Scaling to success: Castore’s inspiring start-up story
Six years ago, brothers Tom and Phil Beahon, each applied to Virgin StartUp for a £20,000 Start Up Loan to launch a new, premium sportswear brand – Castore. That business is now valued at £750 million.
In just six years, they’ve gone from signing their first factory deal to signing huge kit deals with Premiership football teams, the Oracle Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team and the England and Wales Cricket Board. Backed by famous shareholders, including British tennis icon Andy Murray, Pure Gym founders Peter Roberts and Brian Scurrah, the ISSA brothers and New Look founder Tom Singh, Castore’s scale-up success is every founder’s dream.
We sat down with Tom Beahon to look back on that initial support from Virgin StartUp, learn more about Castore’s success and find out his tips for founders embarking on their start-up journey.
Take us back to 2016. What drew you to Virgin StartUp?
The honest answer is Richard Branson. My brother and I have always been inspired by him and we liked that Virgin has a different and disruptive approach to business. We had this idea to create a new premium sportswear brand and we saw Richard talking about Virgin StartUp and immediately thought, “these are the people we need to go and speak to.”
Do you remember the day when you found out your Start Up Loan had been approved?
We were coming back from a factory in Portugal, and we literally had no money. We’d been pleading with the factory, trying to convince them to work with us on a smaller scale and reduce their minimum unit quantities so we could order our first product run. Then the email from Virgin StartUp landed and it meant we finally had the money to get things moving – it was a memorable moment.
The Start Up Loan meant we could afford to buy the best quality products for our first product run, because you can't be a premium sportswear brand without having a product that is genuinely superior to the bigger brands. We also invested in making a high-quality website, which really helped get our business off the ground.
You’ve gone on to do some incredible things such as breaking into Premiership football sponsorship and F1 sponsorship. Have you always had that level of ambition and vision for the business?
Did we start out thinking we were going to partner with Newcastle, McLaren and Red Bull? Of course not! We were focused on making enough revenue to afford to buy dinner that evening. That was our mindset. We celebrated every achievement in the same way we now celebrate winning the Red Bull partnership.
We just kept moving the business forward and taking it to the next level. That fundamental focus always remains the same, whether that manifests itself through opening a warehouse in Europe or a major partnership with a Premier League team or an F1 team.
It's amazing where that attitude can take you, it will take you places you could never even dream of.
What’s your formula for success?
I don’t think there is a secret formula, but every entrepreneur needs to have passion and perseverance. Unless you're deeply passionate about what you do, it’s going be really hard to be successful. The goals are so big and scary sometimes, logic alone is not enough to keep you going when things don’t go according to plan. You need to be passionate about what you are trying to grow, and you need to build a team around you that shares that passion and wants to be a part of that journey.
The other thing you need is perseverance, so that when you face setbacks, you can stick with it and keep going. Honestly, there's a lot more setbacks than exciting stuff, so you need be ready for that and to learn to enjoy the setbacks as well.
What are your tips for coping with business setbacks?
Setbacks are never as bad as you think they are at the time. As founders, we care so much about what we're doing that when you get turned down for that Virgin StartUp loan the first time, you'll think, “I’m never going to get this business off the ground.” It’s not true.
Refine your plans and go back and try again. It’s back to that need for perseverance. When you get turned down by an investor, don’t take it personally. When your website crashes, see it as a learning experience. Don’t think about it as a failure, see it as a lesson and keep going.
Even the most successful entrepreneurs have been through the same difficulties and hardships and faced the same challenges as you.
How did you get your foot in the door for those big investment opportunities? Is there any advice you can offer to other founders looking for investment?
Put yourself out there and don't assume that anything good is going to happen off the back of just one meeting. You need to consistently meet new people, knock on doors, tell them your story, where you’ve come from and what you hope to achieve. Nothing may come from those conversations for six, nine, 12 months, or more, but eventually people will recognise your passion and persistence and tell other people about you.
I eventually got introduced to Mohsin and Zuber Issa, Tom Singh and Robert Senior – people I never imagined I would be in a room with. It all came from us saying we were going to put ourselves out of our comfort zone and go and meet people and do that really consistently.
You were assigned a mentor through Virgin StartUp. How important do you think it is to have a business mentor?
I can't overstate how important it is. It doesn’t matter how confident you are, everyone is insecure in the beginning. You don’t know how it's going to work out, you don’t know if you're going to be successful. So having someone outside of your day-to-day world who can give you advice, guidance and emotional support is incredibly important.
Being a founder is a really lonely endeavour. You live and breathe your business. You think about it all day, every day, at weekend and on holiday, so to get that helicopter view and a different perspective from someone who cares about you, but doesn’t have a vested interest in the business, is incredibly valuable. We still speak to our Virgin StartUp mentor a couple of times a year.
What has been your biggest highlight so far?
The biggest highlight has been building a team. We’re almost at 400 people and when you see everyone together you can’t help but think, “Wow, we’ve built something here. It’s a real living breathing organism.” Seeing these people evolve, seeing their careers develop, seeing them achieve things I personally couldn't achieve, all while they are helping our business get better – it’s a special feeling.
Any final thoughts for new founders?
I admire every entrepreneur that is running a successful business, whether that business is big or small. You are doing something amazing by starting your own company and there is no feeling like it. I know it can be hard sometimes, but stick at it, stay passionate and I genuinely believe that if you do the right thing for long enough, you will get there.
Want to start your own business? Visit Virgin StartUp for Start Up Loans, advice, support, mentoring and so much more.