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Running a startup business can be difficult at the best of times, and it’s fair to say that 2020 hasn’t exactly been easy.

We asked our clients to share their real-life accounts of what it’s like steering a business through times like these. Their responses have been profoundly inspiring.

To celebrate their determination and bravery, here’s Part Three of our Business Heroes!

Andrew Carpenter

Excell Ecom LTD | Fiverr

Andrew Carpenter

Excell Ecom LTD is a digital marketing company with a twist. We help customers around the world in several unique ways.

Our innovative website tracking software allows our clients to access over 100 million data streams of website visitors, adding visibility to their website like never before. We also offer Search Engine Optimisation and bespoke marketing solutions

Our other service is the creation of world class e-commerce websites. We help customers move their physical business into the digital age, and fine tune their online presence to begin selling to billions of potential customers.

My role as founder is to focus on customer relations and ensure we keep the wheels of business turning. I am dedicated to growing my business and ensuring we are as adaptable as we can be.

“Having always been an entrepreneur at heart, working for myself has always been a goal of mine.”

 

For the last 7 years I have been flying internationally, meeting with Fortune 500 companies

At the age of 29, I thought – now is the time to take the risk and do this for myself, before the hands of time catch up.

The world changed forever in 2020 and being adaptable, self sufficient and sustainable is more important now than ever. When starting out on your own, you’re facing many challenges and unknowns.

“Learning how to run a business is a massive learning curve, but over time you adapt and work towards your goals.”

 

Lockdown has been one of the biggest challenges for businesses around the world. It has impacted some of the most bullet proof industries and sectors.

Our company began on the simple basis of being fundamentally adaptable. As a digital company we operate online, and thus we are flexible and competitive.

The challenge we now face is the rapid expansion of our business, and how we use this success to continue to develop our services.

“Investing in our digital footprint has allowed our company to become visible to customers internationally.”

 

Expanding our team has also allowed Excell Ecom more room to generate new revenue streams for the business. The next step for us is to continue our already rapid growth, and expand our customers around the globe.

We aim to invest more in our services, and I believe that delivering high quality results is paramount.

The future is uncertain, and being adaptable and driven is essential. Our goal is to continue on the right track and deliver results to our customers.

Visit the Excell Ecom LTD website for more information about Andrew’s work.


Dr. Nickolai Vysokov

BrainPatch Ltd. | LinkedIn | Facebook

Dr. Nickolai Vysokov

BrainPatch is a start-up with a team of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs developing cutting-edge neurotechnology to bring to every home and clinic across the globe.

We develop brain stimulation devices that could help you meditate and deal with stress. We’re also working on other exciting applications of our patent-pending technology.

I began BrainPatch in 2018 together with an old friend, and established serial entrepreneur, Dauren Toleukhanov. Our core principle was based on the idea of personalised brain stimulation technology that I described in my TEDx talk.

“Early in the days of the company, I was the neuroscientist and the experimenter, the engineer and the programmer, the legal and finance department all-in-one.”

 

Naturally, as more people join you, some things get easier and others become more complicated. Now I am the CEO and working towards getting our first device out onto the market.

I have always worked on some of the hottest and most sophisticated topics in neuroscience. From optogenetics (stimulating genetically modified neurones with light), to neural stem cells for stroke patients.

In 2017 I started see a rising wave of new technologies which interact with our brains in a manner that doesn’t involve any implanted devices or chips. This is what is meant by “non-invasive brain stimulation”.

“I saw a growing market with a huge gap; a lot of these didn’t work for a lot of people.”

 

So, I saw a business opportunity, decided to bypass the academic delay, and started a company.

Setting up the business was relatively straightforward, and attracting initial investment with the UK’s EIS [Enterprise Investment Scheme] was extremely helpful.

As with any deep tech company, the investment, time and intellectual capacity required to get to the revenue stage is enormous.

“Raising money in the midst of the economic downturn and lockdown was, perhaps, one of the most challenging times for the company.”

 

It was hard work, but we managed to exceed our expectations in the total amount we raised. On top of that, we were awarded a highly competitive grant from Innovate UK.

We used to rely on Central Research Laboratory (our hardware accelerator and co-working space) to access the equipment necessary for product development and prototyping.

Nowadays, it’s possible to buy a desktop 3D printer, laser cutter, and CNC machine. This is what I have been using from home throughout the lockdown.

We are working as fast as we can towards delivering the device into the market. A lot of people are under extreme stress and pressure during the pandemic, and our device could provide a perfect solution that works for everyone. We are currently working with beta testers and hoping to launch at the beginning of next year.

Visit the BrainPatch website for more information about Nickolai’s work, or connect with him through LinkedIn or Facebook.


Antonio Lam

Shores & Legal | LinkedIn

Antonio Lam

We are an immigration advisory business helping support the growth of companies and individuals by fulfilling their mobility and immigration requirements. I am the managing director of the business.

I work with the strategic direction of Shores & Legal, and am also responsible for key Client Members within the company.

We started the company to service a few clients who needed specialist advice with their mobility strategy. However, this business quickly transformed.

“We wanted to be the disruptor to the immigration market.”

 

We found that most immigration businesses only offer the core service they provide, i.e. to help with an individual’s visa.

Not many firms can say they cover a client’s lifecycle in the UK, or any other destinations, as a standard core service. From strategic business advice, visa service, to after-landing services.

As an immigration lawyer for the last 15 years, we noticed clients do require a pre-and-post visa advisory service, and that’s where we want to do more to help. In most circumstances, we do this as a complimentary service for our Client Members.

As a regulated business, there’s also the challenge of getting the relevant licences, insurance, bank accounts and other requirements in place.

“Following setup, it’s really about how we are going to fulfil our service with limited funds, human resources and as a new brand.”

 

With so many balls to juggle when setting up, it was tough to get everything right. However, we have been very fortunate to have the right commercial partnerships in place. We work with several trusted partners that help a lot on the administrative and technological side of things.

With their help, we can focus on what we do best; offering our core services to our Client Members and starting to build a brand.

“There have been quite a few challenges along the way. Not least the double whammy of Brexit and a pandemic.”

 

None of which helped the growth that we had planned and anticipated when we first started the business. And especially not the way we work with clients, and the way we deliver our services.

However, it was this double whammy that allowed us to reflect on our business so far, going from year 1 of our operations to year 2.

We took our time to have a more in-depth look at our Client Members; how and when we offer our services; and how we can truly embark upon becoming a disruptor in our field.

“We looked at what our real passion is, and defined our vision, mission and values. We looked deep into ourselves and asked, why do we want to do this?”

 

The answer was pretty loud and clear – it is about our clients.

It is about helping growth, and seeing the development of businesses and individuals. It’s about working in true partnership with our clients.

As such, what was set-up as an immigration firm transformed into a community.

We focus, not just on the immediate needs of our clients, when we are offering our services, but also the broader needs of our Client Members.

We look at ways to help our client grow their business in the UK, how their family can comfortably settle, and help them plan ahead for life in the UK or elsewhere.

“In particular, we took the time to build a community support model around our client members, rather than only offering services to them.”

 

TAP has undoubtedly helped a lot by making my life simple. Their technology-led service shares everything with my accountant immediately. If I ever need help, they are a phone call away.

The normal worry about complicated accountancy filing and due dates are all managed by TAP – something no business wants to have in the back of their mind.

Now our business is in its second year of operations. As a growing business, it’s about taking stock and looking at sustainable growth over the coming years.

We are planning to hone the services and offerings that have worked so far, to better suit our Client Members’ needs.

More importantly, we want to continue expanding on our ethos of building a community around clients.

We are working hard, not just within our team, but with several trusted partners, in ensuring that we offer the right support (with several being complimentary) to our Client Members.

Visit the Shores & Legal website for more information about Antonio’s work, or connect with him through LinkedIn.


Vanessa Hewitt

Hewitt Support | LinkedIn | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Vanessa Hewitt

I am Vanessa Hewitt, founder of Hewitt Support. I like to think of myself as a professional business organiser. Implementing lean processes and technological changes to increase accessibility to services that users really need, where people are at the heart of business.

I’m a people person, so having a focus on people suits my personality.

“I was driven to start Hewitt Support due to the pandemic. I was on the train, doing my daily 1 hour 15 commute via car, train and tube.”

 

It was frustrating, as I wanted to help more people reach the services which they no longer had access to. At my job, I was doing this on such a small scale which had low-to-no impact. It was demoralising.

I was risking my and my family’s health to go to an office which was empty, when I could do this at home. So, I took that leap of faith.

I have since been able to work with some amazing organisations who want to change, innovate, and find ways to improve their service accessibility. So far, I have been able to do this from home with increased job satisfaction.

“My challenges have been financial and mental. Financially, I did not qualify for any of the government loans as I was a new business.”

 

I self-funded the business in the hope that the more clients I work with, the increase in revenue will cover my small overheads. It was important to be as lean as possible in my budget profile.

Going from a very large organisation with a steady income to the unknown brought such mental challenges. A lot of mental resolve, strength, determination and motivation was needed to get me through such a transitional period.

The unpredictability of being self-employed makes it hard to make firm plans for the future – especially during a pandemic.

One of the most important aspects of owning a business is having a balance between work and social activity. This helps with motivation and controlling my anxiety.

“Being told, as a Young Black Female in a consultancy environment, that I do not look the part.”

 

I was told that, in a male dominated field, I will not survive as I am. The very photo I am using for this article was criticised, which dented my confidence.

But, through talking to my network, I was able to gain support and strength, and rise above the comment made by a mentor.

“With financial and pandemic constraints, finding a routine which works and I can stick to has been hard.”

 

I’m fortunate and unfortunate that my computer desk is in my bedroom (temporarily). Yes, I am rolling into work. But that also means I absolutely cannot be late for any meeting.

Fortunately, my business works 100% remotely. This meant investing in virtual meeting applications such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. I had to learn more about what other virtual capabilities I had.

For example, using social media to conduct a range of digital marketing campaigns, and gaining insight about communities using LinkedIn and Twitter.

Networking virtually emphasises how you present yourself as you’ve got to stand out from the rest, which is hard for me as I am always supporting others.

I had to really come out of my comfort zone and promote myself and the business, as it’s true what they say; People Sell Business. I practice my USP and stay as energetic and enthusiastic from minute 1 to minute 60 everyday – but it can be exhausting.

“We’re at the phase where we are building our client base and showing what can be done to improve services to cater for the 96% of British households who have internet access.”

 

Service Transformation is extremely important for the 51% of people who do not feel comfortable leaving the house since August 2020 (ONS figures).

To achieve this, I am collaborating with other businesses to build useful insights around socio-economic behaviours across sectors. Also, by bringing light to where customers are right now, and where they are likely to be post-pandemic.

As a Professional Business Organiser, I am looking to expand my business management services. To give all business owners peace of mind that their business is well managed, allowing them to achieve the work life balance they need.

Here’s to more networking!

Visit the Hewitt Support website for more information about Vanessa’s work, or connect with her through LinkedIn.


Alex Padhaiski

EVA Timber Group | LinkedIn | Facebook

Alex Padhaiski

EVA Timber Group is a specialist in sourcing and supplying timber to the UK and Europe. I am the co-founder and CEO of the business, and my role includes strategy, sales and finance.

One year ago, we conducted analysis on the growth in demand for forest-based products. Due to climate change, many builders now prefer using timber as a more sustainable and eco-friendly material. We found an untapped market that supplies sustainably grown timber which is not that far away from the UK, and that is in Belarus.

First of all, we had to obtain all the required certification in time to start trading. We had just kicked off in early 2020 with things looking really positive and growth reported in every month, when coronavirus kicked in.

All our contracts were literally frozen from the second half of March; back then it was very gloomy. Lockdown literally put all our work on hold.

“We took this as an opportunity to give additional training to our workers, as we know that when things get back on track, there will be no opportunity like this again.”

 

We provided training to our workers, and we also took the time during lockdown to optimise our reporting system. Now we can see our live trading margins, which is essential in a business like this.

TAP is a great company to be with when you are starting up. They help with everything admin related (e.g. reporting to Companies House and HMRC), plus they are very agile in the way they work with customers. You may start with only 20 transactions per month, and then next month you have 100. TAP just takes care of it all for you.

For now, we are planning to grow in size. We will do that by supplying more and more timber, and that will require us to employ more staff as well expand our physical facilities.

Visit the EVA Timber Group website for more information about Alex’s work, or connect with him through LinkedIn.


Kate Pattinson

KAGE Customer Service Hub Limited | Instagram | Facebook

Kate Pattinson

KAGE is a customer service business. We assist clients who are moving house, going through bereavement, or have other requirements, such as working in the military or offshore.

We help clients by calling, emailing and sending correspondence on their behalf, saving them time. This includes dealing with their utilities, TV and broadband, insurance and beyond.

Simply put, KAGE makes the calls, so our clients don’t have to. No more automated services, lengthy wait times, repeating information over and over, or frustrating conversations.

Calling customer services is a task most people dread, as these calls are time consuming and difficult to resolve. I have moved house several times, and the amount of people you have to contact to organise your life when moving is crazy!

During the last move I got so stressed and thought; if there was company out there that could make these calls for me, I would use it. And KAGE was born! I incorporated other stressful times people may require assistance, such as following a bereavement.

“Trying to research what would be required to make customer service calls on behalf of others was a major challenge.”

 

The majority of companies I contacted said their customer (the account holder) would have to call themselves. Explaining that there must be a process in place if their customers cannot make these enquires themselves took months. I am still researching now, as there is an endless list of companies.

All these companies have different protocols and requirements for different circumstances. For instance, there are different processes following a bereavement than there are for a house move.

Creating databases where I can store all of this information was a challenge. I needed something where I could easily find the specific information I had gathered.

“During lockdown there have been fewer people working, especially in call centres.”

 

This has made research rather difficult. I have emailed, sent letters and called numerous companies. Due to COVID, a lot of them have not replied, don’t have the information I require, or took a long time to get back with answers to my questions.

Due to GDPR I have also had to adapt the way I offer services. As a lot of information is confidential, so I’ve developed ways in which KAGE can work.

I have created a GDPR document and a letter of authority, as well as having service terms and conditions, and terms-of-website use made by a solicitor.

I plan to expand my business and rent office space. It would be great to have a client list large enough to employ friends and family, as these times are hard. I am in the process of marketing, so my business is heard.

To get help from Kate or learn more about the services offered by KAGE, visit the KAGE website.


Learn more about the online accounting services we provide to our hero clients. Call 020 3355 4047 to talk to one of the team, or request a free call back.

About The Author

Elizabeth Hughes

A content writer specialising in business, finance, software, and beyond. I'm a wordsmith with a penchant for puns and making complex subjects accessible.

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