Growaforest: Christian Woolfenden

Christian Woolfenden explains what got him into what is quite literally a growth business

Setting up your own business is a tough task, but when you want to improve the state of the planet as well as generate money, then it becomes even harder. However, this is precisely what Growaforest founder Christian Woolfenden has set out to do. 

Name: Christian Woolfenden Age: 26 Business: Growaforest Type of business: Conservation Start date: Jan 05

When did you first decide you wanted to start your own business? It is something I’ve always wanted to do. For as long as I can remember I’ve sold things, as a child it was anything from pond plants to tropical fish, Christmas trees to home grown strawberries. Always wanting to run a business rather than become a millionaire.

Tell us about your business Growaforest is a company aimed at improving the state of our planet. We are realistic in the belief that we will never entirely move away from CO2 production and we recognise that we all contribute to it in most things that we do. Our aim therefore, is to make it as easy as possible for individuals and companies to do their bit to reverse their own CO2 emission; by planting trees. These trees not only fight global warming by naturally absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, but also create new wildlife habitat and improve biodiversity. We try to ensure that all planting areas have public access for everyone to enjoy.

Growaforest is also an ethical business. It was created to have a positive, rather than a negative impact on the environment and people’s quality of life. Although Growaforest is run as a business by volunteers, we reinvest any profit back into the green growth of the company. Currently, our key investment areas are: Purchase of land to grow wholly owned forests for public recreational and educational use; Investment in renewable and sustainable energy projects which enable individuals, companies and nations to become greener, and save money; Investment in education and marketing to increase awareness of the action needed on climatic change.

We are working to raise awareness about carbon reduction and we aim to help our customers to reduce their carbon emissions through the growing of new trees.

Was it your first business idea and where did it come from? No, I’ve had loads of ideas in the past, but this is the first one that kept me awake at night – I just couldn’t get it out of my head because of all the additional thoughts the original idea kept generating.

Was your decision to start a business inspired by any other companies or individuals? It was partially inspired by a friend of mine who kept complaining how guilty he felt about all the pollution he was causing each time he flew from the UK to the US for business.

What makes you think there’s a market for your business? There has been a huge amount in the press recently about blue chips needing to better deliver against their ‘green’ policies. UK consumers are becoming more aware about their impact on the environment. There are already companies out there who offer similar solutions to global warming. Global warming is big on corporate and government agendas. Also, consumers are always looking for new, novel gifts and the reaction from the public so far has been very positive.

Once you’d decided to start a business, what did you do first? I purchased the web address, found out how much it cost to plant tree, then I rang a friend who had web development experience

What research did you do? Lots. I sought to understand what kind of competition existed, what products they offered, the weaknesses they had. I then dug into the financials of the project and pulled together a business plan to work from. It’s fair to say I researched a lot of stuff as I went along, and as the need arose.

What advice did you seek? I used business link. It was very helpful, as it provided good advice on setting up the company at Company House. In doing so it saved me a bit of cash, because I applied directly rather than going through an agent.

What other help did you get? I got help from two friends; one helped take my designs and developed the website, and the other helped me develop the logo and consumer packs. Both worked in the relevant business, so it was great to have them involved.

Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? I actually found all the government stuff really helpful. I got great advice on which grants and loans were available, info on tax and VAT, trademark application etc. I found the websites and people really helpful.

Talk us through the process of writing your business plan. Business Plan is probably a bit of an overstatement. I simply drew up a list of things I needed to do in order to launch the site – everything from buying the web domain, to integrating online payment. I then prioritised the list, put dates against actions, and got on with it.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow? It was very useful. It made a massive task seem far more manageable. I’m updating it now to build in more solid marketing and PR plans – so yes, I will use it going forward.

How much did it cost to start the business? £1000.

Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off? The running costs are pretty low, so it funds itself from day one. This was a deliberate part of the business model.

When did you stop working? I haven’t yet. With the volume of orders I get today I can run Growaforest while working in my current job. If it takes off, it will require more attention than evenings and weekends – so you can ask me then.

Are you working from home or from premises? I am working from home – because the premises are free, so to speak. I find it no problem working from home. I have a separate room for the business, so it does not interfere with ‘normal’ life. If the volume of orders gets too big, I would need to look for premises to store all the product.

How many hours are you working at the moment? About 20 per week.

How are you managing your day and what steps have you taking to ensure you’re able to get everything done without working around the clock? A priority list is the only way.

What about staff, is it just you? Just me and a couple of friends and my girlfriend who all help out when it gets busy.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far?Direct mail to several large blue chip companies advertising on Google, journalist packs, direct contact with smaller companies

Where do you hope to be in 12 months time? I would love to have some big hitting blue chip companies on the books to really drive the ‘Carbon Reversal’ idea forward and drive broader awareness of the business.

What are the main obstacles to growth? At the moment awareness of Growaforest is low. Once we get people on the website they tend to make a purchase, but at the moment we are not getting enough people on the site. Driving awareness is going to be our key challenge going forward.

How do you plan to overcome these? Smart marketing, PR and hopefully the positive impact a couple of big clients will bring.

Tell us about your website. How important is it to your business? Very – it is the only way I can sell the product. I designed it, then someone else brought it to life. It needed to be simple, consistent, friendly and fun (not ramming environmental issues down peoples throats). Process was long winded with lots of fine tuning, but overall I was happy with the process.

What are your main ambitions, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?To enjoy what I do!

What have you found difficult about starting up and what do you wish you’d done differently? Finding the time to do everything I needed to do, while keeping some sort of social life. I wish I had got on with it sooner – I think I probably procrastinated for too long at the start.

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business? Leadership. Collaboration. Patience. An eye for what your consumer wants. Financial astuteness

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Be sure you really love what you are doing, and have absolute confidence in getting there, because there are many times along the way when you will think twice about giving it all up.



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