Sometimes, usually on the bus on the way to work when I have nothing to read or when I’m just wandering the streets to get away from my computer for a little while, I think about the fact that all of the random things that we buy and consume have to be made somewhere. Where is the factory that pumps out the toys in quarter machines?
Anyway, that’s what I thought of when I came across Order Blinds Online. This UK company, run by founder Matthew Forde, sells (you guessed it!) window blinds. While not as obscure as quarter machine toys and while Matthew’s company sells blinds and doesn’t yet actually make them yet, blinds are still totally one of those things that you just never think about until all of a sudden you realize that your windows are naked and it’s no longer acceptable to thumbtack bedsheets across them.
Matthew took a break to share his thoughts about the startup life and how he got where he is today with us over here at KillerStartups.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
As the company is an online retailer I was searching for terms that people search for already in order to get some easy traffic. Eventually I snapped up the url www.orderblinds.co.uk which at the time had around 200-300 searches a month and decided to call the company Order Blinds Online.
What’s the very first thing you do at work everyday?
Get the coffee on and check for emails.
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
There is pretty much still only me in the business, I have a friend who writes some articles for me part time and a web developer who works on the site for me but that is all.
Remember the early days starting up? Maybe you can share one anecdote that describe the struggle you went through?
One of the first set backs the company faced was right at the beginning, we were buying our products from a company called William O Hanlon. They were bought out by a much larger company who just weren’t set up for internet traders. At the time this was our only line of supply so it was basically back to the drawing board and shut us down overnight. The lesson learned was to never keep all of your eggs in one basket.
How do you handle frustration? When/how was the last time you dealt with frustration?
I love to hit golf balls, not playing golf but the driving range is a great way to get out your frustration. That and my true love – rugby.
What’s your office environment like? Is it the kind of place where everyone is bumpin’ away to house music or is it more traditional?
Ha, very minimalist. I have converted the spare bedroom into an office where I do everything. I worked in an office with a group of girls for a number of years and hated the atmosphere of people talking behind each other backs so am determined to keep things easy going and straight talking.
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
Within the next 5 years we will be turning over at least £1 million a year. We will most likely have moved into manufacturing in order to increase profit margins whilst maintaining my core values of working hard and enjoy what you do. If it ever gets to a point where I don’t enjoy the job I’ll most likely sell up and do something else but right now I can’t see that happening.
Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes? Running? Video games? Snack food? Give us the deets, dude!
My dad has always been an important source of inspiration drive as he had me out working from a young age in order to develop a work ethic and has always been there for advice when I have needed it. On a daily basis there are a number of different things which keep me going, lunch time playing Call of Duty is definitely one of them as well as holidays.
I love travelling and experiencing new cultures. Having never had the chance to take a gap year or anything once the business grows big enough to manage itself I’d love to take a few months out, for now though 2 weeks a year will do.
I could probably reel off a dozen quotes which I have picked up over the years which have influenced my life/work ethic. Some of them include:
“PPP PPP” My old boss used to say this all the time. It stands for “perfect preparation prevents piss poor performance” and has stood me in pretty good stead, especially when getting ready for supplier meetings or quoting for a big job.
“The arse you kick on the way up is the arse you kiss on the way back down”
“If there is something you don’t like change it” – This is a quote that I could only realise when I set up my own business, one of the biggest frustrations about working for someone else is not having the power to change things which are obviously wrong.
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowd-funded? Where’d you get the money, man?
I set up the business as part of the SPEED programme at university. I was already selling blinds on ebay but this additional funding allowed me to have a website developed and really push the business forward. This was the start of www.blinds-now.co.uk, which was my first website selling blinds. A few years later I wanted to start again and do it more professionally and roped a friend into lending me some money.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
Learn how to optimise your website yourself. It really isn’t that difficult if you sit down with a few books to begin with and try things out. There is a world of SEO’s out there who just want your money and in my experience they can’t do a better job than someone who knows the product inside out.
Always look to do deals with your suppliers. Our 0800 number is provided for free as we posted an article the supplier wrote on our site. This saves over £100 a year.
Its a good idea to consider giving your business a national image by registering the address to a virtual one. For around £40 a year you can use a London address giving a national image and avoid people seeing that you work from home.
What’s your top tip for a startup business?
Get the business plan down before you actually do anything. A lot of people I know who have tried to start out in business failed or gave up because they didn’t actually have a plan. You need to know what your aims are going to be both on the short term and long term basis and this will really help you nail it down and give something to refer back to on the bad days.
It may also show you that the business model you are thinking of doesn’t work before you plug a load of hard earned cash into it.
What would you be doing if you had one year off and $500,000 to spend (and you couldn’t spend it on your current startup / projects)
I’d love to design and build my own house. That sort of money could make something really special and reflect a truly modern vision of how houses should be. I’d make everything uber green whilst still being practical enough to live in comfortably.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur right now? If not, what’s it gonna take to make you feel successful?
I would say I’ve been successful as an entrepreneur so far. There is always more battles to be won and I love to set the targets pretty high as well. If I get to the stage where I can sit at the same table as Richard Branson, Peter Jones and Lord Sugar, I’ll know I’ve made it.
Website you couldn’t live without and why?
www.ebay.co.uk – It’s where it all started and still plays a big part in the business.
Mobile App you’re in love with and why?
I want to say dropbox or the ebay app as they save me a lot of time and promote efficiency etc. But nothing comes close to a bit of Angry Birds. I’ve wasted more time on this app its unreal.
Dogs or cats?
Dogs – Cats don’t actually like people, it’s a fact.
iOS or Android?
Number 1 country you’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t yet?
Thailand, I’m planning the trip for Christmas at the moment and cannot wait!
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website/idea?
We offer a unique buying experience. We take some of the most up to date and contemporary designs and display them in a way that is easy to digest and can be completely customised. I’ve found that in a very competitive market such as blinds people buy what they see. Get in front of them and show them something cool, it doesn’t matter that they only want something in plain white, you need to grab attentions from the off.
Where can our readers get ahold of you? Facebook? Twitter? Google+? Personal blog? Any other projects you’re working on that we should check out?
Courtesy of Matthew Forde and Order Blinds Online