learn and improve yourself.
Even with the different courses you are doing get to learn that one thing that would better your craft. If I was learning engineering I would probably learn how to make better contours. It is all about infusing what you are learning. Just get into the market and learn get your niche and something that makes you different. It is hard for a new product so get a product which is not working and infuse it with something edgy and crafty.
When you were starting up what were the biggest lessons you learnt now that you are in your 4th year?
Manufacturing is really, really laborious. So many times people ask me do you make these things from scratch because it limits on the quantities you can take on.
Valuing clientele feedback is another thing. I was not willing to do was to give out free samples. If it is a new product you want to try out and the niche you want to reach out to can affect your market shares go for it even if no money is coming back. However the feedback you get from the feedback might help you no matter how hard it might be. Product is king they tell you client is king but what they are buying into? It is the product. Make it so good that no one would ever question.
In addition know your product so well and have everything at your finger tips from maintenance to acquisitions and be very confident when pitching even when you do not have the resources for it.
How do you handle the negative feedback? Because there is always the negative and it is not that constructive?
I mean negative feedback is what makes you grow. I always look forward to it, you tell yourself you are here for the long game. I am not here for a day to make money but to stay in the market. If I want to stay in the market then I need to look out for the negative feedback and it can be a fuel I want to prove them wrong and it is not what they think. My personality I think also helps, I am much more reserved and calm and melancholic and forward looking and I would be just be able to be say you know Molly there is nothing they can do.
Currently what are you struggling with in terms of business and personal life?
(Pause) That’s a tough one. I would say keeping up with maintaining the market. You know when I said the work is laborious it means the more staff I have the more the supervision. Managing people is work by itself.
You also realize dealing with corporate clients is different from dealing with household clients. Also employees are different. You may bring in someone who may not be that into the business. They just come in but not do the job from the heart. You can clash sometimes with people like this and they may end up feeling pushed or you may feel the product is uninspired. (chuckles)
What do you for fun away from work?
I am like a real life enthusiast, I run (pause) anything outdoor I am your go to girl.(laughs)
Being a real life enthusiast how do you feel it has shaped your business life?
You feel good about yourself. When your body feels great you work better. I’m also very insistent on proper nutrition and avoiding health risks. You cannot risk being a health risk or making someone a health risk at the work place.
10 years from now will you still be doing the same thing you are doing?
Of course yes, but it will be more expanded. The reasons I concentrated on the flooring pieces is to make it grow and to have shops or show rooms. Of course it will be a very long time before this happens.
I am also thinking about going into interior designing. In short making it become a one stop shop for everything.
Basically I want to remodel the perception around hand crocheted products. The market is more accepting and becoming more appreciative. The goal is to make people understand the essence of the products while at the same time understanding the importance of empowering women more. There are women who work below minimum wage but we aim to give them more than that. You are impacting and keeping steady a homestead and reach out to other people.
Would you also be open to bring in men who can also do this?
Yes. I think working with men is much easier than working with women. We had a model to do this and we are trying to reconsider working with 2 or more men to see how things go.