Like many an entrepreneur before her, Karen Naidoo left a lucrative media job to take the leap and start her own online business.
Karen, who previously worked in big companies like Google and Microsoft, left her digital media job to start Cuando, an Irish online gifting marketplace that sells gifts by makers and designers all over Ireland, after she noticed a crucial gap in the market.
‘The idea for Cuando kept coming to me because I genuinely found myself needing it. I had lots of special occasions that I wanted to get really thoughtful presents for, but I was so busy in work that I couldn’t find the time for the necessary online research or to physically visit some of my favourite stores.’
So what is Cuando?
‘Cuando is an Irish website where you can buy personalized, bespoke and unique gifts for every occasion from bridal and baby showers, to weddings and birthdays, and seasonal occasions like Mother’s Day.’
‘It came about because I was always sneaking time on my commute or lunch break to search on my phone for the right gift. I’d find gorgeous things that ended up coming from halfway around the world (meaning huge shipping costs!) or in the end discover that they didn’t ship to Ireland at all.’
‘It was frustrating as I knew that so many people here in Ireland were making wonderful quality things, but I just couldn’t find them easily in one place at the tap of a phone.’
It was on maternity leave from her former job that Karen decided to dip her toe in the water of online retailing, and ultimately she never went back to that position. And, Karen insists it was becoming a mum to her little boy that actually gave her the ‘confidence’ to do it.
‘I worked for years in digital media so Cuando is a combination of my digital experience and my passion for gifting and supporting Irish creatives. But it takes a lot to take an idea from nothing to something, and I do believe that becoming a mum gave me the drive and confidence to go out and do it!’
Nowadays, Karen says mothering a toddler and running her empire is quite the juggling act, and leaves her for little ‘me time’ or extravagances.
‘My day consists of two things – running a busy start-up business and being mum to a toddler. If you can find anyone doing either of those things who has time for actual extravagance in their lives, I really want to know their secret!
‘I do however firmly believe in self-care and that “you can’t pour from an empty cup” so when the reserves are getting low, I will call in the cavalry and make sure to replenish – it’s just probably more likely to be lunch with friends and a good nap rather than anything extravagant!’
A year on since establishing Cuando, Karen says she has learned a tonne about staring a business, and she has some advice for any potential entrepreneurs.
‘It can be stressful stepping outside of your comfort zone into the areas you know very little about. Every person setting up a business will have experience, passion and knowledge in a key area of that business. But you have to up-skill in so many new areas when you start out, whether that’s financial management, legal and tax, PR, whatever the case may be. You can’t stick to your area of expertise alone when you’re getting things up and running.’
‘I think the best way to overcome this is to just get started, don’t put anything on the long finger. Send an email, make a call, or read up on the issues that are the most daunting to you and soon you will have them down pat (and be moving onto the next thing!)’
Despite not having any regrets, Karen says she wished she had ‘been working on a ‘solution from the get-go’ rather than getting frustrated about the lack of good gifts online.
‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing though, and on the positive side Cuando is one year old already and the momentum is very exciting.’
‘I have always loved the Mark Twain quote “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” So, I don’t regret anything I’ve tried and failed at because I’d regret it even more if I hadn’t tried at all!’