Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, I’m Rowena, aka Agent Engagement!
Agent Engagement is a free, trusted and secret advice service to help people save time, money and hassle when trying to buy or make an engagement ring.
The diamond and jewellery retail industry can be very confusing so I connect my clients quickly to the very best jewelers and makers according to their requirements, style, ethics, and budget - anywhere in the world.
Launched in 2014, Agent E has helped 60+ gentlemen (and a few couples) to make the perfect ring, and the most fun part is that their partners never seem to find out about me……!
Agent E: There's A New Lady In Town, Occasionally She'll Answer To 'Ms. Penelope Crown'.
For years she's been helping haphazard marriage proposers get it right, sourcing jewelers, services or diamonds only ethical and bright.
Together they see designer-makers others struggle to meet, get dusty in antique markets or wear a disguise down Old Bond Street.
You see, what started simply as a passion, began to save a lot of people’s hard-earned cash-in. The men and couples she advises are SO relieved they would have kissed her!
But let's keep that part to an Agent Engagement whisper?!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My career has always been about building relationships and partnerships as part of business development for a range of start-ups and successful enterprises. By day I’m a Global Senior Marketing Manager at MOO, the lovely online print and design company and by night I’m a Secret Agent!
You don’t necessarily need to rush: Going full-time on your new business can be a lot of pressure. If it’s possible to test out your idea and product or service at the weekends or evenings, definitely do that first!
As I’m not a jeweler myself, I’ve built Agent E by looking at the experience of buying or creating an engagement ring through the eyes of a customer – who most often have very little experience of buying fine jewellery until this point in their lives!
There are actually 6 different ways you can create an engagement ring (Antique, Online, Luxury brands, High-Street stores, Designer-Makers and ‘Make Your Own’) – but if you go into a jeweler or visit a designer, they are only going to be able to tell you about their niche.
The lightbulb idea came when I realized that by building a community of professionals around myself as ‘Agent E’, I could listen to my client’s needs and very efficiently refer them immediately to the exact experts who suited their needs. My job is to identify very quickly the best manufacturing and design routes for my client to achieve their ideal ring.
This saves everyone involved (including the jewellers) TIME, MONEY and HASSLE. Word started spreading…Agent E at your Secret Service!
I’ve always had my best ideas for Agent Engagement on trains…
The concept of a secret agent to help prospective proposers came to me when I was on a DockLand Light Railway (DLR) heading over to a friend of a friend’s Canary Wharf office, as he wanted to chat through the difference between using a diamond his grandmother had given him, compared to buying a new stone.
Canary Wharf - London’s Banking District
I met Client J in the corner of his banking office cafeteria and we both realized that a service whereby I could help somebody to compare the jewellery industry, in the comfort of his own working environment or leisure time could be very popular.
We compared styles, traditions, diamonds, and proposal options for hours and the full service of Agent E started to evolve. I’ll never forget walking out of the imposing building in surrounded by suits realizing that I was onto something…
Soon after, Client J and I were both attending our mutual friend’s wedding in Ireland and had to go through the whole airport security, flight and wedding pretending not to know each other as he was proposing a few weeks later.
No-one found discovered that we’d been working together for weeks and had lunch together the day before to pick up the finished ring. I made a small % commission from the jeweller Client J opted for, and at this point Agent E was not only a very fun secret service, but profitable too.
It was another train where my sister-in-law came up with the name ‘Agent Engagement’ and my brother designed a logo with the 6 symbols of a secret society forming a diamond shape.
Creating the Agent Engagement name and branding was a huge step forwards as everything started to slot together. Friends recognized that this was a serious and professional way to gain help when they needed it and not just a hobby!
I started to meet clients on the steps of iconic buildings near their offices...or in a pub after work!
St.Pauls Cathedral London at sunset.
We are incredibly lucky to be building start-ups in an era of smartphones, low-cost website builders and all sorts of apps to help us spread the word and run enterprises on the go. There is no better time to be a start-up than NOW :)
The business model of Agent Engagement relies on close partnerships with my clients, the incredible jewellers and craftsmanship we have at our fingertips and technology enabling constant communication.
By taking a detailed client brief, Agent E makes a small commission of the amount the client SAVES, directly from the jeweller. Saving everyone time and hassle, this is a win-win situation for both supplier and customer.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I started building relationships with jewellers and very quickly built a Squarespace website while I was at the hairdresser.
Apart from the monthly £12 per month to run the website I had no costs to get started. I started telling friends about Agent Engagement and messages started pouring in from their colleagues, friends, and family. At first, it was just 1 client per month, then 3 and now sometimes I run around London helping 5 at a time.
By not handling any money or diamonds, I could build Agent Engagement gradually around my full-time job and avoid the costs of a bigger ‘launch’.
Although it felt frustrating initially to build awareness so slowly, I now look back and am proud that I didn’t pressurize the business to perform and support my mortgage/life straight away. That will come later I hope!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
By stepping into the mindset of a ‘soon-to-be’ engaged man, I reached out to Barbers
Taxi drivers and started recruiting friends as Secret Agents who worked in male-based businesses. For instance, my friend Pippa works in publishing and became Secret Agent P.
Don’t get a co-founder unless you really need one! People’s lives and prioritise change pretty quickly - If you’re the one lying awake at night dreaming big and the other person is just hanging along for the ride then you’ll both be frustrated very quickly.
My MOO Business Cards have helped - whenever I was out and about chatting I would always tell people about Agent E and give them a small gold square business card. Even if they couldn’t directly help me themselves, the story is memorable enough that they would tell their friends when the time was right.
Referrals began to WhatsApp message or send me an email from their work email address.
When clients have purchased an engagement ring they often then come back for help with wedding rings, honeymoons and other services which is very helpful.
Porters Barbershops - South London UK
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Agent Engagement is very profitable and I would love to have the opportunity to work full-time on building it - my 2020 Goal.
To achieve this I need to carve out more time to grow awareness at the top of the funnel, and get into the minds and locations of as many proposing men as possible. No mean feat but London is a ripe orchard of my target market.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
- You don’t necessarily need to rush: Going full-time on your new business can be a lot of pressure. If it’s possible to test out your idea and product or service at the weekends or evenings, definitely do that first!
- Don’t take investment unless you really really need it. Once you have an investor to answer to you’ll spend hours reporting under pressure.
- Swap services. My accountant helps me do the AgentE books while I help him with printing, and partnerships for his business. It’s a win win!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Squarespace - really easy to build a great looking site!
- Typeform - Great to ask client questions and gain feedback quickly.
- Xero - My accountant swears by this book-keeping / invoicing tool!
- Tide Banking - You can set up a business bank account within 10 minutes. What’s not to love….
- WhatsApp - 90% of my clients love communicating via this messaging format.
- Google Drive, Docs Calendar & Email: My entire world! Couldn’t live without them.
- Trello - best list making and task management software I can find…
- iPhone + MacBook: irreplaceable
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
If there’s one thing you should do, it would be to listen to How I Built This - Guy Raz Podcast. It really inspires you to Think Big and also understand that it takes years and sometimes Decades to achieve your dreams - and that’s okay. Not everyone wants to be a speedy unicorn.
I also love the library of StartUp School Videos and Podcast previous episodes from Y Combinator. Taught by leading StartUp Entrepreneurs and Investors - It gives a really good picture of how people have succeeded and failed.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Don’t get a co-founder unless you really need one! People’s lives and prioritise change pretty quickly - If you’re the one lying awake at night dreaming big and the other person is just hanging along for the ride then you’ll both be frustrated very quickly. It also limits the number of salaries and outgoings in the early years.
Don’t underestimate the power of a great business card. Mine are from MOO.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m looking to hire myself, full-time! Wish me luck!
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: agentengagement.co.uk
- Instagram: @agent_engagement
- Twitter: @agentengagement
- [email protected]
- Rowena Cumner, Founder of Agent Engagement
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