Chris Dodson, founder of Concept Cupboard, explains why getting good software is all-important when setting up online, why getting exposure is vital when you start-up and why selling ‘isn’t as hard as all that’.
What were you doing prior to starting Concept Cupboard?
Before setting up Concept Cupboard I worked at an award-winning marketing agency, Archibald Ingall Stretton. I was a Business Director heading up parts of the O2 account. It was a fantastic place to work and a great account to work on, but the pull of starting from scratch was too much.
What motivated you to start the business?
It’s always been something I had wanted to do, so when and I had the opportunity to join forces with Guy, Simon & Julie (co-founders & board directors) I jumped at the chance. As a young entrepreneur I am very fortunate to be able to draw on their experience and have their support. It’s one of the main reasons our first 12 months have been so successful. As a team we feel that anything is possible.
Why did you choose to sell in this particular service?
All of us have worked in the B2B sector for most of our careers and we met so many business owners struggling to find high-quality designers, coders, etc who offered value for money. At the same time I saw all these brilliant creatives leaving university with limited opportunities to secure full-time work.
So Concept Cupboard put these two groups of people together online to work on design & marketing projects. The results have been sensational and everyone wins. The business owners get fantastic creative and our students & graduates get to build their portfolio and earn money at the same time.
What was the hardest thing about starting a ecommerce business?
It is the steep learning curve. You start by knowing very little, but if it is going to be part of your core business you need to become a bit of expert very quickly. Luckily we turned to SagePay who provided so much helpful content on ecommerce. That allowed us to ask the right questions, make informed decisions and set up in the right way first time around.
How hard was it to get sales moving in the early days?
It wasn’t actually that hard. We built up a lot of buzz before we launched and we leveraged our networks to make sure we launched with a bang. I’d say it is much harder to build on that momentum week on week. New customer acquisition is always our main focus. Making sure we do it efficiently and cost-effectively is key.
What ideas did you come up with to get the sales coming in?
As a privately funded startup we have relied heavily on social media and word-of-mouth. By leveraging our own networks and those of our friends we had a steady flow of customers from day one. To keep the momentum going we made sure we created newsworthy stories that publications like the Sunday Times wanted to run.
We also created opportunities for ourselves. The Big Bus Challenge was a national competition run by CBS Outdoor for the UK’s best advertising agencies. The winners would win £200,000 worth of free bus advertising for their client. I saw this as a great opportunity so organised an event where we invited 30 of our best young creatives to work on briefs from StartUp Britain and Not On The High Street.
In one evening we created some brilliant work and one of our pieces made it into the final, beating hundreds of agencies from professional agencies. That exposure and the proof that the work our creatives produce is high-quality opened a huge number of doors.
The event itself was such a success that we gave it a name – Concept Cupboard LIVE – and we’ve been asked to run plenty more in the future.
What software did you use (site build, shop cart, payment, fulfilment etc)?
Our site is custom built by our in-house team, but our ecommerce platform is provided by Sage Pay. It was so easy to implement.
Have you always used these and if not what made you swap?
We’ve used SagePay since launch and are very happy with the support we have been given.
What plans do you have to grow the business in future?
Last year was incredible and saw us winning numerous awards, including being named as one of the top 20 UK startups in 2011. It’s set us up perfectly for an even bigger 2012. We have just relaunched our website with new functionality and services on offer. Later this year we will also be expanding internationally. We’l also be looking into funding opportunities to ensure we can capitalise on our rapid growth.
If you could have done anything differently what would it be?
We would have brought more people into the team quicker. Like everyone you weigh up the risks and the costs associated. We waited until we were 100% confident, but looking back we could have brought people in about 3 months earlier than we did.
What’s your best sales tip for other business owners?
I have been given this advice myself and it really does ring true – “Pick up the phone.” You should be making at least 5 prospect calls a day to build the pipeline. It’s obviously not going to give you huge scale but in the early months it can really help build momentum and ease cash flow.