Joshua Stevens, founder, One Retail group

Many small businesses come with the mindset that they need to be a startup that disrupts their sector – They seek investment, grow and scale quickly but it’s extremely easy to fail on this premise.

A premise that is easy to follow given recent government incentives towards startup investment.

Never has it been so easy to find investors and build a comforting pot of money you can use to create your dream business. 

The hard part, however, is actually getting it right and staying in business.

My story is one of simplicity and not reinventing the wheel. Within four years, I went from founding One Retail Group with one product line, to one that is on track to turnover £15 million this year.

I’m 28 years old and first started trading at the age of 13. I found success in identifying trending products and realised I had a bit of an instinct for product innovation.

This allowed me to grow my business to what it is today – debt-free with no loans or external investment.

I have built four brands and manufacture over 80 different products spanning the beauty, home appliance, and sports & outdoors sectors, and dispatched over 2,000 orders per day across 7 countries, which is growing consistently year on year with only 5 members of staff.

It is possible to grow and scale a business without outside funding. In fact, some of the greatest and most successful entrepreneurs of our time, such as Bill Gates and Alan Sugar, grew their businesses to huge heights before going public.

Part of the reason they were able to do this was by ensuring they maximised revenue opportunities from the moment they started.

Here are some of my thoughts on how to build and scale a digital business without investment:

Not Taking Investment

The benefits of a self-funded startup include having the ability to quickly change the direction of the business if it’s not quite working out, make fast decisions and not having anybody to answer to. 

Many people assume that starting your own business gives the flexibility to be your own boss and do whatever you want, but as soon as you have shareholders and investors, you may find they’re even more demanding than a boss.

I appreciate that there are businesses that simply cannot function without investment, but in this written piece, I am referring to those who could have scaled without needing to raise capital or debt.

Do You Really Need Investment?

I’m always surprised to see startups with dozens of employees, the best computers, and furniture, yet are struggling to turn a profit.

Although I understand that many of these startups develop into multi-million, if not, billion-pound businesses, I can safely say that the majority run out of money and fail.

But before taking the decision to bid for investment, maybe take a step back and decide whether it’s really necessary. 

Don’t spend unnecessary money on overheads that will hurt your bottom line and do little to spur growth.

Have A DIY Ethic

If the plan is to be skilled in certain tech applications, why not enroll in a digital course and teach yourself on how to code, design graphics and build websites.

Developing these basic skills are not as difficult as you think and they are often enough to get your business off the ground. 

If this isn’t possible, why not find a co-founder with the skills that you are looking for and begin turning your dream into a reality without anybody to answer to.  

Once your business gains traction and is generating revenue, use these profits in a productive way and build a core team around you. People who share your vision and don’t conform to the 9-5 mentality.

Think Like A Small Business

Set small and achievable targets to start with. Even though it is paramount to have a vision and long-term dream, always make sure you break this down into achievable goals.

Enrolling in a web design course and expecting to be a fully-fledged developer within 3 months is unrealistic. The last thing you want is to find yourself demotivated from an overwhelming expectation to be an expert.

If you choose to either build a business 100% organically or by seeking investment, maintaining the primary habits of a small business can ensure you remain competitive against the large companies that will inevitably become your competition. 

A Frugal Mindset Is Key To Being Agile

Don’t spend unnecessary money on overheads that will hurt your bottom line and do little to spur growth.

Remain efficient and productive no matter how much you grow. This will keep you fast-moving and ensure you make decisions far more quickly than your competitors.

If you find that your product is not selling as expected, cut your losses early on and find something that does work.

A frugal mindset is useful because it can help you avoid spending unnecessary money where possible. This belief of business owners that they need to spend a lot of money is perhaps a driving force for seeking investment.

Joshua Stevens, Founder, One Retail Group – an online multinational retailer with a portfolio of lifestyle, personal care, and home appliance brands. 


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