Sometimes, here at BQ, we see a business that is absolutely unique. Meet Jonathan Brook and Hayley Hollonds, co-founders of Text-A-Potato. We’re leaving the explaining up to them!
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Text-A-Potato sends personalised, hand written messages on potatoes to anyone in the UK and select European countries. Yes, you read that correctly. The Text-A-Potato team send potatoes with messages in the post. The business has now expanded into themed potato gifts, including spuds for anniversaries, congratulations, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Christmas and even proposals. Text-A-Potato has also started to broaden its offering to include personalised and annoying cards.
Our potato gifts are sent via a courier and are completely anonymous, unless of course, the customer’s potato message specifically says who it is from. Text-A-Potato is purely an ecommerce company and all of the products are sold exclusively through our website www.textapotato.com.
What did you do before you started this business?
We have previously worked in both PR and financial services but have spent the past six years living in Malaysia working on our small IT business. This business specialises in developing creative strategies and web platforms for new business ventures, focusing primarily on in-app purchases and mobile content.
While Text-A-Potato may not be the first business we started, it is the one that has seen the fastest growth and provides a huge amount of enjoyment. We genuinely love working on the brand and the products. Our customer’s reactions when they receive their potatoes provide daily motivation to keep innovating and to pursue new gifting ideas.
What inspired you to start up?
Our greatest motivation to create Text-A-Potato was the desire to work for ourselves. Based on our experiences, we both felt a touch lost in the corporate world and the traditional ladder climbing didn’t provide much motivation for us. We quickly found what motivated us was seeing through our ideas and making them a profitable business venture. We came from different sides of the corporate world, one financial and the other marketing, and together we felt we could develop our business ideas into something creative but financially viable.
We were inspired to launch Text-A-Potato when we were living overseas and were away from our friends and family. We often found it hard to find original, funny and reasonably priced presents for birthdays, engagements, thank you gifts etc. We were inspired to launch a novelty gift website because we felt the UK market in particular had a wonderfully unique sense of humour and the demand for the personalised gifts market was ever growing. It just so happened that our idea was a potato with a personal message on it!
How would you describe your business to your grandma?
Considering we sent one of Text-A-Potato’s gifts to Hayley’s Grandad, it is certainly a concept that speaks for itself and can be appreciated by all ages! The most straightforward way of describing the business is that it’s an online store that sells novelty, personalised gifts. On the website, you choose which type of potato you would like (e.g. a birthday spud), you type what personal message you would like written on your potato and from there the potato parcel is gift wrapped and posted to whomever you like.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
We have certainly found that the internet is a huge support network, specifically forums and small business websites. There really is a goldmine of information out there. Learning to work through your own concerns and mistakes is one thing but hearing about other’s enables you to keep adapting and innovating without feeling disheartened or lost. It’s easy to read about the huge success stories but the areas where you will find the best advice and guidance is through people’s honest feedback and analysis of consumer demands. People don’t have to be in the same industry for you to appreciate their thoughts on staying focused.
We have also found that having an equal business partner is a huge help. You rely on one another for feedback, both constructive and positive. It also really helps you divide the time between working on the business rather than always in the business.
Freelancing out small projects is another easy way we find support, a fresh set of eyes running over campaigns or new ideas before we fully commit to them is really helpful. Particularly if in areas that are not our area of expertise.
We also host Text-A-Potato’s website through WIX who regularly provide support through top tips blogs and advice. The team at Wix regularly share product updates and feedback which means out website is performing at its best. Being an online business, this is really important as it has to showcase the brand, goods and personality!
The final area where we find support may sound strange, but often working for yourself can feel isolated. Simple things such as sitting in a café filled with people typing away on their laptops can make you feel less alone and reinvigorated about working for yourself!
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
When we were analysing our various gift ideas before launching Text-A-Potato, it was essential for us that we minimised costs and had very little financial burden. With the incredible boom of start-ups, we found many fantastic platforms which help manage your financial requirements. For example, we knew Text-A-Potato would need a reliable and funky ecommerce site, but we had no previous coding skills nor had we ever designed or made a website ourselves. Quotes for the site were expensive and didn’t really capture the humour, and the look and feel that the product was offering. Sites such as WIX.com taught us how to build an ecommerce platform easily and quickly, and more importantly offered this for free. There are various businesses that will make things easier and more cost efficient for you, such as WIX, we spent a lot of time researching how we could do things ourselves and took advantage of any new products or businesses that could assist us.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Text-A-Potato’s biggest achievement so far would have to be getting through to BBC’s Dragons’ Den. It was a huge process that required interviews, auditions and endless due diligence simply to get through to the filming stage. It was an absolute thrill to finally present Text-A-Potato to five incredible business figures, and watch their reactions as we explained the business! It was an even greater achievement to hear that we had successfully made the final stage which was a prime-time airing, something that is not guaranteed during filming so we were really proud of Text-A-Potato!
How do you differentiate your business from others?
We focus very heavily on the customer’s experience both through our website and in how their friends, colleagues, partners etc. receive the potato gift. The business doesn’t focus on us or the brand, instead we always ensure our focus is on what makes the customer engage with and laugh at, when sending a potato in the post. The business itself has low barriers to entry so we have to differentiate ourselves by focusing on quality and experience. Every single potato parcel is carefully created and packaged, the gifts are very personal so we individually create every order. While the potato may be a light-hearted novelty gift, we always ensure that our product is the best quality and fun experience so that our customers keep coming back.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
It’s a rollercoaster! Your highs are high and your lows are low, but it’s fast paced, thrilling and it always feels like you’re running on adrenaline. Every time you think you’re too exhausted and may want to get off, you quickly realise how fun it is and go around again!
Where do you see your business in 5 years time?
We hope to continue innovating and growing Text-A-Potato’s product offering. In five years, we would like to have new people on board and grow the creative aspect of the brand and broaden its appeal. We would hope to continue our growth and expand into new international markets.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
You can read as much as possible, analyse your idea as much as possible, doubt yourself and your business venture as much as possible but in the end just hurry up and do it! Sitting around thinking too much can be a burden, learn on the job, take risks, trust yourself and listen.
We would also advise not to follow the mentality of ‘build it and they will come’. Often the ‘building’ aspect is the easiest part, but is the part where most of the initial thinking is focused. Make sure you really plan and test how to will convince people to use, buy, discover and/or engage with your product and brand.