Eight Questions for the 'Final 8' - Joanna Montgomery
In each of the eight days running up to the 2011 Shell LiveWIRE Young
Entrepreneur of the Year Award, we will be profiling each of the eight
finalists to give you some background on their entrepreneurial journey
so far. Fifth up is Joanna Montgomery of Little Riot.
To learn more about Little Riot's visit Joanna' Alumni page.
you give us some background on how your business got started?
Talk started out as my degree project at university but was picked up by
technology blog Gizmodo, who wrote a feature on it and showcased the concept
video. It went viral overnight and the next morning I woke up to an inbox
exploding with emails from people all over the world, asking where they could
buy one. That was when I realised I'd created something that people really felt
a need for and thus an incredible market opportunity existed for Pillow Talk.
I'd just finished university and had been offered a couple of graduate designer
jobs but it felt like the right decision to turn those down and start my own
business instead. Little Riot was formed in September last year and four weeks
later I secured an initial £25,000 of funding to create a prototype, which was
the point things really kicked off.
What has been the biggest barrier you have overcome to
get this far?
whole process of starting a company and developing a product has been a really
steep learning curve. I finished university and knew what I wanted to achieve,
but had no idea where to start. Pillow Talk has a strong technology element to
it and I had to find the right people to do that work for me, which was
probably the biggest barrier I had to overcome. I subcontracted a couple of
companies to create the prototype and it was very challenging having to quickly
learn how to manage and direct a team of people.
How has Shell LiveWIRE helped you on your journey?
LiveWIRE has helped on many levels. The £1000 Grand Ideas Award is enabling me
to redevelop the Little Riot website to include an online store, which means
we'll be in a position to start making sales as soon as the product is
complete. The award also greatly raised the profile of Little Riot – the
company is definitely seen as more credible due to being supported by Shell
LiveWIRE. Furthermore, the amount of press and publicity following both the
Grand Ideas Award win and the announcement of the 'Final 8' has been
staggering. I find the social networking aspect very useful too – the resources and people on the website are a
huge support. It
is both an honour and a pleasure to be part of the Shell LiveWIRE
What has been the best bit of advice you’ve received
on your entrepreneurial journey?
graduated, one of my lecturers told me not to rush into a full-time job. It was
brilliant advice as, at that time, I had everything to gain and nothing to lose
– which sadly isn't a luxury you have once you're working a 9-5 job and have
taken on financial commitments. I had to live like a student for a little bit
longer (lots of beans on toast!) but it meant I could commit myself fully to my
business, something I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. Plus, the added
thrill/pressure of being responsible for generating my own income means that
every day I get up and give 100%.
Which entrepreneurs do you look to for inspiration?
entrepreneurs who grab every opportunity they see and strive for growth. Jamie
Oliver is a really good example of someone who started out doing one thing he
knew how to, but has marketed himself excellently as a brand and now has
fingers in every pie (ho ho ho). JK Rowling is another person who has built
something incredible, just by making the most of everything that came her
way. In May
I met Bill Morrow, the founder of Angels Den, at a pitching workshop run by
NACUE and also found him to be very inspiring. Aside from being very down to
earth and generous with his time, he arrived in jeans, chuckled at us being
dressed up in suits for him, then had to leave early to catch a private jet to
Italy for lunch... and I thought, now THAT is a man who works for
What are you most looking forward to Shell LiveWIRE
really looking forward to meeting all the other finalists. Running a start-up
is challenging and can be lonely at times when even your friends and family
don't understand the pressures of what you're trying to achieve. I love meeting
other people who are on the same journey as me as we can share experiences and
learn from each other's mistakes, plus you never know what opportunities will
arise for collaboration. I'm also looking forward to exhibiting at the event as
I'm hoping to showcase Pillow Talk and I love when people try the product and
are excited by it.
What will it mean to you and the business if you win?
Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year would be amazing and would be an
incredible boost to both myself as a young entrepreneur, and to Little Riot's
profile as a company. We're hoping to launch Pillow Talk in early 2012 so the
publicity that would follow such a prestigious win would be invaluable in terms
of raising awareness of Little Riot and the product. Pillow Talk has entered the
final stages of product design so the £10,000 prize would mean we'd be
able to pay for tooling and an initial run of stock, ultimately taking Pillow
Talk to market.
What do you think can be
done to help entrepreneurs in the future?
I think there needs to be a general shift in
attitude – if someone expresses an interest in becoming an entrepreneur they
should be encouraged, not hit with horror stories about how it's risky or they
could fail. Starting a business is about learning on-the-job, and
sometimes it can only take a small amount of money to get going. There are too
many funding competitions and opportunities that you can only apply for once
and if you're unsuccessful, too bad – which I feel endorses a very negative
message. There needs to be more emphasis on having a go, getting constructive feedback
and then trying again – something which Shell LiveWIRE does really well, and to
great effect. More business support organisations taking on this attitude will
not only help people succeed but will mean they have enhanced their knowledge
and improved their skills by the time they do.
For full details on each of the eight finalists for the 2011 Shell
LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, please visit the 'Final 8' page.
You can watch the 60-second elevator pitch video submitted by
Joanna as part of the Shell LiveWIRE Grand Ideas Award process in the
top right-hand corner of your screen.