ICON recipient and Coworking Spotlight: Serina Bird, The Joyful Frugalista, Fashionista and Business Club Founder

Wander around the Canberra Innovation Network’s Coworking space on any given day and you’ll meet an entrepreneur sure to inspire you. On a recent lap we ran into Serina Bird, who, in addition to being one of our featured Women in Innovation and ICON grant recipients, has a great journey to share.

So, Serina, tell us about your companies and how you got from the idea stage to the front row of CBRIN super successes!  

The Joyful Frugalista: I started writing about budget living, especially budget food means, in 2015. At that time, I was a single mother of two young boys. I was going through a separation and divorce, and money was tight. I responded by living even more frugally than I had in the past, and these experiences led to writing a book. I now host a podcast of the same name, work as a freelance writer and provide group training courses and one-on-one money coaching. I also appear regularly in the media to discuss ways to save money and live more sustainably I love talking about how to save, make and grow money, and reduce harmful consumption patterns. I especially love helping people build financial resilience through practical tips that can help anyone through a tough time.

The Joyful Business Club: I’ve always been interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, and last year I decided to lean into an idea and see if I could make a go of it; I’d noticed a huge growth in women-led businesses, but not enough funding for them to thrive (female founders receive only 2.3% of the pie, and women of colour only 0.2% of said pie). I founded The Joyful Business Club to address this issue, and build a community. I started a Facebook Group and scheduled talks around business and innovation topics. There are now around 520 members of that group, and most of the Facebook Lives are captured on a YouTube channel. I’m writing The Joyful Startup, a guide for women and men seeking to take the plunge to start a heart-centred business. I run mastermind courses and coaching, and am super honoured to have been appointed Canberra Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, a global movement to help lift women out of poverty through business ventures.

The Joyful Fashionista: The newest Joyful is a marketplace for buying and selling second-hand, sustainable fashion, and it’s goal is to decrease the amount of rotting textiles’ greenhouse gas emissions. The inspiration came when I was packing up from a clothes swap party on my birthday last year. There were so many amazing leftovers! I was writing an article for The Daily Telegraph at the time about selling clothes and I was disappointed to find limited ways to sell quality corporate clothing … so I developed one. The website will (fingers crossed) be launched in early October, in time to celebrate the one year anniversary of the original idea.

And in your spare time? JK, sounds like you don’t have any! How has CBRIN helped you along the way as your three businesses have grown? 

Being part of the CBRIN community has been huge. In 2020, I started attending virtual events such as Female Founders and First Wednesday Connect. I then joined the Coworking space one day a week. I enjoy coming into CBRIN (when not in lockdown!) and meeting people from a diverse range of backgrounds. There are so many amazing, hidden stories. I also started recording my Joyful Business Club Facebook Live series from CBRN (and am always looking for people to interview).

Last year, I was honoured to be part of the Idea to Impact program run by CBRN (made possible through a generous scholarship from the ACT Government). I learned about lean innovation, the concierge method and how to grow business through customers, which gave me tools I needed to take my ideas further.. I also made (hopefully lifelong) friends with other entrepreneurs. Then, earlier this year, I was humbled to receive grant funding through both Y’s Great Ideas (with sponsorship from CBRIN) and the ICON grant both to help build The Joyful Fashionista.

And we’re so happy to have you! Now, as all of these ideas were germinating in your joyful mind, what need did you see in the marketplace?

All three businesses are about helping women 35+ by empowering them financially. With Frugalista, it’s the need to get women talking about money. This has started to improve, but when I first started in 2015 there weren’t many people in Australia writing about personal savings in a practical way. The Joyful Business Club notes the need for more support for female entrepreneurs. And The Joyful Fashionista addresses both the need to find more sustainable solutions to the growing problem of fast fashion and to provide women with access to affordable clothing.

So, in addition to being joyful, what makes you a great spokeswoman for your brands? Honestly, we want to bottle it and sell it! 

My passion and enthusiasm!  Beyond that, I’ve begun to realise that more than anything, I’m a communicator. I mean, I developed an early prototype website for The Joyful Fashionista, but I’m not really a computer programmer.  What I came up with was pretty rough.  But get me on a podcast or talking to someone about something I’m passionate about, and I’m in my zone. I’ve lost count of the number of women who have told me that I’ve ‘convinced them’ to quit their jobs or start a business. (To be clear, I think they’ve usually had this ambition for a while but just wanted the affirmation.) 

What blocks Serina Bird from soaring? (Sorry, had to!) 

A big barrier for me was that I worried I wasn’t living up to my definition of success. In particular, while I was achieving a lot in terms of living according to my values and communicating my vision, because I hadn’t become highly profitable within a short space of time I found it easy to get discouraged. Yep, I thought I was going to get rich quick. I’m now realising it’s more a marathon than a sprint. To quote Bon Jovi, keep the faith.

While I can seem outwardly self-assured, I suffer from my share of imposter syndrome. Good friends and family are so well-meaning but they have a way of cutting your wings before you’ve tested them out … I’m learning to understand that not everyone can see your vision until you start to put it down on the canvas; notch a few successes on the board, and then they can start to see what you’re doing. I’ve become a huge believer in the value of well-facilitated mastermind groups for startups. You’re going to be covering new ground, and you need people who understand and will support you on that journey.

That’s awesome. So that’s “innovation” and “network” covered. How about the “Canberra” part of CBRIN?

Canberra has a strong collaborative culture. I love living here, and want this to be the place where I make my dreams come true.

 Can you share with us a bit about the moment you realised your ideas had legs?

The biggest moment was probably after the news of the ICON grant. A few days later, I was in my weekly meeting with the website developers for The Joyful Fashionista, and they were talking about the need for private servers in the US because “this is going to become really, really big”. I was thinking “OMG, this is happening I can’t back out now!”  

 Do you think all entrepreneurs are born to be bosses? Was that a weird transition for you?

I’ve always gravitated towards leadership roles. My family would say that I’ve always been a bit that way they remind me of family camping holidays at Narooma where I would organise the other kids to perform carols on Christmas Eve. It’s totally cringey for me now, but my cousins tell me it was something they actually enjoyed and remember with nostalgia 🙂 At this stage, I’m a sole entrepreneur so I’m not (yet) lording it over a team. Nor is that my style; I value a consultative, team approach. I am, however, enjoying working with an intern from ANU this semester and a team from ANU’s Techlauncher.

Do you have any advice for other startups hoping to find their feet?

Heaps which is why I’m writing a book! In a nutshell? Listen to your intuition and act on those messages that come to you, whispering subversive thoughts about how you could do things differently or better. I would also advise becoming connected with others on a similar path. Joining CBRIN networking events such as First Wednesday Connect is a great start. And the community on The Joyful Business Club’s Facebook group is pretty awesome as well.

What’s next for you, Serina?

  • I’m organising a dinner seminar for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day on 19 November at CBRIN (watch this space)
  • I’m writing The Joyful Startup (see above)
  • I’m launching The Joyful Fashionista in October (fingers crossed)
  • I’m aiming to have 100,000 downloads of The Joyful Frugalista podcast by Christmas

And you still manage the time to chat with us, for which we’re grateful. Thanks, Serina!