Carol Dukes, 38, hired Emma Crowe, 32, as her business development director when she was setting up Carlton Online. In 1999, the pair founded ThinkNatural.com, an internet shop offering more than 5,000 natural health and bodycare products.

Carol Dukes: In 1996 I wrote a business plan, which I called Seedling. The idea was very similar to what we are doing at ThinkNatural now, although at the time I applied it to the gardening market because I had just moved into my first place with a garden. It was about having a vast array of products, about which you needed a lot of information and which you couldn't access from a local shop. I showed it to people but there was no venture capital money available to fund it.

Carol Dukes: In 1996 I wrote a business plan, which I called Seedling. The idea was very similar to what we are doing at ThinkNatural now, although at the time I applied it to the gardening market because I had just moved into my first place with a garden. It was about having a vast array of products, about which you needed a lot of information and which you couldn't access from a local shop. I showed it to people but there was no venture capital money available to fund it.

At that stage I was director of new media within Emap, where I went on to set up Emap Online. I was very lucky that prior to this in the 1980s, I was doing my professional growing up in a genuine, small company environment, working for a satellite TV and broadband cable company, run by an American entrepreneur who had all those enterprising attributes that now are quite common. I left Emap to go to Carlton. At that point, I met Emma through Anne Jamie-son, who helped me a lot in recruiting staff and who told me: "Emma has this rather quiet, demure exterior but underneath I think she has real drive, real steel."

I met Emma and was really interested to have her on my team, because she was one of the very few people who had real experience in the internet field and the sort of approach that was both pragmatic and inventive. She sets off down a track and nothing can stop her. At the time, she was looking for more freedom and responsibility and a bit more recognition and I think she found big company politics frustrating because she's a real doer. Like me, she enjoys moving fast and doesn't like to be slowed down.

She joined us in July 1998 and we first talked about my idea for ThinkNatural the following March. The idea of combining good content with relatively hard-to-find products had never gone away, and I realised this model could work for other markets. I decided it was something I wanted to do and the new availability of venture capital was what made the difference. Having set up two businesses at Emap and at Carlton, I had reasonable experience, specifically in the internet space. I was ready to do it but didn't want to do it on my own.

One day that March, Emma flagged up to me that once she had got to a certain level at Carlton, she would be ready to move on. I thought that we'd be a good match because we had worked together closely and were able to communicate quickly. On most issues we tended to agree, at least in principle.

I spoke about it to another friend, now our finance director, but then working at a corporate finance boutique. I knew fundraising would be a full-time job but she agreed to look at it and introduced us to Anne Glover at Amadeus. We were very lucky because they are definitely one of the best venture capital firms in the market, and brought in other investors. By the end of July, we had arranged funding of £2.4m. I then had to negotiate my way out of my job at Carlton, but in the end it wasn't that difficult.

It was strange to be working in the glare of all the media hype last year. All we were doing was setting up a business, and the world's media was watching. People who were genuinely in the business knew there were rules: find the right people, make your money last as long as possible, try to get the business to a point where what comes in the door is bigger than what goes out. Big businesses do it the whole time with different projects.

We set up a mail-order operation this March and focused on direct marketing. If you are running a website a lot of your marketing can be wasted - you are paying for posters and offline advertising and reaching 100 per cent of people when only 25 per cent can respond online. With our mail-order we can put "Phone this number" and get the full benefit of that marketing.

Raising another £10m in the current climate seemed pretty difficult, but I wrote a business plan showing where we were going forward. We could show we had done everything we'd said we would do, on budget and on time. We also had an existing investor base who were supportive and wanted to invest more. An interesting challenge has been in getting a management team that's strong enough for where we want to go but appropriate to the scale of the operation at this point. We have entered a strong growth patch and are now about to launch operations in Germany.

I like the fact that with ThinkNatural we're trying to do something better than it's done already, especially in an emerging market like natural health where there aren't any really strong brands. For Emma, I think the biggest satisfaction has been in getting more of an overview of a whole business.

Emma Crowe: I met Carol when she employed me as business development director at Carlton. My background was varied and I had experience in several different sectors. In my twenties, I helped set up a pet magazine on the Continent, and worked on Business Age as an editorial assistant, which I found very inspirational because at that time it was about people who had come from nothing and made something. It really interested me to hear about where these people saw opportunities and how they perceived things. I went on to help set up the Sunday Business newspaper with Tom Rubython, helping with research and putting together focus groups.

From there, I moved to AOL as part of the first team prior to its launch in the UK. Having already worked at Hewlett-Packard selling PCs, I found it brought together my experience with media and my experience with computers, and consolidated my abilities. AOL was seen as a start-up and I was seen as an anorak. I never mentioned what I did at parties because when I talked about it people's eyes would cloud over.

Then I was headhunted by Associated Newspapers and worked there for two years, developing their internet sites, before meeting up with Carol. We vaguely knew about each other, and I knew she had just joined Carlton and was starting to recruit a team. She then interviewed me for a job and I wouldn't have joined if I didn't think she was good.

At Carlton, we both learned about what each other was like under pressure. You hear stories about two friends setting up a business together and then they realise that it's different to just being friends and having a good idea. Carol and I both knew each other's weaknesses and strengths. At Carlton we set up three different websites in a short space of time and therefore worked quite closely together.

It became quite a difficult time for me because I felt the company was going in a different direction to where I wanted to go. I felt it was probably time for me to move on. Carol and I went out to lunch and we were quite honest with each other. I mentioned to her that I was looking for something else. Carol started talking about ideas she had had and one of them was within the health arena. I liked the idea of natural health because I was probably the ideal customer. I knew that setting up ThinkNatural would mean long hours and I had got to the stage where I needed to do something I was passionate about.

We both have drive, are ambitious, and have a lot of energy. Neither of us really saw the move as a risk, in the sense that we both knew we could do it. Now that we are coming up to the second year in business and looking at growth for year five, that's probably from our point of view more difficult, because it's harder than starting something up. When there was just two of us, and we had some funding but no customers, no staff, nothing to worry about and all we had to do was to create, that wasn't very difficult.

The thing that made the difference for us was the availability of funding. We had both been in the internet industry for so long that we could call up old friends, and people knew that we had delivered before. Once you have done a good deal two or three times, it cuts down the negotiations to a tenth of the time, though I wouldn't say any of it has been easy.

Things have moved forward faster than either of us anticipated. We launched our mail-order business quickly, and we are now about to launch own-label products. To stock a warehouse with 5,000 products and to have a website up and running with all the descriptions and ingredients on there within four months from a standing start is pretty fast, I think.

My relationship with Carol is good because we're both able to laugh at things. Perhaps our secret is that we never look upon things as a negative, only as a positive or a challenge. We are great at finding and creating opportunities and I think that really helps in the marketplace.

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