Category Archives: Startups

Startup Stories – Julian Bradley of jazzherobooks.com

The internet has opened up a world of opportunities for people to make a living by sharing their talentJulian Bradley 2 color online.

One such person is my friend and fellow Lancaster graduate Julian Bradley. In the latest of our Startup Stories, he shares some fantastic insight into his business jazzherobooks.com and his life as an LA-based jazz pianist.

Q) Tell us a little bit about yourself, how did you become a jazz pianist?

A) My name’s Julian Bradley, I’m a music education specialist, born in England, now living in Los Angeles. I studied music at undergrad and masters level, and was lucky to have several world class music teachers. After seeing a Wynton Marsalis concert aged 17, I became obsessed with jazz piano, and went on to read every book I could find on the subject.

Q) Talk us through a typical day in your life…

A) I’m very type A, and most days I work long hours. Most of my time is focussed on lesson filming, or video editing. I have a studio setup exclusively for filming jazz piano lessons – the piano, camera, microphone and lighting are always setup, so I can film anytime. The video editing I’ll do at a coffee shop. Aside from my work, health and fitness are important to me. I play sport daily, and try to travel often, since my occupation now allows me to do so. I try to leave LA every few weeks on a 3 day road trip with my wife or friends, and keep a fresh perspective on what I’m working towards.

Q) Can you tell us how the website got started, where did the idea come from?

A) My youtube channel was started as a side project. I had no intention of making income from it. My mother-in-law had lent me a book, which talked about ‘giving back’. I realized that I’d never given anything to anyone without wanting something in return, and that I should try giving something. I’d been learning a lot from youtube on various topics, and it occurred to me that the one thing I probably could explain better than most would be jazz piano, having read so many books on the subject. I spent a Sunday afternoon filming 3 lessons at the piano. I uploaded the videos on youtube, and pretty much forgot about them. A month later, I needed to login to the email I’d used to setup the account, and was surprised to see over 50 emails from youtube notifying me of new subscribers to my channel, which seemed like a strong sign of interest, especially compared to my ‘composer showreel’ I’d posted a year prior, which had only received 100 views (mostly from me).

A few months later, I emigrated to California, where my wife is from originally. I was unable to work for the first 5 months, while waiting for my green card to be processed. I had to do something productive with that time, and decided to make more jazz lessons and see where it took me. Simultaneously, I started reading about online income, and I gradually started pushing myself to get comfortable charging money for some material.

Julian-Bradley-Piano

Julian Bradley – Jazz Pianist

First I became a ‘YouTube partner’ and remember the amazing feeling of earning $3 on the first day! Then I pushed myself to add a PayPal donate button (it felt awkward because I had genuinely made my videos without any financial incentive). In the first week I received 2 donations, which made me realise that some viewers probably wanted to pay for something – I just hadn’t given them anything to buy yet. So I created a $10 ebook to test the water, and announced it at the end of one of my lessons. It sold. Then I spent a month creating a $30 bigger ebook, and announced it. It sold. Then I did the same again for a $50 ebook, and it sold. Now I’m venturing into larger products, including membership to my new ear training course which I’ll be launching next month. I’m continuing to increase my comfort zone when it comes to charging for products, valuing my skills, and raising prices. After all, it’s entirely down to me to make the video making sustainable. Only by charging for some material can I continue to make future videos. No one else is going to make it happen.

Q) Can you explain your business model?

A) I make a free video lesson for a commonly searched topic, e.g. ‘tritone substitution’. I’ll aim to make the best lesson of all time on that topic. I’ll end that video with a call to action – ‘if you enjoyed this video and want even more in-depth material, click on the link below to find out about my Jazz Theory ebook…’

Q) Do you outsource any work, if so what, how and why?

A) Currently I work with a website developer who creates my subscription websites (while I make the lesson content). But my goal is to outsource all tasks that are not within my skill set – I should only be focussed on making videos, and educational products – teaching is my strength, so I’m in the process of outsourcing all other tasks such as customer service, audio mixing, and possibly some of the video editing.

Q) How have you funded the business?

A) I probably went full-time with my business a bit early. There was a stressful 12 month period – I’d released my $30 ebook, and found myself having to post a new lesson every Friday just to generate enough sales over the weekend to pay bills and high living costs in LA. I was working incredibly hard, all the time, and only breaking even. And living in LA away from my family meant there was no safety net. I couldn’t even afford a flight home during that time. My friends who had regular jobs seemed to be relaxing every evening, and I turned down a lot of invites to social events during that time.

Ultimately, there came a point when several large bills were all coinciding – several thousand dollars were due for an immigration service, rent, health insurance, and some essential car repairs. I had just 2 weeks to think of a solution, and even contemplated walking people’s dogs and mowing lawns. I knew the answer lay in my youtube audience, which was putting me in contact with far more people than I could ever meet in person – 4000 daily views and 30,000 subscribers. I decided to write a complete book on jazz theory… from scratch. I completed ‘Jazz Theory Explained’ in 2 weeks – 100 pages of writing, image creation, links to relevant videos – everything. The imminent deadline really focussed me, I couldn’t be a perfectionist, and that book has turned out to be my most popular book by far. Not only did I pay off the imminent bills, I made several thousand dollars extra profit, completely unexpected. I realized that actually, my first book had been a failure in comparison. I’d been promoting something that most people weren’t interested in. Since writing ‘Jazz Theory Explained’ book, I’ve been much more relaxed financially, and now I’m able to enjoy my work and maintain a healthy balanced lifestyle.

Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?

A) There’s certainly plenty of music tuition online. My content is far more advanced than any other I’ve seen. For a while I thought maybe I’d do better if I covered more basic subjects, for a wider audience. So I tried some beginner lessons but found that my advanced material is far more popular – which is good because that’s the stuff I’m interested in.

Wynton_Marsalis_2009_09_13

Jazz hero Wynton Marsalis

Q) What does your typical customer look like? How do you keep them engaged?

A) Most of my audience are retiring men, who have worked in a non-music career for many years. Only now are they able to explore their passion for music / jazz with the time needed. That said, I also have many younger viewers, mostly piano players and guitarists.

Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?

A) Currently, my traffic comes entirely from my ‘how to’ videos. I only make a video if it’s a searched for topic, and then I gradually ask the viewer to subscribe, watch another video, join my email list, or buy a book, and so on. I will be venturing into SEO and paid advertising with the launch of my more expensive ear training course.

Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?

A) The biggest mountain to climb has been creating my ear training course. What I naively thought would take me one month, has now taken 12 months to complete. I’ve learnt that any creative project I start seems to turn out to be 10 times more work than I imagine, at least. So from now on, if a project seems like a lot of work to begin with, then I don’t take it on (unless I have a team). Small projects turn out to be big projects, and big projects turn out to be absolutely huge projects… so now I stick to small projects (which are actually big projects).

Q) Who has inspired you in working for yourself/starting your business?

A) I had a good friend at university, who was very clever, but lacked discipline. I could never imagine him in a regular job – he’d just never turn up on time. I was out of touch with him after graduation, but met him 3 years later. He told me he’d partnered with a friend, and developed their own SEO software, which they used to keep their website ranking #1 on google. Their website was selling an expensive product and taking commission, and they’d been traveling the world for 12 months, returning with more money than they’d left with. His story is what planted the seed in my mind of what’s possible online, and that’s when I started researching online income streams and making a living online.

Q) What would be your advice be to anybody looking to make money from sharing their talents online?

A) Make lots of quick experiments and see what sticks. Don’t make the mistakes I made – being a perfectionist in the early stages. You never know which things are going to take off, and which will fail. The best approach is to set a short time limit on each small experiment you try (a blog post, a how to video, a podcast, etc), and then see which takes off – then follow up with more of that.

Q) What are your tips for startups who need help with getting stuff done?

A) I’m always conscious of the 80/20 principle – 80% of the results are generated from 20% of activities. I’m always doing an 80/20 analysis of my life – what are the 20% of activities which generate the most growth in my business and ultimately, income? In my case, it’s video making, and product making. I could easily get distracted with social media, playing around with WordPress, or replying to every single email, but in my case, these are not income generating activities, and I should not be spending much time doing these. The other rule I bear in mind, is that ‘work expands to fill the time available’. So I try to impose time limits on myself always – this might be going to the coffee shop to work without taking my power adapter, forcing me to finish the video editing before my battery runs out.

Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?

A) There’s many ways I could go with what I’m doing, but mostly I let the audience drive what happens next. I survey my audience regularly (through surveymonkey.com). I’m always trying to find out what people struggle with the most (musically!), what keeps them up at night, and then to solve that pain. That’s what lead me to tackle ear training – it was the most requested topic in every survey, so I’ve created an ear training course. I’ll continue to survey my viewers, and create new content, products and services based on their feedback.

Startup Stories – FLEXiSPACE

If, like me, you have recently been gripped by the strangely compelling show Storage Hunters, you may have become curious about the self-storage industry and the characters behind it.

Like many businesses, self-storage is an American concept, becoming popular across the US in the 1960s. It is only in the past few years, however, that it has emerged here in the UK.

Marc Studholme, Flexispace

Marc Studholme, FlEXiSPACE

I caught up with entrepeneur Marc Studholme of FLEXiSPACE, one of the first people to bring the self-storage revolution to Britain.

I asked him how he got started and his future plans for expanding the business in this burgeoning market.

Q) Can you tell us how the business got started, where did the idea come from?

A) The UK self-storage market is growing and set to double in size over the next 10 years. It provides a flexible property solution to businesses and Individuals that is relevant and aligned to modern day living – we all have more “stuff” our lives are faster moving and space can be an issue.

Q) Can you explain your business model in very simple terms?

Converting a large warehouse into lots and lots of small rooms (like a hotel layout) that customers rent and use to store items or as a place to work.

Q) What does your team look like?

A) Each Store has an Operations Manager, a Sales Manager with central Financial and Marketing controls.

Q) How have you funded the business?

A) The business is funded by personal investment by the directors and modest bank support.

Q) How did you get from idea to product, was there much project management involved?

A) The concept is location centric, so the majority of research is in selecting sites that provide the best demographics, visibility and access. Once the sites are located, each are individually project planned and costed alongside comprehensive research as to customer potential, competitive threats and so on.

locations

A FLEXiSPACE location in Manchester

Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?

A) Today FLEXiSPACE has competition (both direct and indirect) yet the pace in which awareness is increasing is greater than the expansion of competition. We stand out against our competitors due to our branding, modern appearance, staff recruitment & training, our entrepreneurial flair and commitment to ensure our business is as compelling and relevant as possible for our customers.

Q) What does your typical customer look like? 

A) The simple fact is that anyone can use our services, however depending on life events some are more likely than others. Typically or services are used be people who are moving home, decluttering, operating a business – storing stock, equipment, documents, running an event close by, going travelling or simply need more space in their life

Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?

A) Finding the correct locations and the significant construction project that follows. Thereafter, ensuring we maintain a steady stream of enquiries from individuals and business that have a need for our service.

Q) What is your advice to anybody who is considering starting a business?

A) The best advise is “Just Do It!”, plans are great but reality will always be different. Work out the basic principles ahead of time and then just jump in the deep end and learn how to swim!

Q) Who has inspired and helped you in starting your business?

A) The inspiration for starting the business emerged from the business partners, however there has been a number individuals and businesses that have inspired us along the way. These include: Active Supply & Design, Lustalux, Westwood Fire & Security, The Self Storage AssociationBlue Van Hire and Fat Media.

Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?

A) Multiple, although the drive by and online channels typically provide the most activity.

Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?

A) The outlook is to open additional stores where sites and supporting demographics support, whilst maintaining our USPs and brand values.

Startup stories – Girl Meets Dress

In this week’s feature, I interviewed Anna Bance of fashion rental Startup Girl Meets Dress.

Anna Bance  - Girl Meets Dress

Anna Bance – Girl Meets Dress

Q) Can you tell us the story of how you came up with the idea of Girl Meets Dress?

A) The Girl Meets Dress story began in 2009 when I was working as UK PR Manager for French Luxury brand Hermes – and like my previous roles in the fashion industry, it involved lending the collection of dresses and accessories out on a daily basis to fashion magazines, shoots, celebrities and journalists…I thought to myself “wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all borrow dresses for just one event, and wear a different designer for every event in our calendar?”

When my co-founder Xavier and I looked into the market we saw that no one was doing it. We were the first company to rent luxury fashion online and it is wonderful that Girl Meets Dress is now pioneering the way for rental as a new and exciting ecommerce category of its own.

Q) Can you explain your business model in very simple terms?

A) Online luxury fashion rental. Women can hire the hottest designer dresses and accessories for up to 95% off retail price. We have over 4,000 dresses from over 150 international designer brands.

Q) What does your team currently look like?

A) The wonderful thing about an ecommerce company is the exciting variety of team member with extremenly different skills / backgrounds, all working together each day to make our customers happy. Our customer service team is currently the largest section. We also have Marketing, PR, Graphics, Buying, IT, Social media, Content etc. We are growing fast!

Q) How have you funded the business?

A) We have 100% bootstrapped the company, self funding until the summer of 2013 when we raised our first round of investment funding from Global Founders Capital.

Q) How did you get from idea to product, was there much project management involved?

A) We very simply put a basic website live and confirmed demand for our product. Once you know the market potential exists and customers are excited, you can build on that and expand further. The early days are all about testing. My co-founder and I were the only ones involved in setting up Girl Meets Dress. Finding a co-founder with different skill sets to you is a brilliant way to launch without needing to hire a full team on day 1. If you can split the main areas of the business between you, then you can launch with minimal cost and test the product at market.

Girlmeetsdress.com

Girlmeetsdress.com

Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?

A) We are lucky as we do not have many competitiors in the online rental market. We have the largest selection of dresses and accessories from 200 designers from over 50 countires, resulting in us becoming the UK’s leading luxury rental service. Our relationships with our designers are crucial and the aim is to bring together the best dresses from all over the world – from both UK new talent to worldwide established brands. The mix and varied selection of these designers on one site is what will hopefully mean that every woman visiting will find the perfect dress no matter what her event!

Q) What does your typical customer look like?

A) We are growing at over 100% and our customer demographic is very varied and exciting, ranging from a 14 year old girl off to her school prom, to young professional women who have 5 weddings this summer +various social occasions and need a different fabulous dress to each… to Mothers of the Bride looking for that perfect look on the big day.

Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?

A) When we started, ensuring we have a full team in place while bootstrapping was no easy feat. We were lucky to find so many hardworking and ambitious staff to stick with us and the vision.

Becoming knowledgeable in so many different areas is challenging but it definitely helps to have 2 co-founders with complimentary and different skill sets. Fulfilment and logistics is an area which has to evolve and improve all the time as the company grows and orders increase. New processes and staff roles have to adapt to demand for the product to maintain efficiency.

Q) What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?

A) Although not 100% necessary, I recommend choosing an area that you know something about. There are exciting ways to pioneer every market, whichever field you love. Of course, you can learn about any new topic – but will you be able to compete with people with years of knowledge and expertise.

Don’t over think it. There will never be a perfect time to leave your secure job, risk your salary decrease, take a chance on an idea which might not work – but what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll go back to your previous role until you come up with the next idea!

Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?

A) We have a dedicated team working on our SEO through our blog whilst our CRM Manager deals with our 170,000 newsletter marketing. We’ve found that both of these, combined with our PR team running regular social media competitions and campaigns, have worked well for us in terms of conversion. When you’re a new company the most important and impactful skills to have for converserion is the ability to promote and market the product and brand to get that all important traffic through the doors – PR has been a huge element for us both online and offline.

Thea Green - Nails Inc

Thea Green – Nails Inc

Q) Who inspired you to start the business?

A) There are so many amazing entrepreneurs who are pioneering brilliant and useful business that are making our lives easier and more enjoyable. I love attending business events and networking so I get to know them all. Thea Green has been incredible in her ability to turn Nails Inc into a global brand – the company keeps on getting better and better.

 

Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?

A) Without giving anything away, Girl Meets Dress is proving the potential to be huge!
 We have ambitious and exciting plans for the year ahead. We want to continue to grow the collection of stock, the team, and to innovate within the wider Fashion space. 
We will continue our leadership of this emerging space and be in a position to wow our customers in every way possible and to forge a brand and quality of service which women will wonder how they managed without, giving women access to the biggest closet in the world!

Startup Stories – Netberg

Michelle Cuccovillo

One of the biggest barriers to doing business online for SMEs can be setting up an ecommerce platform, which can be confusing and expensive. In addition, marketing the products and sorting out the logistics of supply and delivery can be a headache.

Startup Netberg is aiming to simplify the process, by enabling users to create simple web pages where they can sell products, as well as taking care of billing and distribution.

I caught up with founder Michele Cuccovillo to discuss the business in more detail.

Q) Can you tell us how Netberg got started, where did the idea come from?

A) Like many innovative ideas, ours came from a co-founder’s personal experience of a market need. Our co-founder, Jubin Nouri, had always helped his parents, who own a pharmacy, with their business website. He wondered why there was no way for a small business to have a website that was free and easy to use, where it was also possible to sell products. He talked to his best friend, Lorenzo Rando and myself about the idea and we both agreed with Jubin that this was something that did not exist yet.

We realised that many small and medium businesses are not online, because either they do not know how to be online, or they do not see the importance of being online. Small and medium businesses have to work very hard to compete with big corporations, especially online, as they do not have the capacity to spend a lot on a website’s design or SEO. Netberg is an online community that allows these small and medium businesses to stand together, whereas the power is in the numbers.

Q) Can you explain your business model in very simple terms?

A) On Netberg, businesses can create their free business web page in only five minutes, so that the world’s customers can see what they do, what they sell, where they are, when they are open and buy their products or services online. Last but not the least; Netberg also manages payments and door-to-door pick-ups and deliveries. This way, we take all the hassle away from selling online. In return, Netberg earns 7% commission on sales generated on the platform.

Netberg team

The Netberg team

Q) What does your team look like?

A) Our team currently consist of eleven people. We have three directors and co-founders, five young and eager interns and one sales leader base in London, and one director of sales and one director of partnerships based in Italy.

Our team members are all creators and world changers and firmly believe nothing is impossible. We work as a flat organisation, and we value our team satisfaction as much as our customers and shareholders. At Netberg, we encourage a fun and collaborative work culture within our office space and we live and breathe a can-do attitude.

Q) How have you funded the business?

A) So far, Netberg was founded entirely with our directors’ own savings. That was actually a great experience, because it helped us all realise that it is possible to achieve great results creatively without spending any or little money.

Netberg is currently part of the Accelerator Academy, a high growth training and mentoring programme in London. We hope that we learn enough during the process to attract investors who share our vision and understand the potential of Netberg.

Accelerator Academy

Accelerator Academy

Q) How did you get from idea to product, was there much project management involved?

A) After Jubin had the initial Netberg idea in February 2013, he shared it with Lorenzo and myself. Not long after that, we started working on the business plan. At the same time, Jubin started working on the thousands lines of code that make up our website, together with our web designer. In February 2014, the first few interns joined the team, selected from top universities across Europe. The beta-version launched shortly after the interns started, and they did a lot of work testing the product with our clients. On 14th May, we launched our final product, with a brand new homepage, during our launch event at Google Campus London.

Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?

A) Many other companies offer online presence for businesses. However, we are different; we created a new concept that stands between three categories of competitors.

The first group consists of website generators. These companies provide businesses with a stand-alone website for a monthly fee. These websites generally do not attract many visitors without investments in marketing or SEO. They also offer too much customisation, which is nice but often complicated and very time consuming.

The second group of competitors are the online business directories. These directories cannot be used to sell online, they often have outdated information on them, and the business owner has little control over his business page.

The last group are the e-commerce platforms. These platforms only focus on the products, not on the business identity. They also do not promote off-line presence, and they have a complex pricing system.

Netberg is different compared to these competitors in various ways: a business owner can create a page for his website in under 5 minutes, without needing IT-skills. On Netberg, the business pages are part of a searchable network. They have a built-in e-store where they can present and sell their products hassle-free. The pricing is also clear, as we work with a revenue-sharing scheme. The business owner can create his webpage for free, and when he sells online, Netberg earns 7% commission.

A Netberg e-store

A Netberg e-store

Q) What does your typical customer look like?

A) We believe that all businesses should have a website, even just a simple one. Our websites are suitable for any SME, while our e-commerce is specifically tailored to businesses that sell physical non-perishable products that are easy to ship.

That means we approach all kinds of businesses: from shoe shops to butchers. We focus on these local SMEs because they generally do not have the time, money or skills to set up a website for their own business. We also make these businesses part of a community, so they can stand together with other SMEs, and survive despite the power of the big corporations.

Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?

A)When we started working with the team and launched the beta version, we had two main problems on our path. The first one was budget. We did not have a big amount of money to spend for marketing campaigns and advertising. That is one of the reasons why we joined the Accelerator Academy: to learn and prepare ourselves for investments.

The second one was time, as we have many ideas for activities that would make the company grow but unfortunately only limited number of hours within a day.

Q) Are there any services or tools that you can recommend for startups who need help with getting stuff done?

A) For a small company, the Google apps are great. We use Gmail, which is integrated with Google Drive, Calendar, Google Hangouts, etc. We use Buffer to schedule our Tweets and other social media activities. It is an easy-to-use tool, which lets you schedule your social media activities and see them all in one clear overview. Mailchimp is great for small scale email marketing. We used it to design and send the invitations to our launch event. For designing our marketing material, we mostly use the programs by Adobe, such as Photoshop and Illustrator.

Mailchimp - great for email marketing

Mailchimp – great for email marketing

Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?

A) We have been trying many different approaches to reach business owners. We started preparing the sales strategy in early February, and immediately identified two main channels: direct (email marketing, telemarketing sales and face-to-face visits) and indirect (business associations, public bodies, etc.). Recently we signed a contract with the biggest business association in Italy, Confcommercio (over 700,000 businesses associated), which should help us scale very quickly from autumn onwards.

Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?

A) Netberg has many plans for the future. After achieving the first target in UK and Italy of bringing many businesses online, Netberg plan to land to the US. The US is one of the biggest e-commerce markets and it would be a great opportunity worth exploring. Besides the US, plan is also to expand within the EU tackling major countries like Germany, Spain and France. Our vision is exactly what our tagline says: to bring all businesses online.