Lessons learned from creative entrepreneurs

We spoke to the owners of several independent, creative businesses and gained insights into their refreshing perspective on entrepreneurship, and what it can mean to run your own company.

One of the best things about creating Lagom magazine is meeting so many interesting people, and hearing their inspiring stories about what motivated them to set up their own business and the lessons they’ve learned from setting out on their own.

We spoke to them about their journeys, and gained an insight into their refreshing perspective on business, and what it can mean to run your own.

On sustainability

“I think we, as consumers, should be making more conscious choices across the board. Whether it’s the food we eat, or the rockets we ride, we should take pride in keeping it local and supporting small businesses, while reducing our carbon footprint. My prerogative is to always opt for environmentally friendly materials. Some of these materials are not yet so cost-effective, but if enough shapers, craftsmen, and consumers join in, these products will one day be available for the same prices as the highly toxic ones used by mainstream manufacturers.” 

~ Kyle Black, Brooklyn Surf Company

“We’re brought up to understand that success comes from economies of scale, always pushing for bigger and better. But this is often to the detriment of the planet and the people hidden in the chain.” 

~ Alexander Geldenhuys, New Dawn Traders

“I really believe businesses need to become more sustainable to move forward in a positive way and to be in line with our resources. I believe it’s so important to focus on those types of values within [our coworking] space. All the businesses here are just getting off the ground. Even though a lot of them are tech companies, by becoming part of Green Spaces, we help them become certified green. Then they start to think about it, and it becomes part of their underlying value system. I think that’s really important as we move forward. Co-working spaces themselves are environmentally friendly because people are sharing resources together. I think it’s really important for all of us to be thinking about that in business, too.” 

Jennie Nevin, Green Spaces

On business philosophies

“We’ve consciously set out not to have a brand identity. For example, we don’t have a logo. We change up all our design work as soon as we get bored of it, and we’re not remotely interested in creating a brand here. But I think what runs through all our diverse work is the spirit that unifies it all: the spirit of having fun, not taking ourselves seriously, paying attention to details, always trying to be original, doing things by hand, being spontaneous, and being independent.” 

~ Azar Kazimir, Michelberger Hotel 

“I find that people who share the same values are much more open and happy to share knowledge and support. It’s possible to have a way of thinking about business that’s focused on working with others as allies rather than working against the competition. Like most people, I was born into that frame of mind, and I find that I’m still having to peel away my own fears and doubts. But it doesn’t have to be that way; it’s completely our own choice.”

~ Alexander Geldenhuys, New Dawn Traders

“[My business partner] Robin and I got on really well; he has a similar philosophy to me in that he wants to invest any money he makes into making life more interesting rather than trying to build up a company to sell. Marshmallow Laser Feast was set up with that goal in mind. We’ve done lots of experimental work, reinvesting all the money back into the company to work on more projects, and it’s flown from there on.” 

Barnaby Steel, Marshmallow Laser Feast

“I never really questioned [starting a business]... I was so sure that there was another way to do things. I was a 19-year-old fashion student based in Leeds and I was finding it so hard to source materials I needed for my college work, yet there were just piles of waste clothing around where I was living in a big, shared house. I couldn’t buy denim by the metre for love nor money, but there was a pile of old, broken jeans by the front door! I thought: let’s start with what we’ve got. So I started working with waste textiles, and, through the community and outreach work I was doing, I met loads of amazing women with machining skills who weren’t using those skills. I thought: is there an opportunity to have a brand that practices some of this pro-localisation we’re seeing in food and energy, but to try to model that with clothes? So that’s where I started from; from seeing the possibilities around us, it slowly developed into a brand.” 

Lizzie Harrison, Antiform

Advice from experience

“There are some pretty bad ideas out there that work really well, and some great ideas that don’t work as well. Probably the only difference is perseverance. You’ve got to make heaps of mistakes, embarrass yourself, and eventually you’ll start getting more wins than losses, and just run with that.” 

~ Adrien Taylor, Offcut 

“From a business standpoint, I learned that it’s a lot harder to get started without enough resources. I started with my own capital, which ended up posing a lot of challenges for us. Looking back, it would’ve been easier to take investment to get us off the ground instead of going through all those growing pains.” 

Jennie Nevin, Green Spaces

“I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and I’ve worked hard to start a business. During the times when I wasn’t working for ‘the man’, I’ve tried to start up businesses by myself. A lot of these businesses have been un- successful; ‘learning lessons’ as we like to call them. What I’ve personally learned is that I hit these down spots emotionally when building a business, and I can’t get out of them without the help of someone else. I realised that I can’t start a business without having business partners.” 

Eric Bandholz, Beardbrand

“A Kickstarter campaign was crucial to helping me move from exclusively making custom frames to a more accessible system of customised production bikes, and now I have a few employees who work in the shop with me, too. There is something so gratifying in teaching, sharing what I’ve learnt myself the hard way, supporting young craftspeople, and seeing their excitement at the things we work on together.” 

Thomas Callahan, Horse

“To take things to the next level and meet demand, I realised I’d need to enlist the help of some machines, but this seemed at odds with my roots: I had a great deal of internal struggles adjusting from being a small, artisanal, and 100 per cent hand-made business, to having chocolate bars made in a production unit with various machine processes. I battled with really wanting the business to grow, but also hanging on to being artisanal. [But] as a consequence of embracing the machine process, I’ve been able to travel and meet the producers themselves. Far from removing me from the personal nature of having a hand-made business, I’m now able to support the farmers and give my customers truly special chocolate that sustains the livelihoods of independent producers.”

~ Amelia Rope, Amelia Rope Chocolate

“It’s hard running a business. It’s lonely sometimes... But with all the struggles, the stresses, the multi- tasking, and juggling, I wouldn’t have it any other way.” 

~ Thomas Callahan, Horse