THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

6 posts from February 2016

26 February 2016

Spotlight on ... Kalory Photo and Video Studio

London based visual content marketing studio, Kalory, grew their business with the help of the Business & IP Centre’s Innovating for Growth programme. Now, on their fifth anniversary, we asked Director and Co-founder Franck Jehanne to reflect on his experience of starting and running a successful business. 

Franck Jehanne

Hi Franck - Kalory is turning five this year, congratulations! Thinking back to when you started, what prompted you to start a business?

I always wanted to have my own business and from my early teenage years I was drafting business plans. However, I started my career in the corporate world and eventually left my job as a luxury brand manager to pursue my own business. However, I wasn’t sure what my business would be at that point.

I started to explore different industries with my partner, Brijesh, who was working as a freelance photographer.  We were initially thinking of starting a clothing company but I received a call from a client from my previous job who was looking for a photographer.  And, just like that, our business started to come together. My partner and I worked together, combining my retail and luxury industry experience with Brijesh’s sense of aesthetics and technical photography skills.

Youve worked with big brands like Montblanc and Habitat - how do you stand out in the market and get the attention of brands like these?

Some of our customers come by word of mouth and others from Google search.  They look at our photography portfolios online. They like what they see and contact us.  We also do a lot of work on our SEO.  

A large part of our success with big brands is our attention to detail and our clients often mention our reliability as a key factor for working with us.  We work as a team and almost 100% of our images go through several processes to ensure best quality: technical and creative lighting and photographic skills, retouching skills and editing and composition skills before and after the shoot, so that the final image meets the client’s brief and objective.

You were a participant our Innovating for Growth programme, what obstacles did it help you overcome?

The Innovating for Growth team helped us a lot by giving us the confidence to hire our first employee.  The programme is also really good at forcing you to step back and analyse your business.  You are often so busy that you neglect your strategy or marketing. By raising questions and discussing the business, we changed some crucial elements in our branding and commercial strategies. The group sessions were also extremely useful. We met entrepreneurs with similar issues but in other industries and that’s a great way to make you think outside the box.

Interior and architectural photographer

What advice would you give to other small businesses on the importance of using visual content on their websites?

Great visuals are vital to creating your brand and they also help distinguish you from your competitors.  Using stock photography can be convenient but, as they are not exclusive to your business, they can be damaging for SEO (Google doesn’t like content that’s not unique and targeted). Budgets are usually tight, but it’s crucial to spend whatever budget you have wisely. 

If clients come to us with a budget for photography or video, we help them define their needs and what is possible in that financial frame. For example, there are many different ways to shoot and various levels of lighting and retouching, so we can always manage to deliver a project within a budget.

It is about the quality of images, not the quantity.  Fewer images that are well planned and executed say a lot more about the product or the company than many images with no real meaning. They are also more versatile and can be cropped in different ways - a good image, in general, can be used in different formats: banners, square, portrait, landscape, etc.  The best way to maximise your photographers’ time is to brief them before the shoot with as much information as possible about what you want your photos to ‘say’ about your business or product.

What do you feel have been your biggest achievements during the past five years?

We were finalists in the London FSB Business Awards 2013 in the "Best New Business" Category, which was great recognition for our business.  

But our biggest achievement is the very loyal and recurrent client base we have grown. Some trust us with very large projects that we shoot every year. We have also expanded to take on clients outside the ‘luxury’ market including fellow SMEs. This has enabled us to create a broader client base and we now work with all sizes of business, from small start-ups to large global brands.

Our clients trust us and are happy with the results and I think that’s definitely the best reward you can have when you have your own business.

We are now taking applications for the next Innovating for Growth programme find out how you can apply today.

 

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Innovating for Growth is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund

 

Spotlight on ... Packshot and Stills
Social Media for Small Businesses: Finding Your Feet

23 February 2016

Spotlight on … Mumsnet founder, Justine Roberts

Justine Roberts founded an online haven for parents who need advice from others who have been there and done it. We’re excited to be welcoming Justine at the Library later this month to hear how she got her business off the ground and made it the success it is today. But before that we took the opportunity to ask her some of our burning questions…

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What was your background before starting Mumsnet and where did the idea for your business come from?

The idea for Mumsnet came from a disastrous first family holiday. My twin daughters had just turned one, and after twelve gruelling months we all needed a bit of R’n’R. Sadly we chose the wrong destination, in the wrong time zone, at the wrong resort with, frankly, the wrong children. If only, I thought, we could have tapped into a network of people who’d already worked out that under-fives and jet lag do not mix - before we’d shelled out a small fortune.

And if that network could advise about family holidays what about pushchairs, sleep and nits? Indeed all those rich and varied experiences that newbie parents are entirely unprepared for.

On my return the idea still seemed compelling. I embarked on a marathon surfing session and discovered that, while there was no shortage of parenting websites, there were none offering advice and recommendations from the people who knew best: other parents.

What steps did you take to get Mumsnet live and how did you drive traffic to the site at the very beginning?

Back in the early days I had many aliases and I would go on forums to ask myself questions - so that I could answer them. I remember one moment when a pregnant friend told me about her pregnancy palpitations and I ruthlessly told her to ask on Mumsnet. I felt a bit guilty about it, but by the time I'd logged on again to reply, she'd already got an answer from someone else – and I remember punching the air and thinking this might just catch on.

But traditional marketing wasn’t for us. We didn’t have the budget and had to be more imaginative. So we pleaded with members to talk about us and recommend a friend, and sent them posters to put up at local nurseries. 

I wrote a big piece on a diary of a dotcom startup for The Times’ Saturday magazine, which brought in a lot of people. I continuously tried to think of ideas that editors might like to boost user numbers. What helped enormously too was the fact that the site was free.

In your opinion, what key elements make Mumsnet such a success?

With Mumsnet, you get always-on, anonymous, advice and support from other parents. If it's 2 am and your newborn won't latch on properly, you can start a thread on Mumsnet and you'll have responses (sometimes from people living on the other side of the world) almost instantly. And if you've found that your sex life has gone horribly downhill since having a baby, it's not something you'll necessarily want to discuss with people you know in real life - but you can get loads of support and information online.

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How can someone make money from their website or blog?

Mumsnet worked as a community long before it worked as a business. Financially it was a long haul; I didn’t earn a salary for five years, and it was eight years before I could afford to move out of the back bedroom into an office. It needed a lot of faith. Sometimes it takes time to build something real. 

We’ve never had any formal rounds of investment beyond initial seed funding. Having almost no external shareholders means that we can focus on what’s good for the company and the community without worrying about hitting profit targets. I have a very simple way of running the business – we never pay out more than we’re getting in. We only hire incrementally when we can afford people and not just for a few months but for the next year at least; I didn’t want to expand and then contract, because of all the trauma involved.

We make our money through display advertising plus insight market research for parenting product companies. Advertisers used to be wary of forums, ploughing money into baby magazines that had a tenth of our circulation instead - but that’s changed now, which should make it easier for new start-ups.

Try to find a business model that works for the kind of site you have - free or subscription, user-driven or content-driven. We found that market research is a not-unpopular way for brands to interact, compared with really intrusive adverts; asking users what they think has worked well for us.

How has Mumsnet changed your life?

I started my career in the very male-dominated spheres of City banking and sports journalism, where too often I’d watch female colleagues having to pretend their families didn’t exist. So when I started Mumsnet, my aim was to create a company that recognised one essential truth: if you’re a parent, family always comes first. Of course the irony is that I work longer hours than I ever have before - which is what you have to do if you want to be successful - but I also have flexibility, and never have to miss an important family event or school sports day.

I love being part of something that's so vibrant and funny and useful (and largely female, from the staff at Mumsnet HQ to the audience).

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

Make sure your business addresses a real need. If you know that it's going to be useful or solve a problem and if you keep providing a valuable, responsive service to your users, they’ll give you the confidence you need. Mumsnet users are like a 24-7 focus group for us; feedback can sometimes be less than glowing, but it's a great way of ensuring you stay on track and can be confident about the direction you're taking. Listen to your target audience, and change your plan if necessary.

Mumsnet Workfest

Mumsnet Workfest, sponsored by Barclays, is a one-day event for women who are interested in changing jobs, starting their own business, or returning to work after maternity leave or a career break.  The event will see experts and inspirational speakers discuss everything from establishing a new business to fine-tuning your CV.  Workfest takes place on Saturday 14 May 2016, at 30 Euston Square, London.  Tickets are priced £95 (£75 early-bird rate for the first month).  For a 15% discount, visit http://www.mumsnet.com/events/workfest/2016 and enter the unique code LCC15

Watch the free live webcast of Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons and hear more from Justine along with Ning Li, Co-founder and CEO of MADE.com and Renaud Visage, Co-founder of Eventbrite.

 

11 February 2016

Spotlight on … Original Dating

We got to know Andrew Summersgill, Founder and MD of Original Dating, when he took part in our three-month small business support programme Innovating for Growth.  Since 2003 Andrew has worked hard to get his business off the ground and it is now London’s leading singles event and speed dating company – helping people to meet and find romance. We thought we would ask Andrew a few questions about starting a company that deals in the business of love.

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Hi Andrew! Tell us a bit about your business and how you came up with the idea.

Back in 2003, when I started Original Dating, speed dating was a brand new import from the United States. The format was getting a lot of press and TV coverage and speed dating was becoming a craze that people wanted to try. Picking up on this, myself and a friend searched for an event taking place in South West London where we lived. We couldn’t find one nearby, so after a research trip to a competitor’s event, we decided to promote our own version. The demand was such that the first event sold out, practically over night, and the business grew from there. Shortly afterwards I was able to leave my job in publishing and focus full time on growing the speed dating business.

There are lots of dating apps, matchmakers and dating events out there – how do you make Original Dating stand out from the crowd?

We’ve always focused on providing a high quality experience to our clients and I believe this has helped us stay ahead. Most of our business comes from client referrals, so this approach has paid dividends. Our core offering hasn’t changed dramatically over the years but we’re always improving the formula. We add a lot of value through our unique post-event matching and messaging system. Using either our mobile app, Mixeo or our website, clients can chat privately to people they ‘matched’ with at events until they are comfortable to meet up for a date.

As we’ve grown, we we’re introduced lots of niche speed dating events designed for people with specific interests. Nowadays, we cater for lots of interest groups including literary, movie lovers, foodies and more. We find that by making our events more tailored the success rate goes up dramatically.

We’ve also established a series of large-scale parties for groups of up to 300 people which remain some of the largest singles parties in the UK.

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You must have lots of fun running this type of business but what have been the main obstacles you have faced along the way?

Running a business like this is a bit like juggling. In the early days there’s only you to keep track of marketing, admin, events management, customer service and staffing, so it’s a challenge to manage your time effectively to get everything done. I had to quickly learn to prioritise what was important and not allow myself to get side-tracked. 

When I started out, I was reluctant to trust my staff to run events so I found myself attending every one and in most cases taking over. That’s a very tiring way to operate and I’ve now learnt to train people well and trust them to do their jobs.

There was also a period where I allowed my admin and record-keeping to get out of hand. This resulted in some fairly large late penalties from the taxman and the mess took a while to get out of. I learnt my lesson, sought some help and learnt to delegate the jobs that aren’t central to growing the business.

You started off in Clapham but now run events all over London – what steps did you take to expand.

I’ve always had a picture of my ideal customer in mind. I know the kind of job they have, the kind of bar where they socialise, what they wear and even where they buy their groceries. We expand to new event locations based on the likelihood of meeting a lot of these kind of people there, be it where they live or work. This strategy has worked well and it’s made it easy for our target market to find out about us and use our services.

I’ve also taken a few risks which have, in the most part, have paid off and in turn expanded the business. When I wanted to start organising bigger events, I was asked to agree to some pretty hefty minimum spend and hire agreements in order to book the venues we wanted. It was nerve-wracking because I couldn’t have afforded to paid them had we needed to cancel. Fortunately, we’ve never had to cancel one!

As Valentine’s Day is approaching can we get some tips from you for planning the perfect date?

I would never pretend to be a dating expert! However, my advice for planning the perfect date would be to avoid the clichés and go for something totally original that’s tailor-made for your special person. Don’t underestimate the benefits of some good forward planning. Give yourself plenty of time to work out how to make your date feel special. Avoid over-the-top extravagance. Care, thought and attention to detail tend to mean much more than pounds spent.

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What type of questions are the best ones to ask during a speed dating event?

We always advise people to avoid mundane questions. Never start a speed date asking where someone lives or works. Everyone will be meeting a lot of people so you want to stand out from the rest. Very few people think their work defines them as a person so try to dig a bit deeper. You only have four minutes to get a snapshot of each person so you want to find out if you have common ground quickly and make a good impression. Here’s some interesting questions we’ve heard that could lead to some interesting conversations.

“Who would play you in the movie of your life?”

“What would your dream super power be?”

“What are the 3 items you own that you couldn’t live without?”

“What is your favourite holiday destination?”

“If you could only eat one style of cuisine for the rest of your life what would it be?”

 

Do people who come to your events ever find ‘the one’?

Absolutely! We’re able to see from our data that an average of 80% of people match with at least one person at our events. We don’t always find out what happens afterwards but we regard this as a good start.

We get to hear about around 12 weddings per year and we know anecdotally that a great many relationships begin at our events. We’re sure that there are a fair few weddings that we don’t know about too.

Funnily enough, the first couple to ever marry having met speed dating, met at one of our events in 2004.   It was truly speedy as they were married 20 days after the event! The press at the time said it wouldn’t last but we recently read they have celebrated their 10-year anniversary. They certainly proved everyone wrong!

We are now taking applications for the next Innovating for Growth programme find out how you can apply today.

 

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Innovating for Growth is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund

10 February 2016

How to have a successful business partnership

Many people who start a business do so with a friend or relative. Often they just start producing or selling something as an extension of this relationship. There are many benefits of going into business with a friend or relative but it can also lead to serious problems or disputes further down the road regardless of whether the business is successful or not. Here’s some advice on what to avoid and what can make your relationship last in business.

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The problem with partnerships

The problem with partnerships is that they are without limited liability. As a result should debts mount the partners may be considered jointly and individually liable.

What this means in practice is that should, for any reason, your partner have no cash or assets with which to pay creditors, the whole debt may rest on your shoulders. This sometimes occurs after a personal fallout which makes paying the entire debt burden totally unacceptable to the person left carrying the can. In my experience, very few relationships survive this scenario intact.

Unless you have a very good reason for doing so, I would advise against partnerships of this type.

Form a limited company instead

Instead it's better to form a limited company and divide the shares equally.

The modern Limited Liability Company was first created in New York in 1811 as the American Government at that time felt potential investors were being deterred from investing simply because all their assets were at risk. In England, The Limited Liability Act of 1855 achieved much the same thing.

Prior to this date, a merchant ship which sank in the Pacific Ocean meant the merchant owner could lose his home as well as his or her business to creditors.

By setting up a Limited Liability Company business people could protect assets which were effectively beyond those declared as assets of the company being formed. This enabled people to invest say a thousand pounds into a venture, without risking their homes or other investments. Any potential loss was limited to the issued share capital of that particular investment.

Put more simply, say you and a friend want to produce honey and put £1000 each into the venture. If you do this through a partnership and the business fails you will be jointly liable for its debts to the full extent of your personal assets.

If, for instance, the business traded well for a while and then went belly up and owed £50,000 to creditors, you would each separately liable for that £50,000! This doesn't mean that you owe £100, 000 of course just that, should your partner not have his or her share, you will have to pay the full amount. You are jointly and severally liable for the full extent of the debt. The creditors/administrator won't care where it comes from.

Don't fall into this trap! Create a Limited Liability Company at the cost of about £100 and divide the shares as you see fit.

Personal guarantees

Often lenders insist on personal guarantees which circumvent the protection you should enjoy as shareholders in a limited company.

It is very important to avoid giving personal guarantees where possible, but where it is prudent to do so insist on an agreed limit to this extra liability. Unlimited personal guarantees leave you very vulnerable to potentially unfair financial pressure from lenders, should your investment go wrong.

Seek proper assistance

The above is not detailed advice and is only general observation, you should always take proper legal advice from a lawyer or qualified chartered or certified accountant before signing company formation, partnership agreements, or other binding documentation.

Loan agreements are very important to get right, so proceed with extreme caution and avoid putting your home at risk wherever possible, particularly if you are elderly or have a young family.

Always limit your liability where possible, but remember when borrowing money that that the money belongs to someone else so paying it back, as agreed, is the morally right thing to do.

However, going into business with someone can provide many rewards too. It’s likely you already know the person really well and you will get the chance to do something you love with someone you care about which can be a lot of fun (despite the hard work involved!). It is, however, important that you get the right advice to make sure your business is set up properly. The Business & IP Centre regularly run workshops and one-to-ones covering a huge range of topics – of particular relevance to this article is a How to register as a limited company  being held on Thu 11 Feb 2016.

 

Stephen Fear on behalf of the Business & IP Centre

 

08 February 2016

Growing up: business success stories

The UK’s Employment Minister, Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, visited the Business & IP Centre this week to meet some of the businesses we work with as part of Innovating for Growth, our free European-funded service, offering support to small businesses.

Innovating for Growth specialises in mentoring businesses as they grow their successful start-up to the next stage – a notoriously tricky point in the development of any business.

We took this opportunity to share some of the inspiring stories of these businesses who moved from start-up to growth stage with our help.

Wedding dress designer Sabina Ali

Wedding dress designer Sabina Ali shared her start-up story with the Minister: she began designing dresses for friends with ‘no idea how to turn my hobby into a business’, but a chance encounter with Anita Roddick at one of the Business & IP Centre’s early events inspired her to use the Centre’s resources and expertise which she describes as the ‘best thing she ever did’. Thanks to the support received on the growth programme, Sabina has doubled her turnover and expanded to 10 international stockists.

Sabina (right) shows the Minister (left) photos of some of her beautiful dresses
Sabina (right) shows the Minister (left) photos of some of her beautiful dresses. Photo credit: Tony Grant

Jon Smith, CEO of Pobble

The Minister also met Jon Smith, CEO of Pobble, an innovative website which enables teachers to share and celebrate their pupil’s creative writing online. The site, which contains 50,000 pieces of creative writing written by children, is now visited by 1,000 teachers every day and is even used by literary luminaries such as Michael Morpurgo and Anthony Horowitz for inspiration. Since taking part in Innovating for Growth, Pobble has grown considerably and now has a team of 20 staff.

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This lyrical piece of writing by 6 year old Fred posted on Pobble was shared over 4,000 times

Arit Eminue, DiVA Apprenticeships

The final entrepreneur to meet the Minister was Arit Eminue, founder of DiVA Apprenticeships, an initiative which has helped hundreds of young people to start their careers with leading London employers in the creative and digital sectors.

Arit showed this inspiring video about the young people she works with, and discussed the ‘great importance about bridging that gap between schools and employment’.

 

The Minister linked Arit’s work to some of the activity in her own constituency of Witham in Essex, where schools are being encouraged to link up with local businesses to offer apprenticeships, and the Prime Minister’s plans to create 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020.

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The Minister (left) meets Arit Eminue, CEO of DiVA (right). Photo credit: Tony Grant

Following the visit the Minister said:

“Starting up a business can both exciting and rewarding. Having access to the right level of support is crucial, and sometimes means the difference between make or break.

“I’ve been honoured to meet these inspirational businessmen and women benefitting from the British Library’s Innovating for Growth programme who, like the almost 77,000 people that have benefited from the Government’s very own New Enterprise Allowance, have turned their creative ideas into successful businesses ventures.”

We are now taking applications for the next Innovating for Growth programme find out how you can apply today.

 

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Innovating for Growth is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund

 

04 February 2016

Spotlight on … Renaud Visage, Eventbrite Co-Founder

We chatted to Eventbrite Co-Founder, Renaud Visage, ahead of his upcoming appearance at our Inspiring Entrepreneurs event later this month. Eventbrite, the world's largest self-service ticketing platform, allows you to create, share and find events that interest you – anything from concerts to conferences and everything in between. Renaud shares his experience of co-founding and growing what is now an internationally recognised brand.

Renaud Visage

Hi Renaud! What was your background before Co-Founding Eventbrite?

I have engineering degrees from American and French universities and started my career as an environmental consultant.  I was always fascinated by the internet and joined one of the early photo sharing pioneers, Zing Networks, which was later acquired by Sony.  In 2006 I joined forces with Kevin and Julia Hartz to be the founding technical architect of the Eventbrite platform.

Where did the idea for Eventbrite come from?

When Julia, Kevin and I worked together to co-found Eventbrite in 2006 we saw a gap in the market; only the largest events, arenas and stadiums had access to technology - the rest were buried in email and Excel spreadsheets to manage their events.  Our idea was to build a self-service, intuitive product that leveraged technology to open up and democratise ticketing, making it widely available to anyone interested in hosting an event. Since then, we’ve helped millions of event organizers easily create, promote and sell tickets.  In 2015 alone, we supported over two million events in over 180 countries, and processed over two million tickets to events around the world each week. In recent years, as Eventbrite’s business and innovative solutions have taken hold, even organisers of large events have realised the power of our simple, yet robust, technology particularly for mobile ticketing, and use our platform to ticket events with tens of thousands of attendees.

What steps did you (and your co-founders) take to make Eventbrite a global brand?

We’ve always been very focused on providing a reliable and trusted technology platform and this has been integral to our brand proposition. As we began to grow outside of the US, we knew it would require much more work than simple translation.  We knew we needed to focus on the unique needs of organisers and event goers in each market, which included integration of preferred payment methods and the development of locally relevant content.  Eventbrite is now a global company with 500 employees, 7 countries and on 4 continents, serving hundreds of thousands of event organisers worldwide, who rely on us to help them sell their experiences to tens of millions of active consumers.

What obstacles, if any, did you have to overcome with global growth?

For us we have always been very focused on making sure that the alignment of international offices goes beyond business goals, and cultivating a collaborative team culture is at the heart of this.  Part of our approach here is to have weekly, very open, update calls for all teams around the world, with the founders and management of the company joining and answering every question asked. Everyone is encouraged not to hold back and to ask whatever is on their mind.

How can a new online business stand out from the crowd?

By offering a unique service or product that is unlike anything else out there and that solves a genuine problem. Good, friendly and personal customer service is something that isn’t widely associated with online businesses, but it’s an important investment. Happy customers will be your best advocates.

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

Apart from having a viable business model from day one (!), you really need to invest the time in finding a suitable co-founder(s) with complementary skills. In my view this is probably one of the most important things; founding a company is incredibly hard and straining and it’s good to find a partner who can help you weather through the hard times and celebrate with in the good times.

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Join Renaud, Ning Li (Co-Founder and CEO of MADE.com) and Justine Roberts (Founder and CEO of Mumsnet) at Inspiring Entrepreneurs, Internet Icons on the 29 February.