Roger Trapp: Analysis
Vision, passion and commitment are the entrepreneur's essentials
Tuesday 01 July 2008
Sam Petter may not fit the image of an entrepreneur formed in this age of Dragons' Den and The Apprentice. A former designer, she was working as a yoga teacher and helping to run her family's organic farm in Kent when she started her company, Tatty Bumpkin. But when I met her in her office in an ancient building on the farm – which she shares with her brother's computer software business – it is clear that she is in many ways the archetypal entrepreneur identified by academics and other experts. She has a clear vision, an almost tangible passion about what she is doing and a huge commitment to making it happen. As if that were not enough, the business also utilises skills and experience she already had.
Tatty Bumpkin was, says Petter, born as a complete idea. Inspired by the name she gave herself to describe the rather dishevelled state in which she used to arrive in London from the farm in her commuting days, the business is centred on providing yoga-based "multi-sensory movement classes" for children. It is far from being the only activity-based programme for young children, but Petter believes she is different in offering a complete package of classes, music CD to accompany them and a range of organic clothing for children. "I had such a strong vision," she says, adding that she could see the whole concept immediately.
While this vision has spurred her on, it has, she admits, also led her to ignore the usual essentials of business, such as cash flow and a business plan. But this was a conscious decision. "I realised that as soon as I focused on that my creativity would be curtailed," she says.
Petter was also convinced that she was on to a winner, and that if she shared the idea with too many people before it was fully formed, it could be copied. Four years on, most of the pieces are in place, including an embryonic franchising arrangement for the classes and clothing, and she feels confident that she has an image and presence that are strong enough to withstand easy imitation. She is also convinced that all the elements – the classes, the CD, the clothing etc – are vital to the success of the idea and worried that if she sought outside investment or brought in professional managers too early she would be encouraged to focus on one aspect or another to the detriment of the others.
Now that she has effectively achieved the plan for a fully-integrated business, she has brought in the professional help that she hopes will take a business that has hitherto been funded by herself and her family to new levels.
Not that it has been doing too badly so far. Sales this year are expected to be about £200,000, double last year's figures, while the organic clothing – cleverly unisex in design and colours to encourage passing on between children regardless of gender – is sold to independent shops around the world, with Scandinavia a particularly significant market.
Of special importance to Petter are the awards the company has won in the sustainable and organic fields. Firmly committed to the organic movement – the family farm harvests organic cobnuts, many of which end up in top restaurants, and the business's offices are powered by renewable energy – she sees the international trade as an indication that people like buying from small businesses, just as families enjoy going to farmers' markets.
In developing a business on so many different fronts on an extremely limited budget, Petter has demonstrated the sort of energy and commitment that Jon Gillespie-Brown, author of the newly-published book So You Want To Be An Entrepreneur? (Capstone, £12.99) would recognise as essentials for the role.
The book is designed to help readers decide whether they really have what it takes to set up a business and keep it going or whether they just like the idea of it. Some of the suggestions – such as ensuring your business is sufficiently attuned to the market to make the most of opportunities – might not suit Petter. But she certainly has the passion that Gillespie-Brown requires, and the conviction. After all, it is hard to have your work and your personal life more intertwined than when your business is effectively an outgrowth of your alter ego.
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