Progress Update: Mammal Swag

For the ninth in our progress update stories I met up with Jon Mills, the founder of Mammal Swag a clothing business that features Jon’s cartoon animals that have alter ego characters! Be it the Art Deco Gecko, the Hipster Dog or the Shellsuit Stag the designs are nothing short of eye catching. I first wrote about Mammal Swag in February 2013, this was a point in the business where Jon had been successful at selling his products in The Forum as well as online yet he was spending hours undertaking labour tasks (such as attaching labels to each t-shirt) rather than outsourcing this task to free himself up to drive the business forward. This proved to be a bit of crossroad for Jon, either take a step back to manage aspects of the business rather than single handedly performing each task within the business operation or accept that the strain on Jon’s time was the limiting factor that would prevent the business from further growth.

Mammal Swag

Mammal Swag – rebranding included introducing higher-quailty labels that also allowed Jon to step back from attaching labels to each item of clothing and spend more time growing the business!

Excitingly for us in summer 2013 Mammal Swag underwent a rebranding as Jon looked to establish a bit more quality in the brand; upgrading the t-shirts, introducing high-quality labels and most significantly seeing Jon step back from the production process to oversee the entire operation (he also employed his mum as part of the product dispatch team which is always a good idea!). This helped him to sell over 150 items of clothing in the run up to Christmas 2013, including sending products as far a field as Brazil and Saudi Arabia. Yet it was within selling face-to-face on market stalls that gained Jon the most satisfaction. This is where Mammal Swag due to their unforgettable designs really stood out from the crowd. Thriving at the “soft-sale” (where you allow customers to come to you, rather than badgering them to buy your goods) the instantly recognisable clothing company was able to distinguish itself from the extremely competitive t-shirt market.

Mammal Swag - The Zoo!

Mammal Swag – The Zoo displaying some of the animal characters Jon has created!

With the turn of the New Year and the increase in work load for Jon as a final year student had to put Mammal Swag on the back burner. However, with summer fast approaching and the end of exams almost in sight it will be interesting to see where Jon takes Mammal Swag over the summer 2014 and beyond. We will have to see!

In terms of the actually business of designing t-shirts I thought I would talk to Jon to provide some tips to students who are interested in following in his footsteps. Having worked as the Student Entrepreneur in Residence, listening to students pitch their various business ideas, I know that besides apps, online businesses and all things related to going on a night out, clothing business ideas are by far the most popular concept pitched to us here at the Innovation Centre. Yet, few are as successful as Mammal Swag, Young Ones or Tight Threads – why is this?

Well looking at the three clothing businesses, Young Ones and Tight Threads caught onto treads early (onesies and photographic print t-shirts respectively) producing superior products at a lower cost to the consumer, while Mammal Swag capitalised on Jon’s ability to design unique graphics to add to the clothes he was trying to sell. With so many clothing companies out there you really have to create something that customers will want to pay for. However, as Jon notes clothing companies are one of the best businesses to start at university (indeed, even I tried to start a clothing business when I first started at the University of Exeter!); with low start up costs, low overheads and your target market on your doorstep you can see why it appeals to so many entrepreneurial minded students. Utilising the power of the internet, something that perhaps our generation is more accustomed too, can also help to drive an early stage clothing business forward – Jon broke down his sale figures for me as 85% of sales taking place online to 15% offline. He sold through the likes of Asos Marketplace where 15% of his online sales took place and through his own Mammal Swag website (65% of online sales) that he got up and running for £10.

Mammal Swag - The Zoo!

Clothing businesses can have low start up costs, low overheads and with your target market on your doorstep you can sell straight to them, like Jon is here selling Mammal Swag products in the forum!

Yet, Jon will be the first to hold his hands up to making some business mistakes while growing his clothing company. Firstly a common problem for clothing businesses is trying to diversify the product range too early; for example, Jon created jumpers and iPhone cases that haven’t sold well as they have moved too far away from the core unique selling point of his business – creating fun, cool t-shirts. Secondly, custom orders can also prove a headache if they are for only tiny orders of 3 or less – in the case of the Mammal Swag jumpers to cover one items in all sizes, designs and colours Jon would have to have stocked 112 jumpers which would mean him putting significant capital into holding stock, never a good idea. Finally production lag times are always a source of major concern for clothing businesses, ensuring that these are as smooth and reliable as possible are crucial to running a successful clothing operation.

Nonetheless, the experience that Jon has had running a clothing business while at university is simply priceless, imagine being able to walk into a job interview and being able to talk about firsthand experience negotiating with suppliers, improving customer satisfaction and creating business solutions – failing that you could always continue to run the business that you founded during university and grow it into a nationwide clothing brand like Rampant Sporting ran by former University of Exeter student Richard Hurtley (and make lots of money along the way!).

Here at MGR Music Tuition this week I spent some time in London, working alongside Gael (the Guitar Lessons London lead teacher) to continue to develop our product presentation to London based music stores with the aim of getting 3 to 5 music storers to advertise on the Guitar Lessons London website. We are still waiting on a reply from the first store that we have approached but fingers crossed we will hear from them shortly! We also hired new teachers for the Guitar Lessons Blackpool and Guitar Lessons Newcastle websites, while releasing news sites in Worcester and Bradford – good progress as ever in terms of the national expansion. I was also asked by some Exeter students earlier in the week about the process of creating websites – there is quite a good article on the Career Enterprise Zone website that deals with that (also check out my blog post last week about setting up a fictional clothing business on a shoe string budget) as well as other FAQs students have (including company formation etc.) that I thought might be useful!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Mammal Swag, Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 27, 2014

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Progress Update: CampusBoard

For the eighth of our progress updates I sat down with Seva Baskin, founder of CampusBoard – a platform for students to buy and sell anything at their university. Seva first came up with the idea in spring 2012 during his foundation year studying Computer Science & Economics at the University of Exeter. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that Seva decided to move forward with the concept having gained some coding and programming knowledge, as well as selecting this project as the most viable business model from a range of ideas he had had during his foundation year.

CampusBoard

CampusBoard – a university centred trading platform!

The broad concept of the website came to Seva when he spotted an opportunity to create an online platform that modelled the likes of eBay and Gumtree but was tailored to smaller community of users. In this case, CampusBoard’s customers would be drawn together by their similar location and the fact that they were all university students, replacing the inadequate Facebook groups that were already been used widely by Exeter university student to trade items. Seva’s aim was to contrast his website to these Facebook groups, well known for their horrid search capabilities, unusual and changing orders of the item’s posted and the fact that it is impossible to know if an item had already been sold, by creating a clean and simple website that could be easily used by customers. After 7 months of coding CampusBoard was ready to be launched, being released in March 2014 through a soft launch to friends – a great way to test a website and see if it can generate interest.

CampusBoard

“Getting the user experience right is critical. A clean, clear website was a must”

The website user-base quickly grew organically as CampusBoard was shared between students and now boasts over 300 active University of Exeter users, 700 product listings and over a 10% sale rate. It is a website that really understands its users, with listings being anonymous and emails not being shared until both parties are ready (unlike Facebook), a price being agreed upon by both parties and the goods/money being exchanged on campus with no website fees (unlike eBay & Gumtree) – something that Seva cites as central to the success of CampusBoard so far! Boasting everything from second hand textbooks, printers and cardboard spacemen CampusBoard has really become the trading platform of choice for Exeter university students. Moving forward Seva would like to expand to other universities across the UK, building up a larger and more active user-base as well as beginning to build a model that can be monetised. For now, however, I would suggest that CampusBoard is one of the most exciting online start-up business we currently have at the University of Exeter.

Here at MGR Music Tuition this week it was a poignant moment as Matt Pocock, one of the first music teachers who I hired way back in early 2012 as the Singing Lessons Exeter teacher stepped down from his role to undertake a masters in vocal training in Guildford. Taking on his role will be another University of Exeter drama graduate Chris Harknett who will take over the Singing Lessons Exeter website! Within London I am pleased to say we took on a new guitar teacher, Nora Bite, for the Guitar Lessons Hackney page on the Guitar Lessons London website as well as additional teachers for Guitar Lessons Bolton and Guitar Lessons Solihull. We are still in the process of sorting out an advertising deal with a guitar store in London for the Guitar Lessons London website but hopefully this will come through soon!

Having met plenty of students that wanted to spend hundreds of pounds on their first website I was thoroughly impressed when Jon Mills of Mammal Swag told me he already set one up for £20 and started selling. This is a screenshot of that basic, yet fully functioning eCommerce website.

Inspired by some of our entrepreneurial students like Seva I thought I would try my hand at creating my first eCommerce website as I had some free time over the weekend! Here I am going to talk through the process of setting up a website, something that can be done relatively cheaply and easily – even on shoe-string student business startup. While website designs can cost thousands of pounds each actually in the initial stages of testing a product and the market that product will work within a functioning website can be created for less than £75 all in. Jon Mill’s first Mammal Swag website is testament to this costing him the grand total of £20 to setup and start selling his t-shirts from. This meant he spent more time and money developing his product rather than diverting these resources to the creation of a website, before he knew how well his product would sell. Of course once you can start to gauge your sales and income then you can plough some of that money back into to improve on of the major routes to market which is your own website (my question to any student setting up a clothing company would be can you really justify spending £300+ on a website design before you have actually sold any products).

So how is a shoe-string initial website created? Well firstly pick your product/market, for my dive into the world of eCommerce I settled on silk pillowcases as my product of choice after a lengthy conversation with my sister into luxury clothing products. The next task was to think of a domain name (like www.exeter.ac.uk) and register that name, if it is available, with a domain register. Popular domain registers include 123-reg.co.uk, GoDaddy.com and my personal favourite DomainMonster.com where you can purchase .com domains for as little as £11.99 and .co.uk domains £6.70. Domain names work like leases, so you essentially you rent a name for a set time period before renewing it or losing ownership over it. For my weekend project I settled on www.mulberrysilkpillowcase.com for my fictional business. Next you need to host the website – if the domain name is the name of your radio station, then the hosting is the radio tower that sends your radio show/website around the world. Often the domain registers will also sell hosting, like 123-reg.co.uk which basic hosting packages can start from as little as £2.49 a month for a single website. So far the total cost of the creation of this website has reached the dizzying heights of £14.48 for month one and £2.49 each month thereafter.

Free WordPress e-commerce themes

Basic but effective – an example of a free WordPress eCommmerce theme! Click on the image to bring you to a list of the 10 best WordPress eCommerce themes according to DesignsCrazed

Next on the list is to link up the domain name and the hosting, like connecting your radio mic via the soundboard to the radio tower. To do this you need to find the name-servers of your hosting (the name of your radio tower) and enter their details in the domain setting provided by your domain register. Following this you must create the template for the website, by far the most famous template system is WordPress, though Shopify is also popular with clothing companies. Since WordPress is free, whereas Shopify has a monthly charge we will stick with WordPress for our shoe-string setup – the first task is to complete their “Famous 5 Minute Install” where you download the WordPress package to your computer. Edit the “wp-config-sample.php” file, don’t panic it is easier than you think – simply locate the file and fill in the blanks with your database name, user and password that you have set up on your hosting cPanel via the MySQL Databases tab. Renamed this file “wp-config.php” and upload the entire WordPress package to your hosting via an FTP account (best one to use is Fire FTP, a plugin for the FireFox browser that can both be downloaded for free). Once that is all uploaded go to your domain name and it should help you to install the final part of WordPress there – then you are into the backend of the website where you can start to edit the website as you please! This is where the exciting part comes, now you can select your own theme for the website via the “Appearance – Themes” page, selecting from thousands of pre-made free designs (many for eCommerce websites) on WordPress as well as tens of thousands more from across the web. Into these WordPress themes you can add in the various eCommerce plugins that will make your website feel like your very own storefront!

While the free WordPress themes work well, for as little as £50 you can buy yourself a beautifully designed and less WordPress looking template that will enable your clothing business to distinguish itself more as well as injecting more of your own brand into the website. Next month I will purchase a template design that I like for the “Silk Pillowcase” website and continue to build it into a fictional clothing business with a great looking website that was setup on a shoe string as an example for other startup clothing businesses at the uni – current cost after month one is £14.48.

Posted under CampusBoard, eCommerce Website On A Shoe String, Guitar Lessons London, Mammal Swag, Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 20, 2014

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Week Five

This week started with a conference held up at the Innovation Centre to promote one of the best scholarship courses I have ever heard of! The Kauffman Scholarship is a fully funded 15-month programme to develop a scalable technology business, with 6 months in the US studying at Harvard, Stanford and MIT – some of top business institutions in the world. Alistair Shepherd, a former Kaufmann Scholar and current business owner of Saberr, was our keynotes speaker inspiring 12 final year students to go on and apply! You can still apply for this fantastic opportunity, as well as find our more about the scholarship, here (closing date 22 February 2013).

Kauffman Scholarship – the best scholarship I have ever heard of!

After talking with BBC Radio Devon on Tuesday I caught up with Jon Mills to talk about his t-shirt business Mammal Swag. The fantastic animal designs, including “the gangsta hippo”, “the chap chimp” and “the shellsuit stag”, all drawn and designed by Jon himself have seen the business take off on campus over the last few months. Regularly on sale in the forum as well as online Mammal Swag will be looking to overcome the challenges of scaling up their operation from a local to national business over the next few months. This is no easy task!

Mammal Swag – clothing that will bite!

I also caught up with Exeter Entrepreneurs Society president Edward Noel who had the great news that the yearly Exeter Apprentice Competition will go head this year as planned! With ten teams of four students being given £100 start up investment each, as well as a month to make as much money as they can, the event is often one of the highlights of Exeter’s entrepreneurial calendar. The competition has seen some great business ideas, from university branded pint glasses that won in the first year to selling risky underwear with Exeter slogans on! To apply to be part of the competition simply get in contact with EES on their Facebook page.

Here at MGR Music I am pleased to let you know we hired another two teachers this week! Oscar Charles, a first year University of Exeter student has accepted the role as the Drum Lessons Exeter teacher. While up in Bristol I have started working with Steph Hodges as the Singing Lessons Bristol singing teacher! This week also saw me try and get in contact with teachers in for the Singing Lessons Cardiff and Guitar Lessons Peterborough websites – having set up a few meetings, we will see how well I have done over the next few weeks! Fingers crossed! I have also hired another student to help write copy for the singing websites – if you are interested in getting involved email me at .

Drum Lessons Exeter

Oscar Charles – our new drum teacher!

Posted under Guitar Lessons London, Kauffman Scholarship, Mammal Swag

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on February 1, 2013

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