More than half a million new businesses were registered in the UK last year and Katrina Borissova’s was one of them. AAT talks to the entrepreneur about how accountancy qualifications gave her the perfect foundation to launch the vegan beauty industry’s next big thing.
For an accountant who likes nothing more than burying her nose in a textbook, Katrina Borissova may not have been the most likely candidate to form a beauty business. But despite launching during a global pandemic, Borissova’s vegan soap company, Little Danube, has already seen her profiled in Forbes and The Times.
The Bulgarian-born philosophy graduate’s combination of natural business acumen, impressive qualifications, good luck and hard work has helped springboard Little Danube from a fun pastime to commercial reality.
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But, as she explains, she would not have achieved her current success without a firm foundation in accountancy.
“My AAT qualifications helped me not only to work out what prices I should charge and general costings, but also in forming a strategy and in business planning.”
She adds: “Working in accountancy gives you a vision and an understanding of the different functions and departments. You are like a designer and you understand the structure and how everything works.”
A bumpy start
Borissova initially had her sights set on journalism, specifically becoming a war correspondent. Realising she needed to speak fluent English, she travelled from Bulgaria to the UK and secured an administration job in Michelin’s finance department. It is here that her head was turned from journalism to the world of business.
“I was doing invoicing and data entry, but I became fascinated by leadership. I thought ‘wow if you are a CEO you need to be able to understand and implement strategy across each part of the business’. I knew I needed to start studying something, but I still wasn’t sure what.”
Borissova moved from Michelin to Amazon taking a job working in supply chain, but again it was the finance department that attracted her attention.
“I wanted to move to a better role and with a higher salary. I realised quickly that accountancy would be the the best way forward,” she says.
However, without professional qualifications, Borissova knew there was not much chance of progress.
“I decided to study for a qualification from the ACCA, but I failed the exam. I realised that the way that my mind functioned was very philosophical and accountancy requires a more analytical structure,” she says.
Undeterred by the setback, Borissova decided to study for an AAT qualification, taking evening classes.
Borissova recalls: “I remember how challenging it was for me just to learn basic like debit and credit. Instead of just getting on with the entries, I would be trying to understand where the double entry bookkeeping system came from. And again, I would read all the theory I started to think I would fail my exams because I was overthinking everything.”
In the second year of the AAT course, Borissova got an accountancy job in Kensington while continuing her studies, but admits the pressure became too much.
“I really struggled because I was comparing myself to others and I was always the last one to complete the exercises. I quit the college and I said I don’t want to do accountancy.”
On the brink of exiting accountancy completely, Borissova found out about AAT courses online and decided to give the qualification another try.
“I realised that I am absolutely fine when I do things on my own. I discovered I was really good at mind mapping, which is how I learned the important management accounting formulae by heart. It is all second nature now; a bit like knowing the alphabet but for accounting,” she says.
Borissova qualified in 2016 and briefly considered taking a qualification with CIMA, but ultimately decided to do her Masters in applied project management at the University of West London.
Taking the plunge
It wasn’t until 2019, when Borissova was made redundant, that she began to think of a life outside the conventional corporate world.
Unable to find a job that matched her experience and qualifications, Borissova looked to how she spent her free time. After years dedicated to business, she recognised how few hobbies she had which used her more creative brain. At the same time, she was organising her forthcoming wedding which inspired her interest in more practical pursuits.
She explains: “I was spending a lot of time and money for going back and forth over wedding candles and other things, and they just weren’t right. I did some project management, but it made me think ‘I wish I could have done a lot more of it myself’. “I realised that I was not being creative so I thought would start with soap making.”
Borissova admits the initial homemade products were far from perfect but after formal training in soap making, she was ready to start considering exploiting their commercial potential.
On 20th March – just three days before the UK officially entered its first Covid-19 lockdown – Borissova launched Little Danube. The timing could well be seen as far from ideal but free from the distractions of ‘normal life’, Borissova was able to dedicate her full attention to getting Little Danube off the ground.
And looking at the projections for the vegan beauty industry, Borissova has not picked a bad time – or sector – on which to capitalise. The industry is expected to be worth more than $20bn by 2025; a growth of nearly $5bn over the next five years.
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Borissova’s vision for the business is ambitious – she has her sights set on a top 50 listing for UK beauty brands – but she is, perhaps predictably cautious.
“It took six months to launch and find out what works and what doesn’t I want to send the next six months testing new products and trying new ingredients,” she says.
For others looking to emulate Borissova’s success, the beauty entrepreneur recommends staying flexible.
She says: “The mistake I made before in my career and personal life was overthinking. I don’t need to be a Master of Science to be a good project manager. Instead of thinking that I need to read a book, I am much more likely to roll up my sleeves and give something a go.”
Gill Wadsworth is AAT Comment’s news writer.