The 'Secret Sauce' entrepreneur series: Purple Land Trading

When Market Gravity recruit new team members, we look for like-minded entrepreneurs. The ability to inject entrepreneurialism into projects is at the heart of what we do to help big businesses create new, successful propositions. It’s this ‘secret sauce’ that makes us different to other innovation and proposition design consultancies.

Many of the team at Market Gravity are entrepreneurs. They’ve started their own businesses outside of Market Gravity – something we advocate and actively look for. Our entrepreneurs know the work it takes to get something off the ground. They are passionate about ideas in the same way our clients are passionate about theirs. And they’re able to draw on their experiences when working together to create new products and services.

And because we love to share, celebrate and support our teams’ entrepreneurial passions, we’ve created a series of blogs about them. This month we chatted to Andrew Cowley one of our Engagement Managers about a start-up he created and launched – Purple Land Trading.

Hi Andrew. What did your startup do?

In general, it helped British exporters to get a foothold in Latin America. Specifically, my first customer was a… wheelie bin company. The UK’s largest manufacturer (have a look, they are everywhere): www.taylorbins.co.uk.

Where did the idea come from?

Initially, by chance, an ex-colleague was involved in the purchase of Taylor Bins by private equity, and asked me if I could do some research for him on the market in Brazil. As I started to have conversations with the major players in the waste industry out there, it began to emerge that this product had some clear benefits over competitors, and that Brazil was at a real tipping point (pun intended), transitioning from manual collection to more efficient, automated collection. The potential was enormous – so I took on the role as sole agent in Latin America.

More cost-effective waste collection meant cleaner living conditions and freed up money for much-needed investment by municipalities elsewhere.

What did you find most rewarding about the experience?

Well, there was nothing quite like making your first sale. Add in the fact that it was in a country where I hadn’t spoken the language before, in a sector I’d never worked in, with clients I’d developed from scratch – it was an enjoyable moment.

Without getting too worthy, I also felt it was doing good for society, in its own small way. More cost-effective waste collection meant cleaner living conditions and freed up money for much-needed investment by municipalities elsewhere.

What was most challenging?

It might sound odd, but bins are very technical things to sell. They need to fit with trucks (which have numerous lifting systems) and there are norms that govern almost every specification, route planning with complex algorithms to optimise collection, and customers are used to using them in very different ways. It was a good while before I felt I could talk authoritatively about the subject.

Other than that, my timing was awful! I arrived in Brazil in 2012, when it was the next big thing, and left in 2015, when it was well on its way to economic disaster. As a result, there was a steady erosion in the value of the currency, which meant my imports constantly crept up in price, to the point where it was almost double my original quotes to clients.

They need to fit with trucks (which have numerous lifting systems) and there are norms that govern almost every specification, route planning with complex algorithms to optimise collection.

Funniest anecdote?

When my Portuguese was still in, let’s say, a development phase, I mistakenly told a client that I had ‘woken up’ with his colleague, when I actually meant ‘agreed’. I like to think the ensuing hilarity built trust.

How has the experience helped you at Market Gravity?

It is quite tempting as a consultant to work at a conceptual level: it is somebody else’s money, so who really cares if an idea will work or not?

I think my startup experience has taught me to be both conceptual (make sure it is a good idea before you commit to it) and practical (do what it takes to make sure it actually happens).

Ultimately, you need to be able to find the excitement in any project.

Ultimately, you need to be able to find the excitement in any project. I never thought I’d be selling bins to Brazilians, but I was hooked. I could recite European safety norms, the exact process of hot dip galvanizing, the benefits of injection-moulded vs. rotation-moulded lids… you name it.

If you’d like to talk over any ideas that you have for launching a new proposition, or how to overcome innovation challenges you’re facing- get in touch.

andrew.cowley@marketgravity.com

Find Andrew on LinkedIn

 


The 'Secret Sauce' series: buzzumi

When recruiting for new innovation and proposition design consultants, Market Gravity look for something different. We look for an ability to inject an entrepreneurial spirit into the projects and propositions they’re working on. That ability is like a ‘secret sauce’ to us. It’s what makes our approach and the way we help our clients deliver projects different to other innovation and propositions design consultancies.

But how do we know if someone can inject an entrepreneurial spirit into a big company? Well. A lot of the team at Market Gravity are entrepreneurs in their own right. They’ve started their own businesses outside of Market Gravity – something the company advocates and actively looks for. They know the work it takes to get something off the ground. They are passionate about ideas in the same way as our clients are passionate about theirs. They’re able to draw on their experiences in client projects.

And because we love to share, celebrate and support our team’s entrepreneurial passions, we’ve created a series of blogs about them. This month we chatted to Kirsten McIntyre one of our Principal Consultants about a start-up she helped launch – buzzumi.

Hi Kirsten, tell me, what did your startup do?

It was a knowledge market place, where people could buy or sell time with someone to give or receive knowledge, information or training. So you could learn Japanese from someone in Tokyo from the comfort of your own home. The platform provided integrated video and learning tools, appointment booking and payment handling.

Where did the idea come from?

It was a venture that my former employer co-founded. Instead of investing cash they seconded me to work on the start-up for nine months as ‘sweat equity’. I got involved when it was a kernel of an idea, pitched as ‘an eBay for knowledge’ but with very little detail beyond that, and worked it up from there.

What did you find most rewarding about the experience?

Being involved in it from day one through to launch and getting to be involved in some many different areas. I worked on it from initial concept through to launch. This included my first experience of user experience and building wireframes, naming the business and developing the branding. We worked with developers in New Zealand to build it, preparing investor decks, planning the launch and getting our first customers signed up.

I was also working with a project manager who I have since married!

 

An 'eBay for knowledge'- buzzumi was a knowledge market place where people could buy or sell time with someone to give or receive knowledge, information or training.

What was most challenging?

Lots of things were challenging! Ultimately the start-up pivoted about six months after launch into something quite different after we failed to secure funding from investors. Instead the same technical architecture was re-purposed to provide a software-as-a-service solution to business customers. This was easier to scale without the need for significant up-front investment. The technology was used successfully by Big White Wall and Doctor Care Anywhere to launch their telehealth platforms.

Launching the original business was very challenging. Firstly, creating a market place is incredibly hard, it sounds obvious but it’s twice the effort. I’d definitely think carefully about doing that again in the future unless you already have easy access to at least one side of the market.

Our timing was off too in terms of the technology. The video technology we were using just wasn’t stable enough, delivering a poor user experience, which we ultimately couldn’t control.

Funniest anecdote?

At one point a (dodgy) decision was taken to approach psychics to get them to sell their services through the platform – definitely not an area that I would ever have envisaged myself getting involved in.

How has the experience helped you at Market Gravity?

Seeing the whole thing through end to end and how everything fits together helps me to see what’s important and what order I need to tackle things in, and which things I can park for a bit. For example, you need a stable proposition that works for customers and the business before you need to worry about branding and messaging.

The importance of focus and making decisions about what you’re not going to do is as important as deciding what you are going to do, and sticking to it. But conversely knowing that there could come a point when you have to completely change track if your strategy is not working, and being ok with that is really important. Although the business no longer exists, I’ve been able to draw from the experience and process and help clients facing similar challenges which is really valuable.

If you’d like to talk over any ideas you have to launch a new proposition or how to overcome innovation challenges you’re facing- get in touch.

Kirsten.Mcintyre@marketgravity.com

Find Kirsten on LinkedIn


The 'Secret Sauce' series: The Dark Peak

Market Gravity look for something different in the people they recruit. They look for an ability to inject an entrepreneurial spirit into the innovation projects and propositions they’re working on. We call it the ‘secret sauce’ – it’s what makes our approach and the way we help our clients deliver projects different to other consultancies.

But how do we know if someone can inject an entrepreneurial spirit into a big company? Well. A lot of the team at Market Gravity are entrepreneurs in their own right. They’ve started their own businesses outside of Market Gravity – something the company advocates and actively looks for. They know the work it takes to get something off the ground. They are passionate about ideas in the same way as our clients are passionate about theirs. They're able to draw on their experiences in client projects.

Because we love to share, celebrate and support our team's entrepreneurial passions, we're creating a series of blogs about them. This month we chatted to Lee Chapman who's one one of our Senior Consultants specialising in Insight, about his business – The Dark Peak.

Hi Lee, tell us a little about your startup, The Dark Peak.

The Dark Peak is an eCommerce business selling unisex clothing made exclusively using British products and manufacturing. After tracing the life of a typical garment, we believed there was a more economic, environmental and socially sustainable way of producing affordable clothing. That is what we set out to prove. This was reinforced by the idea that people should be able to make an informed judgement about the origin of their clothing and the cost to who of producing it.

 

The Dark Peak sells unisex clothing made exclusively using British products and manufacturing.

 

Where did the idea come from?

I had always wanted to start my own business but in all honesty, The Dark Peak began more as an experiment than a business venture. A friend and I read a story about a company in Yorkshire that still hand-stuffed duck down sleeping bags that were being used for serious expeditions. It amazed us that this type of industry still existed in the UK – very manual, highly skilled, cherished with the community and deeply connected with the past.

We asked ourselves, ‘I wonder what else exists out there?’ Before we knew it, we were travelling the length and breadth of the country visiting hand-knitters, shirt manufacturers and sixth-generation cobblers, all working under a veil of secrecy since the introduction of cheaper global labour, keeping these phenomenal, traditional skills alive.

The business fell out of that. We decided to reject the traditional fashion industry model of producing two collections a year in favour of utilising the downtime in factories between the production of those two collections for major brands – that would typically be a cost base for the manufacturers – to keep production cost of high quality garments as low as possible. That was saving we wanted to pass on to our customers.

Plus, the factories loved us! We were easy to deal with in comparison.

 

Production costs of our high quality garments were kept as low as possible by rejecting the traditional fashion industry model of producing two collections a year, instead utilising factory 'downtime' outside of this period.

 

What did you find most rewarding about the experience?

That first pint after your first sale. That’s pretty rewarding.

What lessons would you give others?

When you’re running your own business, you learn very quickly that bad suppliers don’t exist. If something goes wrong, it’s likely because they have been mismanaged. You can spend your time blaming others when things go wrong but when it’s your own business, that doesn’t help you. Instead, put frameworks in place that enable effective communication of your values and expectations early.

What was most challenging? 

Running a business. That sounds like an odd thing to say but it’s true. The thought of running your own business is such a wonderful idea but it’s anything but easy.

My co-founder and I used to joke between ourselves because when we incorporated the company, the two of us became directors in the business; he had a real flare and capacity for all things creative, so he naturally took on the role of ‘creative director’ but I was the ‘director of everything else’. Funnily enough, everything else is a lot of stuff: sales, marketing, supply chain, wholesale, logistics, finance, regulation. The list goes on.

Getting to grips with that stuff was the biggest challenge for me and for a very long time, we had no other option but to find shortcuts for absolutely everything in order to keep things ticking over.

Funniest anecdote?

People see the fashion industry as an extremely glamorous industry. We never referred to ourselves as a fashion business but people, none the less, had that expectation of us. One week, we were visiting one of our favourite manufacturers, based in the beautiful coastal village of Flamborough. Despite her very generous offer of a bed for the night, we stayed at one of nearby Bridlington’s finest establishments, three to a room. Far from the champagne lifestyle, we found ourselves drinking pints of John Smith’s in the hotel bar, watching a part-time magician entertain a room of people exclusively 50 years our senior. Amidst all the furore, we sat in silence. We looked at each other and just laughed until we cried. I think we all questioned our decision to start a business at that point.

How has the experience helped you at Market Gravity?

Starting, building and scaling a business can an extremely emotional experience. I suspect most people who have done it – for themselves, or somebody else – would vouch for that. Dealing with that emotional roller coaster is not something you can teach somebody but it’s certainly something you can support people with. I know from experience that having that person there when things feel like they’re going to the wall can be the difference between success and failure.

 

We learnt quickly to put frameworks in place that enable effective communication of our values and expectations early on. That was a valuable lesson and something I encourage anyone else to do when setting up a new venture.

 

If you'd like to talk over any ideas you have to launch a new proposition or how to overcome innovation challenges you're facing- get in touch.

lee.chapman@marketgravity.com

Find Lee on LinkedIn

You can find the The Dark Peak website which is a live project in progress here.


The ‘Secret Sauce’ series: Island Beers

Market Gravity look for something different in the people they recruit. They look for an ability to inject an entrepreneurial spirit into the innovation projects and propositions they’re working on. We call it the ‘secret sauce’ – it’s what makes our approach and the way we help our clients deliver projects that makes us different to other consultancies.

 

But how do we know if someone can inject an entrepreneurial spirit into a big company? Well. A lot of the team at Market Gravity are entrepreneurs in their own right. They’ve started their own businesses outside of Market Gravity – something the company advocates and actively looks for. They know the work it takes to get something off the ground. They are passionate about ideas in the same way as our clients are passionate about theirs. They're able to draw on their experiences in client projects.

Because we love to share, celebrate and support our team's entrepreneurial passions, we're creating a series of blogs about them. First up we chatted to Dan Avery who's one one of our Senior Consultants, about his business – Island Beers.

Tell us a little bit about Island Beers

"Island Beers is a craft beer business, creating beers brewed with interesting spices that complement the beer style. The result is a subtly unique and great tasting product (I am biased here obviously). We sell to a range of customers, most of which are passionate restaurateurs who like the interesting flavours we produce."

 

Dan and the Island Beers team

 

Where did the idea come from?

"We wanted to create a beer that complemented great food, in a way that not many current beers do. There are plenty of very good hoppy craft beer companies around, but not so many crafting delicate flavours to accompany meals and specific dishes."

What did you find most rewarding about the experience?

"Starting with nothing but an idea is a daunting place to be. With work and commitment, you gradually build this into something you are proud of that is beautiful (to you at least… and to others if you’ve done your homework) and when you see this on shelves or being drunk by diners (that actually chose to purchase your product) it is a very rewarding experience. But the best bit has to be ordering and drinking your own beer at a bar/restaurant."

What lessons would you give others?

"Be prepared to commit plenty of your energy, time and resources but commit them very wisely. Never commit to anything big until it is needed, until there is a definite demand or pull for it. E.g. create the smallest batch you can get away with, make the most basic visuals needed and so forth. You’ll find you can do less and achieve more with it. Premature scaling of any sort is an easy way to kill a good product company and it is the easiest way to kill a good product idea."

 

"With work and commitment, you gradually build (an idea) into something you are proud of that is beautiful (to you at least… and to others if you’ve done your homework)."
Daniel Avery: "With work and commitment, you gradually build this (an idea) into something you are proud of that is beautiful (to you at least… and to others- if you’ve done your homework)."

 

What was most challenging?

"There are some big moments where you find yourself far from your goal despite having travelled so far on your start-up journey. This feels demoralising and it is certainly demotivating. It is a little like rowing across a sea (stick with the metaphor here)- there is a point in the middle where you are miles from the shore you left and miles from the shore you’re headed to and things feel bleak. For Island Beers, this was when our first batch failed and we had to tip 3.5k bottles down the drain. This is where you must dig deep for your determination and commitment in order to drive things forward until that shore comes into view, complete with swaying palms and a beach bar."

Funniest anecdote?

"Lots of these… usually at our own expense! It always puts a smile on my face thinking about one of our batches that went a little bit wrong. A small flaw in the process led to around one in six of our beers being far too fizzy, to the point where it became quite comical. Every sales pitch, sample and drink after a long day was transformed into a game of Russian Roulette. If you won, you’d enjoy a smooth pitch or drink. If you were unlucky, you or those unsuspecting around you would receive a frothy deluge of delicately spiced craft beer. Whoops. Thankfully this little issue has been solved now!"

How has the experience helped you at Market Gravity?

"There are many things that can distract you when developing and launching something new. I think one of the most valuable things is to understand, or have an appreciation of, is the value of knowing what to focus on and what is a distraction e.g. Do you want to design for all those customer segments now? Do you really need to launch across all channels? Is there really a need for branded mugs? China??... But we’ve not even cracked the UK!"

If you’d like to talk about ideas you have to launch a new proposition or how to overcome some challenges you’re facing- get in touch.

daniel.avery@marketgravity.com.

Find Dan on LinkedIn

And take a look at http://island-beers-uk.com/ - you can order online!