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Eight Questions for the 'Final 8' - Joanna Montgomery

Sat, 05 November 2011

In the run up to the 2011 Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, we will be profiling each of the finalists to give you some background on their entrepreneurial journey so far. Meet Joanna Montgomery of Little Riot.
Can you give us some background on how your business got started?
Pillow 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?
The 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?
Shell 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 community. 
 
What has been the best bit of advice you’ve received on your entrepreneurial journey?
When I 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?
I love 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 himself! 
 
What are you most looking forward to Shell LiveWIRE LIVE! 2011?
I'm 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?
Becoming 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. 

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