My business story… Taylor & Hart
In 2012, I was hoping to propose to my girlfriend and I wanted to do so with a ring that was more special than off-the-shelf. So I reached out to my old school friend David who was in the diamond industry and together we managed to custom-design the ring of her dreams. I proposed (luckily, she said yes!) and we soon found that a lot of our friends were also interested in doing what we had done. So we thought this would be a great opportunity to start a business offering this service.How long have you been running Taylor & Hart?
We launched the website in 2014, so just over three and a half years.Have you run any previous businesses?
I’d ran a few small digital and ecommerce businesses prior to Taylor & Hart, so I kind of had some idea of how to grow an online company, but nothing could have prepared me for the many challenges we’ve faced as we’ve grown the business.What was your first job?
I grew up in South Africa and luckily there were many opportunities for young people to do part-time work. My first job was working at a local butcher on Saturdays and shortly after that, I was a waiter at a pizzeria. That was a great experience for me - I realised I was a foodie, but also learnt a lot about customer service.What motivated you to start the business?
I always knew I’d be an entrepreneur; I’d been running little businesses at school since I was 13. It was always just a question of finding the one venture that made me excited enough to do it full time. Combining real-world economy, physical products and a digital, global customer experience was something that really appealed to me as a challenge and the business grew from there. As for what motivated me to be an entrepreneur - I love the autonomy and self-empowerment that the role gives me.How did you fund your business in the beginning?
We self-funded initially with the little savings that David and I had and then reached out to family and friends once we saw our ideas had some traction. We then did a crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs and from there, the business took off.What was the biggest hurdle in the early days?
The biggest hurdle for our company was generating trust in our brand and products. An engagement ring is such a high-value purchase and most people want to see this kind of product beforehand. We therefore had to do a lot of work in getting social approval, improving our product photography and validating our unique value proposition in the early stages.What is the hardest part of running a business?
When the company was small, the challenge was the vast amount of work needed and the lack of resources in executing on everything. However, I would say a far larger challenge for me has been managing and growing a fantastic team. There are now 20 of us and I spend far less time in technical work and a lot more in supporting our team members. Shifting from being the “technician” to leading a team - that has been the hardest part for me.Who or what has been your biggest influence?
Many people have influenced me over the years. At the moment, I would say I am most inspired by Elon Musk and his achievements. His path of creating fantastic companies and then using his wealth from those businesses to start new companies that can transform the world is very close to my own, personal vision.How important is customer service to your business?
Customer service is one of the pillars of our business. Our sales team are compensated on customer feedback as well as sales figures and we use Net Promoter Score to track the quality of our customer’s experience through every step of their journey. We’re proud to receive consistently good feedback and work hard to keep our score high.When did you realise you needed a telephone answering service?
We run a global business with customers around the world and it was vital to make them feel that there is someone they can speak to at anytime, anywhere. There aren’t many companies out there that have managed to accommodate all our requirements and provide our customers with an excellent service in the way Moneypenny has.Best business move?
Definitely deciding to move to the UK. The UK is a fantastic environment for start-ups and allows for businesses to grow and prosper with abundant talent, a great digital infrastructure and regulations that are easy to navigate.Worst business move?
I have made a lot of mistakes over the years, but all have been lessons, so I guess I don’t think of any them as being the “worst” exactly. However, one tricky lesson to learn has been how to have a productive, co-founder relationship with people who are also your closest friends. It certainly hasn’t been easy at times.What is your plan for the next few years?
We’re planning to grow the business and expand further internationally. At the moment, no one brand is known for custom-designed engagement rings, and yet more than 45% of all engagement rings are customised in some way. So we’d like to build on our brand and become recognised worldwide for the craftsmanship, service and experience that we’ve been working on these past 3 years.If you did it all again, what would you do differently?
I would focus on building a great team earlier on, instead of spending a lot of time doing work that I am not necessarily the most suitable person to do.What piece of advice would you give to a start-up?
Bootstrap your business for as long as possible to figure out a great product-market fit. This is key. Trying to grow a business too early, before you’ve identified exactly what your customers want and how you can deliver this at scale, is far more challenging than growing once these lessons have been learned.
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t running Taylor & Hart I would be… On the Internal Space Station, training for my mission to Mars.