Oliver Bridge is a remarkable man who started off working for an innovation consultancy company and managed to have his own business at the age of 15.
He gained funding from the Start Up Loans to start up Cornerstone. The business has been trading for just over two years and Oliver now has 20 employees all based in London and is currently hiring more!
Cornerstone is men’s grooming on subscription. They supply high quality razors and men’s beauty products which are only available online. Oliver was inspired by the idea of making a routine buy easier by introducing a subscription service for men which stopped the hassle of physically going into a store and queueing. It gets sent straight the customers door.
Cornerstone has grown tremendously since it first started up. There is a 150,000 client base, which increases on a daily basis. Cornerstone also won the Best Razor Award 2015. The business trades internationally but most efforts are within the UK.
There have been some challenges for Oliver on his journey – when he first started the business not many competitors offered a subscription service and now a lot of companies do. Also, initially it is hard to gain trust from customers and getting new customers to feel comfortable with a subscription service.
Oliver has big plans for Cornerstone and want the company to be one of the main brands in the market, to be a natural part of the morning routine for men. In order to achieve this they are in the process of creating an app for an easy user experience. Oliver feels it is time to appeal to new target audiences, and this will be more than possible as the company has just received a £4.5Million private investment (November 2016).
We asked Oliver to answer some questions on his experience of starting Cornerstone:
What were the turning points for your business?
Raising £1m on Crowdcube through crowdfunding was the game changer for Cornerstone – it allowed us to scale quickly from 2 to 5 people, invest in crucial internal projects (like launching new packaging) and spend more on advertising – helping us to increase our growth rate dramatically. One year on from Crowdcube we were at 60,000 customers and a team of 15 (up from 5,000 and 2 respectively) so you can get a sense of the impact it had!
Another turning point was winning ‘Razor Of The Year’ from Shortlist – we beat many of the major brands and it gave us a huge amount of credibility with customers who were considering giving us a go.
Hitting 60,000 members in summer 2016 was also incredible – this was our original December 2017 target so to be so far ahead of schedule was a real validation of our hard work. Personally for me, repaying our Start Up Loan was also a big moment and proved that the team at the London Small Business Centre had been right to put their faith in me.
What were the top 5 things you learnt along the way to starting your business?
1. Treat suppliers well! From watching The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den, you’d believe that suppliers are a mere inconvenience: not true. Without our supply partners we wouldn’t have even got off the ground, and we continue to be a demanding client even now – they are critical to our growth and if we didn’t have a strong relationship we wouldn’t have been half as successful.
2. Hire amazing people. The process of recruiting people is slow, frustrating, occasionally boring (when you sit through the 27th phone interview and already know you won’t hire them). But, it is worth persevering – without a dedicated and smart team, you’ll never be able to scale beyond what you can achieve yourself.
3. Cash really is king, so look after your investors. We currently deliberately run at a loss – investing all of our profits (and more) back into marketing to give us faster growth. This wouldn’t be possible without supportive investors who have confidence in our long term plan, who are happy to keep funding those losses. I maintain a very open relationship with our shareholders – holding regular dinners and circulating email updates every couple of weeks with the exciting things that have been going on – it helps keep everyone in the loop and keen to help.
4. As an entrepreneur, you need to be good at everything. Yes, you can outsource and hire people to help but, unless you’ve been at the ‘coal face’ working in the excruciating detail on every facet of your business, you’ll never be able to effectively manage a team to perform at a high level. Make sure you can experience as many aspects of starting a business as possible.
5. Get a mentor. There are some exhilarating highs as an entrepreneur, but some pretty lonely moments too – you need someone to be able to talk to who has been there before.
If you could go back and start your business differently, would you? If so, how?
I should have brought our software development in-house earlier – it’s made a massive change having our own technology team to be able to quickly roll out of the changes we want to make to our website and systems to improve the experience for our customers. We relied on external agencies for too long who were too expensive and too slow to suit our quick start up approach.
If I was starting out again tomorrow I would definitely do so with a co-founder – launching a business from scratch on your own is extremely hard work! The companionship and extra manpower from having a ‘partner in crime’ would be great along the journey.
What advice would you give to others who are starting a business?
Work your socks off – as an business owner you’ll be trying to change an established industry or create a new one. The established players all have lots of money and resources – your main edge is working harder and really caring about the detail.
Everything is negotiable and “no” normally means “maybe.” As a start up you can be super flexible and super demanding – make the most of that to make deals work for you.