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Top ten tips for entrepreneurs

Resident ECCI start-up Retromixer sells an inexpensive adapter that mixes the water from separate hot and cold taps into one stream. Co-founder Denny Schenk - who built the company with business partner Artur Napiórkowski - is ECCI's first entrepreneur-in-residence, providing coaching and leadership to our start-ups.

The Retromixer is quick and easy to install, compatible with most types of taps and reduces water consumption by 43%. The company has run a successful crowdfunding campaign, appeared on the BBC's Dragons’ Den and now boasts sales in the region of 15,000 units.

We caught up with Artur from the Retromixer team to hear some of his some top tips for entrepreneurs.

1. Choose your team wisely

Riding solo vs. getting a co-founder is a big decision to make early on. Retromixer (with my co-founder Denny Schenk - also ECCI's first entrepreneur-in-residence) is a formidable duo with complimentary skills, experience and contacts and mutual motivation BUT having a partner means dividing future profits and you could risk misunderstandings or even collapse. As the great John D. Rockefeller said:

“A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship” - John D. Rockefeller

2. Make a mockup of your product ASAP

Showing rather than telling gets results. There are lots of ways to find local and talent and resources to help you create prototypes and models in your area:

3. Tailor your pitch to your audience

You will need to sell your idea time and time again. Each pitch should be slightly different depending on who you’re speaking to. Think about the tone and language, and focus on the most important information.

  • The investor -> future gains
  • The competition jury -> criteria for winning
  • The buyers -> market size, cost structure + margins
  • The grandparents -> a rough idea of what you are wasting your time on and why you don’t have a “normal” job and a mortgage!

4. Know your numbers!

As well as a tailored pitch with the right tone and language you need to have hard facts to back up your claims. Have these figures at the tip of your fingers at all time:

  • Market size and value
  • Product cost structure and margins
  • Three-year forecast: projected sales, turnover, overheads…

5. Investment is overrated (sometimes)

Think carefully about the kind of investment and finance that’s right for you. Giving away equity should be the last step! Only get into debt if there’s no risk of personal liability. Grants are usually better than competitions in offering ‘no strings’ money.

6. Be smart about your IP strategy

Patents are not the only way to protect your IP. Get the right advice from the right person - is a lawyer better than a business pragmatist? Think about whether you need protection for all countries or the best protection for the lowest cost - in Retromixer’s case, we decided to focus on our core market, the UK. Get advice and support from your backers and stakeholders - Retromixer were helped along by the University of Edinburgh and Scottish Enterprise experts.

7. Crowdfunding is a great way to combine pre-sales, marketing and PR...

...but it's a full time job! Retromixer raised £4,000 from more than 200 backers at the end of our product development phase, just before mass production. We massively raised the profile of the company in the process. Tap up friends and family and make them early supporters. Remember that pitch to your grandparents…

8. Bootstrap and hack your way through the production process

Be original and DIY. The more you create on your own, the higher the pre-investment valuation. For any project or process you execute or create, establish what the common practice within the industry is so you don’t reinvent the wheel. Think creatively and find out if there are any new tools or technology on the market that could reduce cost and time.

9. Never forget the end game.

Think BIG. What’s the next product? Is your goal to be sold to a big corporation? Do you plan to become the next Facebook?

10. Get educated!

Good reads:

  • The Hardware Startup - Renee DiResta, Brady Forrest and Ryan Vineyard
  • The Lean Product Playbook - Dan Olsen
  • Traction: A Startup guide to getting customers - Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Mares

Through our partnership with Climate-KIC - Europe’s largest climate innovation initiative - ECCI gives low carbon start-ups funding and support to build rock-solid business models and take their target markets by storm. Do you have a great idea that could benefit from one of our Climate-KIC programmes?