My Week: Stuart Conroy of Activ8

Bored of his job in banking IT, Conroy decided to sell mobile phone parts from his garage. Now he's moved on to all manner of high quality adornments for smartphones and tablet PCs.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

Around the year 2000, I was working in IT for the various banks, and I got bored of it pretty quickly. So my brother-in-law and I set up a company from his garage, selling mobile phone spare parts and unlocking equipment. I originally got involved to build the website for the company. When it first got going we were using British wholesalers, then we moved to Chinese wholesalers, but now we have our own chartered factory out there.

By 2008, we starting to push some branded products out to the market, with high production values. The acceleration in our business has come from that as we were one of the first to market with high quality phone covers rather than the tat that you often see. We had to change the business model to obtain higher prices for our products, but now we’re spreading out to Africa, Australia and Eastern Europe, so it is paying off.

It’s been a quick progression over the last 10 years - we started in that garage, then we had a shop, and then by 2004, we moved to an industrial unit. Now we’ve got 34 people working for us in the UK, and another 140 working for the partner company doing the manufacturing in China.We fund a Chinese a company to work solely for us. We can control the supply chain from source, which stops other people using our branded stuff.

It’s a very busy schedule. I’m up at 6am every day. We have a management meeting on Mondays to know where we’re all at and note things down that need to be addressed during the week. That afternoon I make sure to speak to lots of employees and a few customers to keep my ear to the ground. 

On Tuesday this week, I had a meeting with a leading blogger for our industry, as he wants to feature some of our products. Then on Wednesday, I was on a flight to Oslo to meet with a customer there and discuss a distribution deal for the business in Norway. Then on Thursday it was over to Stockholm for another similar meeting. Then I flew home for Friday and had a creative strategy meeting. It used to be just me and one of the girls designing the products, but now we have a creative and design team of six working on them. Then finally, today I am taking the afternoon off to go and play golf with a mate.

I try to go out to China and meet our factory heads a few times a year. We try to be innovative where the fashions are concerned, so we want to know all about the new manufacturing techniques and different textiles and fabrics. That means my wife and I visit a textile market near the factory (it;s about the size of 50 football pitches), and try to pick out some cutting-edge stuff.

To give you a flavour of the kind of products we do: we’ve been collaborating with Rosie Fortescue from the TV show Made In Chelsea. We’ve been working with her to get her design input on some new units. It’s going to be a high-end product and we’re producing samples at the moment to whittle it down to something we’re all happy with.

The best thing about running the business is the flexibility. I was in the banks before and working all kinds of hours, which is something I have more control over now. You can’t kid yourself into thinking that you’ll just work four hours and then hit the golf course, but I do have some flexibility, which is nice. The toughest thing is knowing when to stop working, the discipline of making sure you go home at a reasonable hour when you can. We’re so busy that the days often fly by and you feel you haven’t done enough, but there’s virtue in knowing when to switch off.

If I had to offer some advice to other entrepreneurs, it would be to make sure you love what you do. If you’re doing it because it’s an opportunity for a lot of money and nothing else, then that will wear pretty thin after a while. Whatever business you’re in, passion will make all the difference.

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