Editors Note: This article was written by Von Sy, Founder of Nimble, and award-winning maker of child-friendly, plant-based and non-toxic cleaning products. Von recently won the BBC’s ‘The Customer is Always Right’ award and his startup now is stocked across Boots, Ocado and Sainsburys.
Many an aspiring entrepreneur has conjured up a fantastic, even revolutionary business idea. Yet, despite holding the catalyst to transform an industry, they have simply not acted on it, ending their story before it had even begun. Why?
The reality is taking the first step and starting up your own company can be quite daunting. It’s a decision that comes with many hurdles – both perceived and real.
For instance, you need to have faith in your idea and yourself, have some research and know-how under your belt, have consulted others, and have a strong, costed business plan in place.
Having found success with my business, Nimble, I’ve put together a few tips which I’m sure will help you if you’re thinking of starting a business of your own.
Step 1: Choose an idea to work on that’s right for you
It may seem obvious, but running a business takes up a huge chunk of your life. So, it’s important to be truly passionate about the idea you’re pursuing. Your business should be centred around a subject you feel naturally drawn towards, and find yourself spending many hours researching and thinking about.
Better still, you’ll have harboured this passion for a number of years. The key reason for this is that, just as many of those with a gym membership will tell you, passion can fade over time.
So, you’ll also need to have a strong level of know-how about the business idea you’re pursuing, including the ins and outs of the industry you aim to occupy. This will include what problem you will solve, who for, and why yours is the best solution for them.
I came up with the idea for Nimble when my sister had a baby and told me how difficult it was to wash heated milk from baby bottles, and without making them smell of washing-up liquid. I was also shocked by the harsh, petroleum-based chemicals in some of my niece’s cleaning products.
As I was passionate about my niece, and having a background both as a chemist and working with Unilever, I felt I had the knowledge and interest needed to tackle the problem.
If you’ve considered all of the above factors and remain committed to your idea, then you should most certainly take it forward.
Step 2: Don’t be scared to tell people your idea
As I mentioned earlier, an idea will remain just that until action is taken. Many people sit on their ideas because they’re scared of others stealing them, when in reality, the chances of this are slim – others will also need knowledge, passion and willingness to make them a reality.
Talking about an idea to business-minded people and the potential users of the product or service you’ve dreamed up only improves your idea. Gauging the reactions of others, listening to their feedback and implementing it will help you strengthen your idea.
The more people you talk to, the stronger and more refined your idea will become. You’ll also better know whether you’re committed to turning it into a business.
For example, after a search through parent blogs and forums, I realised the problem my sister was having with cleaning her baby’s things was widespread and not a single brand was addressing them. I later organised a case study where 80% of mums we surveyed said they experienced the problem.
So, finding out what your stakeholders think can also help test the real need for your product.
Step 3: Launch more products at the start
If I could do anything differently were I able to start my business journey all over again, it would be this. I thought having just one solid product would make me a millionaire. How wrong I was.
To give your business idea more leverage, commit to launching around three to five products from the outset, even if only one is the centrepiece of your product collection.
I first came up with the Milk Buster, which makes it effortless to wash milky containers and raised funds through Angel Investors to bring it to market. Later, I launched our Laundry Lover baby detergent and Sticky Stopper antibacterial spray.
However, I’m certain that the levels of revenue and investment I attracted would have been a lot larger if I’d had all three in my arsenal before launching. The reason for this is that the more products you have, the wider your customer offering will be and the more potential revenue you’ll have against the same marketing spend.
Step 4: Don’t give away too much too soon
When you have the beginnings of a business, people tend to flock to you and offer their ‘expertise’ in exchange for equity in your company. It’s always great to attract positive interest in your business, but be very rigorous and never take someone’s word for face value.
Make sure you check their credentials and don’t be scared to ask them to prove their worth before making any commitments.
The journey is long, so you’ll need to hold on to the lion’s share of your equity, in the beginning, to ensure you have enough to fuel your growth later.
Step 5: Survival mode
Lastly, I want to share with you what is probably the best advice I’ve ever had. It came from a friend who runs a successful food business. When I started Nimble, I had a long wish list of things I wanted to invest in in order to further my business, such as people, R&D and production methods.
However, my friend told me to hold fire and think carefully about any frivolous spending. He advised me to imagine Nimble was in financial ‘survival mode’. This would help me decide what were the absolute spending priorities my business needed to move forward. Equally, it helped me to eliminate a lot of non-essential spending I probably would have made otherwise.
By using this frugal mindset, you might be surprised by what elements of your business you decide to prioritise.
So, if you’ve come up with an idea you’re passionate about, don’t put it back in the box unless you’ve done all you can to take it forward. The first steps of this journey may be intimidating but are certainly worth taking. After all, you might well have the key to transform an industry, and in turn, your own life too.
I hope the above tips are of some use, and I wish you the best of luck on your own journey.
About the Author
Von Sy is the founder of Nimble, a chemist by profession, Von joined Unilever in 2001 as a student intern in their Quality Assurance team, then joined the company when he graduated in 2013, spending 10 years working with its R&D team in Manila and then Liverpool and Leeds.
Previously, Von worked for seven years in the detergents business and launched products for brands like Persil and Surf in the UK, China, and Southeast Asia. He also worked for three years in the deodorants business and launched new products for brands such as Dove, Lynx and Sure.
Von’s range is now stocked in Boots, Amazon and Ocado, and ready to launch in Sainsbury’s stores across the UK.