23 September 2011 was the day when this incredible adventure started. I met up at Knights Park along with a big group of other excited student, curious about what this model was all about. We meet our lecturer, Corrine, who uses this first class to explain us what this model is all about, what we should prepare ourselves for the coming year, and especially make us focus on creativity and observation. We were sent out to different stores in Kingston in teams, to observe how people act in different situations. This was going to help us look at actions and use observation in the future to think about and create solutions that could make life easier for people à create innovative solutions that would make you an entrepreneur! As Peter Drucker said:” Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth”
Within a month after the first class, I had managed to make a team together with Hanna, Eva and Maha, and we started brainstorming and started the process of creating our own company. We used the observation-tips from our first class by thinking about what problems we had both experiences ourselves and seen amongst other, to think about what kind of product we could make. Many ideas were discussed, and it was really difficult to actually choose which one to go for. But in the end, every box was ticked when we started thinking further about the cuff with pockets for cards and cash. We created our new business: CUFF’D
Next step was prototyping, which is a crucial step in order to test, evaluate and clarifying a product (Ezine Articles). After a class about prototyping, we were all engaged in making a prototype of our new product. With Hanna as a fashion designer this was no problem. Drawing on leather, cutting and sowing together, and we ended up with a great prototype that was ready to be tested. This was also what we showed in class when it was time for every group to reveal their ideas. It was really an interesting process, to see the product we had only pictured in our minds and sketched on paper, take form into something real, and I really understood how important a prototype is in order to improve a product, and to get feedback from potential customers.
Throughout the coming months we all learned a lot about team-work, and we figured out our own way to work together as a good team where we had good communication and understanding, respect for each other, learned from each other and became good friends. A blog-post from Kalina about teams made me realise that we could actually define ourselves as a team and not just a group working together, as “A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to acommon purpose, set of performance goals, a common approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” (Katzenbach and Smith). Parts of the reasons we worked so well together was probably the fact that we were all so motivated to create this product and make this in to a successful business. In addition, we saw that all four of us had different skills that the rest of us could learn from, and we all felt we had some things we could teach the others.
Rob Fitzpatrick came to visit our class once, and introduces us all to the Business Model Canvas, a tool that would help us connect the different areas of business together, see how they affect each other, and what needed to be improved. It allows you to play around with ideas, customers, markets and see what fits. It allows your to be innovative and let your ideas run wild. This was a very useful tool in the start-up face of our business, and definitely a tool I would use again in the future when I want to start up another company. After this class, Rob contacted us and wanted to write about CUFF’D in his blog. We kept in contact with him through these semesters and got many good tips on what we could do. It felt safe and comfortable to have someone with more experience supporting us and guiding us when we needed it.
Creating a network of other entrepreneurs is actually one key factor that is discussed to be important in order to become an entrepreneur, or succeed as an entrepreneur (Langowitz and Minniti, 2007). During these months, I have had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing and talented people, who are engaged in helping people start their own business, and who has started their own business. It is very motivating to get to know these people, and I see that they are valuable contacts for the future.
Dealing with challenges
We learned the hard way that not everything in business goes as you plan. We experienced some pretty big problems with our manufacturers, which caused delays for delivery of the cuffs which resulted in missing sales opportunities for us. But this was just one of those situations we had to try to make the best of, and handle it in another way. As Dermalogica founder Jane Wurwand says: what ever is your challenge is your opportunity! For our trade fairs, when we did not have actual products to sell, we had a strong focus on making people aware of us and our brand, letting them try a sample we had, encouraged them to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, check out our online shop, and we also made an order-list where people could sign up to get information when the products where ready, and be first in line to buy them. These activities seemed to work out well, as we gained more and more followers online, and several of these people actually bought the products when it finally arrived 🙂
Marketing and social media
One of the many events Kingston University has set up throughout this two semesters, there was one I found really interesting and helpful: How to use social media right in business. Lisa Myers from Verve Search had a great class, with so many helpful tips on how to use Facebook and Twitter in our business, which really made things clearer for me on how we could use these medias for CUFF’D. The Entrepreneur Magazine has written a good text about how to use master the social media multitasking, where they state that is important to create a strategy, don’t re-post the same content in every media, and to treat your followers like customers.
For CUFF’D we have mainly focused our marketing activities on using social media. We created a Facebook page and a Twitter account, where we have kept people updated on what we are doing, promoting our online shop and products, as well as trying to interact with them and make them feel important for us.
Using social media in a business is very different from using it for your personal life. I found it very hard in the beginning to use update these accounts for CUFF’D, because I didn’t know what to write. But it helps thinking that your followers are your customers and your future customers, so it is always important to remember to think about the company’s reputation when posting, and thinking about the different ways that the message could be perceived by different people. With some help from the rest of the team, and the session with Lisa Myers, I now feel much more confident using social media from a business point of view, which I see as a valuable skill to bring to any other job in the future, and to use when I want to create my own company later.
After our second Dragon’s Den, in May, which was also our final business presentation, CUFF’D was one of two teams (together with Curpy) who was selected to represent Kingston University and London in the national Young Enterprise Start up Awards 2012. It was such a great honor, and an amazing experience. We got to experience the real-life situations a company faces when wanting to do business with investors, retailers, customers etc. We were being judged on an investment report, a stand, an interview and a presentation. We got a lot of good feedback, and comments on what we could improve, and again we meet relevant people who were interested in our company and products that we hope to get in touch with and start a dialog with.
This was also an experience I see as very relevant for the future, because we had the real-life situations, but also because Young Enterprise is very well-known in Europe, and could put me in contact with relevant people for my career.
There is no doubt that this has been a hard, emotional and challenging year. Maha wrote a great blog-post about the story off CUFF’D, a story we are so proud of! In another course I’ve had this semester, we have learned about starting a business, but in the way the theory describes it. And if there is one thing I’ve really learned this year, it is that theory and practice is two completely different things. When doing it in practice it can be helpful to have learned some of the theory to back up some of the decisions you make, but theory without practice is close to useless in real life.
This course has been very valuable for me by giving me the opportunity to start up a company, which I want to do for myself again in the future, in a safe and supportive environment. It has been scary and so challenging, but we have had the safe frameworks around us making sure we are just taking the risk we are able to deal with. The experience and knowledge I have gotten from this year is priceless, and will always be something I will take with me in to any job I will get. In addition, it makes me so much more confident that I will actually start another company of my own one day.
Although, it is not just the knowledge I will take with me. All the people I have met in class, all the different views and cultures I have learned to work together with, and especially the relationship I have created with my team-mates is something I will bring with me in to my future career, and always value.
Even though this is a blog-post summing up this year, and in a way indicated the end of this adventure, the story of CUFF’D is hopefully not over yet. We are exploring the options for protecting our brand with intellectual property, we are discussing our next plans and strategy, and exploring the many possibilities of developing our product. The company is like our baby, that we have developed and helped grow, and the feedback we have received throughout this semesters have been way beyond what we ever imagined when we started. It has motivated us to keep going with this business we have all become so attached to. The exciting part of our business is the way we can see ahead, with countless of opportunities. We are the only one who could really set a limit, and we are not planning on doing that! The fact that the four of us probably will end up in four different countries by the end of the summer is sure a challenge, but we choose to see it as something positive and a possibility to be present in four different markets!
This course has really changed me as a person. I feel more confident, more creative and motivated. It has made me in to a better team-player, and allowed me to learn skills I probably wouldn’t have learned in another way, and especially meet my incredible talented team-mates that I really admire and who has helped me grow in so many ways.
I dare to say that it has made me in to an entrepreneur!