Let’s face it: It’s rare to land your dream job immediately following graduation, and it’s even more rare to start a booming company before the age of 30. But London-based professional Anneqa Kahn was never cut out for the status quo. A self-proclaimed challenge-seeker, Aneeqa was hired by English financier and Terra Firma Capital Partners Founder Guy Hands at just 21-years-old, making her the firm’s youngest hire in history. At 26, she was leading strategy for Zoopla, the UK’s top property search website, and by 28, she had started her own company, eporta—an online wholesale, B2B, e-commerce platform for buyers, interior designers, and brands. Simply put, eporta has become a global game-changer for the design world a mere one year after its launch.
Here, we chat with Aneeqa about how the redesign of her Brixton flat inspired the launch of her company, the influence of technology on design, and the company’s plan to expand to the U.S.
Name: Aneeqa Khan
Current job/company: CEO and Founder, eporta
Education: MA in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from Oxford University
Let’s start at the beginning. What was your first job and how did you land it?
I started my career in private equity investment, working for Guy Hands at the age of 21. It’s unusual to start working for a private equity firm at that age, but Terra Firma decided to try hiring someone young with limited experience and threw them in the deep end—and that person was me!
What was that pressure like—not only working for such a high-profile employer, but doing so at such a young age?
It was great to work under Guy Hands, and he’s now an investor in eporta. I didn’t really feel pressure as much—more excitement to be working with some great businesses around the world. I’m at my happiest when I’m being challenged, so it was a great experience.
It’s easy to forget that the whole thing started in a kitchen with a blank piece of paper and a few conversations.
By 26, you were leading strategy for Zoopla, the UK’s top property search website. What was the most valuable insight you gained from your time with the company?
The power of technology can really transform a sector—when done well.
In 2015, you founded eporta, the world’s largest B2B interiors platform. Tell us about the decision to launch this company. What inspired it?
I always wanted to run my own business and come from a very entrepreneurial family—both my mother and father have their own businesses. Whilst I was working at Zoopla, I was redesigning my South West London flat. I was unable to quickly and easily find what I wanted online – to source interesting and different pieces of furniture from outside the normal furniture shops people go to day-to-day. Digging deeper, I realised the real issue was that professional buyers were finding it difficult to find pieces from makers around the world, and what they needed was a simple, intuitive online platform that connected them to this community and allowed them to order products all in one place.
We have created a completely new eco-system and solution for a global industry in which hundreds of thousands of brands are dotted around the world.
The actual process of getting a company off the ground is challenging. What steps did you take to set it up for success?
Lots of talking to people in the industry. Building the product, iterating on the product when we got feedback, and talking to prospective clients about what they needed. It’s easy for us to forget that the whole thing started in our kitchen with a blank piece of paper and a few conversations.
Tech is a crowded marketplace so a key thing to do is ensure you have a product people want before you start. So we started by selling the product before we had one, to see if people *really* wanted it.
Eporta has more than 850 suppliers from over 40 different countries on the platform, so needless to say, your role as CEO keeps you busy.
What does a typical day in the office look like for you?
No two days are the same, and often the day will end up being completely different to what I anticipated when going into work! I typically have back-to-back meetings nowadays, split between external and internal meetings. It might be a partnership meeting, or an interview for new members of the team, or a potential brand we want to work with.
Between meetings I typically spend an hour reviewing and approving new changes that are being released on the platform with one of our software developers. I do this for every change we make so often I’ll do quick reviews a number of times a day. We’re known by our community as having very simple to use technology so I’m obsessed with keeping it this way with any change we make!
What is your work-life balance like? Do you think such a thing even exists when running a company?
Well the honest (if controversial) answer is no! I try to keep the weekend free but this rarely happens. I think signing up to all the great aspects of running your own business involves signing up to a lot of sacrifice to make it work. That said, I’m lucky to have a group of really close friends and an amazingly supportive partner, and I always make time for them.
In addition to being the world’s largest interior platform, eporta served as the digital partner of several trade events during The London Design Festival, which is an impressive accomplishment. What have been some other professional highlights for you?
We will be celebrating one year since launch in September and in that short space of time, we’ve grown to be the world’s largest trade-only online interiors platform with more than 2,000 trade buyers and 850 suppliers. It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind but suddenly having so much interest in our rapid growth proves that we are making a real impact.
Design is at the heart of everything we do and all our surroundings. Great design in the home, office, or any space has the power to make you happy day-to-day.
How is technology changing the design world?
When we first started the design world was less open to new technology and a little wary of it. Things have definitely changed in a short period of time, as people see the power of technology not only to expose great design but save a lot of time sourcing great design. Design is at the heart of everything we do and all our surroundings. Great design in the home, office, or any space has the power to make you happy day-to-day. One of the best things technology does is let really great design speak for itself in an open forum, and provide exposure to even the smallest of designers. We are particularly proud of working with emerging talent and have a commitment to source at least 10 percent of suppliers from otherwise largely unknown designers.
What is one thing you wish you had known before starting eporta?
As a first-time entrepreneur, there are many things I wished I’d known! At the same time, having entrepreneurial parents I knew the basics—solve problems every day and always run fast.
What’s next for the company?
We have some big plans over the next few months, with our global expansion being a major focus. We already have some particularly well-informed and savvy trade buyers using us around the world but are now looking at partnerships to build towards a full product launch in the Middle East and the U.S.
What advice would you give other women hoping to run a company or propel their careers forward?
Believe in yourself. Work hard to get really great at what you do and then opportunities come your way.
Aneeqa Khan is The Everygirl…
Best moment of your career so far?
Looking back one day and realising we’ve built a product that people love.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Take more breaks!
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Michella Obama. I’d order a massive burger with mayo and ketchup dripping out of it, preferably in a small diner.