Five lessons we learnt as a start-up

So we wanted to share what we’ve learnt getting to a triple Sunday Times Fast Track awarded business. Hopefully the benefit of our on-the-job experience will provide helpful shortcuts.

1. Be a single-minded business
When we started we launched a number of sister companies at the same time. They were all online retail ventures, so in theory should have been easy to manage as a collective. The reality was they were all equally demanding and we ended up spreading ourselves too thinly, ultimately jeopardising the success of them all. So we decided to concentrate on the cartridge selling market because, on review, this was the one that we felt best able to quickly make an impact.

2. Spend money on sourcing staff
Recruitment is expensive and time consuming – but worth every penny. Taking time to source a team of experts, who are better at their jobs than you can ever be, will enable your company to excel in every aspect, including the disciplines you don’t have time to address.

A management team of capable individuals in place will allow you to concentrate on directing growth while they deal with the everyday. This has allowed Ian and I to work from home two days a week, giving us the space and headspace to make crucial decisions.

3. Finding ways to keep staff happy
If your staff are happy, your business will do well. Which means we are always looking for ways to improve their working environment. This includes asking for feedback. It can be quite frightening to see on paper what they actually think but if you’re prepared to listen, you can use their notes constructively. To make the process easy for all concerned, we use TINYpulse – an online application which allows staff to offer feedback anonymously. As a direct result we’ve installed a cycle rack, addressed issues with communication, installed recycling bins and organised social events. Ok, so some are small wins but all together they’ve made our company a better place to work.

We also reward in a way that we’ve found motivates staff – with praise where it’s deserved and by paying them market or above-market rates. If your staff are paid enough so that money is not an issue, their focus will be purely on doing a good job.

4. Outsource
You can feel obliged to manage everything in-house to keep overheads to a minimum. As admirable as this is, you can run the risk of operating in a false economy. This is because you will have to invest time you don’t have trying to emulate the expertise you need – often leaving yourself exposed to risk. One of the best decisions we’ve made is to outsource recruitment, PR and legal services. It allows us to employ experts in their field to deliver on our business goals, achieving the success we want in dedicated areas but don’t have the time or experience to deliver yourselves.

5. Harness data
We make all our decisions based on what the numbers are saying.

We are obsessive about data, trialling and testing every possible variable to the nth degree, and are committed to defining strategy by what the cold, hard numbers are telling us.

As a result we measure all that we do using a series of tools, many of which – like Google Analytics and Facebook insights – are available free of charge. We also always have in place short, medium and long-term goals. With these in place, we can identify the steps needed to get us there – and therefore all the elements we need to trial and test to get there.

We never, ever outsource this analysis though. We believe it’s crucial, as a business owner, to be able to understand what the figures are telling you. You need to be able to harness and interpret data in order to make the right decisions for your company.

Written by Sean Blanks, Marketing Director of