April 2015 FEW Women’s Start-up Club Recap : How to Take the Leap from a Corporate Career to Your Own Business

Recap FEW Women’s Start-Up Club April Meeting – Tuesday, April 14, 2015

“Three important key learnings from two women who have made the shift from large corporate to running their own business”

(Left) Joanne Wilkinson, Vintage Kimonos , (Right) Madeleine Pannell, Health and Wellness Coach
(Left) Joanne Wilkinson, Vintage Kimonos , (Right) Madeleine Pannell, Health and Wellness Coach

Old Kimonos, school uniforms and a health coach certificate: how to take the leap from a corporate career to your own business

By Katharina von Tschurtschenthaler

“I will do it one day“, remembers Madeleine Pannell, when she shared her business experience at the Womens’ Startup Club meeting this Tuesday. „One day, when I have enough money, I will start my own business.“ Back then, Madeleine was still working at PWC in the UK including long working hours and stressful days. “I liked my job, but the parts of it which I liked got smaller.“

But only when she moved to Japan with her husband she found the muse and time to take a next step and realize her long kept dream: becoming a certified health and wellness coach. “I liked the security of my job in the UK“, she explains. However, in the end it’s really a tradeoff and a shift in your mindset she tells: high salary versus lifestyle. She chose the ladder and is currently setting up a network of potential clients in the UK before moving back there this summer.

“The most important thing is to have a structure for your business“, explains Joanne Wilkinson. She knows what she is talking about. In the last couple of years the UK born set up three businesses (and has another two business plans ready in the drawer): She is running a fashion company transforming used kimonos into western clothes, an online business for school uniforms and is in addition doing consultancy. She took the leap from the corporate world (19 years working for US giant Dell) after the Japan Great Eastern earthquake. The idea for her kimono business sprung from her wish to bring work to the people of Tohoku – now she has 20 employees in the region.

Madeleine and Joanne gave some useful advice to future entrepreneurs:

  • have a supply chain which is flexible
  • have a reasonable business plan and a small financial buffer (three months of salary)
  • networking is critical (for the kimono business Joanne is attending various events such as vintage fashion fairs)
  • create a value proposition
  • keep all costs which are not bound to sales, low
  • set up the skinniest back-end process possible
  • ideally create new markets
  • be careful when approaching markets you cannot address (for example Japanese markets when you don’t speak Japanese)
  • be physically healthy: be ready to be your business day and night, every day

Both Madeleine and Joanne have set up their businesses by themselves – without a partner in a first place. “When you screw things up, it has a massive impact on yourself when you are alone“, explains Joanne. So if you decide to take a partner onboard choose carefully: if you want to have a person with different skills to complement your own skills, be sure that this person also brings the same passion for the product as yourself. When Joanne chose her current business parnter she made sure “that neither of us had problems doing anything“ (also when it comes to boring tasks such as inventory.

Madeleine and Joanne also had to cope with problems – setting up the webpage the wrong way, having suppliers not delivering on time. “There will be a time where your selfconfidence isn’t where you want it to be“, says Madeleine. That’s why it is crucial to love what you are doing.

“And never forget: if everything goes wrong, you can always go back to work“, says Joanne. Even though, after having listened to their success stories and high motivation, I got the feeling: They are exactly in the place where they want to be.

About FEW Women’s Start-Up Club

Women’s Start-up Club is a small group that meets once every two months to discuss issues, insights and successes of women running or planning to run their own businesses in Japan.

Three pillars

Thought: speakers who make us think and give us real and useful information to help our businesses/plans for starting a business),
Talk: the chance to ask questions, and contribute to the evening) and
Takeaways: we will provide a summary of each evening for every attendee

Our vision is

  • -To provide a place where likeminded women can talk in a safe and supportive environment about their business successes and issues
    -To give all women a chance to speak out
    -To provide quality speakers who will enhance our businesses

All women welcome, whether you have just started your own business, have been running one for years, want to start one or just want to be inspired by getting together with energetic women!

For details, contact


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