Peter Williams, founder of the successful British clothing and homeware brand Jack Wills, gave an inspirational speech at an event held at Business West, as part of the Virgin StartUp tour. Young people across the South West, with aims to start a business, were invited to meet and learn from successful entrepreneurs. As the main speaker, Peter gave valuable insight into the growth of Jack Wills, and revealed his top five tips to succeeding in business.
Starting the business in 1999 at the age of 23, Peter opened his first shop in Salcombe, Devon, an area close to his heart and a place he felt perfectly reflected the values of his new clothing brand.
After 2 years of trading he very nearly gave up, deciding he'd either have to choose to close the business or make it succeed. But when he was turned down for a job at RBS, he became all the more determined and despite the odds against him, he opened a 2nd shop in Suffolk.
His biggest challenge was a lack of funding, but he turned this into an advantage.
"Timing was fortunate that we launched the business during the dotcom era and made our model work based on viral marketing and collaborating with opinion formers. It wasn't driven by strategy, rather a natural adoption of early social media." he said.
In its 15th year of trading Jack Wills turned over £150 Million. With stores throughout the UK, as well as 15 new stores opened in the US, Hong Kong and the Middle East, with aims to expand into Asia, Peter reflects on the hard work, determination and experience gained, and offers his five tips to entrepreneurs starting out.
1. It's not about the idea, it's all about the execution
"How many people genuinely come up with a new idea? Don't be put off because you don't have a unique concept. It's how you make the idea work that matters."
2. Willingness to learn
"I knew nothing when I started, and nothing about fashion. I muddled through but all along I sucked up information and ideas as I went. People shouldn't be intimidated by the thought of starting a business, you don't need to think of a unique idea. Just get out and do it and learn as you do."
"It's hard; it's not plain sailing. Challenges evolve along the way - you've just got to stick at it and maintain your strength of conviction." Peter cites James Dyson as a good example of perseverance against the odds.
4. Focus, Focus, Focus
"In the same way as Location, Location, Location is the mantra in the world of property, Focus, Focus, Focus should be the mantra for business."
To illustrate his point, Peter refers to Steve Jobs return to Apple in 1997. Jobs cut the number of projects on the go from around 50 to 10, then cut it further to focus on developing just four great products: the Power Mac and PowerBook, and what were to be Apple's biggest hits at the time, the iMac and iBook.
5. Enjoy the Journey
"Enjoy it all the way, through the challenges and the emotional highs and the lows, rather than wishing for the next goalpost."
Peter is asked what the most rewarding part of the journey has been for him. He simply says.
"It's a lifestyle choice, that's the primary reason for starting a business. Family life being key, you will feel liberated, able to manage your time how you want to. You'll work bloody hard, but it's worth it!"