THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

6 posts from September 2016

30 September 2016

How British lifestyle label Toast went from strength to strength

Established in West Wales in 1997 by Jessica and Jamie Seaton, Toast is a British brand renowned for quality and style. The business has a huge online following and now has 11 physical shops throughout the UK. Jessica will be speaking about growing Toast from a small start-up to the successful business it is today at our upcoming Inspiring Entrepreneurs event on 18 October. Ahead of that we caught up with her to find out some of the secrets to her success.

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What were you doing before you started Toast and what drove you to start your own business?

Toast is the second business Jamie and I started. The first designed, made and sold knitwear. We had been working on that business for 20 years and it was time for a change, a new challenge.

What steps did you take to it started?

The first thing we developed was the idea and that was to make modern, simple, easy pyjamas. After that came the question of 'how?' We were motivated by two priorities - firstly, how can we have an immediate connection with our customer, so that we stood or fell by their assessment of what we do; and, secondly, how could we reduce risk and make the most of existing resources. These two priorities drove a lot of early decisions.

What obstacles, if any, have you faced along the way?

So many! One of the earliest was getting funding early enough and underestimating how long that process would take. We thought everyone would share our view that the business was a sure-fire winner. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t necessarily agree. That naivety nearly sank us. But we did get there in the end and with a partner who has stood by us ever since.

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of starting their own business – what would it be?

Do something you love. There will be so many hard times you'll need that passion to carry you through.

 

Take your chance to put your questions to Jessica and the panel at ‘Inspiring Entrepreneurs Marketing Maestros’ taking place on 18 October 2016 at the British Library. Get your ticket here.

28 September 2016

How Grub Club became a successful business in the pop-up market

We asked Siddarth Vijayakumar, co-founder of Grub Club, some of our burning questions ahead of his appearance at the British Library next month. Together with his food obsessed friend, Sid co-founded one of the best pop-ups and supper clubs in London. Here’s how he did it.

Sid

What were you doing before you started Grub Club and what drove you to start your own business?

I was working in online advertising prior to starting Grub Club. I set up an online ad network for PHD, a relatively large media agency in London and, on the back of its, success the parent company, Omnicom, asked me to set it up for the whole network. However the idea for Grub Club had been burning inside me since 2006 when I made a trip to Zanzibar and was inspired by a restaurant called Two Tables which was just that - two tables in someone’s home! I loved the idea that someone can make money from their passion and set up a restaurant anywhere.

What steps did you take to get it started?

I started working on the idea in 2012 when I met my co-founder Liv. To start with we did a lot of research on the market to see if there was a clear opportunity here. Thankfully in 2012 the pop-up market was growing and so we were able to get a lot of advice and help from chefs and diners.

What obstacles, if any, have you faced along the way?

From the outset, people started to tell me it was a bad idea and that I wouldn’t be able to get the necessary funding. No matter what your size, I think there are constant obstacles along the way. It’s important to persevere and never forget the reason why you set it up in the first place.

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of starting their own business – what would it be?

It goes without saying that you need to choose an idea that you are really passionate about as this will keep you going through the inevitable rough points. At the same time it’s very important to think about what you want out of your life, whether it is money or a certain type of lifestyle perhaps and ask yourself whether that idea can sustain those goals.

 

Take your chance to put your questions to Sid and the panel at ‘Inspiring Entrepreneurs Marketing Maestros’ taking place on 18 October 2016 at the British Library. Get your ticket here.

27 September 2016

How Patrick Drake gave up the rat race and co-founded HelloFresh

Patrick Drake wanted to pursue his love of food full time – as a result he co-founded the UK's leading recipe box service. Patrick and his team wanted to give everyone great ingredients and the knowledge to cook fantastic meals and viola HelloFresh was born! We caught up with him before his appearance at the British Library on 18 October.

Patrick drake

What were you doing before you co-founded HelloFresh and what drove you to start your own business?

I used to be a lawyer at Clifford Chance before I moved to Goldman Sachs and then decided enough was enough. I wasn't interested in helping someone else build their dream. I had my own to pursue. Cooking was something I always loved, but beyond that I love to teach people. That's when I decided I wanted to work in food and have my own TV show. So I worked in restaurants for free to improve my skills and started a Youtube channel to practice being in front of the camera. Many twists and turns later (including a little stint in the mind-blowingly cool Fat Duck in Bray) I met with the people who were to become my co-founders of HelloFresh in the UK. It was November 2011 and then in January 2012 we packed the first 10 bags of shopping in my living room. It's grown a bit since then. Last month we delivered 8.5 million meals globally and I got the TV show too. 

What steps did you take to it started?

We could have spent months in research and development before launching HelloFresh only to find that we'd created something the market did not want. So instead of doing that we launched as soon as possible with a prototype. The product was really, really basic but it gave us a starting point and live feedback from real customers (rather than the misplaced encouragement of friends and relatives). We also tried every way possible to market ourselves, from dressing up as carrots in Waterloo station (we got asked to leave by security) to running a speed omelette challenge at food events to whip up excitement. What we learned along the way is that there's no substitute for the personal approach and that you get out what you put in. You could start a business thinking the best form of marketing is a massive billboard in Piccadilly Circus. But if people haven't heard of your product or your concept before, you need to put a passionate salesperson in front of them and show them why your business should become a part of their life. It's old fashioned and its labour intensive, but it works.

What obstacles, if any, have you faced along the way?

The greatest obstacle we faced was to educate a market that had never heard of recipe boxes before. People had happily been buying all their ingredients from the supermarket for decades, so why did they need a service like HelloFresh in their lives? We needed to show people that HelloFresh wasn't an extra line of expense in their monthly budget, but that it could be a replacement for their usual weekly shop. It's not easy trying to turn such a large ship around but through a combination of television advertising, strong PR, speaking to people in person and any other touch points we could find (you may have seen our smiley team at London tube stations!) a new course has been set. 

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of starting their own business – what would it be?

Just go for it! It's been said that an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off the cliff and builds the plane on the way down. Clearly some market research and a viable product are important but, as I said, don't spend months trying to make your first iteration perfect. It's never going to happen and if you are being honest with yourself you are probably just procrastinating for fear of judgment and failure. Failure is merely an indication that you need to correct your course, so embrace each failure as another indication of which direction you should (or shouldn't) take. It's like Thomas Edison said: "I haven't failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that don't work."

Check out Patrick's latest on Instagram: @patrickdrakechef

Take your chance to put your questions to Patrick and the panel at ‘Inspiring Entrepreneurs Marketing Maestros’ taking place on 18 October 2016 at the British Library. Get your ticket here

 

23 September 2016

Find out how one man turned his “light bulb moment” into reality

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Guy Jeremiah invented the Ohyo collapsible water bottle when he had a “light bulb moment” in the train station, proving that inspiration can hit you anywhere. Guy then took the crucial steps to turn his idea into a viable business. Today Ohyo bottles are stocked by a large number of major retailers and are exported all over the world. We asked him what he needed to do in those early days to make it happen.

Hi Guy! Where did the idea come from to start your own business?

Ohyo was born out of necessity. I found myself at St Pancras station with no water fountain in sight, no bottle in my pocket, and no option but to buy a bottle of water. From my background in running my own environmental consultancy business, I knew the wasted resources that made that bottle of water. It takes a quarter litre of oil and up to 7 litres of water to make 1 litre of bottled water. There are enough plastic bottles discarded every year to stretch round the world 1,000 times!

I concluded that people are reluctant to carry re-usable bottles because they are too bulky and invented Ohyo as a handy, collapsible water bottle that’s easy to take anywhere. An extended Ohyo holds 500ml, or 1,000ml for the larger version. When empty, an Ohyo will compress down to fit in a pocket. Using (and re-using) an Ohyo avoids the need to buy environmentally-damaging bottled water. In summer 2009 we cycled round London looking for fountains and established a free app for users to find drinking water sources near them.

How did the Business & IP Centre help you along the way?

The next step for Ohyo, was just a stone’s throw from my Eureka moment! Having seen an ad on the tube declaring “Got a great idea, we can help you protect it”, I made my way to the then newly-formed Business & IP Centre at the British Library. They quickly helped me to do some research that established that my design was patentable and, furthermore, did not breach anyone else’s patent. This gave me the confidence to invest the time and cash to develop the idea and protect my intellectual property.

Having traded for a few years, I was then accepted on to the Innovating for Growth programme to help me get my business to the next phase. Participation on the programme included attending workshops and valuable face-to-face support. Launching your own business can be quite lonely, but with the support of the Business & IP Centre and networking with like-minded businesses I never felt alone. When times got tough, such as bullying from major retailers, the Business & IP Centre was my first port of call for expert help in establishing my clear legal position.

What have been your greatest achievements since starting up?

From my initial idea in 2008 to prototype, it took me two years before launching to great acclaim in 2010 at Prince Charles’ “Garden Party to Make a Difference” at Clarence House. In 2012, I struck a major deal to stock the bottles in Marks & Spencer as part of their “Plan A Sustainability Campaign”; a great example of how sustainable credentials can help to promote a product. The bottles are "carbon neutral" after just two to three uses. M&S were great to work with and made a major contribution to our worldwide sales total of 700,000 bottles since 2010!

What one piece of crucial advice would you give to anyone thinking about starting a business?

Understand your cash flow by keeping accurate records and making realistic predictions. You’ll sleep better at night if you know the money isn’t about to run out. And if it is going to run out, it’s better to have enough warning so you can do something about it!

We’ve been helping people like Guy turn great ideas into businesses for over 10 years now. To celebrate we’re holding a day of free workshops, talks and events on everything you need to know to start a business, from raising cash to getting your business online. You’ll meet like-minded people, chat to seasoned business experts and entrepreneurs and even get your first professional headshot. And our new ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’, Julie Deane (founder and CEO of The Cambridge Satchel Company), will be showing you how to start a business from your kitchen table. So join us at the British Library on the 27 September and get inspired to take your first step to entrepreneurship.

 

19 September 2016

How one woman turned her passion for swimming into a successful business

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A keen swimmer and all-round active person Lisa Irlam noticed a gap in the market and took the plunge into the wearable fitness technology world. Her business, Swimovate, launched in 2007 and since then the business has gone from strength to strength, selling the innovative PoolMate - a waterproof watch the counts your laps while you swim.  We asked Lisa some of our burning questions about how she got started and became the success story she is today.

Hi Lisa! Where did the idea come from to start your own business?

As amateur triathletes, my husband Jim and I realised that there were plenty of products to monitor performance for runners and athletes, but nothing for swimmers. We talked to retailers, magazines, triathletes and swimmers who all said they would buy a product if it existed. There was a gap in the market and the PoolMate idea was born.

How did the Business & IP Centre help you along the way?

Initially we did some technical research, reading scientific papers at the British Library and discovered the Business & IP Centre and what an amazing range of support and services it offered. We attended free workshops on intellectual property and researching your market and spent a lot of time searching the databases that the Centre provides access to. It really helped us to understand our field and what we needed to do to make our business a success. Through the Business & IP Centre we met some inspiring and very helpful people who gave us invaluable advice and support, completely free of charge.

What have been your greatest achievements since starting up?

The best feeling was selling out of our first batch before it had even been delivered and knowing we were at the start of something massive. After selling over 100,000 units, it still gives us a buzz to see our watches on people’s wrists on the street.

What one piece of crucial advice would you give to anyone thinking about starting a business?

Be very careful with your finances, it’s easy to get carried away with costs. Make sure you only risk what you are prepared to lose. Try to do as much as possible yourself, this will teach you so much and don’t forget to make use of all the great free resources out there, like the Business & IP Centre.

 

We’ve been helping people like Lisa turn great ideas into businesses for over 10 years now. To celebrate we’re holding a day of free workshops, talks and events on everything you need to know to start a business, from raising cash to getting your business online. You’ll meet like-minded people, chat to seasoned business experts and entrepreneurs and even get your first professional headshot. And our new ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’, Julie Deane (founder and CEO of The Cambridge Satchel Company), will be showing you how to start a business from your kitchen table. Join us at the British Library on the 27 September and get inspired to take your first step to entrepreneurship.

 

05 September 2016

Tips guaranteed to cut your bills

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Entrepreneurs inevitably spend more time thinking about sales rather than savings when starting a business. But given how challenging it is to run a start-up or small business, it’s fair to say that we don’t devote enough time to keeping our costs low. SMEs all over the UK are overpaying on their core services – and overpaying by hundreds of pounds. That can be the difference between success and failure.

So here, we provide a series of simple tips guaranteed to save you money on your business essentials.

Switch to save

Last year, the Department for Energy & Climate Change said that £2.7 billion was up for grabs by switching energy supplier. That announcement reinforced what many already knew – that thousands of small businesses and residential customers were losing money simply by not taking the time to look at deals from other suppliers.

The same rules apply across broadband, card processing, mobile and more – there is money to be saved everywhere, and a huge amount of options in every sector. uSwitch have reported instances of broadband bills jumping 400% when contracts have rolled over, and that’s why switching matters – it keeps your bills affordable, and your suppliers on their toes.

Pay by Direct Debit

This is one of those simple, easily forgotten extras that continue to cost businesses money.

Most suppliers will charge you a small processing fee every month if you choose not to pay by Direct Debit. This is a no-brainer – if you’re paying manually, contact your supplier and change to Direct Debit today.

Combine gas and electricity suppliers

It’s very common for energy suppliers to offer favourable deals to customers that choose them for both gas and electricity. So when you’re choosing an energy supplier, ensure you consider this option to get the very best price.

Use energy efficiently

Reducing the temperature of your heating by just one degree can reduce your energy bill by 10%. That’s the thing with energy use – small savings make a massive difference.

There are all kinds of things you can do to cut your energy use – here are just a few suggestions:

  • Use LED lights, which use 80% less electricity and last much longer
  • Turn everything off at night – even on standby mode, computers, kitchen appliances and photocopiers will continue to use energy
  • Kitchen appliances use an enormous amount of energy, so try to ensure you have modern equipment which is typically more energy efficient

Assess your business needs before choosing a supplier

Whether you’re buying card processing services or insurance, it’s easy to get distracted by flashy promotions. So before looking at anything, think carefully about what your business actually needs.

When choosing a phone and broadband package, think about how much you use a landline – the time of day you make calls, and whether you call mobiles or premium numbers. This will help you choose the right package – not simply the headline offer.

For card processing, think about the type of terminal you’ll need. Different costs and rates apply to countertop, portable and mobile machines – so carefully consider the terminal you need.

And for insurance, it’s all about choosing the option that suits your industry. Do you, for example, need Public Liability Insurance? Because if not, it’s an expensive addition to your policy.

In all cases, it really pays to understand everything about your business before you start shopping. You can find out everything you need to know in this handy guide.

Check your broadband speed

A classic error small business owners make when choosing a broadband supplier is not knowing the speed they can actually get.

Speeds vary wildly across the UK. It’s not uncommon, for example, to be in an area that can get superfast fibre but that can’t get a decent standard broadband speed. In this case, getting fibre really would pay dividends.

You don’t need to be a broadband expert by any means – you just need to know your speed. You can find this quickly and easily by using this internet speed checker.

Audit your bills

Financial advisors offer large, established businesses a service called a ‘utility bill audit’. And you can do your own – quickly, and best of all, for free.

You’ll need copies of your last few bills for each of your major outgoings – so phone, broadband, energy, insurance, water, card processing and anything similar. Go through each, and start to look at the detail in each bill.

Firstly, look for charges. If you understand the charge you’re looking at, that’s fine. But make a note of any you don’t, and follow up on them. Then, look at the bill totals, and try to look out for patterns. Have there been spikes? And if so, can you account for them?

If, for example, your phone bill has spiked, look at the numbers you were calling during the period in question. This may suggest that you should change your phone package to include monthly minutes to certain number types.

And finally, use an average of your monthly bills to help inform a price comparison online for each service. This will give you an excellent idea of whether you’re getting a good deal, and how much you could save.

 

XLN is a partner of the British Library Business & IP Centre and provides phone, broadband, energy and card processing services exclusively to small businesses. Since 2002 it’s helped more than 250,000 start-ups and SMEs to cut the cost of their monthly bills. If you run a start-up or small business, browse their cut-price deals – like 12 months’ free broadband – at www.xlntelecom.co.uk