Really Simple Ideas: Cara Sayer
The Startups Product of the Year winner on going from full time mother to successful inventor
Company name: Really Simple Ideas Ltd
Founder: Cara Sayer
Based: Surrey, UK
Staff Numbers: 2
Date started: October 2009
Tell us what your business does
Really Simple Ideas is the parent company for the nursery brand SnoozeShade. It manufactures the SnoozeShade range of products and works with distributors around the world to market them.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Simply through necessity. My daughter was a great sleeper as a baby but, as she got older and more aware of her surroundings, she started to find it hard to switch off at naptime. I looked for a suitable product everywhere and when I couldn't find one I started to think about how I could make one.
How did you know there was a market for it? What's your USP (unique selling point)?
I asked other parents and there was a consensus that a product like SnoozeShade would be useful, especially if it was priced competitively. The USP is that there is no other product that is a blackout for prams and pushchairs – there are plenty of sunshades but nothing that is purely geared towards helping babies sleep. It's also small and portable and fits all prams and pushchairs.
What were you doing before starting up?
I was a full time mother of one, however prior to that I had nearly 20 years experience working in marketing and events, which has been very useful in starting my business. It has been very hard being a full time mum at the same time as starting up, particularly as the business took off so fast. My daughter now attends a nursery to give me quality work time.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I have always wanted to be my own boss but I thought I'd start my own marketing or events business. I never expected to be an inventor.
What planning did you do before you started up? What advice did you seek?
In some ways, I am not a good example of how to do it. I still have no business plan to this day, however I did do a lot of research. I looked at other products, investigated retailers and looked hard at the pricing. I researched all the intellectual property issues and then spoke to lots of people about the idea. The overall opinion was that it would work.
How did you raise the money?
In an odd way, a bad friend is the reason I was able to invest in the business. She owed me a considerable sum of money from two years' work that she claimed she couldn't pay. She paid in drips and drabs and eventually after two and a half years it was all paid back. I kept it all in an account until it was repaid and this gave me the lump sum to invest in my first production run.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
I have found it all a bit overwhelming at times – I never thought that SnoozeShade would take off like it did. I'd never manufactured a product before so I had to learn everything from scratch. My biggest piece of advice is just keep knocking on doors of people who've done or are doing the same as you. My largest challenge was when I came to a grinding halt at the end of June and suffered from nervous exhaustion. I collapsed from working too hard and trying to be a perfect businesswoman, wife and mother. Fortunately my mother and husband helped and gave me time to recuperate and I try not to do so much now.
How have you promoted your business? What has proved successful and what won't you do again?
I am lucky that my background is in marketing and promotion and so I have taken those skills and put them to good use for my business. I am a big fan of social media but it can be a time drainer so be careful not to overdo it. It also depends what industry you're in. It works well for a baby product as so many parents are online now. I don't advertise much, but I rely on PR and I am also a big believer in networking; meeting other people in all industries is helpful and invaluable for getting advice on running a business.
How much do you charge? How did you decide this?
SnoozeShade Original – which is the first product I launched – costs £19.99. I wanted it to be under £20 and started from the bottom with manufacturing costs. Then I had to work in retailers' margins and if I wanted to appoint a distributor that had to be allowed for too.
What has your growth been like? Are you where your business plan said you'd be?
Growth has been phenomenal and unexpected. I aimed to sell 7,500 SnoozeShades in the first year and I've beaten that already. I attended an international trade fair in Germany in September and since then SnoozeShade has gone live in Australia, New Zealand, The Gulf, Denmark and more than ten countries are in progress at the moment. I have also appointed a UK distributor and this year we go into 300+ Tesco stores, Mothercare's top 86 stores and retailers including Boots and ShopDirect are signed up. I have made a small amount of profit but that will all go towards more products for next year. I have a new product for infant car seats launching in March and another four products in the pipeline.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
Not having enough time.
What was your first big breakthrough?
When I exhibited my unfinished prototype at the Baby Product Association Show in October 2009 I had an order placed by JoJo Maman Bebe on the spot. From then on I knew the idea had commercial legs – it was just a matter of starting the ball rolling.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
You might be a small business but act like a big one. A lot of larger companies are too cumbersome to move as quickly as a smaller enterprise, so use that speed to trip them up and stand out from the crowd. Most importantly – do your research.
Where do you want to be in five years' time? Do you have an exit plan?
I'd like SnoozeShade to be a worldwide brand with lots of happy babies and parents reaping the benefits of using the product. I don't have an exit plan but long-term I'd like to help small businesses achieve more through marketing activities.