EDIT: This blog was created 14-months into Plyhome's journey, we're now a much bigger team (you can read about that here), but we will never forget our humble beginnings and this blog is intended for those starting up in the business of 'making stuff' from scratch.
Some start-up businesses are literally built by one or two people. Plyhome isn’t one of them. Yes, Plyhome at its core has been created by two people who had the right mix of complementary skills, but what neither of us had 14 months was experience commercialising a design for retail.
Now we do! But at the start of our journey it was all new to us. The purpose of this article to publicly thank the people who have helped us get to where we are today, because they’re all legends in our eyes. But we’re also taking the opportunity to share what we did right, and what we did wrong. Hopefully, our experience can help other business-owners to be.
The long game:
It took 14 months to get from first conversation about going into business together, to making a sale and then another few months nailing down the last few details, including getting this website live. Getting to market faster than that would have taken more money, more dedicated time, more people.
“At times it felt like it was never going to happen, a 3 steps forward one step backward kind of game”.
But we got there! Actually, I’m glad we took our time. We’ve learnt a lot about each other, we’re going into our first official year of trading with eyes wide open and know exactly what we want this business to be: now and in the future. So, here’s our start-up journey learning – all laid bare. In amongst it all are our thank-you’s so that you can see why we’re so grateful for them.
First up: what we did wrong!
We took a while to learn the discipline of knowing when something is done:
Rips and I work really well together in the design process. We love it, it’s definitely our happy place in business. Gradually editing designs is all part of the process, but you can’t prototype forever – especially if the designs don’t need it anymore! Our stool set took 5 versions before we were happy. Knowing when to step away and acknowledge them as ‘done’ took us a long-term to learn and looking back, we could have saved ourselves some time. But the main thing is, we now know. Sounds easy in principal, very hard in practice and something only learnt through experience.
We under-estimated how long it would take:
The only people who truly know how much effort we’ve put in are our respective partner and husband. They’re the ones who’ve had the solo dinners, who’ve had distracted, sleep-deprived shells of partners, who’ve seen money diverted into a start-up instead of elsewhere. Thank you doesn’t cut it. There would be no Plyhome without their understanding and willingness to support it over 14+ months.
Two other people who have been beyond patient with us are the best retail partners any brand could hope for: Becks & Luke Bradley at So Beau Baby. They believed in us so much based on a phone call. They waited as we got ready to commercially manufacture. Because it’s one thing to have a great idea, it’s quite another being ready to make it happen. We’re wiser now. We know how much effort it takes. How much money it takes. We’ve had a crash course in manufacturing for retail, and they’ve waited for us to get up to speed. We will never forget that.
We tried to operate on a shoestring:
We fell into the trap that most start-up’s fall into. We tried to get going with a shoestring budget. It didn’t work. Newsflash: manufacturing is a rather expensive game to be in, especially in NZ. At one point, things came to a grinding halt. We needed more money. We got more money. Things happened. Amazing! Don’t get us wrong, we would love to be launching with more bells and whistles and have got some pretty cool stuff planned but just like I tell the kids: “Just because you want something doesn’t mean you get it: sometimes you have to wait”. We’ve prioritised what we needed to and have our wish list sorted.
We spread ourselves way too thin:
Rips has a full-time engineering and joinery business. I was working corporate part-time & kid-wrangling too. It doesn’t take a genius to see why it took us longer to launch than hoped! In late 2016 I quit my corporate role, reduced my hours and became a contractor instead. Rips expanded his team so he didn’t have to be so hands-on with his other work. Both took a lot of sacrifice but things are easier to manage now.
We were stubborn:
Some stuff went wrong. We made some wrong decisions. Some of those decisions were really, really expensive. It's was hard for us to just walk away and put it down as a lesson learned. If you happen to have a stubborn streak (both of us do, guilty as charged) you throw everything you have to try and fix it. You work until 3am for weeks. By the time you realise that there was a better, easier option waiting for you all along you literally want to cry. I did. Pretty sure Rips wanted to. But, our decision making abilities have improved. We're now more pragmatic. So really, it's a win.
What we did right:
We welcomed all opportunities that came our way:
There would be no Plyhome at all if we both weren’t open to new opportunities. Rips and I only met in the first place because of Earl Hope-Pearson. He was the guy who connected my original furniture idea (which bears zero resemblance to our final designs by the way) with Rips’ design & joinery skills. We both took a chance on a random meeting, and here we are now. Another example is when we got a call from the local paper for an article. We weren’t quite ready for PR. But we did it, and then it got syndicated to Stuff Business (thanks Simon!), which opened a lot of doors, including being in Idealog, one of our favourite publications: all thanks to Arriba PR . Some things are just really important to say yes to, and we’ve largely gone with our gut on what they are.
We listened and learned.
We listened to those who know. John Duke, Kristin Lunman, Irwin Munro, Haley Ashby, Thomas Rabone, Nick Churchhouse & Richard Cutfield. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us and generously connecting us to others who could help. Through you, we’ve not only being given sterling advice, but have sourced some superb contacts we’d have taken a long time to find otherwise. We also joined online learning communities for areas we needed to up-skill in. Facebook groups were invaluable with so many members willing to share their knowledge, to provide honest feedback and to give referrals. Podcasts, webinars and videos were also gold: if you want to know any of our favourites, just send me a message and I’ll happily share.
We got a business coach:
It’s not just all about learning. You could very easily get stuck in a state of information overload. What really counts, is the doing. We had so.much.to.do. Helping us get it all done, stick to the plan and not lose sight of the next phase while we’re in the nitty-gritty of ‘doing’ is Lance Jensen from Red Hot Business Consulting. Lance is basically Plyhome’s personal trainer. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear. He tells you what you NEED to hear. He also holds you to account like a shouty instructor in a gym class (only he’s not at all shouty). We really rate him, but listen to a few of his videos here and make up your own mind.
We made sure we had the right team around us:
The workshop boys: Greg, Brendan, Josh, Miles, Jordan and the late Scotty for your hard work, your banter, your loyalty. Max, Paul & Spyro for your always reliable contributions. And going wider than our business team, to Jodie & Fi: wonderful friends who let me raid their homes for props and design a pop-up showcase from scratch. To all our family and friends who have stayed interested in the business before it became a thing, who’ve heard our updates, who’ve been willing to chip in when needed. Who say yes when you say "Umm, so - this Baby Show I've said yes to - want to work the stand with me for 3 days? For free?". We are very lucky to have those sort of friends and we definitely know it.
We outsourced our admin:
I’ve said it before, but outsourcing all our admin to virtual assistance from Strictly Savvy was one of the best decisions we made last year. To us, it’s just a complete no-brainer, but that’s not where my mindset was when we first heard of the concept. See why I changed my mind & what it’s like to have a virtual assistant here: but hands-off Lynette & Katy & Kylie. They’re too awesome to share (OK you can…that’s the whole point).
We knew family came first:
As some of you may know, 2016 had a huge moment of sadness for Plyhome. We lost one of our staunchest supporters in a tragic car accident. Our workshop team was hit brutally hard. It was a horrible shock, and it came when they were knee-deep in a big engineering job that Scotty was project managing. When we got the news, we stopped everything. Our team needed time to grieve, to focus on what’s absolutely the most important thing beyond anything else: family. You can read about the post about Scotty here, because he was a pretty special man and he deserves to be honoured. It’s now 4 months on and I know that Scotty would be really proud of how Rips looked after everyone, including Scotty’s kids.
See: it took a tribe!
We cannot wait to see where 2017 takes us and look forward to introducing you to a bunch of new products we’ve got up our sleeves. But in the meantime, thanks to you too – for taking the time to follow our story and getting involved with our updates on social media. As a start-up with a teeny, teeny tiny marketing budget: it all makes a massive difference to us.
Over and out. We’ll be in the workshop…