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My 1st Years co-founders on disrupting e-commerce and going into business with a friend

Dan and Jon My 1st Years
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Daniel Price and Jonny Sitton have known each other since they were four years old, but it wasn’t until they were both at university that they decided to go into business together and set up My 1st Years.

The e-commerce firm, which provides personalised gifts for babies and young children and boasts Dannii Minogue and Elton John among its expanding client base, has raised £7m from investors including Beringea.

Eight years on and with a possible US expansion in the horizon, Price spoke to Tech City News about how the pair transformed their idea into a business, which turned over £1.35m in 2013.

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“The idea first came to us when we were at university together. We were working on a project in the baby clothing industry … we’re both pretty big fans of NikeID and given that personalisation was a rapidly growing trend, it seemed surprising that nobody was doing it the baby market.

“When one of our friends had a baby girl, we decided to make the gift ourselves – a pair of personalised baby shoes. Not only did our friend love them, as well as baby Lara, but we also started getting requests from lots of other friends and relatives,” Price explained.

The opportunities and challenges

Although business is seemingly going well, the founders said getting an e-commerce business off the ground can prove somewhat challenging in the early days.

As much as technology has disrupted the retail sector and paved the way for e-commerce firms to flourish, it’s also resulted in increased market saturation – with startups and scaleups competing against well-funded and more established firms in the space.

“It [technology] has created a hugely competitive market and made it exceptionally difficult to cut through the noise. That doesn’t just mean getting noticed, it means delivering customer service akin to multi-national retailers with incredible resources behind them,” Price said. 

It’s all about customer experience: you need to ensure that the platform created is easy to navigate, the payments network needs is ultra secure and the delivery process must be seamless.

“On top of that, you need to be able to use the data you collect to drive marketing activity and boost sales. If you get all of this right, you can expect to scale pretty quickly, so you need to have a system that can cope with additional pressure,” recommended Price

Getting the money

Price and Sitton’s journey, like many other tech entrepreneurs before them, has been somewhat defined by the VCs who invested in their idea.

Although getting funding is often a necessary step in a company’s growth, both Price and Sitton agree that it’s important to think long and hard before signing the terms sheet.

“It’s very easy to want to jump straight in at the first offer, but you really need to stop and think about all your options before committing to anything.

“Think about your long-term plans and whether your potential investor is someone that will help you get to where you want to be, and will support you through the highs and lows that come with the early stages of starting a business,” Price added.

The relationship between an entrepreneur and their investor goes beyond signing on the dotted line. It’s about entering into a long-term agreement that will be profitable for both parties.

“You need people that understand you and your vision, and have the experience to help you bring it to life,” Price added.

Mixing business with pleasure

Running your own business can be very rewarding but it also comes with a wide range of challenges and with half of UK startups failing within five years, it’s important to get the foundation right from the beginning.

Whether you decide to go it alone or recruit the help of a co-founder, being clear on what each of you is good at and establishing good communication channels will help drive the business forward.

“If you’ve been friends for as long as we have, chances are you’re pretty aware of each other’s strengths. Make sure you split responsibilities based on that – and give each other space to drive their own thing so you’re not constantly on top of each other.

“Trust the other person and the decisions they make, but stay in communication with each other to make sure you’re always on the same page,” Price added.

Despite some people out there insisting that you shouldn’t mix business with pleasure and that going into business with a friend or a spouse is probably not the best idea, it seems that it’s worked out well for Price and Sitton so far.

But, do they have any regrets? “Only that we didn’t do it sooner,” Price concluded.

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