Co-founder of successful London-based start-up, Patch, Freddie Blackett, explains how investors helped him access the skills he needed to grow his business.
Patch is a friendly and engaging website which aims to make buying and growing plants, both indoor and outdoor, easy, convenient and fun. “I stumbled on the problem that it’s hard to get hold of plants when you live in the city and it’s difficult to get into gardening,” explains the young CEO. Three-years on and Patch’s 40-strong team has delivered 300,000 plants to Londoners in the last 12 months alone – and a recently-opened Paris office is flourishing.
But it wasn’t an easy start for the company. “I had this idea, but I didn’t have the skills I needed to turn this idea into a website and build a supply chain etc.” Freddie explains.
To plug the gap, Patch took funding from venture capital fund, Forward Partners, who could provide the fledgling brand with some much-needed expertise.
“Forward Partners helped me with all the practical stuff you need to get the business off the ground. They invested £250,000 in return for an equity stake, but in addition they also gave me tech support - they built the website and bought the idea to life.” They also helped Freddie hire the right team and were on hand to help with PR and Marketing. “They were basically an extension of Patch.”
And once things were off the ground, Freddie again looked to investors to provide the skills he needed to move his business forward. “12 months after the first cash injection to start things off, I reached out and found some experts, taking on angel investment from a small group of people – these were guys who had different expertise from across the board.”
Patch’s second round funders included the founder of Caffe Nero (a brand Freddie has always thought to be an enduring success) and a tech-specialist form Not On The High Street – the insight provided by both has since proved invaluable.
To bring the business on even further, Freddie then approached a large international investment house, Octopus Ventures. “This is a team that has helped us take the business to a more international level,” says the green-fingered co-founder, “Octopus are a big name in the venture capital world and they helped us steer the business and attract a higher calibre of people to our board.”
It’s a great fund-based start-up investment story, but how do you do the same?
Freddie gives us his advice for small business owners looking for funding. “We’ve been very conscious of only taking investment from people who are very careful and diligent,” he explains. “A good tip is to speak to people from the companies that failed – find out what happened when the business nosedived. Did the fund behave well? Were they ethical?” This way you can learn more about a firm’s integrity.
And what if you have no idea how to find or approach the relevant venture capital funds? “The first step is to find venture capital events,” says Freddie. “These can be well publicised on Twitter and have the appropriate hashtags attached to them.” Freddie suggests preparing a very clear summary of what your idea is before attending any events. “Then go along, find the funds you want to speak to, tell them your idea and suggest a further meeting with them,” he explains, simply.
Any other tips for small business owners starting out?
“Often if you’re an early stage start-up, it’s fundamental that you understand what the problem is you’re trying to solve, before defining the solution. Often you’ll hear businesses that come to you with an idea.” Interesting stuff.
With these tips in mind, it’s time to jump in the car and head to a venture capital meet-up near you. Who knows what kind of potential you might unlock with the right investor/s by your side?