What I Wish I Knew – Thomas Panton and Hugo Douglas-Deane, founders of Greenr

Greenr founders
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
7 October 2022

Starting a business comes with a whole host of challenges. Fortunately, there are always plenty of people who have been there before and are more than willing to share advice.

Thomas Panton and Hugo Douglas-Deane are founders of sustainable marketplace Greenr. They were part of the latest cohort to take part in Virgin StartUp’s Collective Impact programme ­– an incubator that helps sustainable businesses to prepare for investment.

We caught up with them to find out what they wish they'd known from day one of starting the business and the tips they'd share with other entrepreneurs…

Lead the way

When you first set up a business you tend to look at what's out there in your market and how big the industry is as a whole (as well as how it's forecast to grow in the future). Investors do this when they look at your business, and so will friends and family, albeit a little bit less in depth. A lot of 'what about...' questions are thrown about, but not a great deal of 'what if..' We're often very focused on the challenges rather than the opportunities and the possibilities.

A Mockup of a Greenr.co.uk swaps page on desktop

When Dale Vince founded Ecotricity, the UK's first renewable energy provider in 1995, traditional power companies laughed him out of the room, saying UK consumers had no interest in green energy. He created demand. When Airbnb was founded, there was no real industry size for them to use so they had to talk about the hotel industry. They created demand. So while we know the sustainable consumer movement has grown 1000% in the last 20 years, we can see the potential for so much more in the coming two decades and we'll be there to not only fulfil demand but create it, too.

Talk to as many people as possible

At some point you just need to get started. But sometimes you can go down the wrong path and it's only when you reach a dead end that you know it was time wasted. Getting advice from industry experts who can say 'been there, done that' can help you spot those dead ends and get you going down the right path.

A mockup of the Greenr.co.uk homepage on desktop

They might understand an area you know less about and help you make important decisions with confidence. We've been pleasantly surprised by how many people are willing to talk and advise – our advisory board is testament to those earlier conversations we had with people who were strangers to us at the time. So don't be afraid to reach out – LinkedIn and friendly introductions are your friends – but remember to give back where you can, too.

Things take longer than you ever expect

Whether you're building a tech product, doing market research or raising money, expect the unexpected and always plan for the worst!

A mockup of the Greenr.co.uk platform on mobile

We often find that doing something in-house is the only way to get the desired result and truly realise what we have in our minds. That being said, it's silly to write every blog and social media post if there's someone else who can do it better while you focus on the bigger picture. So don't shy away from delegating, as this is a real trap that can befoul founders especially as they grow their teams and bring on agencies and freelancers.

Greenr is currently crowdfunding on Crowdfunder to raise investment to take the business further.

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