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Eight Questions for the 'Final 8' - Chris Dodson

Tue, 01 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 Chris Dodson of Concept Cupboard.
Can you give us some background on how your business got started?
The business was started after a chance conversation with one of my clients at O2 (now one of my co-founders/board directors), Simon Devonshire. I'd had an idea for a business while I was on my way to a stag do. I didn't want to forget it all so I wrote it all down and started to develop the business plan. The following week I had a meeting with Simon and as he was a serial entrepreneur I decided to run the idea past him. He liked the sound of it and suggested I meet him and his friends for dinner. The following evening I had dinner with Simon, Guy and Julie (all co-founders and board directors of Concept Cupboard) and after a good chat it appeared we were working on similar concepts. By the end of the dinner (and a few bottles of wine) we decided to team up and go into business together. Six weeks later I left my job in advertising and we got started. 
What has been the biggest barrier you have overcome to get this far?
We are now eight months old. Every month throws up new challenges, but the recurring theme is always new business. Finding new customers is probably the number one priority of every new business and the only way we've kept growing is to ensure we look after our existing customers and give them every reason to recommend us. We've also tried numerous marketing activities and refined what has worked well to make sure we are optimising any activity. We'll continue to work hard, pick up the phone and keep pushing ourselves to find new customers. 
How has Shell LiveWIRE helped you on your journey?
The whole Shell LiveWIRE experience has been incredible, from the forums to the support and PR through to the £1,000 award. It has all been hugely positive. The Shell LiveWIRE community is buzzing and we feel privileged to have gotten this far in the process. Almost every young entrepreneur I have met has applied to Shell LiveWIRE and it really is the go-to place when you are starting out.
What has been the best bit of advice you’ve received on your entrepreneurial journey?
The best piece of advice I received was from Simon Devonshire at O2. As a serial entrepreneur he knows how paralysing to-do lists can be for start-ups. He told me to focus on the one thing I needed to do in any given day, week and month. As long as I made sure I nailed that important task then the rest can wait. It's a great way of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. 
Which entrepreneurs do you look to for inspiration?
I have been inspired by lots of people. From the big names like Tony Hsieh (Zappos), Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos (Amazon) through to people I've met since I set up Concept Cupboard, Fraser Doherty (SuperJam) and Reshma Sohoni (Seedcamp) to name but a few. Most entrepreneurs have a great story to tell and you can learn something from every one.
What are you most looking forward to at Shell LiveWIRE LIVE! 2011?
There are two things I am looking forward to. Firstly it will be great to hang out with the other finalists and find out more about their businesses. It's a readymade entrepreneur network and you never know how we might be able to help each other in the future. I'm also looking forward to the interview process. Being interrogated isn't normally something I'd look forward to, but I think it is important to deep dive into your business and it will be a great experience that will stand me in good stead if I go to VCs in the future.
What will it mean to you and the business if you win?
It will be huge if we were to win but we do understand that the competition is fierce. If we were to win it would be another tick in the box that we are on the right track and doing great things. As a young start-up that affirmation is key to keep you going. The PR and buzz surrounding the award would also elevate our profile in the business community, which would be huge for our new business drive. Also the money would be a game changer. A cash injection of £10,000 would mean we could accelerate our growth plans significantly.
What do you think can be done to help entrepreneurs in the future?
Things are changing in the UK, but we've got a long way to go before we match the US. Over there entrepreneurs are like rockstars. Here people still think you are mad for not wanting a proper job. I think starting a new business could be easier. Whether that is cutting through red tape or new micro-loans/grants to get people started.  After all, 42% of start-ups begin with less than £1,000. The small business community also has a huge role to play and organisations like StartUp Britain will become increasingly important.

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