Female Founders No.29: Jeni Wadkin, Siren

Female Founders No.29: Jeni Wadkin, Siren

It’s time for a foodie edition of Female Founders. We’re lucky to work at 54 St. James Street for many reasons, and one of those reasons is Siren: a lovely eatery that offers everything from brunch to small plates. It’s handy having an eatery like Siren right on your doorstep, especially when you need a cake fix to get you through that universal afternoon slump.

Jeni Wadkin and Natalie Hardman founded Siren after working in the hospitality industry together for years. And like a lot of other company founders, they decided that working for someone else wasn’t for them. Let’s find out how these female founder besties turned their dream into a reality. 

1. Why did you start your business? What spurred you on?

My business partner Natalie and I have known each other since we were very young. After meeting in primary school, we went on to attend the same secondary school and then work in hospitality together. We worked in hospitality and catering for a number of years and got very familiar with the industry. Natalie and I had always been very independent people. After not being treated well in previous jobs, we decided that we would be happier doing it for ourselves.

2. What are the unique challenges that you have faced as a female founder? 

We’re really lucky to be based in The Women’s Organisation building, as this has obviously meant that we didn’t receive any discrimination from them. In terms of business set-up, we had nothing but an amazing level of support throughout the process. The only time we experience sexism is through some issues with certain suppliers or maintenance people. I’ve also had the odd sales rep asking for a manager and expecting to see a man. 

3. What were the 3 steepest learning curves in your first year in business? 

  1. We got the opportunity to open a second business within the first 18 months of Siren running, but it ended up failing. This was a learning curve towards recognising that every opportunity isn’t a good opportunity.
  2. Finding and retaining the right people and building a core team that works was a challenge at first. It’s important to have staff that are the right fit for your company’s culture.
  3. As an owner of a business that runs seven days a week, work/life balance is quite difficult. I have to consciously take time to stop and switch off.

4. What is your favourite thing about founding your own company? 

Founding your own company is something to be proud of. Even when you’ve accomplished a lot, it’s easy to forget your achievements.

To see how far we’ve come over six and a half years is surreal; from working on the floor to having 15 staff. I’m proud of how our brand has evolved.

5. What is the best business advice you have been given by someone else? 

Stick to your gut and follow your instincts. 

6. Do you ever suffer from Imposter Syndrome? If so, how do you tackle it and move forward? 

I’ve been lucky to have not experienced Imposter Syndrome. Having worked in hospitality and catering since I was 16 means that I’m very familiar with the industry, so I’ve never had a fear of not knowing what I was doing in that way. 

7. What’s the best book on business you’ve read? 

I haven’t really read any! I just go off my own experiences.  A different source of inspiration for me is watching cookery programmes. I like to watch them train people who have never worked in hospitality, it’s useful to see how people get the most out of their staff.

8. Tell us about another brilliant businesswoman that you think our readers should know about. 

Nisha from Mowgli is amazing. The brand that she’s created across the country, the quality of food and service and the way she treats her staff is exceptional.

Also, Elaine Clarke from Baa Bar. I worked for her for six years, starting as bar staff and working my way up to manager.

9. What advice would you give to yourself if you were starting your business now? 

Sit back and evaluate more often; really consider your decisions. It’s easy to get dragged into the day-to-day and not have a full overview of the business. I’d also say to try to keep hold of good staff.

Building staff relationships is essential to running any business.

10. If you had a marketing budget of £1,000 what would you spend the money on? 

I think I’d spend that money on getting the most out of paid social media advertising. 

Craving more?

If all this talk about an eatery has got you in the mood for a food-themed marathon, check out our interview with Natalie Shilton, founder of The Nakery. Read it already? Why not have a read of our latest interview with Lorna Davidson, founder of RedWigWam

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