Emily Brooke – Blaze
Our Businesswoman of the Month for April is Emily Brooke, founder of Blaze, a business that started as her university project!
Would you mind giving us a brief explanation of what your business is and when you launched it?
Blaze create products for cyclists. Our flagship is the Laserlight, a front light that also tackles the blind spot, the most common cause of accidents, by projecting the symbol of a cycle down onto the ground ahead of the bike, alerting other drivers to its presence and preventing them turning across its path.
We first launched the Laserlight on Kickstarter 3 years ago, today it is shipping to over 50 countries in the world, direct from our site. At the end of last year we also won the contract for our innovation to go into all the Boris Bikes in London, which we are currently manufacturing in the UK. We have also recently launched our second consumer product – a brilliant back light – on Kickstarter. We wanted to raise £35K in a month and we did that on the first day – and went on to raise over £150K!
We are building the global urban cycling brand – with products for consumers and cycle hire schemes around the world.
What made you want to start this particular business?
Blaze began as my university project. I went to Oxford and read Physics, but dropped out to study Product Design in Brighton. It was there I developed the world’s first Laserlight. I had never been on a road bike the year before, but decided to cycle the length of the UK for charity and fell in love with biking. The week that ride finished was the week my final year of design started and I gave myself the challenge of tackling the greatest issue for city cyclists – personal safety.
What do you think it takes to succeed in business?
The ability to move fast and learn from your customers – What do they want? What will they pay for? Asking and listening to their feedback and stopping at nothing to get it to them.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt so far?
Tackle the hard questions/tasks first. You will have that niggling thing on your To Do list or constantly in the back of your mind. You may be putting it off, but that is the most important thing and the ONE THING you should be doing now. So get on and do it!
What do you think it is about you that enabled you to turn an idea into a business?
Naïve optimism and dogged determination. That and asking lots of questions from people who knew more than me.
If you were starting all over again tomorrow, what are the top 3 rules you would follow
1. Test your assumptions – get the simplest form of your product out there straight away and listen to what the market thinks about it, before assuming they want it.
2. Trust your gut – that subtle opinion or feeling you have in the back of your mind is usually there and right for a reason.
3. Get out there and meet them – whether it’s your partners in America, your customers or manufacturing in China – you can’t replace Face to face time. Go meet them.
What difficulties did you experience setting up your business and what has got you through the tough times ?
Starting a business is a constant rollercoaster – from one email to the next. One minute you’re flying high and taking over the world, the next you think it may all crumble around you. Remember that. Remember the hairy moments are temporary but also remember to celebrate the highs.
Looking back now, would you have done anything differently?
Got on with it sooner. I spent a year playing around with the idea and prototype I built at University. I knew it was valuable and had to become a reality. I didn’t think it would be ME to take it to market. I’d never had a job before, let alone grown a brand, hired people, raised money, manufactured, marketed, distributed …. but you learn on the job.
Starting a business can be all-consuming. What are your tips for getting the right work/life balance?
Yoga. I’m fairly full-on, high energy. I used to think throwing myself around a park, or running to a spin bike at lunch was relaxing. For me certainly, discovering yoga has grounded and relaxed me hugely. I do it most days and love it.
You started your business alone but later brought others on board. What advice would you give to anyone looking to bring a business partner into their business?
Treat it like a marriage proposal. You are going to need to trust, respect and work with this person incredibly well, arguably for a similar amount of time as most marriages and with a baby of sorts. It’s hard to get right – the important and easy part is that they have complementary skill set to your own, the rest is about trusting your gut.
Do you have a mentor and when you need advice, who do you talk to?
Yes. Mentors are invaluable. Mine is kickass. He has a knack of asking the really tough questions and putting those at the front of my mind. It can be uncomfortable but ultimately so important.
What are your plans for the future?
Building the Apple of bikes. 2016 is all about product roadmap – we are developing all sorts, both for consumers and also cycle hire bikes around the world.