How we started a business despite not being business-minded
Months after starting what they saw as a hobby, Kim Nguyen and Kofi Ansah realised they were running a business. The duo reflect on scaling K&K LABS with no business knowledge...
Names: Kim Nguyen and Kofi Ansah
Company: K&K LABS
Company description: We make beautiful silk scarves that put endangered animals first! Our love for giving back drives us in making scarves that create awareness of vulnerable and endangered species through our colourful hand-illustrated prints.
Started in: 2015
Describe your start-up barrier:
We started up with no business knowledge to cope with the growing demand for our products.
We’ve always been creative people. Focusing on different niches in our creative skills, we never imagined running a business – even an ethical one that revolves around raising awareness for endangered animals and raising funds to support charities through our annual profits.
We wanted to do what we do now simply because we love animals and wanted to find a way to give back other than donating money to organisations we believed in. We were never business-minded until we found ourselves running one, many months into what we thought was a “hobby”.
It’s easy to want to turn passion into a business without knowing the key ingredients it needs to be successful. We started off getting very passionate and excited about using our creative skills and knowledge for a good cause, however we realised a year in that we needed help to run what was becoming more than a passion-backed hobby.
We had no business knowledge or contacts, nor ideas about how to market ourselves, how to grow our brand and how to find the right consumer for our products. We simply weren’t too fussed when we didn’t break even; we were easily overjoyed with a single sale from a full day at Greenwich market.
As time went by we realised we needed to be more structured and do things properly if we wanted this to succeed. It was then that we started taking action and making sure we knew what we had to do to make things work.
Since then, we’ve been very organised, we have a clear vision and know what we are doing, whilst constantly improving.
What were the practical steps you took to gain a better understanding of your business?
Finding a mentor
A mentor is an important asset to every business. Having a mentor has given us greater guidance along the journey. Finding a mentor who has our best interests at heart has pushed us into reaching our biggest potential, whilst feeding us with years of experience in ways that are only beneficial to our growth.
However, finding a mentor can be a challenging task. Problems such as where to find a business mentor are one thing, but identifying when one is needed is another.
In our case, we were lucky. We happened to have connections in the personal development industry that already mentored and coached individuals. We knew someone who needed our help, and we ended up trading value. In return we had coaching sessions to help with our business, which became the most valuable information gained, for free.
This helped us to discover who we were, what we stood for, why we do what we do, and allowed us to acknowledge that we had a business. Now, we have two business mentors and are looking for a few more to help with areas our current mentors don’t specialise in.
Doing things in the right order
This is a very controversial point. Is there such a thing as doing things in the right order? In this aspect it definitely helps to do things in the right order, but not doing so does not mean you’re doing things wrongly or in the wrong order.
We certainly did the latter. We started our venture with excitement, spending money buying products to sell without really knowing what we were doing or seeing if there was demand for our products. We hadn’t conducted any research but jumped straight in with an e-commerce website and bought stock.
With time, we started learning along the way as we got to stages of wanting to know how to do things and how things should work. We discovered and adapted to the entrepreneurship lifestyle as we lived it.
Overcoming the fear of failure
Being afraid is common practice and something that determines one cares for something. It’s perfectly normal to feel scared about failing before getting started. After all, setting up a start-up is a big deal.
However, as far as ‘false evidence appearing real’ goes, starting up should be an exciting moment and experience even if the outcome is failure. We simply went for it without holding back. After all, we were and still are doing what we love.
Apart from having a mentor to guide us, we read as many entrepreneurship books and attended as many start-up events as we could. We found a lot of books to be very valuable in guidance and improving general knowledge in a chosen topic. By far they are one of the most rewarding ways to learn after referring to YouTube, LinkedIn and the many open-sourced articles online.
The HMRC, banks and local business enterprises also offer immeasurable guidance and resources every start-up should take advantage of.
What was the outcome?
Finding a mentor and gaining information and help from people and from general experience while running our business has helped us gain great insight into what we do, and how and what we must do to make it work, and it’s helped us create a growing brand with a purpose and a story.
What three key questions should new entrepreneurs ask themselves before starting a business?
- What’s your why? Knowing your why for what you want to do will drive you to make sure it happens.
- Does what you want to do give value? Giving value is the most essential point at the end of it all. It should be at the core of what you’re creating.
- Ask every possible question you can think of. Ask yourself what it is you want to create, who it will be for, if there will be demand for it or you, what you must do to get started, etc. The more questions, the clearer your vision.
What one piece of advice would you offer to business owners with no prior experience?
Be bold and fearless. Be passionate. Know it will be a bumpy ride. Trust in your instincts and embrace mistakes.
Is there anything you would do differently?
If we had to do it again, we would ask ourselves 101 questions before starting anything. Having clarity and vision is fundamental to achieving desired results.
While the founders of K&K LABS started with no business knowledge, there are several qualities key to entrepreneurial success – watch our video on what makes a great entrepreneur here.