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A LOOK BACK
A lot has been going on since the airing of our Dragons' Den episode back in September 2017 and with the next part of the series now on TV, I thought I'd give you a sneak peak into our journey from filming, to the show airing and to now having Deborah Meaden on board. And what a journey it has been. Our business has taken a big leap on since we filmed back in May 2017 including experiencing largely unpredicted levels of growth, we've made our first two hires and we've been working closely with Deborah and her team to help take our business to the next level. Three things we definitely didn't have on our minds one year ago. So let's recap on the last 12 months.
2017 started in a pretty manic way. I flew back and forth from America for 2 months doing trade fairs (as Ben got married by a stunning Australian lake), then Ben and I visited our factory in China in March before Ben flew over to the UK for the filming of Dragons' Den in May. After this, with Ben now firmly back on the beaches of Bondi, safe from what the Brits call 'Summer', busy season was upon us. And we felt it was time to make our first full time hire in preparation for this. We already worked closely with 2 part time contractors, Rita (UK) and Audrey (USA), who work from home and whom have done an amazing job in keeping the clogs turning and making sure all customer and wholesale orders go out successfully. They've stuck with us as we've grown up quick and have been a big part of our journey. But now it was time to look to full time employees too to add to the squad.
WELCOME TO THE SQUAD
Along came Lizzie, a young and dynamic new hire with a history of taking a risk in early stage start-ups so she knew the ropes. And also, Lizzie had surprisingly agreed to sit in an office with me 5 days a week on an ongoing basis. The biggest test. Lizzie's focus would be to help grow the marketing side of our business and push our brand out there to the masses. In the meantime, in our new office in Battersea, London - I was filtering through pages and pages of due diligence, trying to keep our new investor and her team, happy ahead of signing any deal.
Skip forward nearly 3 months to August, having now prepared more documents than I had done for my university coursework submissions, the contract from Deborah Meaden was presented in front of us by her team. The next bit of the journey, was a huge learning curve for me and although frustrating at times, quite an amazing experience. Over the course of 2 weeks, contract negotiations begun and being honest, most of the contract didn't make much sense to me. So I sought advice from lawyers, our accountant Paul, my Dad and anyone who would listen to try and make sense of all these fine legal terms.
I then sat on the phone with Ben, with all that information and we decided what terms were really important to us to change and what parts we were happy to leave, even with advice from our lawyer. Real life and words on a contract are very different things and we just wanted to be happy that the areas we were most passionate about weren't being limited by the contract. One of the biggest ones for us was having the power to create an 'Employee Option Scheme' without having to sign it off.
Employees are the absolute core of any business as you grow, these are the people that hold the business together and the people that may potentially run the business one day if we were to step back. We weren't willing to sign any contract that didn't allow us to reward employees in the future (without sign off). Employees that go above and beyond their duties and become invaluable in these early stages, need to be rewarded in the right way. Share options can give them stake in the business and that extra drive to help grow our business at pace. We want to create a business that people love to work for and feel a part of our future.
Deborah is a very impressive 'people person' and stayed away from any contract negotiations. This makes complete sense as contracts can appear quite personal things, when they are not at all and should never be looked at in that way. It's just everyone trying to protect their own interests in the best way possible. This meant that when we did finally sit down with Deborah (with Ben on the phone), it meant we could get stuck straight in to the exciting next steps for the business, without having the less fun contract terms weighing us down.
The whole experience of signing the agreement, felt a bit like a movie at times. For 2 weeks, I was on and off the phone almost non-stop with multiple stakeholders, ironing out the agreement. One day I got on a 2-hour train and had a conference call for the duration regarding the contract as I stood in the corridor with my laptop on a ledge, as passengers went in and out of the toilet. I kept cutting out and Ben was struggling to sign on from America where he had recently moved to for 6 months (not ideal).
At the end of the journey, I jumped in a taxi and spent 45 minutes on the phone to Ben, laptop open, making our final contract decisions before getting home and jumping straight on a call with Deborah to have a general catch up for the first time since the Den. The headphones didn't leave my ears for about 4 hours but I loved it, as it was a new experience that you'd never get working for any corporate. It also showed once again, how you can literally run a business from anywhere. I could have been sat IN that train toilet, no-one would have known.
BEHIND THE SCENES
In the lead up to the Den airing and having finally signed the contract, Deborah was extremely hands on in getting us prepared for our TV debut as well instantly opening doors in areas where we required assistance and improvement. We have now hired a design agency based on Deborah's recommendation, have been introduced to a contact of hers who knows manufacturing like the back of his hand and also someone who could potentially open us up to the world of cruise ships. A very interesting market for us.
I was also lucky enough to have a photoshoot with her at her house in Somerset. As I sat with Deborah on one of our towels on the floor with our backs against each other, I really did think 'How in a million years, did this happen?!'. We had to crop Ben in as he was all the way over in Washington DC but don't tell anyone. These are the type of workarounds you have to pull out when running a global business from opposite sides of the world.
Another funny experience, was when Deborah came to visit our office for a meeting in November. Being that it is a co-working office, there are about another 40+ businesses with over 150 people across them. So when I went into the kitchen to get Deborah a coffee, I could hear everyone in the kitchen gossiping 'did you just see Deborah Meaden walk into the office?' Many didn't know that we had been working with her for nearly 3 months. But since then, when I speak to new people, they often say 'Are you the towel guy?' or 'Is it your brand that brought Deborah Meaden into the office?' Yes, to both. 'The Towel Guy' has a good ring to it like Jim Carrey's 'The Cable Guy', I'll take it.
HOW DID WE EVEN GET HERE?
When I look back, for any budding entrepreneurs reading this, I really want to highlight the fact that Ben and I came from completely different backgrounds to what we are sat in now. We started with almost 0 contacts in anything remotely related to retail, marketing, warehousing, manufacturing, etc, yet we have managed to build a global business that sells directly in 13+ different countries.
In starting this up, we spent the first 6 months building the business from our own bedrooms after finishing work each night. Then I ended up spending 4 months in Australia with Ben, running the business from hostel kitchen areas (not the easiest, far too much fun was going on around me and I'm a sucker for peer pressure). Very appropriate for the travel brand we had begun to create.
To then spending 1 year working on my parents' kitchen table before finally ending up in an office, 2.5 years later. With Ben still working from his desk (wherever that may be), which until recently sat in Washington DC, then Mexico, then LA and now back home to settle back down in Australia. We are 2 self-admitted generalists (although Ben definitely has a very technical mind which comes in very handy across multiple facets) and we have always made sure our social lives haven't taken a hit. Family and friends are the most important thing above all else and we didn't build a business to negatively impact that part of our lives, quite the opposite.
WHAT STOOD US APART
The point being, anyone can do it. You've just got to have that optimistic mind set and go for it.The things that I feel set us apart as people are:
(a) That we took the risk. I'm still paying heavily for the £30k personal loan I took out to start this business up and I know that Ben's savings quickly diminished when we didn't take salaries for the first 2 years.
(b) That we've stayed true to ourselves. Ben and I have never let any of it get ahead of us and we know it could all be swept from under our feet tomorrow. We're nice to everyone we come across and treat people as we would like to be treated. We continue to live off our own self-depreciating humour, which does still confuse people at times.
We've only ever had small bickers with each other about stuff that we are passionate about and have NEVER argued about money. Not even close. If you get into business with someone that cares more about money than people, then you're asking for trouble in my opinion. We're both always willing to take a hit, no question, if the other one is struggling. Ben definitely took a hit for me in the early days of the business.
(c) We see the world as one single location. This one is vital. So many people have mediocre success in one country and feel that moving into other countries that they don't live in, is far too risky. Not at all. We sell thousands of towels every month into countries across the world and during the end to end process, we have likely never seen the product and / or met in person any of the people helping us sell it.
There is literally an tool online for any problem you ever have when building a business, just Google it. It will 99% exist. We probably work across 50+ online tools at any one time. All very affordable, all amazingly useful in their own right. These tools that cost £20 a month, would probably have taken up a whole employee in payroll to do the equivalent job 10 years ago. We had our original logo designed in Asia for $20 when we started this business!
And if you want to learn about something new to help kick off your business - any topic - then there is a probably free blog / video tutorial / online course out there to get you on your way.
BRING ON 2018
In terms of 2018, we've got big plans ahead. Our second hire, Naomi has just joined the team as our ambitious graduate taking the reins of our customer service. And we've just launched our biggest campaign yet 'The Colour of Summer', where we are searching for 3 pairs of best friends to fly out to a dream villa in Bali and be part of our next campaign. If you're interested (and why wouldn't you be), apply here - dockandbay.com/colourofsummer.
We'll keep you updated as to our progress as we are already set to double our sales from last year when our financial year ends in February and with lots of new products on their way too in May 2018, we're setting ourselves up for a big one. We also want to dig deeper into our social responsibility and put further research into our business and how we can reduce our environmental footprint to be as small as possible as we grow.
In the end, we've proven the need for our product and so 2018 and beyond will now be about pushing faster, harder and quicker to become a globally known, leading brand in towels. Whilst continuing to innovate along the way.
We won't be letting this market dry up.