Profession: I work four days a week as a small business advisor and one day a week as founder of BlackFish Cycling, a cycling accessories business.
I’m also a chartered accountant but I try not to adverstise this too widely.
Company Name: BlackFish Cycling
What did you study at university and what grade did you leave with? History and French, 1st (I’m a geek)
Was it a clear-cut path in terms of what you would do after you left?
Not really, I always dreamt of working for the Civil Service growing up.
When I was on my year abroad in France I had a great time but I spent A LOT of money experiencing Paris and generally enjoying myself. I thought a good remedy for this situation might be to sell out and do a summer internship with a bank.
I was so naïve that the ‘bank’ I applied for actually turned out to be… an accountancy firm. I actually loved the internship and I’ve stuck with it in one form or another ever since.
What is BlackFish Cycling?
BlackFish Cycling produce waterproof and durable bicycle pannier bags that are also smart office bags. We aim to make cycling the most stylish way to travel.
How did the idea for BlackFish Cycling come about?
I cycle to work every day and spend a lot of time visiting clients. I really wanted a bag that I could carry by bike but also looked smart enough to take into a meeting in an office. When I couldn’t find anything available on the market I decided to take matters into my own hands.
What were the challenges in initially setting up BlackFish Cycling?
In hindsight starting an ecommerce business is no walk in the park for a first time entrepreneur. You have to design a product, find reputable suppliers, make revisions, manage inventory and do enough marketing to stand out from the crowd. On top of that the cash flow is really difficult to manage as you have to shell out to buy your stock well in advance of making any sales.
Who did you seek advice from and who really helped you in the early stages?
I spoke to loads of friends, colleagues and mentors and they all had lots of great advice. The only thing was, they all disagreed with each other! It’s great if you can find a mentor who knows how your industry works but ultimately you have to have the confidence to make your own decisions and learn your own lessons.
Did you ever doubt yourself that you could do it?
Yes, absolutely. If anything I probably set the bar too low for myself. I tried to remove the fear of failure by telling myself that the whole project was just a learning experience and that I didn’t expect to sell any bags!
How do you market BlackFish Cycling?
Marketing is really easy to do but in the same breath it makes it incredibly hard to therefore do it well enough to stand out. One really successful method I used to sell a lot of BlackFish bags originally was simply to tell people about them myself. I meet a lot of people at work and socially and whenever they ask me what I do, I always tell them I make awesome bike bags!
What sets you a part from your competitors?
Some companies make really durable cycling bags, and others make really smart office bags, but no-one else does both like we do.
What do you wish you had known then that you know now?
That’s a tricky one. I definitely underestimated how hard it would be to run BlackFish just one day a week. In hindsight I might have been better suited by starting an information based business that could be deployed faster and would require less investment. I don’t have any regrets though. Building and marketing something that I desperately wanted to buy for myself has been a great journey.
What’s a typical day for you working on BlackFish Cycling?
I am far too guilty of spreading my time far too thinly between lots of different projects.
Any personality traits you have discovered about yourself along the way?
I’ve been surprised to learn that when it comes to spending my own money and putting my own business on the line I’m actually really indecisive. I wrote about the process of discovering this and how I’ve gradually started overcoming it on my blog, here.
Any utter disasters along the way?
Haha where to start? One great example would be my attempt at a promotional video. We had a lot of fun filming it but it turned out being one of the most hilariously amateur videos ever created with people falling off bikes and models noticeably giggling when they were supposed to be looking serious.
What has been your best moment so far as a result of setting up Blackfish Cycling?
There have been many great moments. It’s a great feeling when your website first goes live or when you sell your first product. I think the best thing has been receiving great feedback from customers, it’s a brilliant feeling knowing that you have made something that has had a positive impact on someone else’s life.
What advice would you give other twenty-something’s who are thinking of pursuing a career in the same industry as you?
It’s great to get advice from your parents, university lecturers or other mentors, but make sure you critically analyse everything they tell you; sometimes their advice is twenty years out of date. You have to make your own decisions.
What do you think the next steps are for you this year?
I have a new project in the works but it’s too early to reveal any details just yet – watch this space!
What’s the dream?
I want to earn more from my own businesses than from my job, despite working less and having more fun. In the long term I think as long as I’m challenged and learning new things I’ll be happy.
Finally if you weren’t be doing this, what would you be doing?
I really love writing. I’ve just finished a book that aims to teach accounting to people like business owners who need to know the basics but don’t have the time to sit down with boring textbooks. The book is really easy reading and in just a few hours will have you fluent in all the key concepts.
Finish the end of these sentences…
In your twenties the three things I tend to think about are… Where my next beer is coming from, when I can next cycle and then on occasion what I should be doing with my life
When I look at my bank statement after a night out I usually… Feel thankful that my local pub serves some of the cheapest beers in London!
The Twenty Mile Club is…. Inspirational – it’s got me writing my own blog!
Find links to BlackFish Cycling’s online pages