Q&A: Jennifer Duthie Skribbles
Name: Jennifer Duthie
Business Name: Skribbies
How did you decide what business to go into? Before starting Skribbies I had launched and run other online ventures and the experience from this has been of immeasurable help in growing Skribbies in a more efficient way. The idea for Skribbies actually came before the ideas for my other businesses but I knew it would take a long time to develop and I wanted to get more experience as an entrepreneur.
How did you come up with the business idea? It was a simple day dream that started the Skribbies journey. I was reminiscing of when I was a child sand was obsessed with fabric painting. It struck me that it would be cool if you could draw on your shoes then wipe off and start again from new. I was convinced the idea existed but after researching I realised I had stumbled upon a simple yet amazing idea. Then the hard work really began to design and develop the product, brand and packaging.
How did you go about setting the business up? Before I really got going I looked into whether we the margins for the product would work. I also reached out to as many people as possible to act as mentors and got recommendations for accounting and legal assistance. I planned out the steps that would be required to go from idea to market ready product and then launching and marketing the brand and then actioned them.
How did you fund it? I funded the early development and design of the shoes with my own savings. Once we were ready to go into production we raised money from family and friends who took equity in the company. These funds allowed us to produce our first container and get it to the UK.
Did you have a business plan from day one? Once we knew Skribbies was more than a pipe dream we started pulling together the formal business plan. What was critical before the business plan was working out the costs and potential gross profit the product could generate. We needed to have a business plan to raise the equity for funding production so we took time to carefully project finances and create a comprehensive business plan. We have found that we update the business plan on a monthly basis as things change frequently and the business plan needs to reflect this.
What were the easiest and hardest aspects to setting up? It was easy to do formalities like register the company and get things like the website and social media up and running. In the UK it is relatively easy to set up a company and launching the social media side of things was easy as I had done the same with my other businesses. Building the website was also easy as one of the companies I already have is a web and app design company called Masala Nerds. Having spent several years living and working in India we have a team of excellent coders out in India that help us create websites for clients and myself or my business partner take care of the design of these websites. I think the biggest challenge for us was finding the right manufacturer. We spent a lot of time trying to find the right people to work with and I even went out to China on a sourcing trip. Once we had launched the biggest challenge we had was to get the word out there which you never anticipate will take as long as it does.
Did you use skills from your previous working life or were you going into the unknown? I have never worked in the footwear, kids or fashion industry so that was totally new for me. I had to learn as I went with Skribbies. I made sure I surrounded myself with people who had experience in the industry and I have been lucky that the kidswear industry is friendly and open. I have been lucky to have met some inspiring and supportive people who have been critical to making Skribbies the brand it is today.
What stage is your business at now? I would still describe us as a startup company as we are still in our first 6 months of trading. We are beginning to see good traction in sales and are getting international distributors contacting us. However, we would love to build our wholesale order book and be stocked by more major retailers.
What has been your biggest business achievement? Being shorlistlisted as the Shell LiveWIRE young entrepreneur of the year 2013 was amazing. Skribbies won their monthly award of £1000 before we had even launched and then I was shortlisted for entrepreneur of the year in Nov 2013. I didn’t win but it was incredible experience nonetheless. The other young entrepreneurs were truly inspirational and it was very flattering to be considered as good as them and the publicity was fantastic.
How do you market the business? At the moment we focus on social media and PR. As an early stage startup we don’t have £100,000s marketing budget so we have had to use the most cost effective methods for getting to word out there. As the business grows we will experiment with other forms of advertising and communication. We have found print ads do not work for us at all.
What’s the best marketing tool you’ve had? I am surprised buy the power of twitter actually. I was never a fan of twitter before launching Skribbies but knew we had to have a presence there for the sake of the company. We have also found entering competitions has been helpful in generating coverage and excellent for networking.
Where do you want to be in 3, 5 or 10 years time? If Skribbies can emulate the success of Crocs and Uggs prior to the recession hitting I will have achieved my goals for the company.
If you could start your business again, what would you do differently? I would be less cautious and more confident in myself. I spend too much time making decisions especially when they are costly and this makes the business progress more slowly.
What resources are available to you now that you wish you had access to when your business was young? I wish I had employed a sales team right from the beginning as it would help us get the product out there faster.
What resources do you NOT have now that might make your life easier? A huge team of people to support us and the funding to pay them!
What‘s next? Where are you heading? For us 2014 is all about getting Skribbies into as many retail stores as possible and to sell the products internationally through distributors. Our French and German websites are already live and we want to invest more in Marketing in these core EU markets. We’re also hoping to grow the team. We are looking to raise a second round of funding in 2014 and have already got our advanced assurance for the seed enterprise investment scheme which gives great tax benefits to investors.
What are your top tips for anyone following in your footsteps? Just do it!! Don’t be afraid to fail. Surround yourself with great mentors and learn from their mistakes.
Have you overcome any life challenges? Have you made any life achievements that you’d like to share? The most pivotal point in my life so far has been when I lost my job with Lehman Brothers. One minute I was in a well paid job in a role I loved working with exceptional people and the next I had nothing. It was extremely difficult to find another job after that and the experience tainted by opinion towards the corporate world. No matter how much you think you are valued you will always be a dispensable number. I am lucky that this happened early in my career as many of my older colleagues had their life savings in Lehman stock and watched them disappear in an instant. Losing my job put me on the path to become an entrepreneur and I don’t think I could ever go back to a corporate role again.
Everyone has them, but how do you get through your bad days? When I have a bad day I always ask myself if I will remember this day or this bad situation in a year’s time and what will I think of it then? The answer is always that it will be a speck of a memory if at all and this makes me feel better. I also make sure I always tell myself that being an entrepreneur is like being on a roller coaster. There will be amazing peaks but to enjoy the peaks you have to feel the falls too. Also as I become a more experienced entrepreneur I see that failure teaches you more than success and that it is ok if things go wrong it’s all part of the journey.
Who do you talk to about your business (who do you ‘bounce’ off?) I am lucky that I have a lot of female entrepreneurs around me so I can speak to others who are running businesses and taking care of home too. I also have an amazing sister who is a real rock and as she is in the online fashion industry is able to give me a lot of advice and just generally be a friendly ear.
What advice would you give another woman considering starting her own business? I am a huge supporter of learning by doing and not having regrets in life. As long as you have done your homework and know your business will make money i.e. you can sell for more than you buy then just do it! In the UK there is also lots of support for budding entrepreneurs especially at the idea stage so make sure you check out the programmes, mentoring and funding available for you.