Innovation and enterprise blog

Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

17 September 2020

Julie Deane: Living proof that you can start and adapt a business from your kitchen table

Julie famously founded The Cambridge Satchel Company from her kitchen table in Cambridge, with only £600, as a means of paying school fees for her children. Being seen on the arms of celebrities and bloggers such as Taylor Swift and Liberty London Girl quickly gave the brand global recognition.

To celebrate Julie's upcoming event, Kitchen Table Talks: adapting to the times with Julie Deane OBE, in partnership with Santander, we caught up with her to find out more about her business journey, and why every business should have a dog for company.

Julie Deane sat at her kitchen table

Championing the self-employed cause

Julie’s monumental start-up success from “a cup of tea and a big idea” to a globally recognised brand is living proof that anyone can set up a business they’re passionate about from their kitchen table. Throughout her rise to business success, Julie’s philosophy has always been to champion aspiring entrepreneurs, believing that everyone should have a chance to take control of their own destiny and achieve their life goals.

“Personally, self-employment changed my life,” said Julie. “There are over 4.5 million self-employed people in the UK and there are now more possibilities to set up as self-employed. People can now create opportunities for themselves – they now have options.”

Whether it’s getting a brand new product to market, securing investment for a potentially ground-breaking invention or simply spreading the word about your available services using social media, there are now more ways than ever to achieve your self-employment ambitions.

Julie has now had to come back to where it all began, her kitchen table, when Cambridge Satchel Company's office closed during the pandemic, she realised that founder stage Julie may have had better ways of working than now. "I’ve rediscovered the necessity of making decisions quickly and not overthinking. The clarity of focus when undisturbed has been good when reflecting on how best to move forward. There are fewer distractions and more hours, reclaimed from commuting, but how did I separate life from work? How did I shut off when the house is filled with work reminders? I have some questions I’d love to run past the first year founder me!"

The importance of work/life balance is also key, especially when it comes to pets. "I can do without most things, my dogs don’t fall into that category. The garden has never looked better and the dogs have never been happier – those are the balances that have kept my spirit high."

Classic Satchel in brown

Overcoming limited budgets with creativity

With such a small starting budget, Julie had to be extremely creative in raising awareness of her new business. Julie admits she was a self-proclaimed “queen of the free directory listing”, utilising as many local resources as possible to get noticed, such as regional newspapers, fashion and lifestyle editors and business directories. In fact, it was her innovative relationship-building with fashion bloggers and lifestyle editors that would eventually propel the brand to the next level.

In 2010, Julie was contacted by fashion bloggers in the United States, who were desperate to wear her satchels to New York Fashion Week. This massively increased the exposure of the brand, and having the satchels on show on the laps of front row fashionistas caused quite a stir. This culminated in Bloomingdales stocking the satchels in the iconic 5th Avenue store in New York – quite a meteoric rise from Julie’s quiet Cambridgeshire family home.

The importance of staying true to your roots

Perhaps the really impressive aspect of the global growth of The Cambridge Satchel Company is that the brand has continued to remain close to its roots. Julie has been the brand guardian throughout the years, using social media to maintain close relationships with customers and building the human aspect and relatability of the brand.

Julie’s first company photo shoot of her product range even featured her own children as models. This proved to really resonate with customers, especially given that Julie’s children were such a significant factor in the company’s creation.

Julie cites her greatest achievement in business as being able to scale the business globally whilst staying true to who she is.

“We’ve taken investment, and it would be very easy to step back and potentially get too big for our boots but we’ve remained the same company essentially – we have a direct relationship with our customers and want it [to stay that way],” she said.

When stores had to close due to lockdown, these roots proved once again to be key to success. "The Cambridge Satchel Company was born on the internet. Our customers and following were built online and so from that perspective it’s always been a strength we feel we have. During lockdown though, there was an increased need to reach out and help customers with browsing, product advice and customer service through all online channels. I even recorded videos in the garden for some customers to answer queries."

This has also led Julie and her team to reassess and not be afraid of changing decisions made previously. Her current three priorities for the company are:

  1. Communication is on the priority list every week – yes, the team is smaller but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to make sure we’re all on the same page. Remote working has some benefits but does challenge communication and the maintenance of team spirit.
  2. We have used this time to reflect on who we are as a brand and what sets us apart from competitors. The next step is to action these thoughts – this week we have already commissioned a new look photo shoot.
  3. I’m looking to simplify our offer. Currently there is a large range of styles, sizes and colours, so an overwhelming amount of choice. Simplicity is king and during these times when we are operating with a smaller team we need to get back to basics. 

The Sophie in red

Guard your intellectual property with your life

One of the biggest challenges Julie faced in the early stages of building up her business was protecting her intellectual property. The company’s first factory and manufacturer actually attempted to steal her original designs to create an imitation product.

Julie, however, soon learnt from her naivety, and opted to set up her own manufacturing facility in Leicester and operate using non-disclosure agreements when working with third parties, which helped her protect her brand.

In the space of just twelve months, Julie discovered 330 fake websites that claimed to sell her satchels – some even displaying an imitation trade mark. Fake profiles had also been set up on social media channels claiming to be The Cambridge Satchel Company and selling counterfeit goods.

“We enforce our trade marks aggressively and have fake websites shut down,” she added.

“At MarkMonitor meetings I am surrounded by household names, far bigger than us. We have to join together to defend ourselves but it is a huge drain on resources.”

Intellectual property infringement is no laughing matter; it can cost you thousands. However, you can get all the information and guidance you need to protect your ideas and creations here at the British Library at our regular workshops and through advice clinics.

The Emily Tote in French Grey

Work with honesty and integrity

The Cambridge Satchel Company has quickly become a brand that people can believe in across the world and this has led to global success. This is particularly the case for China, which is now the business’ second-largest territory for sales. Even Prince William paid a visit to a festival in Shanghai which housed Julie’s very own ‘Great Wall of Satchels’.

Julie has used the recent months to think about the brand in a more meaningful way. "We recognised that this was the time to stop, pause and reflect on exactly why we deserve to exist and survive. What we offer that’s of value and sets us apart. Those fundamental questions led us to recognise that we needed to rediscover the brand in a way and be bolder. The project has brought so much excitement and clarity – definitely the most defining, valuable solution."

Julie has been deservedly heralded as a true British business success story and was acknowledged by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron who asked her to lead an independent review of the UK’s self-employment landscape. The resulting report outlined 10 recommendations for the Government’s consideration that would support the growth of the self-employed community in the UK. This included increased use of libraries and enterprise hubs.

The Cambridge Satchel Company’s inspirational story is a fantastic example of how one great idea can spiral into a global business success. As Entrepreneur in Residence, Julie shares her own expertise and experience to help users of the Business & IP Centre achieve their own self-employment ambitions. Kitchen Table Talks: adapting to the times with Julie Deane OBE is on Tuesday 22 September, 10.30.

15 September 2020

A week in the life of… Peter Hill, founder of Petvictus

This month's blog follows Peter Hill, who in 2018 appeared on BBC's Dragons' Den and won an offer of investment for his inventions, Pedaldish: The Lunchbox for Pets and Katfone: The Ultrasonic Whistle for Cats. Peter used BIPC Birmingham to get advice on registering his trade mark. Since then, Peter has gradually reduced his day job hours and this week he's got a big decision to make...

Peter Hill in a factory with Pedaldish

As well as the product side of my business, I’ve developed a series of lectures, team games and skills workshops to guide people through the core skills needed to start a new business. This summer, I have a decision to make: do I sell my inventions and focus on public speaking? This is the week I made my decision.

Monday 10.00. Wake up. As a night owl, I’m rarely asleep before 01.00. A product order came through, last week, for 210 Pedaldishes and 500 Katfones. I said I’d ship the order this week, without having double checked that I’ve got the stock ready, and the clock’s ticking. I might have to spend today assembling Pedaldishes from parts, to make up the order.

13.00. The warehouse guys are being amazing. We’re just six products short, so with a quick bit of assembly and a quality check, the shipment is ready to go.

16.00. I email the warehouse the shipping documents and confirm with the customer the order will be with them on Thursday.

17.00. I log off the computer feeling I’ve forgotten something. I haven’t, but being a one-man band, I’m always asking myself whether I’ve missed anything.

19.00. The weather is getting hotter. I go for a country walk and make plans for next weekend. Coronavirus restrictions have lifted in Wales and I’ve made plans to go camping.

Daily score: Usefulness: 75%, Enjoyment: 30%

Tuesday 11.00. I still have a part-time job at the local council. My trade is as a community worker. This is less glamourous than being an inventor and entrepreneur but it has a guaranteed income, and is much more interesting than handling stock shipments. I’m now working from home; Skype is my only means of interaction with my colleagues. It’s a rubbish substitute for real contact.

Daily score : Usefulness: 50% Enjoyment: 60%

Wednesday 16.00. The Library of Birmingham's BIPC has asked if I’d be interested in doing some more business presentations. The most enjoyable parts of my business have been conducting lectures, team games and skills workshops.  Since winning investment on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, I’ve been in demand as the most minor level celebrity you can imagine. I spend today designing a new business team game around eggs. The teams have to buy materials to protect an egg, which is then thrown out of the window. The team who protect their egg, and spend the least amount of money win; this is great for teaching planning and budget management, but I need to think about health and safety.

Daily score: Usefulness: 65% Enjoyment 70%

Thursday 15.30. I get confirmation the shipment, I sent on Monday, has arrived. I quickly cut and paste an invoice and email it. My thoughts turn to the weekend ahead and my greatest passion: the outdoors.

18.00. One of the great things about being in business, is that you network and hear about new ideas and products. This February, I found out about a product called Tent Box. It’s a solid frame pop-up tent which fits onto a roof-rack. With one fitted on top of my car I now have an instant place to sleep in isolation, even if the campsites are not open.

22.00. The car is packed and my kayak strapped down on the roof.

A view over a north Wales tidal estuary

Daily score: Usefulness: 40% Enjoyment 40%

Friday 6.00. I discover there is a 6am, as well as a 6pm! I’ll tell someone when I’m more awake; for now the beaches, rivers and hills of North Wales are calling.

14.00. I park on a pathway on the edge of a deserted tidal estuary, Snowden in the distance. Checking the tide times, I can see how far the water will come tonight. As long as I park up at high tide, I’ll have 12 hours without the risk of being carried away. Having been in self-isolation since March, I’m finally in true isolation. My phone is turned off. And my thoughts switch on.

16.00. I’m walking along a deserted sandy beach. I invented my last business team building game here, maybe I’ll find inspiration again. After walking in the surf for two miles, passing one person, I’ve come up with an idea for my egg dropping team building game; what if I tell the participants, the week before, what the game is? The really astute ones can go online and look up the best ways to protect an egg and maybe even practice. This will show how valuable prior knowledge and experience is when approaching a business task. I begin to wonder if I sent an invoice for the last order of Pedaldishes and Katfones? My inspiration, like the sun, is falling.

20.00. I’m sat by a river with a coffee made in the local pub. Dyslexia means that I rarely read books, but since the invention of Audible.com, I can listen to the world’s finest literature. Today, I’m listening to the autobiography of comedian Eddie Izzard. I gave up hosting my own stand-up comedy show to invent products. Maybe I should combine the two and focus just on business presentation.

23.30. With the high tide come and gone, I pop open my roof top tent, modified since purchase with every gadget and comfort, and drift asleep on the four-inch memory foam mattress to the sound of the waves.

Daily score: Usefulness: 35% Enjoyment 85%

Saturday 8.30. Worried that I might be breaking some obscure by-law, I wake up quickly, compress down my tent and watch the rising sun. Today I can walk, kayak and swim, with my phone switched off and no one to speak to.

18.00. With a day spent on the beach and trekking into the hills, I wonder if I should focus my efforts on being a business speaker 100%; it feels like the right direction.

21.00. I may have miscalculated the tide. With the water rising I’m in danger of being flooded. Always have a plan B: I can retreat to higher ground. The tide licks the car wheels, and finding them not to its taste, retreats. Time to relax again and watch the sky turn every shade of blue to black.

Peter Hill with his kayak on a river

Daily score: Usefulness: 5% Enjoyment: 90%

Sunday 16.00 With the risk of rain forecast, I make my way home, via a night-stay in Shropshire at my parents’ house. I walk through the pine woods and cross the place where I first thought up the name Katfone. A wholesaler has emailed me an offer to buy the brand, and the remaining stock. My designer wants to run with Pedaldish. Maybe it’s time to move on.

Daily score: Usefulness: 20% Enjoyment 70%

Monday 11.00. I drive to the River Severn outside Shrewsbury and kayak 12 miles, downstream. I always imagined, when I didn’t have to work full-time, that I would spend my Monday mornings on the river. In the last four years, I’ve managed it three times.

21.00. I’m back home. I have a name for my new venture as a business presenter: Peter the Speaker. I’ve bought the .com and drafted a logo. Now all I have to do is agree to sell Katfone and walk away. I’ll leave it until tomorrow or maybe the day after…

Daily score: Usefulness: 20% Enjoyment 80%

11 September 2020

Meet our delivery partner: Melissa Addey

In 2016 I spent a very happy year based in the BIPC as the Leverhulme Trust’s Writer in Residence. During that time, I wrote two business books, developed two mini pop-up exhibitions and ran multiple workshops, which focused on authors being more entrepreneurial and entrepreneurs telling their stories better. Since then, I run monthly workshops at the British Library, still focusing on those two strands. I spent 15 years in business myself before becoming a full-time self-published author. I mainly focused on business innovation and mentoring entrepreneurs, so when I became an author, that entrepreneurial and creative spirit stuck with me! Since then I’ve written and self-published 13 books and completed a Creative Writing PhD.

Melissa Addey

During my workshops, part of the session is me talking, plus some hands-on exercises. And, lots of time for questions, so that I can answer specific queries. I try to give a lot of useful resources and links that you can go away and explore, to really expand your knowledge and develop your working practice. It’s my aim that coming to one of my workshops will keep you busy afterwards for several months! Many of my attendees write back to me later on to let me know how they are doing and their progress is hugely satisfying to me.

Melissa Addey

I really enjoy welcoming both authors and entrepreneurs to the BIPC workshops and webinars. Most of my workshops focus on a blend of creativity/storytelling and entrepreneurial/business skills. If you’re an author, these sessions will help you earn a living. New additions to the programme are sessions on applying for grants and productivity for authors, both of which can really make a difference to building a successful writing career. Meanwhile entrepreneurs can benefit from writing non-fiction if they want to develop a book as a communication tool for their business. This autumn/winter I will also be running my most popular session, on self-publishing, which benefits both authors and entrepreneurs wanting to write a book, as well as a session on blogging for beginners, which again benefits both groups. Creativity + Business = a winning formula!

Read more about Melissa here.