I met Sam at the NSEC event, although it took me until the last day of the event to finally meet and speak to him but I was glad I did as after we got talking I realised how lovely his story was, the story behind BSKA - the idea behind the company. And that’s not because he bought my book, although I guess that helped a bit but It didn’t matter at all. I instantly knew I had to get him on YHP. And here’s his story.
Hi Sam, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Hey Joseph, it's a pleasure! I'm great thanks.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I'm a 22 year old designer from Birmingham. I studied Architecture at the University of Nottingham. The only thing my degree taught me was how much I hate architecture and love business. I've always been very passionate about the creative industries and using art to change the world. I've worked over in South Africa three times and I'm currently in the process of setting up some creative workshops over in Durban.
When did you get the entrepreneurial bug?
When I was about 5 years old I used to set up a little table in my living room and sell my old toys when family and friends came over. Looking back I probably sold the toys back to the people who originally bought them for me!
How did the idea for BSKA come about?
I was studying stencil art during A-Level art and my friends asked if they could buy some art from me. The beauty of stencils are that, once you've cut one out, you can use it again and again so, from a business point of view, I'd got a very simple but effective manufacturing technique started. As I was travelling to Africa the following summer, I felt this was a perfect opportunity to sell my art to fundraise for my trip! These went down a treat so I started designing more and more and soon I had a business on my hands. I guess you could say that, like all good things (basic arithmetic, afro-combs and the Human Race) we started in Africa. Sort of.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
I guess the hardest part is the transition from getting your business further than just your friends and family. It's something I'm still working hard on now! Luckily I capitalised on Facebook's sharing capabilities as soon as I started my business to build up a solid foundation of people. Even so, 'Likes' and shares are great but not if they don't translate into sales. Marketing your business without any money at all is a huge challenge but it makes you think of more creative ways to market yourself that will help you create a stronger brand in the long run.
What is BSKA? And what are you trying to solve with it?
BSKA is the UK's first street art brand. Through BSKA I am hoping to change the world through art as art is a language that can be spoken and understood by anyone, regardless of race, age or sex.
It is such a powerful tool and I am hoping to work with a range of talented people, from teenagers in African townships who have never had the chance to promote their art, to Young Offenders who have been prosecuted for vandalism. There are many talented people out there but because what they're good at isn't valued by the current education system, they feel like failures. It's about bringing out their talents and showing how they can turn their passion into a career.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
Initially it all came out my own pocket, then when I felt like I needed to take the business up a level, I asked for £600 off my Dad to help me bulk buy to create cheaper costs per item. Since then it has been a combination of my overdraft and Student Loan! I also recently entered a business competition by NACUE and won the Creative Industries Award that came with a £1000 prize which was very handy!
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
I don't think anything can beat the excitement of people taking an interest in your passion. I mean the support from my family and friends was amazing and I wouldn't be here now without those people who helped me get going. I didn't have any business plan, any previous business experience or strategy, I just had something I was passionate about and let that drive me.
How did you initially get traction?
I think word of mouth is an incredibly powerful tool so I got people talking about my brand, sharing it and being a part of it - my initial BSKA tagline was actually ‘Be A Part Of It’. I feel customer involvement is key, especially in a start up company. Once a customer feels involved with a company, they become loyal to its products and services. Also, the ability to listen to a customer and act on what they’re saying is the big advantage small businesses have over larger ones who can’t afford to be that flexible. For BSKA, I took requests on who to paint and often worked with small groups of customers on the design development.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow it?
I think when I started to put myself out there it helped me to grow a lot. It’s all good having a fancy website and cool designs and ideas, but if nobody hears about you, then it’s the equivalent of shouting your ideas in the middle of a desert. You have to go and create chances for yourself and show people what you’re really about. I try to take every opportunity that comes my way, as you never know where it will take you. A couple of years ago my friend messaged me this competition on Bob Marley’s Facebook Page looking for people to design a profile picture for it. When I probably should have been studying, I took two hours just to design this picture in the BSKA style and emailed it through. Next thing you know, I won the competition and they used my design on their page! My website crashes due to traffic levels, my Facebook gets 400 more ‘likes’ and I’ve just been given more exposure than I had dreamed of. If I’d spent those two hours studying or messing around, I may not be where I am now.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
To be honest I still get excited by every single sale that comes through on the website! To pick one highlight, it would have to be after I finished University for the year in 2011. I had a day off work so I packed a bag full of clothing and a bag full of canvases and caught a bus into Nottingham city centre. I had no idea where I was heading, but I wanted to pitch my products to some independent retailers and get some feedback from shop owners. At the end of the day I had pitched to five shops, three of which said they’d take my products to sell in their store and I was over the moon! I’d never done anything like this before in my life, pitching your product in the middle of a shop is a million times harder than trying to chat up a girl haha! The sense of achievement afterwards though was amazing and after that I just wanted to pitch my products to the world.
What should we be expecting from BSKA in 2013?
2013 is going to be a mad year! I’m currently working closely with SB.TV on developing clothing and merchandise for some of their featured artists. As previously mentioned I’m also planning a trip to South Africa to set up creative projects over there. All over Africa, there are thousands, if not millions of talented individuals who have never had the opportunity to share their work with the world. Through these projects, I hope to work with such individuals and help bring out creative potential. I hope to show the local people how they can turn their creative abilities into products that can be sold to make profit and help better the local community. Along with this I’m hoping to work with more talented artists around the UK from all different backgrounds with the dream of setting up gallery shows!
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Just do it. Whatever your idea is just put it out there. The more you do, the more real your idea becomes. You could decide to lay your business foundations tomorrow, but why not today? Someone else could be working on the same idea right now; it’s up to you to beat them to it!
Do something you genuinely love and enjoy. When you love something, you don’t mind putting in the extra hours at the end of the day to work on it. When you talk about it, your passion for it will shine through which will help people invest and buy into you. It doesn’t matter if you have a business background or not, the motivation to learn is all you need.
Lastly, know that your journey will be tough; there will be times when you want to give up but you just have to keep on going. If it was easy, everyone would do it. All that most people will leave behind when they pass away is a gravestone; you have the potential to leave behind a legacy.
On Saturday 9th March we will be hosting, alongside Brightside, ‘Get Up Start Up‘ where you will be able to apply and be approved for a Startup loan of between £2,500 & £10,000 to help you get your business started!