From real estate agent to entrepreneur – part 2

MetroHere is the continuation of the story about how the whole idea of Design by Witt occurred. If you haven’t read the first part yet, you may want to read the first blog post – From real estate agent to entrepreneur.

After I made the first edition of Walter the Whale in my fathers workshop, my new little project “Design by Witt” quickly startet to evolve. There wasn’t hardly any waken minut of the day, where I wasn’t coming up with different ideas or new projects regarding Design by Witt. My closest friends and family help in the process of brainstorming on the new ideas and initiatives. The whole business structure surrounding Design by Witt was slowly starting to take form. But if I wanted it to look professional and if I wanted to be taken seriously, I would also have to do it professionally. This made me think about founding my first very own company. It should be a real company with a registered VAT-number, a website, a business plan and everything else that one would need in a serious company.

My biggest challenge was, that I knew absolutely nothing about how to build up your own start-up in the design business, building a website or structuring a company. But one thing is was good at, was gaining help from my network. Both privately and professionally. I would never have gotten anywhere, if it wasn’t for the enormous help I got from day one! Help that I in every way is deeply grateful for.

Equipped with a potent “lets do it” attitude, an uncontrollable motivation and a good deal of impatience I began to work on my project. A great lawyer from my network helped my to found the company. For that I needed a name! “Witt” seemed like a no-brainer, so I wanted to go with that. But unfortunately it turned out, that the name was already taken. Since I was making design, I instead wanted to go with “Witt Design”. So I made all the paperwork and founded the company.

Afterwards a really good friend of mine helped me purchase the domain for my website. But when we wanted to buy the domain name “Witt Design” this name was also taken! Back to coming up with a new name! Quickly I come up with “Design by Witt”. Fortunately is name was available both with the registration authorities and for the domain. So I changed the company name with the authorities and finally I was established. It was an amazing feeling and I felt like I was walking around with an S on my chest! So now I just had to structure the company and built the website and webshop. But to do so I also needed a logo. Back to the drawing board. Very quickly (read: a lot of long nights, a lot of help from close friends and some great deal of frustrations) I now had my very own one man company, making my own designs and having my own website. I was so proud and super excited. Finally! I had created something that I could build on. And that I would! I could not help it.

When I showed my designs to people I met, they seemed enthusiastic and they liked the energy I put into the project. This created a synergy that just made my motivation and my drive grow even more. Quickly, I updated my website, expanded my concept and suddenly I also had my first retailer. It was an amazing feeling, to know that my small handmade figurines was now being bought by people who wasn’t friends or family.

Quite early in the process I got my big chance. My cousin had arranged a meeting with the Purchasing Manager in one of Scandinavia’s biggest and most exclusive design and home furnishing warehouses. If I wanted to look professional before, now it was even more important to come on as a serious and well-established company. In order to appear strong and serious, I called up a good friend of mine and offered him the job as sales director. He accepted and a few days later we sat down at a presentation meeting with the Purchasing Manager of this exclusive warehouse. I toke out the designs from my backpack, unwrapped them from towels and presented the individual designs. Meanwhile my new sales director asked about order sizes and delivery terms. In retrospect we were probably out presenting just a bit too early. But I guess there was no law against being an optimist.

The Purchasing Manager could see the potential and was happy with the products. But as she very kindly explained to us, she was not ready to take the products in commission. That would require a bigger production, professional packaging, barcodes and basically just a more serious set-up.

Although we did not close any deals that day, I now had a very concrete goal to target. I had to find a manufacturer who could supply us with a high quality production of the designs.

A year would pass after our meeting with the Purchasing manager, before I got my first batch of products home and stashed my apartment completely with boxes of my design products.

It was an indescribable feeling! There I was, about to open my very first Design by Witt gift box – I was thrilled! But I had not come this far without tons of hard work.
I had been around the country, to find a manufacturer in Denmark. Unfortunately, either the quality or the cost were acceptable. This led me to Slovakia and Romania. Here the production price was absolutely acceptable, but the quality of the products were no way near anything that could be accepted. During the process, more than once I was presented to a Danish company, which was specialized in production of design products in the East.

Every time I dropped it, because I thought it would be too resourceful and difficult to start up production in the East. But again, via my network, a meeting with production company was set up – Thank you again to the Go Grow manager. For the first time I met someone with the kind of commitment I had been looking for. Here I sat opposite an old (still young of age) cabinetmaker who took my products very seriously. They could make the products under the best possible conditions and at the same time I felt we really hit it of. 7 months after our first meeting, this company could deliver the first batch of products.

Alongside the search for the right manufacturer, I also started to built up a more serious structure around my company. I went from a private one man company, to a more serious business structure with a holding company and an operating company. I assigned an advisory board and assured me the proper design registrations and trademark protections. Most importantly, I applied to join the Go Grow – an entrepreneurship program at CSE, Copenhagen School of Entrepreneurship. Luckily I got in. The help and the network I got there, was more and better than I could have ever dreamed of. I was lucky to get in on a wild card and suddenly I found myself studying at the entrepreneurial school. Here I had to work on my KPIs, my CRM system and my VPs. Not to forget my GTM-level and my revenue streams – plus my pitch. Google quickly became my best friend during this period.

Go Grow gave me exactly what I needed and more. Go Grow made my business more structured, streamlined and expanded my mindset. From being myself and with a single retailor, I got a company with three foreign trainees, production in the far East and sales in Denmark and New York. Yet the entrepreneurial journey had only just begun.

The first steps into the life as an entrepreneur has been the most fun I’ve ever done. It has undoubtedly been extremely hard, tiering and not without sacrifice. But there is also a reason why my new motto is: If it was easy, everyone would do it! But the hard work was nothing compared to the enormous boost and the indescribable satisfaction it gives, to build something from scratch. Something, that with a little luck, maybe turn into being something greater than just a business involving me.

As a real estate agent, I worked to earn money. With Design by Witt, I work because I can not help my self and and because I think it is incredibly exciting and fun. At the same time, I now have the opportunity to do something good for others. Right from the start I decided to support different charity organisations. Besides some small sponsorships, I quite early decided to go in and support the WWF. There was no profits from the company yet, but the feeling of giving something back made it worth it. And the sponsorship fitted perfectly into the concept of the Tokens of Happiness.

So why was it, that I decided to quit the life as real estate agent to become an entrepreneur? Why I drop the easy path and instead choose the uncertain one? After all, for me it was fundamentally all about feeling free and trying the adventure. My biggest fear was to spent an entire working life not trying something else and not see what I could do with my potential.

My good friend – the one who accepted the job as my sales director – said it best. One day I was complaining a bit about the uncertainty and lack of financial bonuses I had been accustomed to as a real estate agent. He listened, but just said ” I hear what you are saying Martin. Just remember, every morning you wake up as a free man”

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