Leaders from across the industry spectrum share their experiences of starting a business from scratch.

Starting a business from scratch is very often a highly beneficial experience - being able to do something that you love, and build a customer base to invest in the product or service you have created, is extremely rewarding. 

Still, it’s not without its challenges. Working for yourself means no safeguards, often irregular hours, and a huge amount of responsibility. 

This week, we reached out to our network of business leaders who have started from scratch themselves and asked them to relive the experience, including the initial driving force behind their decision, the challenges they faced, and advice for anyone looking to make the jump.


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About our leaders


“From a standing start, to £2.5M revenue” 

Dan Hawthorne, Co-Founder, night

Driving  £2.5million revenue in its first trading year, night is taking the retail industry by storm.

“My background is in sales, marketing, brand and product positioning. I have worked for a number of creative design, advertising and media marketing companies, and worked alongside some of the world's leading brands. 

We boast an enviable roster of customers including ASOS, Next, TK Maxx, and over 70+ independent boutiques. In just a year, night has gained thousands of loyal, global customers rapidly.”

“Our three founders spent several years in the wallpaper industry” 

James Mellan-Matulewicz, Co-Founder, CEO and Creative Director, Bobbi Beck 

Bobbi Beck is a new, UK-based design & print studio specialising in sustainably-made premium wallpaper.

“Our three founders spent several years in the wallpaper industry across design, marketing, and operations.

We’re now around one year into building Bobbi Beck; a design and print studio specialising in sustainably made luxury wallpaper.”

“We share a common passion for helping people improve their health” 

Javed Dar, Founder, ZOLA Lab

ZOLA Lab provides integrative coaching solutions for a "time-conscious generation of high performers".

“Like many businesses, it's the culmination of inspiration from books, studies, jobs, self-experiments, eye-opening conversations, and lessons in life.

My brother and I share a common passion for helping people improve their health, albeit from different backgrounds in functional medicine and wellness. We decided to join forces to create ZOLA with a vision to bridge the two worlds through 360° lifestyle medicine.

We provide integrative coaching solutions (mindset, movement, nutrition & recovery) for time-conscious professionals looking for more balance in work, life & play.

“I spotted a gap in the market” 

Marieke Syed, Founder, SNACKZILLA

SNACKZILLA is a new healthy snack brand aimed at 5-11 year olds, perfect for lunchboxes and when on the go.

“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial flair, having been involved in the creation and set up of London Craft Week, as well as setting up an online baby gift store whilst on mat leave.

I’m now building SNACKZILLA, a healthier, HFSS compliant cookie for kids snack times and lunchboxes, with 50% less sugar. I spotted a gap in the market for a healthier kids snack for school-age kids and wanted to create something cool that appealed both to kids and to parents.

“I decided to put my experience into something that could help"

Neil Dollochin, Founder & CEO, Floot App

“After 20 years in the hospitality business, I decided to put my experience into something that could help independent venue owners like myself. So, We Are Floot was born: a free app allowing independent venues to directly reach the customers who want to discover them

A deep-dive into the world of hospitality data, insights and market measurements shows lack of representation for the 50k+ independents. That’s our gap in the market, with enough users and venues we have a powerful in-market data collection tool.”

“I realised the 9-5 rat race was not for me" 

Louis Rose, Co-Founder, Sofa Club

Started in 2012, Sofa Club is one of the fastest growing sofa retailers in the UK.

“Growing up through school and university, I always worked as much as I could or found ways of earning money. At 18, I was working three jobs whilst studying for my A levels. Warehouse in the morning, retail in the day & bar work in evenings and weekends.

During university, I would always have a ‘side hustle,’ whether it be hosting events at university or buying and selling on eBay. 

I left university and went to work in the city, however quickly realised that the 9-5 rat race was not for me. For 3 months I would spend my train journey home writing business ideas into a notebook.

In 2012, I decided to quit my job & started a business with my Co-Founder Tom, and the initial idea was selling sofas directly from local shopping centres.

Over the next few years we visited over 100 shopping centres across the UK with our ‘Pop-up’ business model. Fast forward 10 years, as one of the fastest growing sofa retailers in the UK, we are known for our celebrity & influencer partnerships on social media, with 8 permanent offline locations in some of the UK's largest shopping centres.”

Download: The Best of the Network

What was the driving force behind setting up your own business?

“To create a business that inspires and uplifts” 

Dan Hawthorne, night

“We started this business for a number of reasons.

Firstly, to fill a gap in the market. Our ethos is 'All-inclusive Nightwear for Every Body'. We pride ourselves on size and inclusivity. Competitors offer a 'Plus size' and a 'Core' range, however we don't believe this separation should exist. Our full collection is available from size 6-28 because we believe every body is beautiful. No exceptions.

Secondly, to create a business that inspires and uplifts our employees. Having previously worked in environments where there was very little employee satisfaction, this was something that pushed us to create our own business, we knew there was need for change.

For both of us, the opportunity to create and produce is crucial to our happiness. To build something that allows our team and ourselves to feel fulfilled, connected and productive is a huge driver in starting a business. 

Dan Hawthorne on starting from scratch as a business owner


Being able to nurture talent is something equally as important.

At night, we strive to up-skill and promote our employees so that they can grow with the brand and enjoy the journey with us. We wanted to create a business where staff are enthusiastic about the brand and enjoy their work, which is something that we feel extremely proud of.

Creating a work/life balance was instrumental in starting the brand and this is something that is instilled into the team.”


“We saw an opportunity to innovate” 

James Mellan-Matulewicz, Bobbi Beck 

“We wanted to launch a business because we saw an opportunity to innovate the wallpaper market from both a creative and practical perspective.

On the creative side, we’re aiming to produce leading imagery to improve the customer inspiration stage and we’re also aiming to produce the most sustainable products in the wallpaper market.”


“A creative desire to build something new” 

Javed Dar, ZOLA Lab

“On one hand, it's born out of frustration with conventional systems, on the other it stems from a creative desire to build something new. I think all entrepreneurs have a mild rebellious streak, and going against the grain is how innovation happens. 

As a result, we've managed to create jobs for ourselves that perfectly match our skill set and facilitate us doing what we enjoy.

These positions don't really exist, so we feel blessed to be the architects of our own vocation whilst making positive change at the same time.”


“Following my entrepreneurial ambitions” 

Marieke Syed, SNACKZILLA

“For me, it was about having a positive societal impact and following my entrepreneurial ambitions. Childhood obesity is a real problem in the UK, with the national rate of obesity among kids aged 2 to 19 increasing to 22.4% in 2020.

As a mum of two, this statistic really matters to me, and I believe that the snacks currently on offer don’t help kids and families make easier healthy choices.”

“I’d find it hard to work for someone else again” 

Neil Dollochin, Floot App

“Following an early career in a corporate environment, aged 25 I decide to work for myself and have been ever since.

I’d find it hard to work for someone else again. People talk about the freedom working for yourself brings. I don’t necessarily agree with that statement. I don’t know any business owners who can totally switch off when they’re not at work.

Where I’ve felt the freedom, is being able to show my creativity and in knowing that whether I achieve success or failure, I did it on my terms.”

Neil Dollochin on starting from scratch as a business owner


“I wanted to work for myself and build a brand” 

Louis Rose, Sofa Club

“I always wanted to work for myself and build a brand. When I previously worked in a furniture store part-time, I recognised that in comparison to other furniture products, sofas were the most profitable and had the least customer issues.

We did some quick calculations, recognised that there was a profit margin, and took the plunge. We obviously didn’t account for all the unexpected costs of running a business, but if we had created a big business plan in the beginning, we might have talked ourselves out of it.

This is something that I try to encourage in my team; just make a start, you can figure the rest out as you’re going along.”

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What where the unexpected challenges in starting a business, and how did you overcome them? 

“We had to quickly adapt and change"

Dan Hawthorne, night

“When we secured our first sizable wholesale order, we had no way of funding it. In fact, at the time, we had around £2000 in the business account and needed to find over £70,000 to fund the production of the order. 

I spent weeks meeting various finance professionals, bodies and banks understanding what options are available. We decided to secure a trade finance account, which allowed us access to the initial capital we needed.

Due to the rapid growth of the business, we had to quickly adapt and change and introduce a scalable invoice finance facility which supported our growth and cash flow requirements to date.”


“Lots of challenges were difficult to predict” 

James Mellan-Matulewicz, Bobbi Beck 

“Launching during the pandemic meant lots of challenges that were difficult to predict, including unimaginable levels of rising costs, consistent supply chain issues and difficulties in doing things without physically being there.

The key to getting past these is to remain open-minded and flexible when it comes to the next rote forward.”

James Mellan-Matulewicz on starting from scratch as a business owner


“World events weren’t on our side” 

Javed Dar, ZOLA Lab

“Timing is everything in business, but world events weren't exactly on our side (ZOLA Lab launched in late 2021).

There's no doubt the effects of politics and the economy filters down into consumer behaviour, but there's always an opportunity to find a positive spin.

For example, we responded to customer resistance to long-term commitments by changing memberships to tailored 3-month journeys.

Adapting to market demands ended up helping us refine and differentiate our service offering which otherwise might have been overlooked.”

“It requires a lot of patience to get right” 

Marieke Syed, SNACKZILLA

“Starting a food brand is a significant time & financial investment.

From working on an initial recipe, to finding a manufacturer and agreeing on packaging - it requires a lot of patience to get right. 

Once I had the idea, developing the brand and finding an early fan base and advisors that believed in my idea kept me going.”

“The investment process isn’t easy”  

Neil Dollochin, Floot App

“This is maybe not an overlooked challenge, but by far and away the biggest issue for any start-up looking to scale is cash flow.

The investment process isn’t easy, and it requires a lot of determination and more than just a little working capital, even just to get the business to the point of being investor ready.

Honourable mention goes to recruiting good people who buy-in to your vision before it’s been proven.”

Read: Investing in Talent - Finding the right strategy for your business

“Logistics was a nightmare at the start” 

Louis Rose, Sofa Club

“Logistics was a nightmare at the start - we were leaning on suppliers for warehouse space and paying contractors over the odds for delivery.

During the fast growth, there were many situations where we outgrew our partners, whether this was agencies or suppliers.

We had to have an honest conversation with them and decide if we had the same ambitions and if they were the right partner to help us get to where we wanted to be.”

As a new business, what marketing strategies or initiatives did you use to get ahead of the curve?

“We’re constantly adapting and changing strategies” 

Dan Hawthorne, night

“Using my experience and skill sets, we were able to design and build our website in-house, which took about a week in total, and I also setup and ran our paid advertising across Facebook and Instagram.

This quickly generated an audience and interest, along with actual website orders. Once we had generated enough sales and my time was needed in other areas, we were able to afford freelance support to further scale that activity. 

We also implemented B2B email marketing campaigns targeting the relevant people to open wholesale accounts. These have now grown into multi-million-pound accounts.

We’re constantly adapting and changing strategies - doing more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.”

“Digital is easier to see and measure performance” 

James Mellan-Matulewicz, Bobbi Beck

“Our marketing strategy is mainly digital.

Not only is this suitable for product and market, but it’s easier to see and measure performance, which is critical for cashflow in the business’ early stages.

As an early-stage business, it’s too expensive to spend money on advertising where you can’t be certain on whether it’s driving sales.” 

“We saw real results from getting out there and showing our faces” 

Javed Dar, ZOLA Lab

“Deep down, we're still hard-wired to connect with each other in communities, and the last couple of years proved social distancing is intrinsically not human.

We saw real results from getting out there and showing our faces, speaking directly with local professionals and business owners. It's especially important in the competitive world of service marketing where the product is invisible, and trust is imperative. 

Call it old-school but it feels like we've come full-circle where stepping-out of the digital world goes a long way. People appreciate it more than ever, and so will you.”

Javed Dar on starting from scratch as a business owner


"We relied mostly on free marketing channels to share our story” 

Marieke Syed, SNACKZILLA

As a new business, we relied mostly on free marketing channels like social media and local press & networking.

I shared my story as a local entrepreneur via Facebook groups and local parent groups, and built a social media profile.

I also connected with other similar start-ups and worked on mutually beneficial collaborations, involving sampling wherever possible."

Marieke Syed on starting from scratch as a business owner

“I assessed what has and hasn’t worked on me - we're opting for boots on the ground” 

Neil Dollochin, Floot App

“We’re lucky in a sense that our market already exists. We can easily identify where our users hang out, both physically and online.

So, our approach is centred around exploiting this existing marketplace and tailoring our messages to reach the people we want, with the motivation they need to download.

For marketing to venues, I assessed what has and hasn’t worked on me over the last few years.

I’ve identified the pain points and potential barriers and worked accordingly. We’re actively avoiding LinkedIn marketing, instead opting for boots on the ground.”

“We were fortunate with our social media/influencer marketing” 

Louis Rose, Sofa Club

“We were fortunate with our social media/influencer marketing. We moved fast and doubled down on it at a time when not a lot of brands were doing it.

We quickly became the biggest sofa company on social media and had partnerships with a lot of the most followed influencers. We then got in early with Facebook ads, at a time no other sofa companies were doing it. 

The offline presence in shopping centres is a unique business model for our industry and although it’s difficult to track exact ROI, we know the brand awareness is huge, increasing traffic to the website as well as generating their own revenue.”

Read - How Influencer Marketing can guide consumers through the 'messy middle'

What advice do you wish you'd had that you want to share with others starting out a new business from scratch? 

“Being genuinely happy is the most important thing” 

 Dan Hawthorne, night

“Being genuinely happy is the most important thing. To be happy, we make sure what we’re doing is fulfilling, productive and creative.

Selling Pyjamas doesn’t necessarily make me happy, but building a business, the operations, the creativity, learnings, the successes, and failures - all these things day-to-day is what I find fulfilling.

So, my advice is to make sure you enjoy the majority of what you do as much as possible!”

“Have a clear plan and remain flexible” 

James Mellan-Matulewicz, Bobbi Beck 

“My biggest piece of advice would be to have a clear plan, and remain flexible based on the challenges you face and where the market takes you.”

“Every new business is different - there are no guarantees” 

Javed Dar, ZOLA Lab

“This is my second start-up, so it's been a little bit like releasing that difficult second album. Even if you're in the same industry, in the same town, there are no guarantees that clients will follow you like the Pied Piper. 

Reputation counts, but the value proposition still must resonate.

I made the mistake of presuming that the same clientele would be our new target market, but it wasn't that straight forward.

Every new business is different and must be treated that way.

“Think long-term" 

Marieke Syed, SNACKZILLA

“My best advice is to think long-term.

Things always take a little longer than you think to get right, and patience really pays off.”

“Only listen to people you really trust” 

Neil Dollochin, Floot App

“Get as many good people as possible around you to offer advice and help. Only listen to people you really trust and who ask you ‘real questions’ about your business.

Believe in your instincts and your ability to achieve your goals, but do use the advice from advisors to fine tune your business.”

Learn to ignore opinions, everybody has one and they’re rarely useful.”

“How are you going to cut through the noise?” 

Louis Rose, Sofa Club

“I think if we’re talking about Ecommerce, your product, your brand, and your message must be very strong.

There is so much competition for everything now, you can start an Ecomm brand from your bedroom. What is it that’s going to make customers choose your brand over others?

How are you going to cut through the noise?

Louis Rose on starting from scratch as a business owner


Also, document it all the way! Let people see what you’re up to behind the scenes.

Share the good times and the bad times, this will allow people to be emotionally connected to your brand.

In the next 12-18 months, consumers will choose brands that they trust. They will be looking for brands that are authentic and transparent.

Make sure you keep telling your story.”

For new leaders looking for an unbiased view on their strategy and external resource, GO! can help with that. From digital transformation to brand strategy, our team of industry experts are here to help you benchmark your state of play. Get in touch to get started…