What advice would an entrepreneur who has built a global business give to new start-ups?
Supported by the ignite business support programme – helping owners/managers of innovation-led businesses realise their company aspirations.
We recently chatted to Simon Rothwell about his success and what’s next after selling the company. Watch the video interview here.
Read the interview below:
So initially I did a law degree and then joined the police. So I was a police officer for about seven years – I knew then that I really wanted to get into the corporate world anyway, so I then got a job with a couple of different companies and one of those was kind enough to pay for, or sponsored me to do an MBA at Warwick University.
During the MBA I took the entrepreneurship module and met a guy called Professor Andrew Burke, who sort of really inspired me then to start my own business. The problem for me was, although I’d sort of done sales and marketing, I hadn’t really had any sort of grounding in finance, apart from obviously what the MBA was giving me, and so I was advised to speak to Warwick University Science Park and look at the Ignite Programme.
The idea was given to me by somebody really who worked in the NHS and that there was an issue they had with cooling obese deceased bodies – so when people died they were a bit too big to fit into standard mortuary fridges. So I looked at how do I develop that, and is there a market for it? The University of Warwick Science Park were really helpful in helping explore that, and how do I then bring that product to market.
With Flexmort we kept developing products, we kept exploring new markets and selling to new markets. We obviously initially focused on the UK but our sales pretty much doubling every year, at least, and the business grew to an international business – supplying organisations all around the world – police, governments.
What was quite clear is a realisation, in myself firstly, that I wasn’t valuing my time. I was, in effect, sort of seeing myself as a free resource – but then also realising I couldn’t do everything and there’s a lot of things that I just wasn’t very good at. So really to develop the business I needed people around me that could do things like developing products, from a technical point of view I’ve not got a technical background. People who could assist with finance and advising on some of those areas.
So what I needed to do was recruit people, and that’s always a challenge because you get to the stage where – do we have enough to then justify taking somebody else on to pay them? I think the thing that really grew the business was realising when I needed to do that, and taking those people on that really helped then progress the business way way further than I could have done myself.
What I sort of realised in myself was that, very much, my focus was on innovation. I really liked that early stage innovation and it was really getting to a point where the business was to such a size that it was right for me to move on and exit the business. So at the end of February I sold the business, allowing the business to get into its next stage of growth.
For me, again going back to what I like, I like that innovation side. I like that sort of early stage stuff, I don’t actually like running a business, which sounds a bit strange. So now really I’m sort of taking stock as to what I’m am going to be doing next, in terms of sort of the next chapter of my life.
So with Flexmort, obviously developing new products, exploring new markets our work was highlighted with a number of awards that we won – The first one was at the University of Warwick itself, where we won the Big Ideas Award. We also won the Birmingham Chambers of Commerce Innovation Award, and then probably the most prestigious one for us, we won the Queen’s Award for Innovation, a few years back, where we got to go to Buckingham Palace, meet the Royal Family, which sort of I guess was a fantastic reward for all the work that we’d put into the business over the years.
Advice to new start-ups
In terms of what I’ve learned over the years and I suppose my experiences – The sort of advice I’d give to new start-ups is really – Don’t be afraid of approaching people for help. What was clear was I just didn’t have the skills in all these areas, and I think really to become successful you have to become pretty much a ‘jack of all trades’ and have a bit of understanding of each area, but not a real in-depth understanding, because there’s people out there that can help.
For example going back to the Ignite Programme, you know where I felt I needed help in particular areas – getting that advice; who to approach and who to speak to. So I think that’s probably the biggest bit of advice from me.
For more about the ignite programme visit: https://www.warwicksciencepark.co.uk/business-support/incubation/