Celebrating International Women’s Day with a spotlight on Cat in a Flat

6 min read
Selina Bieber

At the last official count, there were 1.5 million self-employed women in the UK. Since the financial crisis of 2008, over 300,000 women have joined the SMB market, showing that adversity has not dampened the Great British entrepreneurial spirit.

But there is always room to grow. According to the Federation of Small Businesses 2016 Women in Enterprise: The Untapped Potential report, if the level of female entrepreneurship in the UK equalled that of the US, 900,000 additional businesses would be created in the UK, generating an additional £23 billion gross value added to the economy.

To inspire female entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to market and celebrate International Women's Day, we profile one of GoDaddy’s budding small business customers, Cat in a Flat.

It all started with Yuki, the big, black moggy

Julie Barnes always had challenges when it came to finding a cat sitter. Friends and family were too intimidated to drop in and look after her big black moggy, Yuki, the 'super-male'.

So in 2013, Julie turned to the internet for help. A quick internet search and domain name purchase and registration with GoDaddy, and the concept for Cat in a Flat was born.

Things really took off when Julie joined forces with her workplace colleague Kathrin Burckhardt, who brought her previous business experience to the table and helped turn the idea into a viable company. What followed was months of research, planning, marketing, and of course cat pictures. Lots of cat pictures.

To kickstart their business, Julie and Kathrin took inspiration from the Airbnb model and focused on establishing a paw-print in their local area of Shoreditch.

Our first 6 months involved research, planning and the creation of a minimum viable product.

Building the Cat in a Flat brand and leaping over challenges

Despite the catchy brand name, success didn't come overnight for Cat in a Flat. Like any business, it took hard work, persistence and discipline.

"Working on the project in our spare time our first 6 months involved research, planning and the creation of a minimal viable product. We officially launched the Cat in a Flat website in 2014. By June 2015, we were able to commit to the business full-time as we had secured the investment needed to move forward and it was a 'now or never' moment in our journey," said Julie.

Cat in a Flat Founders Julie Barnes and Kathrin Burckhardt
Cat in a Flat Founders Julie Barnes and Kathrin Burckhardt

As two women running a tech-based startup, the entrepreneurs found they had extra roadblocks that needed to be leapt over. They found that events dedicated to startups were more interested in selling products than providing advice for up-and-coming businesses. Despite having over 15 years of combined experience in the world of design and user experience, the entrepreneurs also had to overcome gender stereotypes.

"There were situations where we'd have to prove our ideas were viable or people weren't taking us seriously because we were women. But we always had confidence in our skills to move forward," Kathrin explained.

Like many other new businesses, money was tight for Cat in a Flat at the beginning. But the beauty of having an internet-based business meant that investment capital and running costs could be kept to a minimum. For half a year, Julie and Kathrin limited themselves to a shoestring marketing budget of £100 a month. They came up with cost-effective ways to advertise the business, including posting flyers at newsagents and bars as well as using Facebook to spread the word. Only once the business started generating a regular revenue stream did the co-founders branch out into paid advertising such as Google Adwords and launch poster campaigns on the London Underground.

Purr-fecting the user experience

Julie and Kathrin knew from day one that creating a brilliant website was key to success. They knew that building an app at the start would be too complicated and expensive, whereas a website could be scaled to work across desktop and mobile devices. Their experience in design and user experience meant that they were equipped with the knowledge to create a great customer journey. The decision was also made to keep the website aesthetically pleasing yet simple.

"Our customers range from 18-to-65 years old and having an easy-to-use website is imperative. We have a substantial number of users based in rural areas with slower internet speeds, so  keeping the site clean helps to make sure it runs more smoothly for everyone," said Julie.

cat in a flat website

Growing the business, one cat sitter at a time

There are lots of steps Cat in a Flat has taken to help protect its brand and grow the business. It has an official presence across major social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. "We have purchased upwards of 10 domain names from GoDaddy to help protect the brand and have a domain-based email to help give our business a professional look. We are using GoDaddy’s search engine visibility tool to provide an SEO boost on Google and have an SSL certificate to make sure our customers have a more secure experience on our website," added Kathrin.

Cat in a Flat continues to leap from milestone to milestone.  It's already established across the UK and the next goal is to expand into Europe before ultimately taking the business global.

Cat in a Flat's top five tips for starting a business:

1- Don't go it alone! Find someone who compliments your skills set so you can hit the ground running
2- When starting out, plan your business from concept to a minimal viable product
3- Make sure you do comprehensive market research so that you can find ways of differentiating yourself from competitors
4- Be frugal with your finances during the early stages and be careful about the amount of equity you give away
5- Have a vision. Our business journey has seen us cover a lot of ground to-date and we're always striving to reach new heights.