This summer has been a stellar one for POTR. We won £100k investment at Scottish Edge Round 19 (think of this as a Scottish version of Dragon’s Den) as well as being named StartUp Of The Year and Green StartUp Of The Year by the StartUp Awards National Series 2022.
Off the back of this, we’ve had an influx of interest, enquiries, offers and people willing to give advice. But there’s also been one overwhelming question - what’s your advice to others on how to start a startup? We’ve doubted whether or not we feel qualified yet to be able to formally answer that, but we’ve decided that we are going to make a commitment to share as much as we can along the way, in the hope that it might help and encourage other budding entrepreneurs.
These days, most people will likely know someone who has, or is somehow involved with, a start-up company. Sometimes it feels like every 2nd person on LinkedIn has ‘entrepreneur’ in their bio. Who knows whether this is due to the impact of Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice, or whether after feeling the brunt in the job market post-2008 recession, young people no longer feel they can rely on large companies to deliver the security and job satisfaction they are looking for. Instead they are choosing to back themselves. A 2020 Neilsen study found that 54% of Gen Z wanted to start their own business. Interestingly, the top reasons they indicated were being in control, having a debt-free and purposeful life and making a positive impact on the planet (Forbes, 2020). We might be a little too old to fit into the Gen Z category (shout out to all the millennials) but it looks like we may have found ourselves in this position.
So how do we answer the question of how to start a startup? There are many ways that we could respond, but there is probably only one authentic answer;
Honestly, POTR started with nothing but a good idea.
As a small team of 4; Andy, Martin, Alex and Eilidh were all there when the business started as an idea in a living room in Bristol.
As product designers, POTR was initially an ambitious side project that Andy and Martin gave themselves as a challenge to redesign and reinvent an existing product - this time with sustainability at its core. As enthusiastic house plant owners, the humble plant pot was chosen. After months of product development, they settled on an origami, flat-pack form made using recycled materials. Based on lifecycle analysis tools, this was the best way of drastically reducing the carbon footprint. From there, it was calculated that £600 was the figure needed to cover the first production tool and material costs. Having followed numerous product launches on Kickstarter, Andy and Martin decided that running a 'Quickstarter' would be the best way of funding this initial outlay.
In summary, our startup began with a pretty simple four stage process;
- Develop an innovative product with a large enough addressable market.
- Choose a cost effective manufacturing technique.
- Crowdfund manufacturing costs and deliver the final product to our initial backers.
- Hope for the best and let the success of the Kickstarter determine POTR's future potential.
That might sound simple, but at the beginning we didn’t know much about funding, investment or the best routes to market. Just that we had a good gut instinct on how to make a product better.
Luckily for us, we managed to get a few things right and the success of the Kickstarter confirmed that there was a reasonable demand for the product we’d created. Now for the hard part. We had the tricky task of turning a prototype product into something that was suitable for mass manufacture that could form the basis of a sustainable business. We’ll endeavor to keep sharing as we go, but for now, we’ve compiled our top tips.
- Think local. Make sure you reach out to established funding and support resources in your local area (wherever that may be). Local organisations will want to back the growth of new business. Even if they can’t offer financial resources in the form of funding or grants, we’ve found them to be a genuine support and source of advice, who will at least be able to point you in the right direction. For us that meant accessing support through organisations and programmes such as Scottish Enterprise and the Glasgow Growth Fund delivered through Glasgow City Council.
- Don’t give in to doubt. We were all consistently plagued with imposter syndrome (and still are). At POTR, we’ve found that being sure of your facts and speaking with confidence make a world of difference when it comes to winning support and investment. In addition, surround yourself with people that believe in the business and the individuals behind it. In short, make sure you have a hype man. Even if it’s your Mum.
- Prioritise. It’s very likely that for (most) people starting a new business, initially, this needs to be managed on top of a day job in order to make personal finances work. In our case, we are still in this phase, with only Eilidh working full-time on POTR. Our hope is that over the next 6 months we can continue to make the transition, but in the meantime we must continue to be masters of multi-tasking. Trello boards, post it notes, voice notes. Do whatever it is you need to keep track of the most pressing tasks. However, don’t be fooled, be prepared to be hit with the realisation that your work-life balance may not always tip in the right direction.
In summary, starting a startup is not easy. In fact, it is an incredibly difficult thing to succeed at, and most of them don’t get off the ground. However, we are living in a time where more people than ever are giving it a go, and I guess that makes it quite a fun adventure.
Our motto so far would be; don’t over-complicate it, think outside the box and work with people you love.