Born In A Shed – My Thoughts On 5 Years Of Business

5-years-of-business-survival-and-growth

A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business. – Henry Ford

This week stolen goat turned 5. Despite owning pairs of jeans that are older than this – I realise that 5 years is not an insignificant amount of time to survive in business.

The word ‘survive’ is apt here. The first 5 years (at least in cycling) is all about staying alive, staying in the game. The same can be said for most industries these days. Four in ten businesses die in the first years. Cash flow is the major issue, getting access to traditional funding is super tough for a new or infant business. Crowd funding is an option but as we saw with Vulpine this year, the results can be… disastrous, unless managed correctly.

It’s close to home time on Friday, my team are on holiday deserving a well earned break, and I just had a nice lunch with our good friend Paul from The Cyclist Lounge who rang initially to congratulate us on growing to this stage. What a nice chap.

All this got me to thinking about the business and how we’ve got to this stage and what the future holds. The following may or may not help you if you’re in a small business or thinking of taking the plunge…

Born in a shed ///

Our current office isn’t super fancy, there are no slides to get down the stairs or sleeping pods or in house chefs. But frankly we love it, and the crazy thing is that 2 years ago I was running this whole business single handed from an office we built in the garden at home.

I say office, but essentially it’s an insulated shed with power and WiFi. Humble beginnings indeed! Those days were particularly crazy. All small business owners know the feeling of wearing all the hats. I was the designer, product manager, web developer, sales rep, operations manager, marketing manager, customer service rep, book keeper and general dogs body.

The idea that I could freely ride my bike was a laughable proposition in those days. And that’s the crazy nature of small business. It was a roller coaster back then, very hard on the family and tough to cope with mentally as well as financially. A big thank you to those who helped out with my mental and financial state in the early days and beyond, you know who you are :-)

Surviving Doesn’t Work ///

The trouble with merely surviving is that it’s an incredibly fragile state to be in. One false move and you’re toast. The first 1-2 years are very much like this, you have to make key decisions and you have to live with them. Hopefully you make the right ones.

But surviving needs to be a short term strategy. Growth is the only way to make things better. Over the last 3 years we have grown more than 1000%. That may sound impressive, but the reality is – if that didn’t occur we simply wouldn’t be here. 3 years ago we were surviving. At that point I started to looking to the future, how to make stolen goat scalable, and ultimately how to grow.

I took a decision early on to ensure I wasn’t a bottle neck in our growth. This meant getting a proper warehouse facility to take care of our shipping. That way we could hold much more stock and ensure we could meet the demands of our growing customer base. At the time it felt expensive, now it’s essential.

The next step was to hire a proper designer. I’m no designer. I have a view on design, but I’m not Leftfield enough to be an awesome Designer. Trevor aka Big Chief was our first hire. The designs that roll out of his brain never cease to amaze me.

Over time, I’ve been fortunate to find some of the most talented people I know to work for stolen goat. Hiring Rob, our Content Manager, and then Andy, our Operations Manager, not only freed up my time but made us so much more efficient, and scalable. They also happen to be incredibly awesome people (and bike riders). [Love you guys].

Hiring people always feels expensive. You question how the business will pay for this. But if you hire great people, they will add value, and soon enough you wonder how you coped before.

This is growing, not surviving. And done right it works. Whether we sell 1 thing or a million things next year, we have the resources to cope. Don’t stunt your growth by clinging on too tightly to those purse strings.

Relationships Don’t Just Matter, They’re Essential ///

We’ve done business with some incredible brands and people over the past 5 years, and things are only getting more exciting on that front. Just like in life, it is essential to work on your business relationships. Give and take is essential, there will come a time when you need a favour or two. Be helpful to others, even if it doesn’t bring you financial gain, and you will eventually be rewarded. This is a long term play but one that is vital to growth.

Our customers are the ultimate example of this. From day one of stolen goat the strategy was to super serve our customers. In today’s society this is exceptionally important. And the reality is, a huge part of our 1000% 3 yr growth is down to the way we deal with the wonderful humans that choose to spend money on our brand. There is so much choice in the market place these days, a lot of great brands with different offerings, but ultimately I think people want 2 things from a purchase –

  1. to feel good about what they ordered
  2. to feel good about how they were treated.

If you are fortunate, as we are, to have a great product range to sell then point 1 almost (almost) takes care of itself. Point 2 takes work and commitment, but if you get it right then word spreads. There is no better marketing medium than your current audience.

Scrap the “great deal for new customers” rubbish. Just offer great things to your existing customers, people work it out fast enough.

Investing in customer service is the best investment any business can make, so long as they want to grow and not just survive.

Grow But Not At Any Cost ///

This is just my view point. And it differs from many business owners.

A few cycling businesses have collapsed this year. Some of them fell victim to the “grow at any cost” mentality that has spread from the Silicon Valley Tech Scene. As a former engineer in an American software company – this mindset has not been lost on me. But the reality this is cycling, not Tech. It’s unlikely that Facebook or Google will buy us out for $1 billion anytime soon but that doesn’t mean we can’t create an awesome, profitable, friendly business that supports its staff and customers.

There is nothing more fulfilling in business than providing another person with a salary, a means to thrive and grow. But laying people off is not something anyone enjoys. My advice here is to grow with caution. If you gain access to funding from investment or some other means – that doesn’t make you a “baller” or high roller – it makes you someone responsible for a large sum of cash. You need to spend it wisely, if you don’t then you’d better have some answers prepared!

Your business is your baby. Give it everything it needs to grow and flourish, just don’t spoil it as a result of your ego / vanity. Failing is fine, and should be encouraged… just consider the consequences before you roll that dice.

For me, business is a long term play. It’s how we treat our staff, our customers, our business partners and filters directly into our pricing strategy and so much more. Build something you can be proud of, something that will work as well, if not better, in 5 years from now… and hopefully the money will come.

It’s A Roller Coaster But One Hell Of An Adventure ///

Without a doubt, this has been a crazy ride. But frankly I’ve never been happier. Thanks so much to all the stolen goat family who make this business work and thrive, and thanks so much to each and every one of you who has ordered from us or even just subscribed to the newsletter. We love you, and we can’t wait to crack on with another 5 years.

 

Adventure More

Tim.