THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

132 posts categorized "Entrepreneurs"

05 July 2017

How Intellectual Property helped Julie Deane start a £10 million business from her kitchen table

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Wednesday 5 July 2017 is British IP Day – a welcome opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of Intellectual Property.

So many small businesses lack IP awareness and understanding, but IP is something of an unsung hero and can prove critical in making or breaking a business.

The Business & IP Centre team are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and SMEs understand what IP is and why it’s important, what IP they might have created and how they might increase their business success and profitability by protecting and exploiting that IP in the future. Over the years the team have supported thousands of small businesses unlock the value of their IP, and much of the support we provide in the Centre uses case studies and real-life stories to demonstrate how having a handle on your IP gives you a huge commercial advantage.

One such example is Julie Deane OBE, founder of The Cambridge Satchel Company, who has taken her business from the kitchen table and a £600 start-up budget to a global success story with a turnover of £10 million. Along the way Julie has overcome numerous business challenges including managing designers, manufacturers and overseas distributors, establishing web and physical retail sites around the globe and dealing with thousands of imitator brands. Here, in a free 30 minute podcast with the Intellectual Property Office, Julie lays the truth bare on how she’s developed strategies to tackle copycat websites, build the brand, keep putting the quality of the product at the heart of the business and “hang on to the passion that made you start the business in the first place.”

 

Podcast IPO

 

Whether it’s British IP Day’ or just a normal day, here are our 3 ‘top tips’ for what you need to know when it comes to your Intellectual Property:

  1. Think about trade marks - Is your business name protectable in the countries that you wish to trade? Is it already being used or does the word have another meaning in a different country. Future investors will want to know that you have the rights to trade in the countries that they wish to trade in, and you need to consider this right from the start to give your business the best chance of success.
  2. If you’re creating a ‘thing’ - Do your research before filing for a patent; is there a market for your product? It is expensive and takes a long time to protect your idea so make sure you do your market research and can be confident that somebody will buy it at the end of the day. If you have paid for your product to be patented and want somebody to manufacture it for you, you also need to ensure you have agreements in place limiting their rights to your initial idea or design.
  3. Founder’s agreement - It is easy to set out a document with your business partner right at the start when setting up your business agreeing things like % of ownership and what should happen in the case of a dispute, or if one of you wish to sell then business and the other one doesn’t. Once a dispute has started it is much harder and messier so you need to make sure all parties are clear on this from day one.

You can find further help, support and information on IP in any of the eleven Business & IP Centres up and down the country, including the British Library in King’s Cross. Speak to any one of our specialist staff face-to-face, over the phone or by email. You can also log on to our free of charge online workshops to grow your knowledge about IP, and increase your chances of business success.

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Julie Deane in the Business & IP Centre

 Julie Deane is Entrepreneur in Residence at the British Library and a huge champion for ambitious business owners. She is set to give even more advice and practical tips on 11 July at the Library’s Scale-up Summit alongside Will Butler-Adams, CEO of Brompton Bicycles. Cambridge Satchel and Brompton recently launched a range of colour-matching bags and bikes where the satchel fitted perfectly to the handlebars. This ‘made-in-heaven’ brand match caught the attention of the press and delivered extremely high sales. Will and Julie will be giving the opening keynote presentation on ‘Getting your business in the media’ which is not to be missed.

Book your ticket here.

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The Cambridge Satchel Company / Brompton Bikes collaboration

 

 

13 June 2017

The proper way to build a brilliant brand

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On Thursday 15 June 2017, the British Library’s Business & IP Centre will be hosting Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Brilliant Brands. The panel will consist of Inspiring food and drink entrepreneurs speaking on their respective journeys to business success and the creation of their exciting brands. One of the brilliant brands on the night will be PROPERCORN, represented by co-founder, Ryan Kohn. We caught up with Ryan to find out a little more about the PROPERCORN story and to discover how it developed from an entrepreneurial dream to a big business, selling three million bags a month.

What makes PROPERCORN so different from any other popcorn brand on the market?

We’ve grown at a serious pace over the last five years but we’ve never compromised on our popcorn. We’re total flavour fanatics, so the recipes still start in our kitchen and the process involves careful sourcing, blending and tweaking until we’ve got the perfect product. Every bag is made using natural seasonings and our passionate team still manages to bring to life incredible recipes like Peanut Butter & Almond and Sour Cream & Black Pepper. We’re also very proud to be the only independently-run, British brand of the four leading popcorns on the market. This definitely helps us to retain flexibility in our entrepreneurial approach.  

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Tell us about the early days of starting your business and why you think your idea succeeded?

My business partner, Cassandra, came up with the idea when she was 25. Like all great ideas and entrepreneurs, she spotted a gap and was brave enough to make the leap. It’s easy to forget how little there was on offer in terms of healthy snacks at the time; it was either a chocolate bar or a rice cake and not much else in between. Cassandra was determined to bring something to market which found that tasty/healthy sweet spot. Quite simply, it made sense - and when we brought together our dogged determination, her creativity and my business experience we found we had a pretty formidable team. 

Did you expect such fast growth when you started and how have dealt with the challenges that such change brings?

To be honest, our initial business plan was much punchier than we actually achieved. However, this was probably due to our inexperienced forecasting than anything else. I am extremely ambitious and with past businesses, I have learnt that there is a lot to be said for momentum. I believed in what we had and knew that once we got the ball rolling, that momentum would follow. Our first stockist was Google HQ where we became the best-selling snack; this was an amazing case study and a quick succession of major retailers followed. Challenges are endless and pitfalls inevitable, so resilience and reacting positively to any mistakes is key when starting your own business. I really do believe in the power of being positive and the challenges you overcome, only make you stronger. It helps too when you have an amazing team supporting you and we certainly have that at PROPERCORN.

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Did you have any concerns about entering an already saturated market? And, if so, how did you manage to stand out?

We were one of the first to market, but a couple of competitors had launched before us. Initially, we thought it was detrimental to our ambitions that others were doing the same thing, but, when you’re trying to build a new category it was, in hindsight, brilliant that we had others pushing the same message. We wouldn’t have been able to do it alone as a start-up with limited budgets. Together we have built the fastest growing snack within crisps, snacks and nuts sector for the last five years on the trot.

From the get go, our flavours have always made us stand out and we’re very proud to have won the Great Taste Awards for our efforts. We also have an enormously talented in-house creative team who create everything you see on our packs, cases and campaigns. I’d like to think it’s the attention to detail and passion that goes into all elements of PROPERCORN that really sets us apart.

Finally, do you have any wise words of advice for budding food entrepreneurs hoping to follow in your footsteps?

If you’ve spotted that gap and you really believe the demand is there, have a go at pulling together a skeleton business plan. It sounds really obvious but even a crude skeleton will give you focus, whatever the industry. Think about what a successful year looks like, how you might go about achieving that success and then just go for it and don’t hold back.

For your chance to hear more from Ryan and to quiz the brains behind Beavertown Brewery, Cauli Rice and The Spice Tailor, book your Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Brilliant Brands ticket here.

 

31 May 2017

A snappy rebrand for business growth

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Barrie Gordon is the founder of Blend and is a man who loves what he does. His company specialises in high-quality commercial photography and he has worked with the likes of Dune, Ted Baker and House of Fraser. Based in North London, Blend has built a reputation for highly professional photography that is both cost-effective and uncompromising on quality.  

Having entered the photography industry soon after leaving school, Barrie was already well-equipped with years of expertise and knowledge when he decided to embark on his own entrepreneurial journey. The initial success of Blend only whetted his appetite for more and the opportunity to join the Innovating for Growth programme at the British Library was one he jumped at. We caught up with Barrie to see how things have developed since completing the programme and to find out a little bit more about how he’s grown a successful company.    

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What made you believe that you could turn your passion into a business?

You used the words, belief and passion in your question. In my view, these two attributes are paramount to starting your own business. 

I’ve always been passionate about photography, but becoming an entrepreneur and having my own company is what dreams are made of. Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of working for a variety of photographic companies and this gave me with the perfect opportunity to learn and also to see things I could change and improve. The managerial experience that I garnered over this period also meant I had the necessary skill set to do something I always wanted to do. To make that jump from employee to running your own business takes confidence and belief in your own ability.  It's easy to start a business but to make a success of it is a much tougher ask, so believing in yourself is a really important quality for any entrepreneur.

Innovating for Growth helped Blend to scale-up and grow. What initially made this programme attractive to you and your company?

As a small business, I was very interested in any guidance that would help me build a successful company. I felt the programme offered advice in lots of areas which would help to develop my skills as a business owner. Furthermore, as a start-up, with limited funds, to be offered free advice from experts in their respective fields, naturally appealed to me too. I had been trading for a couple of years when I applied for the Innovating for Growth programme and was delighted to find out my application had been successful. The assistance I had in key areas such as brand development, marketing and strategy are things that helped Blend to grow and I’m very pleased I made the decision I did.

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You’ve recently rebranded. Why did you feel this was necessary and have you started to see the benefits of this decision?

We were previously known as Packshot and Stills but the rebranding of our company has made a huge difference. To some degree, the old name and branding held us back. The term packshot relates to a particular type of photography. In essence, it's a basic product shot ordinarily shot on a white background. We didn't want to be pigeon-holed and known for just doing this type of photography and I felt that "Packshot and Stills" was doing just that. Our services extend way beyond that of packshots; we are capable of offering professional photography from fashion and video content to complex creative shoots. The old branding just didn't relay that message.

Additionally, profit margins in packshot photography have been driven down. Competition is fierce and as such, prices have fallen to a level which makes that area of photography tough to sustain.  Consumers don't really put the same value on packshot photography as they do for creative still-lifes or fashion photography. It just made sense to distance ourselves from that term in relation to our branding. Having said that, we still do packshots here at Blend but wanted to get the message out there that we are experts in a range of other areas of photography, hence the name Blend.

The company is relatively young and brand awareness hadn't truly been established. If we were going to rebrand, now was the time to do so. Moreover, the website also needed to be redeveloped, so it seemed a perfect time to do it.

Since the rebrand in mid-January, I've had very positive feedback regarding the visual aesthetics. We've also started to see the commercial benefits and certainly had more interest in our fashion work. I'm hoping this trend will continue and we will see similar progress with our creative product photography.

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Innovating for Growth focuses on key areas to help businesses scale-up and grow. When considering the support and advice you received, what would you say has helped Blend the most?

There were plenty of aspects of the programme that helped me to grow Blend. Due to the size of my business, the advice that I received was split between things that were actionable straight away and guidance I could implement at a later stage. 

Initially, I had a meeting to look at an overview of my business. It was evident that for me to grow the business, I had to look at my time management. I also needed to delegate some of my day-to-day duties to free up time and to enable me to concentrate on building and expanding the business. It may seem obvious, but without someone telling me that it's okay to do so, I probably wouldn't have adapted.

Along with advice on rebranding, I also had some very hands-on advice from ASB Law. They looked over aspects of Blend from a legal perspective and helped us enormously to amend our legal documents.

What’s next for Blend?

We're looking to further expand, not only in physical size, premises and personnel but also broadening our offerings.

We'll always be looking to adapt in order to deliver the level of service that our clients expect.  For us to remain competitive, we constantly need to be refining and reviewing our internal processes to maximise the quality and efficiency of our output.

Externally, we'll be increasing investment in our marketing. We have a brand that we can be proud of and, as such, we want to get our message out there.

Are you an ambitious business owner looking to scale up, like Barrie? Innovating for Growth is a free three-month programme to help you turn your growth idea into a reality. Find out more and apply now.

03 April 2017

How to research digital trends with eMarketer

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Emarketer-logoWe often get enquiries in the Business & IP Centre about how to research digital trends. Such as mobile phone usage and social media growth.

Fortunately, we have access to eMarketer research, which is the first place to look for research about marketing in the digital world. eMarketer PRO is relied on by thousands of companies and business professionals worldwide to understand marketing trends, consumer behaviour. And to get hold of essential data on the fast-changing digital economy. 

eMarketer is unusual for a market research publisher in how much information they give away for through their free newsletters.

But the only way to get hold of their full content is to come into the Business & IP Centre in London and access eMarketer PRO.

Here you will find:

  • Over 200 new reports each year with data, interviews with subject matter experts, and original analysis to provide insights, understanding and context on the most important topics in digital.
  • Aggregated data from over 3,000 sources of research in the data library.
  • Over 7,500 proprietary metrics about the digital marketplace, including media trends, consumer behaviour and device usage.
  • The ability to create customised charts and tables to help tell compelling stories with data.
  • Coverage across 100 countries, including proprietary metrics for 40 core countries.

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eMarketer PRO will help to:

Answer specific questions and access data about digital related topics. Such as how much time do millennials spend with online video? How many smartphone users are there in the UK? What are the key UK digital trends for 2017?

Get deeper insight on digital topics. Such as what is programmatic advertising? What are the pros and cons of developing mobile apps vs mobile websites?

Research topics related to Advertising & Marketing, B2B, Demographics, Email, Industries, Measurement, Mobile, Retail & Ecommerce, Search, Social Media, Video

Benefit from eMarketer Forecasts using eMarketer Estimates up to 2020 for hundreds of Metrics. 

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To give you an idea of what you would find, here are some extracts from a typical eMarketer report.

UK Digital Video and TV 2017:
Who’s Watching, How They’re Watching and What It Means for Marketers.

 

Nearly two-thirds of the UK population will watch digital video content in 2017

One

 

There will be more digital video viewers than smartphone users in 2017

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Short-form content isn’t necessarily the preserve of the young; older groups are viewing increasing amounts

Three

 

In terms of platforms, YouTube dominates the short-form space and has massive overall reach

Four

 

For long-form VOD, the BBC’s iPlayer service dominates, but Netflix is gaining ground

  Five

 

So what does this mean for Marketers?

Pre-roll ads don’t work and are mostly disliked on digital channels

Six

 

However, pre-roll is still where most of the money is going: 59% of digital video ad spending in H1 2016 went to pre- and post-roll inventory

Seven

 

Social is one area that seems like a good environment for video ads

Eight

 

Engagement with a video ad on social media often leads to a purchase

  Nine

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.

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.

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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.

22 December 2016

Why entering awards are good for you and your small business

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As a busy business owner you need to find ways to promote what you do with maximum impact. You know the value of your business or service and can shout about it from the top of your lungs all day long. But what’s even more impactful is when other people do it for you. Along with using testimonials on your website and social media from customers you can also enter awards. Win a business award and you’ll create a buzz around your business, enhance your brand and have your story shared in the press. But you have to be in it to win it! Keep track of your networks for news about when their award programmes are running and think of all the of strings to your bow when considering which categories give you and your business the best chance of success.

One awards programme coming up for female business founders is the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Awards - regarded as the Oscars for female entrepreneurs and business leaders. Set up in 1972 as a tribute to their own female founder, Madame Clicquot, the awards continue to champion the success of women worldwide who share the same enterprising spirit, courage and determination to succeed.

As well as their Business Woman of the Year Award, they are looking for strong nominations to apply for their Social Purpose Award (businesswomen championing social purpose beyond their core business case) and New Generation (under 35 year old) awards. Nominations close on 30 December 2016.

A recent winner of the Veuve Clicquot New Generation award was Jenny Dawson Costa, founder and CEO of relish range Rubies in the Rubble, and graduate of our Business & IP Centre’s ‘Growth Club’. Earlier this year Jenny shared with us how the business began:

“The idea for Rubies in the Rubble came after a very early morning visit to a wholesale fruit and veg market on my bike one frosty day in November 2010. I fell in love with the market - such a diverse range of people living by night and sleeping by day; a world of farmers, wholesalers, restaurant owners and market sellers trading anything from durians to brussel sprouts.

But just along from the bustle of the traders were the piles of unwanted fruit and veg - mange tout from Kenya, mangos from the Philippines, tomatoes from Turkey, cranberries for California which bypassed the bustle of traders and headed straight for the bin! And what really saddened me was that much of these, though potentially with a short shelf life, were perfectly edible!

It got me thinking about the impossibility of matching supply and demand when you have unpredictable weather, unpredictable humans and supermarkets that provide everything in plentiful piles throughout the year.

I then buried myself in researching food waste and realising its scale and implications – both environmentally and financially. However, it was a simple fact that compelled me to act: we are wasting 1/3 of all the food we produce, whilst 1bn people go to bed hungry. I’m not saying I know the solution but there are improvements that we can make to the current system.

And then it came to me: a premium food brand making delicious products from fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be discarded.”

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We’re huge fans of the Rubies relish and continue to work with Jenny to grow the company. If your own story is just as powerful then think about applying for the New Generation or Social Purpose award 2017.

At our next ‘Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons’ event, on Tuesday 7 February, you will have the chance to listen to and meet the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award winner  Woman of the Year for 2016, Sarah Wood, who’s marketing agency Unruly has been behind fantastic campaigns such as the Compare the Market’s meerkat adverts.

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The event will see Sarah share her story alongside three other inspiring entrepreneurs; founders of SpareRoom, Bloom & Wild and Deliciously Ella. You can join us in the British Library or watch from home with our free of charge webcast. You’ll also have the opportunity to question the panel about how you find the right awards to apply to and ask for tips on how to win.

If you are a female founder and fit the mould for the New Generation or Social Impact Awards then here are some useful tips for submitting a 5 star application:

  1. Give yourself enough time to answer the questions to the best of your ability and to shine a light on your achievements
  2. Don’t be shy! Be sure to give a compelling reason within each answer for why you and your business deserve to be the winner
  3. Be honest. However tempting to inflate the details be truthful and so avoid potential PR problems later on
  4. Have attention to detail – have you answered all the questions fully, within the word limit and hitting all the key criteria?

Good luck with your applications and maybe you'll be the next winner of the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Awards