What was your lightbulb moment for Smarter?
I started Smarter three years ago. It wasn’t so much a ‘lightbulb moment’ as a new take on an existing industry. I started with the most commonly used room of the house (the kitchen) and the most commonly used appliance (the kettle) and looked at how we could disrupt the market, not just by improving on existing features, but by creating entirely new ways of saving people time and money. I spent £100 building a prototype of the iKettle – which you can pre-boil from your iPhone – and pitched the product to retailers. We launched on Firebox.com, became the number one product after only two hours, and sold 1,000 units overnight. We moved into mainstream retail with listings in John Lewis, Currys and Harrods, then went on to launch two new products: the Smarter Coffee Machine and the FridgeCam, a wireless camera that fits inside your fridge so you can check its contents from your phone. Smarter has an annual turnover of £20m and we employ 30 people.
What were your biggest mistakes?
When our first shipment of 10,000 iKettles arrived from China, none of them worked. I still remember that feeling of dread; I’d raised £15,000 from friends and family to go into production but the business seemed doomed to fail the moment the stock arrived in the country. I literally had to unbox and fix every single kettle. Orders were sent out late, retailers threatened to pull out and we had to offer heavy discounts. It was a costly mistake. The lesson: always make sure you verify your suppliers and have a cash buffer.
What are your tips on trading overseas?
If you want to drive revenues, you need to look beyond your home market. We expanded into Europe in 2015 and the States last year. We now supply major retailers all over the world and have just signed a deal with German appliance manufacturer Liebherr. My first tip is to manage your cashflow really carefully. We make a lot of payments to suppliers overseas, particularly in China, some of which require cash up front; we use an American Express Gold Business Card® which enables us to make payments quickly as well as helping our cash flow through deferred payment terms. We can pay via the American Express portal or with the card. When you’re a start-up, speed and flexibility are crucial. Second, keep a close eye on exchange rates. Watch out for fluctuations and make sure your price points are correct.
Where do you get your entrepreneurial spirit from?
I watched my dad toiling away for someone else in a traditional 9-to-5 job – with little return. He encouraged me to do better and to make something big for myself. I started my first business at the age of 17, importing MP3 players and selling them online, and went on to launch Folio, making folders for carrying large documents. I appeared on Dragons’ Den, secured £80,000 from Theo Paphitis and spent five years working with him. He taught me a lot about growing a business and the discipline of buying and selling at certain margins.
How American Express can help small businesses
The American Express Gold Business Card is designed to help small business owners manage finances, improve cash flow and stay in control of everyday expenses. It offers up to 54 days deferred payment on purchases1, 24/7 assistance wherever you are in the world, and has no preset spending limit2. You can also earn one Membership Rewards® point3 for every full £1 spent on purchases. These points can be used to offset everyday business expenses, and be redeemed and spent on items like flights, gifts and office equipment. A welcome bonus of 20,000 Membership Rewards points is on offer if you are approved and spend £3,000 in the first three months of Cardmembership (and have not been enrolled in the Membership Rewards programme in the past six months)4. The first year of Cardmembership is complimentary (usually £125)5. Visit: americanexpress.co.uk/business
Terms and Conditions: If you’d prefer a Card with no annual fee, rewards or other features, an alternative option is available – the Basic Card. 1 The maximum amount of time for deferred payment on purchases is 54 calendar days and is obtained only if you spend on the first day of the new statement period and repay the balance in full on the due date. 2 No preset spending limit does not mean unlimited spending. Purchasing power can adjust with your use of the Card, your payment history, credit record, financial resources known to us, and other factors. We reserve the right to apply temporary spending limits in accordance with the Cardmember Agreement. 3 Membership Rewards points are earned on every full £1 spent and charged, per transaction. Membership Rewards points are not earned on interest, fees (including default fees), balance transfers, cash advances (included cash transactions treated as cash), loading of pre paid Cards, American Express Travellers Cheque purchases or foreign exchange transactions; and any amounts that are subsequently re-credited to your Card Account by way of refunds. Visit membershiprewards.co.uk/terms for full Membership Rewards terms and conditions. 4 Shortly after the end of the three months, 20,000 bonus Membership Rewards points will be awarded. All introductory offers are subject to change and can be withdrawn at any time. 5 Cardmembers who are enrolled or have been enrolled in the Membership Rewards programme in the last six months, are not eligible for the bonus. 6 A £125 annual Card fee will automatically be charged to your Account on or after the anniversary of your Account opening date. Applicants must be UK residents, aged 18 or over. Approval is subject to status and terms and conditions apply. American Express Services Europe Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.