“Success means nothing unless you're giving back.” Hannah Vasicek, Founder and Director of Francesca Collections, lives by this philosophy, which has also become the tagline of her business. More than just making jewellery, Hannah subscribes to the belief that her business is also meant to create an impact on people’s lives.
Hannah’s entrepreneurial adventure began when she was still a child. Imagine this young lady, who at 12 years old, already started her first little business selling lollies, where she earned around one or two hundred dollars a week. A year after, she ventured into making jewellery, which became one of her greatest passions that later paved the way to her Francesca Collections. “I started making jewellery when I was about 13 years of age. I lived in a rural town in New South Wales, and I had nothing to do. So, my mum took me to a beading store, and that's when I started making jewellery,” Hannah narrated.
She then began selling the jewellery she made. Her first little market store was when she was 13, selling $5 earrings and whatever her hands could create. When they moved to Tasmania at 16 years old, she supplied a merchant with her jewellery. However, because of the huge markup on her items, she decided to cut them out of the supply chain and switched to selling directly to her customers in Salamanca Market, a famous market in Tasmania. At that time, her business was called Handmade by Hannah.
Her family is one of the influences on the cultivation of her entrepreneurial spirit. Her dad worked in the music business and was quite entrepreneurial because he was good at selling. Similarly, her brother runs a business, while some of her uncles and aunties are business owners.
Upon finishing school, Hannah proceeded to university studying two degrees – science and law, retaining her jewellery business on the side and selling at the markets one day a week. At that point, she was still learning the ropes of discerning the pulse of her customers and the effective means of selling to them. Halfway through her five-year university degree, she re-branded her venture to Francesca to capture the younger market segment.
At the final year of university, Hannah made a breakthrough. “I applied for the Global Student Entrepreneur Award, which is run by EO. I got in the finals a week before my final year of law and had to fly over to Melbourne to present the business. I ended up winning, which was awesome. That was my first introduction to EO. Part of that award was to fly to New York and present the business at the world finals. I didn't win, but I met many EOers in New York. A lot of them said that I should pursue my business,” she said.
But when she graduated in 2012, she received an offer for an amazing law job. She was given a month to choose between her business and the job. “I decided that I wanted to do the business and give it a crack,” Hannah quipped. However, she received comments from other people telling her, ‘You're giving up five years of study to do your business,’ or ‘You're wasting your brains’ and things along those lines. Despite those discouraging feedback, she stood by her decision and took her father’s advice at heart. She called her dad on the day she got the job offer, who then told her, ‘Do what makes you time-rich.’ That was one of the reasons why Hannah chose to do the business over her law job. She knew that only business would allow her to have the flexibility of time to work on things she loves to do.
Even though she was zealous about what she was doing, it wasn’t entirely a bed of roses for her. At the beginning of her venture, she was multi-tasking and doing everything her hands and brain could do. “I was making the jewellery, selling it, marketing it, and making social media,” she described. It was only later when her sister joined Francesca and took the lead on the creative side of the venture.
Since she had no prior experience in running a business, Hannah had no clue on the other aspects of managing it like hiring staff and handling finances, for instance. She learned most of these things as she went along the journey. Hannah recounted, “I had to teach myself how to hire someone because I didn't know how to do it. Then the biggest thing has been the access to capital. I wanted to grow the business, but then I had to pay the bills. While starting out, banks won't look at our business because we were new. And I was a sole trader. So, every single bit of cash was going back into the business. And I think one of the biggest challenges was learning things early on.”
When it comes to finances, revenue has not been consistent. “As we've grown, cash flow is such a challenge. Not only are we growing and needing more resources, but our revenue spikes and decreases seasonally. So, we would do 20% of our revenue in the month before Christmas, and then we'll go down during our slowest month by having about 4%,” explained Hannah.
In the early days, she also had to survive through the various challenges to keep her venture afloat. But experience has taught her how to surpass those hindrances. According to Hannah, “I solely relied on the markets since I was 18, living out of the home. Sometimes there were problems, such as markets were cancelled due to bad weather, and I was without income for a week. I had to be always thrifty and ready for unexpected things. There has been that risk involved in losing it all. I think that's what has driven me to succeed. If things were easy, I might have become complacent. I once heard this great woman speak, and she said, ‘Always run your business as if it's going to have a massive problem tomorrow because then it makes you plan for those things.’”
One of those unexpected incidents was a burglary in her first store, which Hannah considers as her biggest heartbreak as a business owner. About six months into the opening of their first store, they got robbed. Hannah could still remember the day when she went to her store on a Sunday to get something out. “When I opened the door, I found all the jewellery gone. I thought someone was playing a prank on me. It was a huge challenge because I was very trusting. I didn't think through the risks of such things. We were under-insured, and it took us ages to recoup all of the jewellery lost.”
Another major challenge for Hannah is the location of her business. Being based in Tasmania was not easy for her to find a group of people where she could bounce off ideas related to business. She is grateful for EO Melbourne because being part of a forum helped her overcome challenges. In her determination to accumulate more knowledge, she flies to Melbourne every month to go to EO.
She credits EO for its positive effect on her venture and entire entrepreneurial journey. Hannah professed, “I honestly could say that I wouldn't be in business without EO. My ultimate goal was to join EO. I think that having a support network is so important, especially that I’m quite isolated because I am in Tasmania. I would have given up because there's a lot of things that come up and challenge me. Unless there is someone there to say they've been through it and they've gotten through it, it's disheartening. EO Melbourne has been fundamental in supporting me during my business growth. Just having people to bounce ideas off and support me through cash flow struggles and other concerns have been amazing.”
Because of her passion for work, learning, and growing the business, Hannah has harvested impressive wins from the early stages of her venture up to the present. “When we opened our first little store, I worked a 2-day a week law job to fund the rent for the store. After six months, I didn't need to work the law job anymore because we were making enough money. Then about 18 months after opening the little store, we opened a big store in Hobart. The revenue quadrupled as soon as we opened its doors. In 2014, we got invited to the Golden Globes to do the gifting suite. I went over to Hollywood and gave jewellery to celebrities. A year after, we won the Telstra Business Awards Business of the Year for Tasmania, which was awesome. In 2016, we opened our Melbourne store,” she enumerated.
Hannah discussed a few points that helped her achieve successes, big or small, in her business journey. “Now that we are successful in some people's eyes, I get a lot of people asking me how they can start a business. They think that they're going to make heaps of money as soon as they start a business. I have three things that people need to be able to run a successful business. My number one is passion. My philosophy is never to do something unless you love it and would do it for free because most of the time, it’s hard. You're just going to give up unless you're passionate about it. My second one is perseverance. You have to want to work hard and not have any reward back until you push through. The other one is the conviction to do it because that's another thing that I struggled when I had to choose between the law job and the business. If I didn't believe in my work, there's no way that other people would. If you have the conviction to do what you love to do, that's going to resonate through the whole company,” the young jeweller-entrepreneur stated.
Most of all, Hannah has the conviction to put purpose in her venture. For many years, her company, Francesca Collections, has been helping various charities. Their company tagline speaks volumes of what is in Hannah’s heart. “Our tagline ‘Success means nothing unless you're giving back’ can mean anything. It can mean empowering our staff, creating social change, or generating a lot of awareness or funds for charities. I think that a lot of people are so focused on success, and they think they're going to feel good when they get there. But it means nothing to have just nice things and not feel like you've made an impact on the world. My biggest legacy would be to show you that you can have a sustainable and profitable business as well as give back to the community.”
Her passion for her business and her causes makes Hannah look forward to the future full of excitement and positivity. She aims to expand the business in a slow, steady and sustainable growth, where she can maximise time and profit and enable her staff to have some flexibility at work. Apart from that, she has a long-term goal to have a better work-life balance and work outside of the business. Right now, she and her husband have another venture, called Apostl, which sells luxury leather goods.
For Hannah, business is not just about earning a profit. Her venture, Francesca, is not only about making and selling jewellery. There’s a lot more to it than just the goods. Her pieces represent the love she has for what she is doing and their emotional significance to the customers. “You only get one chance to do what you love. Make sure that you're living the life that you love. You shouldn't just go to work because you have to. You should go to work because you love everything that you do. I think success is when your actions are in line with your values. For me, I value giving back and making a difference,” Hannah remarked.