THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

69 posts categorized "Business"

17 March 2017

Dry Patch - A BIPC success story with a great sense of humour

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Dry-Patch-logoSo many people think running a business has to be a serious matter. So it is refreshing when an entrepreneur proves the opposite.

I guess the most well known recent brand with a funny-bone is Innocent Drinks. They have included grass covered vans, a banana phone and slides in their offices, and a whole range of humorous labels on their bottles such as this one:

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I first met Chris Gomez founder and CEO of Dry Patch a couple of years ago in an Advice Clinic here in the Business & IP Centre in London.

He immediately made an impression with his passion for the product, his professionalism, and understanding of his customers' needs. He also recognised he was addressing a niche market with his first product the Moto Seat Cover below. As a fellow motorcyclist and cyclist, I could see there was a lot of potential in his ideas.

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Once his website was up and running, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how much humour Chris had used to promote his brand. Here are a few examples:

  • With a focus on innovation and lifestyle, our premium products will keep you and your stuff dry... from the bottom up
  • We're not hairy bikers or Tour de France wannabes. We don't wear leather or Lycra to and from work but we do love the freedom of 2 wheels.
  • We're not going to ask you to start hugging each other at the traffic lights, but we are all 2 wheeled commuters and suffer the same conditions - from both the weather and other traffic.
  • We know that we are just little pin pricks in the bottom of the 1.5 million 2 wheel commuters in London, but we dream of being big pricks.

I also love the way Chris spells out his brand values in such clear terms:

When it comes to our products, we have 4 key values:

  1. it's kit you want (more on this below).
  2. it is 100% functional - our kit works really well and is made of the best materials for the job.
  3. it has to look great - there's too much stuff out there that works brilliantly for commuters on 2 wheels, that just doesn't look very good.
  4. our kit will always be innovative - we believe innovation is the key to developing brilliant new products that disrupt the rest of the market.

And even better Chris makes fantastic use of the Dry-Patch blog and social media channels. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

 Written by Neil Infield on behalf Business & IP Centre

03 March 2017

Getting your business ready to compete in a digital age

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Gori Yahaya is the founder of UpSkill Digital and is also a delivery partner at the Business & IP Centre. His company specialises in providing bespoke workshops that focus on improving the digital skills of small businesses, charities and young people across the UK.

For most businesses today the internet has become a vital tool in helping them to grow and prosper. However, there are many companies that lack the necessary digital skills to compete effectively in the modern business world.

We caught up with Gori to find out how UpSkill Digital is helping to buck this trend.

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UpSkill Digital focuses on improving the digital skills of small businesses, charities and young people. What made these three groups of particular interest to you?

I’ve had the pleasure of training a variety of audiences for Google over the years and these three groups stood out to me as having the largest need for digital skills in the UK. Small businesses truly drive the UK economy and almost half of them don't have websites or the necessary skills to succeed in the digital age. There is a similar statistic for charities across the UK and for many it’s down to a lack of confidence and ease of access to affordable training. As for young people, there is a common misconception that every young person has an innate understanding of all things digital. Many of them are proficient with digital products for personal use but often have no idea how to harness their digital savviness in a professional setting. This really drives us at UpSkill Digital, because we want to unlock the true potential of these digital natives and empower them with practical skills to help businesses grow.

What are the key areas of digital marketing that small businesses and entrepreneurs should be aware of?

With the digital age moving so fast, it’s often hard for businesses to keep up. One of the key areas that businesses are keen to learn more about is Google Analytics. The power of data to help businesses succeed and understand their customers is underestimated by many and the idea of deep diving into the data still seems very daunting to many small business owners. We launched our hands-on Google Analytics session to really help entrepreneurs get to grips with, and take action on, their data. The other area businesses often find it difficult to nail is Social Media for business. Most people are aware of how social media has changed the way we engage with our friends, family and even companies, but building a social media presence and content strategy to help you engage and sell, needs a little more guidance. Outside of these two, the big focus is mobile marketing as we’re truly living in a mobile world so you need to ensure your online presence is built to engage through smartphones.

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What did you do before UpSkill Digital and could you ever see yourself returning to it?

Before UpSkill Digital and, perhaps even before my time spent working and consulting in digital marketing, I used to run and manage experiential events for large brands, from product launches to PR stunts. I loved it, and I’m still keen to help out with a major event when it comes up. I’ve managed to combine this event management experience with my love of digital training by running our training roadshows across the UK, so I do feel like I’ve found a great balance.

Have you always wanted to become an entrepreneur or is it something that just happened?

I still find the definition of an entrepreneur can differ between people. I feel like I’ve always had an entrepreneurial approach as I find there’s nothing more rewarding than creating something out of nothing and solving a problem whilst doing so. Having worked for myself for well over a decade now, I’ve experienced many highs and low with different start-ups and had a few failures along the way. You truly start to appreciate your entrepreneurial nature once when you notice how you learn and bounce back from the difficult moments.

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What’s next for Upskill Digital?

At our core UpSkill Digital is a training agency that aims to make digital education fun, memorable and practical. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with great partners such as Google and the British Library to help train a large number of small business owners and entrepreneurs in digital skills and we’ve had lots of interest in expanding our training workshops to other vital areas of business, such as presentation and sales skills. We’ve also embarked on a good model with our roadshows to help plug the digital skills gap, and there are some interesting government initiatives in the pipeline that we’re hoping to support.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Being an entrepreneur can be a wild and rocky ride and you’ll need all the help you can get. Leverage your friends, family and any contacts you make along the way to help you. We’re often reluctant to ask for help but we’re happy to give it when asked, so don’t be afraid to ask. Improve your productivity with to-do lists; they have been a lifesaver for me. I like to carry a notebook around with me and will often take notes and prioritise things on a list to ensure I’m not procrastinating. Finally, keep learning. I’ve always been fascinated by our capacity to learn and, more importantly, how we use this information to further or better ourselves, our careers and our businesses.

As part of the 'DoItDigital' campaign, The British Library and its national network of Business & IP Centres has pledged to support 10,000 UK small businesses to learn new digital skills in 2017.

To book your place on an UpSkillDigital workshop or to find out more about the Business & IP Centre’s workshops, one-to-ones and business support, visit:  http://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre

24 February 2017

Internet Icons: Creating big business online

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On Tuesday 7 February 2017, we hosted a panel discussion - Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons - which was moderated by journalist and TV broadcaster, Nadine Dereza. On the night we were joined by Ella Mills of Deliciously Ella, Rupert Hunt of Spare Room, Sarah Wood of Unruly and Aron Gelbard of Bloom & Wild. The event was also live screened to all 10 of the Business & IP Centre’s across the country, as well as a webcast to viewers across the world.

About the speakers

Deliciously Ella – Ella's business empire began with a blog and quickly developed into a popular brand. Her entrepreneurial rise has seen the opening of two London-based deli’s, four published books and the development of her own food range.

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SpareRoom – Rupert Hunt created the UK’s busiest flatshare site, SpareRoom.com which receives over two million hits a month. The company has now expanded its services to the United States and can be used all over America.

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Bloom & Wild – Aron Gelbard is the co-founder of Bloom & Wild. His company has redefined the online flower delivery service, delivering pristine flowers without the recipient needing to be at home. Bloom & Wild has been rated as the top online flower delivery service in the UK and developed the leading flower delivery app.

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Unruly – Sarah Wood is the co-founder and CEO of the video ad-tech company, Unruly. Assisting companies to create unique online video content since 2006 Unruly provides a platform that helps brands to reach an audience of 1.44 billion.

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A powerful tool for business growth

With the internet playing such a vital role in the modern business world, it is important for business owners to learn how four very different companies harnessed the power of the internet to scale up and grow successfully. When considering the statistics, it’s no surprise that more and more businesses are going online and as Isabel Oswell, Head of Business Audiences at the British Library, explained, “90% of people connected online in the UK, three-quarters of these have bought online and the online retail market continues to grow by 15-20% each year”. For most businesses today ignoring the internet is no longer an option, and with numbers like these, why would they?

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The Myth of the Big Idea

The audience was keen to quiz the online trailblazers who weren’t shy in offering wise words of advice for our budding entrepreneurs. Each of them drew from their own unique experiences to answer a variety of relevant questions, covering everything from surviving knock-backs to how social media can help businesses to grow.

Both Rupert Hunt and Sarah Wood were keen to stress that the myth of ‘the big idea’ was something that entrepreneurs had to be wary of when trying to start up. Rupert’s position was clear, “don’t get hung up on the big idea, get to the market and let the market guide you”. Indeed, the internet provides the perfect platform for many small businesses to gauge how their prospective customers feel about their products and services.  If they react well, you’ll quickly know that you’re on to something - and, even if the response is not what you expected, you’ll be able to learn how to improve what you do for your target audience. Sarah expanded on this point, explaining how Unruly started out as an online sharing board in 2006 but quickly noticed that the video content posted always had the most online engagement. Noticing this trend in audience behaviour, encouraged the company to create a ‘top 100 chart’ for online video content and, in turn, led to big brands wanting their videos featured. Today, Unruly is one of the biggest names in online advertising and works with 91% of the Ad 100 brands. It is also active in 20 locations worldwide and was acquired by News Corp in 2015.

The Power of Social Media

For most small businesses, developing a strong and loyal fan base of millions may seem unrealistic at best. However, we now have the online tools to reach people from far and wide with engaging and unique content. Ella drew on her own entrepreneurial journey advising the audience to, “never underestimate the power of social media when building your audience and business”. Having battled through a traumatic illness, Ella had changed her diet and lifestyle as a means of improving her health. After receiving encouragement to write a blog post for her friends and family, she quickly noticed that there were many people who were interested in what she had to say. The frequent engagement with her online followers quickly established a platform from which a successful business could be built. Deliciously Ella has now become a popular brand in its own right and has seen the development of a successful bricks and clicks business.

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A big boost for small business

The panel was keen to stress how the internet can also make it much easier for small businesses to enter already established markets. Both Bloom & Wild and SpareRoom transformed their respective markets by developing solutions to age-old problems. Rupert spoke of how the ‘crazy housing market’ in London had inspired his business idea to develop an online tool that would work much like a match-making site for renters. Having experienced the London rental market himself, he used his knowledge to focus on making a product that saved renters money and matched them with people they would get along with. The platform has proven to be so popular that SpareRoom currently has over 7 million registered users, and helps one person every three minutes to find a flatmate in the UK. Having conquered the UK, SpareRoom has set up shop in America and is already close to reaching a quarter of a million users in the United States.  

Learn as you earn

Similarly, Aron Gelbard of Bloom & Wild entered a market with large established companies but was able to successfully promote its unique selling point to a large online audience. For Aron, the success of Bloom & Wild only cemented his belief that simple day-to-day things can lead to successful business ideas, and although he had made a few mistakes along the way, he was keen to urge our audience to “carry on learning” as they embarked on their entrepreneurial journeys.

Want to hear from more entrepreneurs who’ve shaken the business world? Hear the co-founder of Lonely Planet, Tony Wheeler, speak on the trip of a lifetime which inspired this now global brand. With over 130 million travel guides in 14 different languages, Lonely Planet is the biggest travel publisher in the world. Its humble beginnings may surprise some, but it is a reminder to us all that today’s small businesses have the potential to be tomorrow’s big brands. Taking place on 27 February, this is a 'must attend' event – book your ticket here.  

06 February 2017

Get your bid in now for the Momentum Music Fund

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Momentumlogo288x257We see quite a lot of musicians in the Business & IP Centre for help with their business ventures.

And we have lots of information to help them available through our Music Industry Guide.

So it is good to hear that the Momentum Music Fund are offering grants of £5k-£15k for artists and bands to help them break through to the next level. The money comes via the PRS for Music Foundation using Arts Council England funds and in association with Spotify. The intention is to support talented artists to develop their recording, writing, performing and touring ambitions.

The next deadline is 21st February, so if you get a move on you can still apply here

Neil Infield  on behalf of Business & IP Centre

 

26 January 2017

Vicki Psarias on how blogging gave her the confidence to be a successful mum and entrepreneur.

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Vicki Psarias is a screenwriter, director and the founder of the immensely popular blog, Honest Mum. Having already had a successful career as a screenwriter, Vicki began blogging after the birth of her first child in 2010. Her personal and honest writing resonated with mothers all over the globe, and she soon found that Honest Mum had an online following in the tens of thousands.

The Honest Mum blog had started as a means of talking about Vicki’s personal journey as a mother. However, it quickly became so popular that it created a visible and identifiable brand by itself. The passion that Vicki has for motherhood has meant that this has proven to be a win-win situation, providing her with the opportunity to be both an ambitious entrepreneur and a loving mother. If you’d like to hear more about Vicki’s journey and the Honest Mum story, you can book your place for ‘Turn Your Passion into Pounds’ today. 

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Hi Vicki, you’re a screenwriter, director, blogger and mother. How do you do it?

When it comes to how do I do it all, I have to attribute being incredibly organised and strict with my time and energy to achieving 'the juggle' most days. Some days you’ll see me congratulating myself at achieving balance in work and family life, other days I feel like I'm failing at everything. I've accepted this is part of being a working mother.

 I have a super manager in Neil at Insanity who makes sure I don't get overwhelmed with projects and whose advice is invaluable to me. Schedule-wise, I design my life and work so I get the most time possible with my kids whilst running my company and personal brand.  My husband and I are equal in every way too as it should be so we share the load with our kids.

I don't see any limits now to my creative pursuits whereas pre-blogging, I used to limit myself somewhat. I felt I couldn't veer off from directing. Technology has shown me it doesn't have to be that way and I love that I have a portfolio career.

Your background is in screenwriting and film. What inspired you to start your blog, Honest Mum?

I felt lost and alone after a traumatic birth with my first child in November 2010, and it was a filmmaker friend of mine Amancay Tapia who actually encouraged me to start a blog at a time there were very few worldwide. I would recount stories of new motherhood and she nagged me until I bought a domain name to share these stories with the world. I owe her so much.

Within weeks I was approached by forward-thinking brands to collaborate with them and despite a stint directing commercials, by the time I was pregnant with my second son two years later, I was working as a blogger in an accidental career I adored.

My blog helped me to rediscover my voice and slowly my confidence. Along with social media, it also gave me a new tribe of women who understood what I was going through. Blogging is such a liberating way to connect with others. You write, publish and connect.

 Having achieved so much already, how do you continue to stay motivated?

Thank you, it's funny I rarely look back and reflect on past achievements as I endlessly push onwards towards the next goal. My kids motivate me. I want to prosper for them. I have to write to feel content and I love the long form of writing my first book. It's going to be utterly surreal to see it in the shops. It's a joy working with my editor Jillian at Piatkus/Little Brown who is publishing my book, and my literary agent Robyn at Diane Banks Associates.

More and more women are taking the plunge and becoming entrepreneurs. Why do you think this is happening?

We won't put up with the inequalities of the workforce and are fighting back. Technology allows us to make our careers work for our families. Many women are creating side jobs they nurture alongside their main careers, watching them grow before going full-time. I always say that new businesses benefit from a maternity leave, baby or not, a period of time where you can develop and grow your 'baby' giving your business the time and energy it needs to thrive. Working digitally offers a flexible, well paid, empowering way to do what you love. For me, it's offered the solution I was looking for when working in traditional media meant I wouldn't have much time with my child. My screenwriting and directing skills (as well as the fact I used to edit a film magazine) gave me the perfect foundation in which to launch my own blog and personal brand.

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What would be your key piece of advice for an aspiring entrepreneur?

Work on self-belief. Fake it until you make it. The brain is malleable so the more you tell yourself you can achieve the greater chance you have of taking risks, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and reaching your goals. With every small milestone met comes greater confidence until it builds and builds and becomes second nature. Confidence becomes your default. When you believe in yourself, others will follow. Importantly, learn from your mistakes and never give up. Talent plus tenacity equals success.

 Are there skills that you have gained as a mother that have helped you as an entrepreneur?

Yes, definitely. Prioritising, for one, as having kids has helped me focus on what matters in life and in business. Also, taking calculated risks where possible, motherhood has made me more fearless, for sure. Surviving sleep deprivation and a traumatic birth, once I'd recovered, strengthened me. Kids have definitely made me more ambitious- they drive me to succeed. Vitally, I now have a perspective I didn't have pre-kids. I don't sweat the small stuff.

What has been your greatest achievement so far?

Firstly, the relationship I have with my family, and then my creative career. Touchingly, co-founder of BritMums, Susanna Scott recently said this about me, 'Vicki is a ground-breaking blogger and vlogger, always pushing boundaries - and glass ceilings - through her voice and great work. She's the closest the UK has to Dooce and I can't wait to see what she does next!’ Receiving praise from those I respect like Susanna, and above everything, emails from others informing me that my work has inspired them to start blogs and businesses are the most rewarding part of my job. It reminds me I'm on the right track.

Vicki will be joined by the Public Relations guru, Jessica Huie and a panel of outstanding business women including, Jo Morell, Natasha Courtenay-Smith and Alison Jones. Don’t miss your chance to hear how these women made it to the top of their respective industries at our ‘Turn You Passion into Pounds’ event.

17 January 2017

Local Data Company shows coffee shops on a high

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Freshly-ground-coffee-from-coffee-grinder-picjumbo-comPubs are down while coffee shops are up according to a fascinating article on the BBC website today, Coffee shops on the march as pubs decline, town centre data shows.

They have analysed information from the Local Data Company to show the number of town centre bars, pubs and night clubs fell by about 2,000  between 2011-16, while cafes, fast food outlets and restaurants increased by 6,000.

We have access to this data and much more in Business & IP Centre in London through our subscription to Local Data Online.

You can use Local Data Online to give you data and insights for locations, business types and companies across the country. It has a searchable map tool which lets you select a specific area and examine the overall retail make-up.

You can identify local businesses and check the geographical spread of an industry or company. You can also find addresses and contact details for individual shops, lists of available vacant units, and a demographic profile of the area.

You can search for a specific location, company and/or retail category, and information is displayed on easy-to-read maps and diagrams. Extra information for locations includes vacancy rates, the mix of independent shops vs. chains, crime statistics, average earnings and house prices.

  Local Data map

So, if you want to find out where your new local coffee shops are, or which pubs have recently closed their doors. Just come along to the Centre and we can show you how use it.

Written by Neil Infield @ninfield

12 January 2017

Deliciously Ella: How to create a business empire with a blog

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Ella Woodward is the founder of Deliciously Ella and one of our panel members for upcoming event Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons. Her recent rise has been astronomical and, through the power of social media, she has created a powerful online brand. Ella's ascent is made even more extraordinary by the fact that she was diagnosed with a serious illness in 2011 and also suffered from depression. During this difficult period, Ella decided that she would adopt a healthier lifestyle and began to blog about her journey. She could not have imagined how a blog that was meant for friends and family, would change her life and create a business empire. You can find out more about her amazing story and ask the questions you want to be answered at Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons but before then we asked her some of our burning questions.  

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Hi Ella! What was the inspiration behind Deliciously Ella?

I got very ill back in 2011 with a condition that affected my autonomic nervous system and left me mostly bed bound struggling with a whole host of physical symptoms, as well as depression and a real feeling of isolation. I became interested in the power of diet and lifestyle and began exploring that area, learning to cook and documenting my journey on a blog. The blog grew organically and I decided to try and turn it into a business. I started with an app, then a book, then three more books, two delis and a line of products. It’s been a crazy few years – challenging but incredible. I wanted to show that eating well should be fun and enjoyable. We all know we should eat our five a day, and I want to give people a way of doing this that they love and that they’re excited to share with their friends and family. Too often, when we want to be healthy, it leads to us feeling deprived and feeling we can’t socialize. I want to show it should be the total opposite.

The internet has really helped your business to grow. Did you ever think you’d have such a huge online following?

Not at all. The blog was only ever meant to be for me, my mum and my friends! Social media has been a huge help to me and I think it’s definitely an interesting angle for any business. It allows you to grow a huge audience with absolutely no budget, which is ideal when you’re getting started and want to test out ideas with instant feedback. It’s a completely 24/ 7 platform, it never takes a break, and I find I always need to be aware of what’s happening there so that I can react to current thoughts and trends.

Eating clean is a popular concept at the moment. What does this mean to you?

I don’t like the term ‘clean’ because it implies that you’re dividing food into two categories: ‘good’ and ‘bad’/‘clean’ and ‘dirty’, which I think is incredibly negative, and only works to further fuel the idea that food is something that should inflict feelings of guilt, which I fundamentally disagree with. In contrast, I feel one of the most pressing issues, especially for women, is to remove the long-standing feeling of guilt associated with meal times and instead find a sustainable, enjoyable way to live. I want to celebrate eating natural food, showing people how to get their 5-a-day in an interesting way. According to recent studies, only 1 in 4 of us reach that 5 a day aim, and with everything we’re doing, I hope to contribute to changing this statistic. 

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How did you deal with your blog becoming so successful, so quickly?

It was all very surreal. It really happened so quickly and very unexpectedly. I’m just incredibly grateful every day to have the opportunities that I have, to share what I’m passionate about and get people excited about eating more broccoli! To begin with, I felt there was a lot of pressure and responsibility and I wasn’t completely prepared for that. It felt like a huge learning curve, and I spent a lot of time just trying to keep on top of everything as I was pretty much working by myself without any support at all. I’ve learnt a huge amount over the last few years though and I’ve been able to scale up my team. We’re now a team of nearly 60, and I couldn’t appreciate them more – they’re the heartbeat of the business and we’d never be where we are without them.

Finally, what would be your key piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur?

My three pieces of advice would be to lose your ego, be an eternal optimist and focus on building the best team you can.

I think you have to be an eternal optimist to be a successful entrepreneur; you just have to have blind faith that you can make it work, even when it seems impossible – and no matter how successful things may look, everyone has numerous impossible moments. Running your own business means new challenges every day and you have to be able to see these challenges as hurdles, rather than insurmountable walls. You have to know that you can overcome them and most importantly, you have to seek out the solution instantly, rather than focusing on the problem itself. As soon as you can see each of these hurdles as chances to get better and to learn, rather than as mistakes, you’ll grow so much quicker.

You also have to lose your ego – we all have one, but I really think you have to find a way to put it to one side if you want to run your own company. You have to be open to constructive criticism, you need to listen to everyone, especially your customers, and adjust what you do accordingly. It’s easy to think that your way is the right way, especially when it’s your own company, but there are always ways to make what you’re doing better, and taking everyone’s views into account is essential if you want to do that. Never stop asking questions, trying to get better and grow as much as you can – you and your company can always be better than you are at any moment.

Hire the best people that you can, make sure they have experience and knowledge in the areas that you have the biggest gaps in. Trust them from the get go and give them as much autonomy as you can to really go and build the business with you. You’re only as good as the people around you, so invest in them.

As Ella's story teaches us there is no one way to become an entrepreneur. If we look back at the stories of most successful brands it is clear to see that many different paths have been taken. The story of Deliciously Ella is as unique as it is inspiring and her enthusiasm for a healthier lifestyle is contagious. Don't miss your chance to find out more at Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons. Book your place now.

 

11 January 2017

SpareRoom: The flat-share company receiving over two million hits a month

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Rupert Hunt is the founder of the UK’s busiest flatshare site, SpareRoom. As part of our Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons panel Rupert will be spilling the beans on his unique journey to the top and will answer your questions. Having flat-shared in both, London and New York, Rupert realised that there was huge, untapped market just waiting to be exploited. In what he describes as a spider-ridden shed in his parents back garden – and with his trusty credit card handy, the foundations for Spare Room were set in 2004. Today, Spare Room’s website receives over 2 million hits a month and is the UK’s busiest flat-share website. For your chance to quiz Rupert and find out more, book your ticket for Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons here.

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Hi Rupert! Tell us about what you did before starting SpareRoom?

In my early 20s I moved down to London with the band I was in, in the evenings we gigged around the usual venues and in the day I worked for a web development agency (where I learned a lot of the skills I later applied to creating SpareRoom). The band did OK, we had a record released and got a bit of airplay from people like John Peel, but we never got any further.  Living in London made me realise how crazy the housing market was and how difficult it could be to find somewhere to live. That’s where the idea for the website that eventually became SpareRoom came from.

What challenges did you have to overcome to get your business off the ground?

Finding the time to focus on it was the first challenge. London wasn’t as expensive back then as it is now but it was still a struggle to make ends meet. In the end, I decided to move back to my parents’ house and give myself six months to really push SpareRoom and see what I could do with it. I set up office in a little spider-infested shed on my dad’s farm and set to work. The next challenge was how to market the site with virtually no capital behind me – in the end, I believe this was one of the reasons for my success as it forced me to be creative and resourceful. If I’d had investment, I’m sure it would have been too easy to naively waste lots of someone else’s money. By the end of those six months, the site was turning a small profit and I was able to move out again.

How did you really crank up your business growth?

Growth has been strong and fairly steady (in the 20 to 40% range) every year since we started, and I wouldn’t say there was any single game changing thing that we did but rather lots of things.

In the early days, SEO was a massive thing for us and something I’d got very good at during my previous job. I also leveraged the old school methods of finding rooms by reselling SpareRoom branded room adverts in the Loot classified ads newspaper (so that it was nearly free for us), and putting posters up in key newsagent windows where there were lots of postcards in the window advertising rooms (costing next to nothing per week). Our Speed Flatmating events were great for PR and word of mouth. For several years listing our inventory on property portals was an effective way of attracting new users on a revenue share basis. We also did a few co-branded white label flatshare sites for brands like thelondonpaper (one of the free London newspapers that appeared for a few years), which helped grow the user base as well as spread brand awareness and trust by aligning ourselves with a more known brand. As well as this I invested in keyword domains like flatshare.com and houseshare.com and created our own in-house white labels to dominate the SERPS. Cracking Google’s PPC so that it started to make a profit was also a fairly pivotal moment for us. 

You recently became your own customer by placing an ad for a housemate on SpareRoom yourself, what did you learn from this?

It definitely started out as the ultimate market research but I learned so much about the business, and about myself, in the process.  I think the single thing I took away from it was that communication is at the heart of what we do. It’s all about bringing people together to find their perfect flatmates. So things like improving the messaging system, or adding video profiles to the site, became really clear after I’d been my own customer. I also learned that living with the right people beats living on your own any day and I’ve shared ever since. I’m currently living in New York and sharing with two roommates I found through SpareRoom – they’re both entrepreneurs too and we’re learning from each other every day. It’s great!

If you had one piece of advice for yourself if you were to start again, what would it be?

That’s a tough one because sometimes I think a bit of naivety is a good thing. If you knew all the challenges that lay ahead before you set off on a journey you possibly wouldn’t do it! Just throwing yourself into it and dealing with things as they come up is what it’s all about.

That being said, maintaining focus is key. I’ve always got very excited about ideas but realised over the years that ideas are ten a penny – it’s execution that matters. When SpareRoom started to grow I would often get side tracked with some new exciting idea and attempt to run it as a side business. Each time, the new project would fail because I didn’t devote enough time and focus to it, whilst losing precious time that could’ve been spent on growing SpareRoom. As entrepreneurs, we tend to be full of ideas, and it’s important to accept that you’ll never have enough time to do most of them so learn to let them go and focus on that one thing.

As with many great ideas, the story of SpareRoom is one that was created because of a personal experience. As customers, we often notice how services can be made more efficient and products improved. Rupert is the perfect example of an entrepreneur who acted on his observations to create a successful solution to a common problem. Don’t miss your chance to quiz him, asking the questions you want to be answered at Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons. Book your place here.

 

10 January 2017

Unruly: The online video sharing company helping brands reach an audience of 1.44 billion people

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Sarah Wood is the Co-founder and CEO of the video ad tech company, Unruly. The company is an online video sharing service that allows brands to reach a wider audience using online video content. Unruly was created in 2006 and now helps brands reach an audience of 1.44 billion people. Having seen the early potential of online video sharing, Unruly has been able to capitalise on the extraordinary growth of this market sector. Sarah will be one of our guests for Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons on Tuesday 7 February 2017. Don’t miss your chance to quiz this online trailblazer.

Sarah.blog

Hi Sarah! Tell us how the Unruly story began?

When Unruly launched in 2006, the idea of ‘viral videos’ was just taking off. Initially, we had started with Eatmyhamster, which was a content sharing board (think Reddit or Digg, but long before) but we soon noticed that the posts that were getting the most engagement and buzz were always videos.

Next up we built the Unruly Viral Video Chart to track and rank the most shared videos on the web (a project that will.i.am called “The Billboard Hot 100 of its generation”).

Brands and ad agencies quickly started calling us to ask how they could get their ads into the chart, and we saw an opportunity to help them distribute contagious content online at speed and scale.

For us, it was the moment the internet went from ‘information superhighway’ to the ‘social web’.

What did you do before embarking on this journey?

I had a range of jobs since school, from babysitter to egg packer, to Tube ticket collector - but before starting Unruly I was lecturing in American Studies at Sussex University.

After studying 18th Century American Literature, which is all about a massive political, economic and cultural shift, I wanted to be part of the bigger picture going on outside my door - the online revolution.

There’s no doubt that Unruly has become a major player in online video content. Could you have ever foreseen such growth?

When we started 10 years ago as a three-man band in a co-working space, we couldn’t have predicted the path Unruly would take. And, rather than one single tipping point, there have been lots of small moments along our journey that let us know we were heading in the right direction.

Since 2012 digital video advertising spend has more than doubled and continues to see explosive growth - according to the IAB, UK video ad spend grew 50% alone in 2015.

Something that we definitely couldn’t foresee way back in 2006 was the boom in mobile - video spend on mobile increased by 98% in 2015, as more and more people spend time-consuming video on the go.

On your website, you explain that Unruly brings an emotional intelligence to digital advertising. What does this mean?

Unruly is the ad tech company that wants to help brands move people, not just reach them. Our secret sauce is our emotional ad tech that tests for emotional responses and targets audiences most likely to have an emotional connection with the content.

Near the end of 2016, we launched Unruly DNA, a really cool new tool that uses artificial intelligence to create profiles of brand’s light buyers to increase sales. We also recently launched Unruly EQ, a content testing tool which allows advertisers to maximise the social, emotional and business impact of their content by evaluating, improving and predicting the online potential of video ads. Unruly EQ is really interesting because it validates whether an ad is authentic, i.e. whether it aligns with customers’ perceptions of the brand.

We’ve found that campaigns targeting people most likely to engage emotionally with specific video creatives results in a strong emotional response, which in turn drives memorability, engagement, purchase intent and many other brand and social metrics.

Unruly was acquired by News Corp in 2015. Has this led to any change in your day-to-day operations?

One of the things that made the deal appealing was that News has a very strong track record of turbo boosting companies they have acquired while also allowing them to maintain their values and autonomy.

Our Unruly DNA was one of the very things that attracted News to the business in the first place. It’s not just our tech and data they bought, it’s also our people, our culture, and our spirit. Unruly’s core values and culture has been instrumental in our growth. We’re agile, we’re passionate, we’re disruptive - and that hasn’t changed at all.

And for us, access to News’s premium media titles and highly-engaged audiences has enabled us to deliver even better campaigns for our clients.

The acquisition has also really helped us accelerate our roll-out of new ad formats and features and it’s great having an internal customer to collaborate closely with, so we’re able to make sure that as we develop new products they’re built with the publisher needs front of mind.

Ultimately, we didn’t sell the business to exit, we sold the business to scale, and that’s exactly what we’re doing right now.

What would be your key piece of advice for anyone wanting to go it alone in business for the first time?

Choose your team and co-founders carefully - look for complementary skills. Pick something you love to do because if your business takes off you’ll be spending a lot of time doing it, and believe that anything is possible and keep a positive outlook if it takes longer than you think to find success.

If you’re intrigued by the Unruly story, our upcoming Inspiring Entrepreneurs event will give you the chance to ask Sarah the questions you want answered. Our Panel will include 3 more Internet Icons. So don’t miss the chance to quiz our trailblazers. Book your ticket here.

 

06 January 2017

Bloom & Wild: How this company became the UK’s top rated flower delivery service

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Aron Gelbard is co-founder & CEO of flower delivery company, Bloom & Wild. He launched the business in 2013 with a view to making, sending and receiving flowers the joy that it should be, every time. Bloom & Wild makes it possible to order flowers in under a minute, and through-the-letterbox delivery means that receiving their flowers is as easy as receiving a letter. Their bouquets are trend­led, being the first florist to create a constantly changing range at a scale they describe as ‘fast fashion for flowers’.  Aron will be a guest for our Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons panel on Tuesday 7 February 2017.

Aron Gelbard

Where did the idea for Bloom & Wild flowers come from? What did you do before becoming an entrepreneur?

Prior to Bloom & Wild, I worked as a management consultant, advising technology, retail and consumer products companies, and had previously worked at Google. I was really interested in some of the exciting and innovative direct-to-consumer brands that were starting to appear in the U.S. in particular (e.g. Warby Parker), and always wanted to create my own company that would have a direct impact on people’s lives. The idea for Bloom & Wild came from a combination of my own frustration with ordering flowers, loving using through-the-letterbox services like graze.com, and being passionate about doing something that would hopefully brighten a large number of people’s days, every day.

Did you ever worry that you were entering an already oversaturated market?

There are lots of other great flower companies out there, many of whom are run by fantastic florists with an incredible sense of aesthetics. We didn’t think there was an affordable luxury flower brand that was loved by millions of people nationwide, and we thought that there should be. We were confident that we could use technology to provide a simpler customer experience and that there was an opportunity to offer flowers through the letterbox, which nobody else was doing, and so were optimistic that we’d be able to find a place in the market, even though it’s crowded.

Has the exponential growth of Bloom & Wild surprised you?

We’re really flattered that our customers have continued to support us and recommend us to their friends, and this has been a significant factor in our rapid growth. It means a huge amount to us, and we take customer feedback incredibly seriously – we’re now the UK’s top rated flower company across every major review platform, and it’s really important to us to continue focusing on the best possible customer service so that people will continue to order from us and to recommend us. We’re delighted that this has resulted in us rapid growth, but really remain 100% focused on giving our customers and flower recipients the best possible experience.

Technology plays an important role for your business. Had you always planned on utilising its potential benefits?

Absolutely! We always knew that technology was an important differentiator for us. A lot of traditional flower companies are run by fantastic florists, and we thought that we could create an even better customer experience by combining our passion for technology and user experience with great on-trend floristry. We have a team of ten engineers, product manager's and user experience professionals, and they’re a huge part of what makes Bloom & Wild different.

Do you have any tips for anyone starting out in business?

Give it a go – the best experience you can get is by actually starting something, so don’t put it off while you try and get more experience – you learn so much more by doing! And now is a great time to be starting a business – there’s lots of uncertainty and start-ups will always be more nimble and able to react to political and economic changes than larger companies.

As part of our Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons panel, Aron will take the stage to talk more about his experiences as an entrepreneur. He is relishing the opportunity to answer your questions and to share his story. Don’t miss the chance to quiz our trailblazers and get the inspiration you need to start or grow your business.