How to be a serial entrepreneur

The best entrepreneurs are problem solvers, and Annoushka Ducas is no exception. She had moved to Hong Kong by the age of 19 and was working for a local estate agent when her mother, who ran a fish wholesale business supplying top restaurants in the UK, called her with a dilemma: she wanted to give a piece of jewelry as a gift to 60 of her top chefs, and she didn’t know where to start. Ducas found a good cast in the Philippines – a place she retains a special fondness for – and oversaw the production of a set of beautifully designed fish-themed cufflinks. But the only manufacturer she could find required a minimum order of double the amount she needed, so she was left with a spare set. Rather than tuck them away in the back of a closet, she took them to show a shopper at Harvey Nichols, who liked them but said she needed to see more. “She probably thought she’d seen me last,” Ducas says with a grin, “but to her surprise, I showed up at her office a few weeks later with about six or seven designs!”

Thus, although entirely self-taught, Ducas designed jewelry that flew off the shelves at Harvey Nichols, first under the department store’s own label and then under the Links of London brand name, which she founded in 1990 with her now husband John Ayton. Those early years required something of a juggling act for Ducas, whose mother had died unexpectedly the year before and whose fish shop she had inherited; She ran the two companies side by side (not to mention raising their children) for a number of years before eventually splitting from the latter.

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When Ducas sold Links of London in 2007, it had expanded internationally to the US, Canada, Japan and Hong Kong with around 50 stores and several hundred employees. “I no longer felt like I had that real personal connection with my team or the people who were buying my designs, and I was losing my sense of creativity, so it was time to move on – but it was still hard to let go,” she told Mirrors. “The business was a bit like my fifth child…”

So perhaps it’s not surprising that Ducas launched her eponymous jewelry brand, Annoushka, despite planning a lengthy career break. “I really missed jewelry and wanted to take control of my own destiny again,” she says. While the new venture brought its own set of challenges, Ducas was able to learn from her previous experience at Links of London, not the least of which was the importance of staying in control of the client relationship. “I knew the value of this direct relationship with my clients, especially since I was designing for women like me,” she says. “I wanted to take the reverence out of jewelry — specifically, give women permission to buy for themselves, which sounds so normal now but really wasn’t back then.”

I knew how important it is to have a direct relationship with my customers

An established relationship with buyers was helpful (“There was a tremendous amount of trust”), as was early investment in digital technology. “We completely redesigned our website about a year before the pandemic, which put us very well positioned to weather the storm,” says Ducas.

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Most recently, Ducas has put her entrepreneurial acumen to good use in the form of her Brilliant Breakfast charity, which she launched in partnership with the Prince’s Trust and which has raised over £2.1million since its inception. “I wanted to do something really simple and fun that is a reason for people to come together and give what they can afford – no donation is too big or too small,” she says of the initiative, which encourages individuals and businesses to Conduct fundraising breakfasts in support of underprivileged young women. To get it off the ground, she has employed many of the same skills required to run her jewelry brand. “First and foremost, it’s about having the confidence to do something I’ve never done before, even if I make it up over time!” she says, smiling. “I constantly challenge my team to think like a start-up, which, above all, means never taking no for an answer. If someone tells you that something doesn’t work, always ask them why not? If you end up having to say no, that’s fine, but don’t do it without trying first.”

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