Five tips for running a start-up from people who have been there

Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
15 April 2022

Over the last few months, we’ve been speaking with Virgin StartUp founders to find out what things they wish they’d known from day one of launching their businesses. Here are some of their top tips…

There's never a perfect time to launch a business

Tiwani Heritage
Tiwani Heritage

Tiwani Heritage co-founder Carol Lathbridge has realised that sometimes it’s better not to wait for the perfect time – because it doesn’t really exist:

“There's no such thing as a perfect website or a perfect brand. Sometimes good enough is good enough. We found that out the hard way. We were waiting for our website to look the part. We wanted it to have this clean, finessed look. But actually, now we're two years in and we're constantly changing things on the website. We're constantly evolving. Things are always moving.

“So never wait. If you've got an idea, you should go for it. It doesn't matter if it's not polished. Just go out there and test the waters. You'll start to learn and pick up things, and change things as you're on this journey. Because it is a journey and not a race.”

Find ways of working that work for you


Jacqueline Smith, founder of eco-friendly household products business Nookary, said that she’s had to adapt her ways of working since launching her business:

“It's been really important for me to find other people to work with or talk to during the day. It's hard to know if I feel like this because I started my business during the coronavirus pandemic, or if it's just the difference between working for myself compared to working for someone else. It's good to create some structure that isn't just me at home on my own. I hadn't quite appreciated how different it is to run my own business.

“Find ways of going out and meeting people, and don't be too hard on yourself if you have days where you do more socialising than working. It's hard to find that balance between wondering if you're not being productive enough because you haven't worked 10 hours that day, or on the flip side worrying that you're not getting your work/life balance right because you've spent 14 hours a day working. It's good to get out there and network with other people to help put it all into perspective.”

Ask for help


Dan Craven founded Anpassa Sports Apparel, a men's premium activewear brand, having worked for other sportswear brands as a designer. He said that he has learnt why it’s important to look for advice:

“I need to remember to ask for help more – especially in areas where I've been working it out as I go. I've definitely got certain areas covered, but it's always good to get a second opinion. It's really important to open up and ask for help in the areas where you're not as strong. 

“I like to learn all the different aspects of the business, but there are times that I've realised I need a bit more help. No-one is amazing at everything. Even if you're an all-rounder, there are always going to be certain areas that you're stronger in, and others where you need a bit of help.”

Things don’t have to be perfect


The WIP founder Lucy Kebbell has found letting go of perfectionism really important while running her business:

“I've been working on The WIP for just over a year now, but it's only been in the last few months that it's really sunk in that this is a tech company. I don't think I really realised that was what I was building when I set out to do it. I saw it more as a B2B networking and support business, but we've had a platform built from scratch and I've had to wrestle with all the frustrations that come with being a tech start-up. 

“We were questioning what our MVP is and when we launch. I have quite a perfectionist attitude about things and I wish I'd known earlier that people are very happy to help you beta test things, they're also really happy to be part of something that isn't perfect, that isn't fully branded up yet. I think we could have gotten away with being a little bit less fully branded. And possibly that could have meant we launched sooner.”

Tap into your early customers to improve your offering

Aksana Fitzpatrick, founder of PiQi
Maria Johnson Photo

Aksana Fitzpatrick launched PiQi, a vegan functional drinks company that produces fermented water kefir in 2021 during lockdown. She has learnt the importance of listening to her customers:

“Your early customers are the best source for feedback when you’re starting out. When PiQi was first launched we primarily sold them via outdoor festivals before going into retail. Doing events allowed me to meet my customers face-to-face, have a conversation with them about kefir and gain an understanding of how they interact with the product and our packaging. As a result, we ended up changing our labels and some of the language around kefir water to highlight points that resonated most with our customers.

“These same customers have become our repeat buyers, and I know that they are always open to having a chat about our products and their online shopping experience with PiQi. They are also very active on social media and we appreciate their support, so I think building authentic relationships and being close to your customers is important.”

Inspired to start your own business? Visit Virgin StartUp for advice, guidance and Start Up Loans.