Self-Starter Stories: From opening a brick and mortar before turning 19 to founding a business for made-to-measure blinds
By: Nadine Burzler
This week's #selfstarterstory features James Taylor from Make My Blinds, a startup based in Bristol, UK.
Make My Blinds, the trading name of Espresso Internet – was founded in 2015 by 2 friends; James and Ryan.
Fed up of trying to order made to measure products online, they figured there must be a way to make this process simple.
'We only have one aim, and that is to make buying made-to-measure blinds online, as simple as possible.'
#PickYourselfUK caught up with James Taylor to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey.
Looking back, what lead you to be where you are today?: Not wanting to go to university, and then a few years after opening my first business deciding to partner with my best friend from school on his first business idea.
What was the most challenging part of starting a business?: Gaining traction. Having started both brick and mortar and eCommerce business, I can tell you that online is much harder to get going. Getting meaningful, organic traffic and good rankings on Google is key to your success. We're still battling with trying to rank for some meaningful search terms with good traffic.
What did you want to be when you were a child?: A pilot in the RAF - but only flying fast jets.
What was your last job?: Before I started my first business ( A greengrocers that I opened a week before I turned 19), I worked Saturdays and school holidays in a butcher's shop. Working for yourself doesn't count as a job for me, otherwise, my last job was content creation about 20 minutes ago....
When did you choose to PICK YOURSELF instead of waiting to be chosen by someone else?: I remember telling my parents before getting my A-level results that I didn't want to go to university and wanted to open a greengrocers instead. This came about as customers I would serve in the butchers would keep asking where the nearest fruit and veg shop was - and that was the inspiration I needed. When I told them of my plan they were very supportive and said to come back with a business plan and they would help me. They've been self-employed since I was born so they were very supportive towards my plans and obviously a great help in working everything out.
What is your favourite business book and why?: I set out to read 1 book every month as a new years resolution in 2015, now I'm on over 80 books now and still counting. My favourite is probably Tony Hsieh and 'Delivering Happiness' - Zappos was a brand I had never heard of until I read his book, but the attitude towards customer service is something I am try to replicate with my eCommerce business.
Do you do everything yourself? What do you outsource?: We aim to do most things ourselves, like content creation, SEO, Adwords etc. Some things like web development needs to be done by people who know what code is, but otherwise with things like SEO I have learnt as much as I can, worked out what outsourcers are generally selling and now can hold my own against SEO 'experts' - this means that when we do outsource this service eventually I know what's going on. Not being in control, or not understanding what people are doing scares me.
What is your productivity secret?: Love what you do and you won't mind working long hours. Also write a list and tick off as much as you can by the end of the day - break big jobs down into steps and ticking those off day by day to get to your end goal.
How do you market your business?: Marketing so far has come from Adwords (painfully expensive if you don't get the ROAS - return on AdWord spend), writing blogs to target long tail keyword terms, and reaching out to bloggers in the interior design/home improvement area who will write a blog post in exchange for a free blind. With online marketing it's all down to AdWords, retargeting and SEO - they are what I spend 90% of my time on.
We are also trying to gain referrals from happy customers, although this is a much longer lead time than if you like your friend's T-shirt or Jeans, blinds are not exactly glamorous or exciting, but is an area we feel we can make big improvements to.
When you first launched, how did you get your first paying customers?: eBay and Amazon.
We knew that building an e-commerce blind website was not going to be quick, especially coming from a food background so we started selling our products on eBay to help build our profile with our suppliers, get some money turning over within the business and so we could learn as much as possible before launching our site.
How did you get your first traffic to your website?: I think it was because of Adwords, however, we burnt through so much money in a matter of days as we had no real idea on what we were doing. We had something like a 1% click through rate which was shocking. Now we have a 10% click through rate, monitor our budget and our returns. We are constantly altering and testing to make sure we are as optimised as possible. Only now, nearly 2 years in, are we starting to see organic visitors to our site. It's all down to Google unfortunately, and trying to rank for some of the larger and more valuable search terms is a labour of love - but it will be worth it!
What would you say to someone who is toying with the idea to start a business but haven't yet?: Do your research. I must have looked into and researched 15/20 different ideas, all with legs - but for one reason or another never carried through with them. If you can do it on the side for a while to build your experience they try to do it that way.
If you could have dinner with one entrepreneur, who would it be and why?: Elon Musk - the guy is truly crazy in my opinion (in a good way), but will be one of the people that the world looks back on in years to come and thanks for what he is doing. To be CEO of Tesla, Space-X, Solar City and now The Boring Company, and being so disruptive in each of their markets is truly amazing.
To keep up to date with James' journey, connect with him via his social media channels below:
James Taylor has qualified for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017. If you'd like to enter yourself or nominate a small business entrepreneur for this award, please submit your story below.
Voting for the #PickYourselfUK Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year award 2017 will take place in November 2017 so make sure you get your entry submitted to qualify.