Everyone's routes to entrepreneurship are different; it might take you years before you have your eureka moment. In Part 1 of this blog, Dicky Broadhurst of Morse Toad shared his story with us of being made redundant, going on the adventure of a lifetime, and finally deciding to put the business idea he'd dreamed of into practice. Here's Part 2: making that dream a reality!
Launching a startup
I narrowed my gift list to be just chocolate on the basis of lean startup principles (I would learn later this wasn’t lean enough). My intention was to make something that occupied the same space as a card, but had something more to offer. If you are ordering a card online, you remove that handwritten aspect that makes a greeting card thoughtful. Personalised chocolate seemed like a suitable exchange. I then listed my company and set about creating a product.
People often ask me about the name Morse Toad. Again I read everything I could about naming a business, and there is broad opinion online. Depending on your business, it’s a bit of a mix: brevity, availability, memorability, application, and for me, a little humour. A colour or an animal are a great way to be memorable. Red Bull for example. This also conveys a brand identity. Application implies what it does eg. Deliveroo. How to find yours? Spend a month writing every name you can think of. Build a big list. Then drill down. Pick your favourites. Check trademarks and websites. Our first name fell at the trademark fence: Tescos owned it. Morse Toad was a lightbulb moment. Once I had it there was no doubt. It’s memorable, playful and conveys what we do.
At the time, I knew very little about chocolate beyond how to eat it. With naive confidence, I felt there wasn’t anything I couldn’t learn, so I bought a machine, did a crash one-day course and started making. I have since learnt countless lessons about chocolate the hard way, but I would encourage everyone not to be put off by a lack of knowledge about their chosen field. The internet, the phone and good old fashioned face-to-face communication are all you need. I befriended Trevor in the local chocolate shop and would pop round every so often for a chat.
My product had four different sizes. I bought stock for all four, my most significant investment to date. I launched at Christmas presenting my wares - and instantly discovered the boxes were wrong. I was still able to use them, but there came a point months later where I chucked away around 50% of it. Money down the drain. I should have ordered one size. The challenge of practising being lean is that your grand vision competes with being lean. If you can spend less money, make sure you do.
A breakthrough moment
At this point, I had a bit of luck. I was able to pitch my business as part of an Escape the City startup accelerator programme I had joined. It just so happened one of the team from Not On The High Street was there. They signed me up and a month later, I listed the product on the site. In less than an hour, my phone went ‘ding’. I had made a sale. It was an extraordinary moment. I’ve made a sale every day since, sometimes hundreds.
When you’re starting out, your basic mission is to create something and persuade someone who isn’t your mum to buy it. I took mine to every stall and event I could in the run up to Christmas and hustled for every sale. At the time the product was rubbish. Some people told me that, but for the most part, people loved the idea. There were sales and enough positive noises from strangers to convince me there was a market. That and some research I did in the British Library (you can access endless market research there for free). Once you’ve established a market and made a sale, the hard work really starts. You need to build a business.
Something I have learnt is to establish a filter for the advice you receive. Trust your gut. I met many people who extolled the virtues of fast growth. Raise capital! Crowdfund! Give away equity! The word entrepreneur is a much more sexy word these days, and everyone wants to be the next big tech startup. For some businesses that’s great. But unless you are superhuman and can learn how to take a business from £0 to £10 million in a year or two with no prior experience, fast growth will probably mean fast demise. I had some sage advice to prepare for the long haul. A business will take five years to become established and secure, and 10 years to be successful. It took a year or two before I paid myself a salary, and even now it is the bare minimum.
Starting a business is a risk. You need to find other ways to support yourself as you can’t expect your business to do it in the early days. Airbnb is our go-to option for income. Moreover, you will want to put every penny back in if you are to speed the growth at the fastest rate possible. Prepare yourself to be scratching around for money, when all of your steady-job buddies are buying new cars, going on holidays and littering your feed with hashbrags. Your expenses and social life will shrink. You will work twice as hard for three times as long, your brain will be on duty permanently and you will never get a break, even if you do take a holiday. On the flip side. Lie in? No problem. Fancy walking the dogs because it’s sunny outside? Great. Struggle to exercise at 7.30am? Me too. I go at 9am.
I sourced my initial funding from Virgin Startup ,which I have recently paid back. I also obtained a loan from the bank and at one point had a Growth Voucher from the government. There is no right answer to finance. It is undoubtedly a barrier to starting up for everyone. Some people will have to get funding from the outset, so they may need to give up equity. My gut tells me to hold onto my equity for as long as you can until it is worth it to give it away. The longer you hold on, the more you should be able to get for the stake.
With some investment under our belt, 2018 is the year we expand our products and our team. Morse Toad is based in the beautiful New Forest. My morning commute combines seaside views with rustic forest which acts as the ultimate antidote to long hours.
For all those looking to start a business, I wish you good luck. If you found this article interesting, you have thoughts about the business, or if you want to share your own experience with us, we’d love to hear from you. We are always keen to hear any feedback.
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