Walk before you run: building your startup slowly

Carrie Weeks and Fran Glover are two of our Virgin StartUp ambassadors, and the founders of A Natural Undertaking, providing creative and personalised ways to say your goodbyes to a loved one. They've been in business for a year now, and so in this latest blog they reflect upon their first year of business, why you should always ensure you're reconnecting with your values, and the importance of walking before you run.

It’s amazing how quickly a year can pass by. Twelve months ago we had registered ‘A Natural Undertaking’ with Companies House and were busy briefing a designer on our branding requirements. That was an interesting brief – “Please create us a visual brand that doesn’t look like an undertaker, but makes it clear to people that that’s what we are…” Well done Dougie for taking that on, you did us proud.

We were also completing the application for our startup loan (thanks, Virgin Startup, for responding positively on that one!) and essentially putting in place all the elements needed to run a small business, designing and building a website, financing a funeral vehicle and so on.

So now we’ve come to the end of our first financial year, and whilst we’ve been regularly reviewing how we’ve been delivering our service to the families who’ve come to us, it’s been a good time to stand still and really take stock of what we’ve achieved and ensure we translate that, sustainably, into the bigger ideas that we have locked away in our heads.

Many people tell us that it’s virtually impossible to build a business that is commercially successful and which also truly benefits the people it serves (or maybe we just know too many cynics). We’re determined that this business will be successful without taking advantage – and knowing what our customers need and value will help us achieve this.

Our first step, once we’d reviewed the finances with our accountant, was to look back properly at the brand and customer proposition that we’d written way back before we’d even registered the company. Too many businesses lose focus because of decisions that need to be made on a daily basis: before you know it you’ve built things and commitments into your business that can undermine the very reason you set it up.

So to keep us focused we knew that we would have to log, in detail, the essence of what our business was going to be about. We also knew that there had to be an element of customer research built in. But even if you’re lucky enough to have budget for research, it’s still hard to know at the beginning of a process where the value truly is. Twelve months in, and with the experience of actually arranging a large number of varied types of funerals under our belts, we’ve been able to validate our initial thoughts and better define the core areas within the business – the bits that our customers truly value. Of course we’ve learnt things along the way that have been surprising, or slightly different from what we’d imagined, but on the whole our focus has been right.

Running a business brings real meaning to the phrase “walk before you run.” If we’d tried to build in everything we’d wanted a year ago, our cashflow would be looking very poorly now and we’d have ended up making decisions that would not necessarily have sat comfortably with our reason for being.

‘Walking’ through our first year of business means we now have a clear view on the commercial priorities and absolute confidence in our future plans since we know without doubt that they are based on reality and are what our customers want.

Last year was all about walking for us; getting the basics right, understanding where we can truly make a difference.  This year we plan to jog, next year to sprint, and the year after we intend to be positively flying.

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