Adam Barlow on starting his business: "I am worried that I will fail by only living a mediocre life, one in which I am never really challenged..."
Interview with Adam Barlow, Founder & Director of Simply Trios
Adam Barlow went with his gut instinct, and after graduating in Geography, felt he needed a venture that gave his purpose.
He had been making Trios for over 10 years, but only ever as gifts for friends and family. People had always said he should sell them, so he decided to test the waters and see if it was viable. Read on to find out how he found success with his brand, Simply Trios...
Hello Adam, Can you explain a little about your background and how you found Simply Trios?
My name is Adam Barlow, and I graduated from Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge University having studied for a Bachelor's degree in Geography.
When I started university, my plan had been to graduate and immediately enrol on a grad scheme with a management consultancy firm - partly fuelled by the rumours of generous starting salaries and the appeal of cutthroat, fast-paced city life. Yet, learning and exploring a variety of subjects and philosophies at university quickly showed me that this neither aligned with my values nor offered me what I wanted.
Yet, rather than have some momentous, awakened enlightenment, I graduated with no real goal or sense of purpose. I spent the following two years fruitlessly searching for jobs that either did not exist, offered me what I did not want, asked for experience I did not have or could not prove, and/or required me to feb self financing. I became exhausted and demoralised, eventually quitting what had become the latest in a long line of menial jobs I had used to help keep my head above water.
Enough was enough. I wanted a goal, a challenge and a renewed sense of purpose. I was 'uncomfortable being comfortable'. I dreaded waking up and going to work and wanted to reclaim some sense of identity. What did I have to lose? I’d either fail, but ultimately start something I found fulfilling and meaningful, or, I’d succeed and who knows where that could lead.
Starting and running my own business ticked almost all of my boxes. It offered me autonomy, independence, control, creative freedom and a challenge. However, I had no clue what business I could create.
I’d been making Trios for over 10 years, but only ever as gifts for friends and family. People had always said I should sell them, so I decided to test the waters and see if it was viable. The feedback was fantastic and the demand so great that I quickly began to grow, and thus Simply Trios was created. We started selling at local markets, then expanded to bigger regional and national events, before recently launching our online shop.
What was it like in the first week of starting your new business?
The first couple of weeks was great and probably some of the most enjoyable moments of Simply Trios so far. It was early days, and I was overflowing with optimism, enthusiasm and excitement - not that I don’t still have all of these things now. I was definitely in the ‘honeymoon’ phase, thinking “This is it, you’ve made the decision to start a business and now you’re doing it”.
I think that this period of your business is one of the least daunting. It’s once the dust settles that the hard work really begins.
How did you fund your business in the initial stages and how has this progressed?
I was lucky in that the start up costs I faced were relatively low and I could turn to my parents for some financial assistance. A loan from the Bank of Mum and Dad, some savings, and money I had earned from a couple of gruelling weeks working in hospitality provided me with enough to get up and running.
As time went on, all further funding came from what money Simply Trios generated. I quickly became much more stringent and careful with about expenditure. Unlike the initial stages of the business, I no longer had a big pot of money to withdraw from. Instead, funding had become this recurrent ebb and flow.
What's the most important thing you're working on right now?
In one word, expanding. Right now one of Simply Trios’ most important goals is securing our first order from a large buyer. Whilst love selling directly to customers and the personal interaction is very motivating and is one of my favourite aspects about attending events and selling online. However, it does not allow us to reach the number of people we’d like to as we don’t have the logistical network or distributive capacity.
Trying to make this happen is certainly no easy feat and is something we’re having to persist at. We’re demonstrating how Simply Trios is new and different, and ensuring that we utilise all available avenues, be it attending trade shows and expos, contacting buyers via email or phone, or where possible, visiting them in person.
Tell us about your support network? Did you friends and family help?
It’s fantastic. I think you can always do something you’ve set your mind to, with or without a support network, but having one sure makes things a hell of a lot easier. As I mentioned before, I had the financial support of my parents, and I think they knew starting a business was going to make me happy, and so were completely on board.
As for my friends, they’ve been amazing too. From liking and sharing Simple Trios on social media, to attending events to help out, the support has been incredible from the get go, and it’s something I still really appreciate.
What helps you get out of bed in the morning?
It might sound clichéd, but the fear of failing. I don’t mean failing in a way that most people might think as I believe we often define failure incorrectly. I’m not scared of failing in the sense of going bankrupt, being in debt, homeless, humiliated or not making Simply Trios a successful venture. That’s not what get’s me out of bed. Rather, I am worried that I will fail by only living a mediocre life, one in which I am never really challenged, don’t feel afraid or upset, am not kept awake at night or which I am not continuously learning new things and expanding my horizons.
The kind of “failure” that I think we should actively seek out and embrace is the kind that gives us the opportunity to learn, mindful of Einstein’s words that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity
How did you get your first few clients or customers when starting a business? Any tips for the rest of us?
I think of one of the most important things I did was to make a big effort to be personal in my interactions with people. We are all constantly bombarded with impersonal, cookie cutter marketing campaigns and people really appreciate the time it takes to write a personal message or stand and chat with them. It’s so easy to use mass marketing/communications approaches, but such strategies tend to leave people objectified and of little individual value.
I therefore always make the time to speak to our customers, reach out, or respond to them in a personal and meaningful way. I think what is key about this is that I have never been motivated to communicate in such a way through attaining or repeating business. I think we have a sixth sense when it comes to these sort of things and we can tell when someone is being disingenuous and just buttering us up. Giving people your time and attention is just common decency and good manners. Therefore, although it wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, I think naturally having these sort of values has helped me succeed.
Can you share tips on how businesses can succeed beyond the 12 month mark - they they the first 12 months are pretty much make or break - what advice have you got?
One tip I’d give is to constantly remind yourself why you started and see everything you face as a learning opportunity. Personally, I wanted a real challenge and so whenever I find myself in a difficult position, I’ll remind myself that this is what I wanted. Technically, I am therefore
succeeding! Additionally, seeing everything, be it a success or failure, as an opportunity to learn and grow, has really helped me overcome difficult obstacles. That age old adage rings true, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Another tip I’d give, which may sound obvious but I believe is often overlooked, is to be careful with how you spend your money. Do not be afraid to spend, yet at the same time, be savvy. Ask yourself, can you do it yourself? If so, what would it cost you in time or resources spent? Before you make any decision, research whatever it is you are thinking about. How long would it take for you to learn the skills necessary to create whatever ‘it’ is? Could you design your own packaging? Could you create your own website? Could you find your own solution to a problem rather than buying a pre-existing one? So much of what we buy, be it a service or product, is sold to us under the illusion that the skills needed to create such a product require a great amount of time and effort to acquire, or, that it is the best, and only thing available. In some cases this is true, and thus it would be sensible to invest in that product or service. In other cases, it is not, and you can save a lot by learning and creating that product yourself. You never know, you might actually create something better! Doing things ‘in-house’ is often dismissed, yet it not only saves you a huge amount of money, but can provide you with a lot of new skills that can be applied to other aspects of your life/business.
This might sound counter-intuitive to your typical business motivational speaker, but don’t aim too high. It’s great to have big goals in mind, but to suddenly rush into achieving these and scale up when you are not ready or prepared will most likely lead to you failing. At the same time, you do need to find the right balance of being prepared and having the resources, or at least the plans in place, to scale up rapidly if the opportunity presents itself. You’re not going to be very attractive to a buyer if you don’t have the ability to meet their requirements. One of our first mistakes was booking an event we weren’t really prepared for. Whilst the reception was overwhelming and successful, financially it wasn’t so.
Finally, don’t see a lack of progress as failure. As per the aphorism, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, there’s an impression amongst many entrepreneurs and small business owners that if you’re not killing it from the get go then you’re not succeeding. In my opinion, if you can survive and keep your head above water then that is a huge a success in and of itself. Far too many people, be it in business or other aspects of life, become demotivated and thus quit because they aren’t where they think they were going to be by a particular time. But growth is growth no matter how big or small. You should have big goals and these should, one day, be achievable, but not reaching those goals immediately shouldn’t be judged negatively. Each step forward is an achievement. Even if you’re moving backwards, it will be formative and you will be learning. Framing, perspective and outlook is key.
What are your tips on businesses that want success?
Take breaks, no matter how busy you are or how much work you have to complete. For example, I always set aside at least half an hour in the evenings to go for a walk. This clears my mind, calms me down, refreshes and invigorates me. One of the worst things I can do after a day cooped inside marketing, researching, selling, producing or whatever task I have set myself, is to stay in that environment.
Similarly, stay true to yourself. I think one of the main reasons why people start a business is because they want to be in control and create some more ‘time affluence’. Yet, what often happens is they become so focused and driven (which is no bad thing) their business completely takes over their lives and they forget why they started. I work far harder now than in any job I have had before, but maintaining an awareness that I am in control, and can take a break if I want, is crucial to succeeding. There have been moments when I have been on the edge of burn out and at those times, completely taking time off, even if for a day or afternoon, has proven invaluable.
Another tip I would give is to have a clear idea of what succeeding means to you, and to make sure that conceptualisation of success is multifaceted. Do not limit yourself in defining success. In what ways could you succeed? Growing your income? Reaching a certain number of people?
Increasing your free time? Being happier? Learning a new skill? Failing? The more ways you can find to succeed, the more likely you are to succeed, the better you are going to feel and by extension, the more likely you’ll succeed even more.
What is your commercial strategy and your plan to make more money for your business?
For me, this is the wrong way of looking at it. Our commercial strategy is not to make more money, but rather continue doing what we love. Of course we hope to increase our turnover, but want this to come as a consequence of pursuing other goals. Money is not an important aim of mine nor what drives me. Admittedly, it is an important aspect of life, however, it is definitely not the only thing of value. In my opinion, if you do what you enjoy, and focus on making whatever that is succeed, then money will come. Money takes care of itself. Much like good and bad emotions, it comes and goes and so having a commercial strategy of ‘making even more money’, will result in wrongful pursuits, and, more often than not, leave you feeling disappointed, either because you won’t achieve your goal or because there will always be more money to make.
Therefore, we will continue trying to grow Simply Trios and everything that comes with this, such as encouraging balanced, healthier relationships with food, promoting enjoyable, flexible working practices and regaining some simplicity in our lives. Hopefully more money will come alongside this, but if not, I don’t mind so much!
This is what we’re selling, this is how much it is, this is why we think you would like it, end of.
Visit - https://simplytrios.co.uk/ to buy some trios by Adam Barlow.
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