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Reflective Essay on the Entrepreneurial Experience

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

Prototyping
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.

Team-work
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.

Lean start-up
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.

Young Enterprise
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!

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Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Entrepreneurship

 

female entrepreneurs

This exciting year at University is getting close to an end, and we are moving on to our final, major task of the year: the dissertation.

I am writing my dissertation about female entrepreneurs, and I want to explore women’s key motivational factors, the reasons why there is no significant growth within businesses started by women, and why so few women become serial-entrepreneurs. After having finished my literature review, I have read many interesting articles about female entrepreneurs, and I find the topic very interesting because this is something that I can relate to, and I find it very relevant as this is a path I want to follow. So I wanted to write a blog post about it, and hope that more people can find this interesting.

Throughout the last decades, the number of women becoming entrepreneurs has had a significant growth, and they are increasing their importance for and contribution to economies all over the globe.  Global Entrepreneurship Monitor states in a report that in 2010 104 million women from 59 economies started and managed a new business, in addition to 83 million that already ran their business for more than three and a half year!
Even though, the majority of women ventures start up and stay small.
The literature discusses many reasons for this, but overall, women as entrepreneurs is a understudied topic, and most of the literature and research compares females to male entrepreneurs, which in many situations puts women in a poor light.

There could be as many factors motivating a woman to become an entrepreneur as there are women. Perceived opportunities is pointed our as a dominant motivational factor, but many still chooses to become entrepreneurs because they don’t have other job opportunities. Others choose to start their own company in order to be more flexible between work and family, or because they find it impossible to reach a higher level in their current job and want to become their own boss instead. Becoming my own boss is a factor I relate to, and would be my key motivational factor to become an entrepreneur, in addition to the freedom of being able to focus on what interests me.

One of the reasons discussed for slow growth within women businesses are obstacles that especially relates to access to external financial capital, although this is quite a discussed topic with different opinions. Some states that it is more difficult for women to access this type of capital, while others claims that there is not difference between men and women here, but there are few women that actually apply and use the financial resources available.
It is stated that the majority of women lack the self-confidence that is required in order to build and grow a successful business. And others claim that many women are just not motivated to grow their business any further!

The exciting part of the dissertation will follow now that I will start my interviews and do my own research on the topic 🙂

Are you a female entrepreneur? What motivated you? What are your goals for your business, how far do you want to reach?

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Entrepreneurship

 

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The Young Enterprise Start-up Awards 2012

As I talked about in my previous blog post, CUFF’D were chosen to represent Kingston University and London, together with Curpy, at the UK national Young Enterprise Start-up Awards this year! As the competition was held May 18th, and we got the news Tuesday May 8th, things got pretty hectic. Our investment proposal report and the presentation had to be done and delivered within Monday May 14th, so we had to start working right away. But with the amazing team-mates I have, this was of course no problem! It of course involved some brainstorming and discussions, and quite a lot of stress, but the results were pretty good.

So, Friday was the day! Unfortunately our fourth member couldn’t be with us, but the three of us together with the Curpy team, showed up at Bank station at 11am, ready for action!

We were let in to the Guildhall at noon, and had time to set up our stand. Again we had done some improvements, and here is the result of this version

At 1:30, the 5 teams participating, got a briefing about the day, before getting ready for the interviews. All the teams had a 10 minute interview with 5 judges, were they asked us questions from the investment proposal report. It was a bit scary, but we felt we did well.
After the interview-round, it was time for judging on our stands. The judges walked around, spending probably around 5 minutes at each stand, talking to us and asking us more questions. This time we got to show off more of our product and talk to the judges in a more relaxed setting. The last part of the competition was our 4 minute presentation. After hours of rehearsal, we feel we managed to show off our company and product in an interesting and engaging way for the judges.

4 part of judging – investment proposal report, interviews, stand and presentation – was over, and we could finally breathe again. Now we got to do what we like more, talk to everyone else who came, about our product! We got so many complements, and many were interested in it. We actually sold one as well 🙂

At 6, the moment we all were waiting for came. Every group presented once more, this time in front of everyone there (which was actually a bit more scary). It was really nice to see the other groups presenting. And then the moment of truth – awards!
There were four awards: best stand, best presentation, best investment proposal report and best overall business.
CUFF’D proudly left with the award for Best Investment Proposal Report!

Even if we were a bit disappointed that we didn’t win, and got to go to the European final, this really was a day we won’t forget! It was an incredible opportunity and such an experience. We got to meet and talk to people from Santander and other businesses, we got to be in situations we most certainly will meet again in real-life, when applying to jobs, presenting cases, and especially in business meetings with CUFF’D.
We got to work with some brilliant people, like Bracey Parish from Young Enterprises, and Fazl-E Hasnain, who both really believed in us, motivated us, pushed us and gave us so much support! Thank you so much to both of you! This was an experience I will bring with me in to my professional life, and always look back at with pride.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Celebrate Enterprise at Kingston University

Tuesday 8 May, Kingston University arranged “Celebrate Enterprise 2012“. This was an evening devoted to celebrate and award people working at, studying or alumni of the University, who have been engaged in entrepreneurial activity.
The awards were for Kingston University staff who had encouraged and supported entrepreneurial activity, and students (current of graduated) who had a high commitment to entrepreneurial activity.

I find it very nice to be awarded, supported and encouraged to continue with these activities in this way, and I can imagine that it should be very motivating for the nominated and the ones who won. Congratulations to all the winners!

For me, my team, and the Curpy team, the highlight of the evening would be when we were announced the “winners” of the best student business at the university, and chosen to represent London in the national Young Enterprise competition next week. The briefing we were provided after probably scared all of us a bit, as we realised what we are going to do, and how little time we have to do it. But this will really provides us with a great experience and opportunity. It will be hard work, but so worth it! What an honour 😀

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Entrepreneurship

 

Second trade fair

22 of March, we attended our second trade fair, this time in the market square in Kingston. After a pretty successful fair a month earlier, we were really excited about this, and had started preparing for it and developing our stand material some time in advanced. A couple of weeks earlier we had placed a manufacturing order of a number of products, and we were looking forward to be able to sell these on the fair.
Unfortunately, not everything in business turns out the way you want it too, and we ended up without any cuffs to sell on the fair. No matter how unmotivated this made us, we were going to that fair.

After a quick emergency meeting the evening before, we agreed on what we were going to do, and we further improved our stand material to adapt it to our new plan. We realised that we had to use the chance to talk to people, show off our video advert (which you can see here, in case you haven’t seen it yet), talk to people and promote our brand. This is how our stand turned out to be:

Even though we were maybe the only company there without products to sell, it didn’t stop us from giving people a good impression. We had many people coming over to look at our stand, talk to us, try on the test-cuff we had and asked about how and when we were selling them. It is possible that the fact that we didn’t have any products to sell then and there, that we created some curiosity and excitement behind our company, encouraging people to follow us online, and waiting to hear news about when they could buy it.

Since this trade fair was related to our course, there was judges walking around, talking to every company there. many of them were from John Lewis, and we got a lot of good feedback as well as tips on what we could improve. And to top off the afternoon, we also won a price for best stand! 😀

So, the conclusion from this experience had to be that: even if things don’t turn out how you expected or wanted, there can still be good things coming out of it. It’s all about turning the negative around to something positive, and in most cases that is possible 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2012 in Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized

 

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Aside

Tips on starting up your own business, how to be an entrepreneur, how to reach your customers, tips about marketing and social media, etc. etc. These are topics often written about and easy to find information about, and fairly easy to understand and implement. A topic I have found to be quite the opposite, is intellectual property. In several classes at uni they have had IP as a topic, and it sounds pretty straight forward. But I have to admit I found it far from straight forward when I started trying to actually go through the process.

Intellectual property (IP) lets people own the work they create (Intellectual Property Office, 2012). It gives you legal rights that protects your work from being copied by others. There are several types of IP protections, depending on your creation and it’s usage. So far it doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

There are four main types of IP rights, which you may have heard of. Copyright, Patents, Trade mark and Designs.
At the moment, Copyright is my favourite 😉 This C may look familiar?

What makes me happy about Copyright is that you don’t have to apply for it. It is just an automatic right that protects your work (does not protect just an idea). How great!! What can be bad if your work is only protected by Copyright, is that it can be difficult in some cases to prove that someone intentionally copied your design/product/work, knowing that it was your work. Without any other form of protection, is can be difficult to win your case.
In our case, Registered Design protection was the suitable IP right. It protects the look and appearance of it, and gives us legal rights to deny others from using our design. Application for this costs £60 for a single design. The protection is valid for 25 years, but needs to be renewed every 5 years.
Patents protect the feature and processes that makes things work (Intellectual Property Office, 2012). This is more for technical innovations. The IP Office normally charges between £230-280 for the application process in the UK.
Trade marks protects your brand, which can be words, logos or both. For this you have to apply in one or more classes, which states the class (or type) of goods and service you will offer. The costs for this application (in the UK) starts at £170 for one class, adding further £50 for every extra class. A trade mark must be renewed every 10 years.

The three types of IP rights all require an application process which can be complicated to do on your own. There are databases that needs to be searched through in order to see that no one already protected “the same” work as you, and there are forms to fill out. Getting legal help from someone who really knows about this could be helpful in many situations, but can be difficult for a start-up company because of the costs. Unfortunately your work is not protected worldwide when you have finally gone through this process. Besides from the possibility to apply for protection in the EU, you need to apply for protection in all the countries you want your work protected! Why make it easy when it can be made complicated 😀 everyone loves filling in forms and long application processes,right? :p

There is of course so much more to know and understand about the different types of protection. The first step is to understand what type of protection is right for what you want to protect.
For those located in the London area I can give you one good starting point: The Business and IP Centre at the British Library. Here you can get can one-to-one sessions with advisors, help from the staff, access to helpful books and workshops. So if you are at the confusion-stage where I was some time ago, take a trip there to get some starting help. That’s what we did, and after our visit, it all made a little more sense.
GOOD LUCK

Have you ever gotten your business/logo/product/design protected? How did you find the process?

Some parts of business is more complicated than others

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Entrepreneurship

 

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Using social media in business

When studying an entrepreneurial course it is really great to be in a university where they have a high focus on it, help us and support us, and offer a wide range of helpful events. The other day I attended a masterclass about how to use social media right when doing business. The session was held by the very talented Lisa Myers from the company Verve Search. It was a really interesting and helpful class, and Lisa clearly knew what she was talking about.

Social media has evolved in an incredible, unbelievable speed the last years, and we don’t seem to be able to avoid it, neither on a personal level or when doing business. This video gives an idea about the revolution of social media

When you start realising the amount of people it’s possible to reach through social media you quickly understand that it would be stupid to avoid using social media in business! As a short introduction to social media, I will use some of Lisa’s presentation content because I thought it was very clarifying.
What is social media? If you ask around about it, you will probably get answers like these:

But this it NOT social media.
Social media is all about YOU, and what WE DO
with the technological tools like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc…It’s about communicating via these tools; using the tools and add something that gives meaning for you and who you are trying to reach.
It is important to always thing about why you are using social media, and what your objective for using it is.

I am not going to go in to too much details about what all the media Lisa talked about, but here are some small tips to think about:

BLOGGING: A blog should be your business’ social home on the web, a place where you give your product a personal voice, and where you develop a positive online reputation. Use a blog to reach a wider audience. Hosting your own site is beneficial!
TWITTER: NOT a broadcasting tool, but a COMMUNICATION tool. Follow, comment, listen and communicate with others that have the same interests. Don’t overthink your tweets, try to be personal.
FACEBOOK:
people are usually more “relaxed” on Facebook, and uses it most for personal matters. I really liked this metaphor that Lisa gave us: Facebook is the sofa in the livingroom and Twitter is the kitchen. In the sofa you relax and disconnect, it is in the kitchen you are active and talk and communicate.

I really enjoyed this session , mostly because it was not just a class where someone talked about theory and how things could be, but we were given very specific examples on how to do things, and I felt it was a very helpful and useful session to attend. I feel I understand a bit better now how to use some of the social media in our business in a right and effective way.

– This class gave me the push I needed to start getting more active on Twitter, so follow me and tweet me: @SusanneFagervik

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2012 in Entrepreneurship

 

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