The only thing harder than starting a business is growing the business
One of our investors is a great friend from a house-share in Cambridge back last century. He’s a pilot for BA now and I’m, well, doing this ;-). Mike’s always on-top of what SplashMaps is up to even though he’s pretty much up-in-the-air all the time. He’s got a lot of entrepreneurial experience behind him (yes, there’s a fair amount of “ground-time” too) and after a few nasty mistakes, he always comes up with the platitude, “The only thing harder than starting a business is growing the business”. Sage indeed. But useful?
In the past year the Dragons Den, Lush, improved marketing and a bit of experience led to a doubling of our sales. It inevitably led to a queue of much larger and more demanding customers this year.
Until now SplashMaps’ main-stay were our 21 retailers and our on-line shop. But now we have demand for bulk orders into the thousands, a requirement for over 2000 individual personalised maps per day and bespoke global map styles and content to be maintained. How do you keep your production 1 step ahead of a snowballing demand? Scaling on all these fronts sounds like a big splurge doesn’t it? Well it could be.
Fortunately I always listened to my old friend, and it’s not just because we’re using his money or because I’d love one of those jump-seat holidays!
Systems and Production
The main value we’ve always felt we add at SplashMaps is how we handle maps. Our customers experience this every time they visit the site. They move around a map finder on their computer and determine a map in either Ordnance Survey or OpenStreetMap styles and content. In fact they can choose from over 15 different map sources on our site. Beyond that there’s our bespoke work. All of this has been designed to scale with the business and has never found a limit.
But with production based overseas scaling presents more barriers, particularly with the physical side of the business.
- Can the printing machines handle the extra volume?
- What are the machine’s limitations?
- How do we get the files direct to production in the shortest time?
- How do we minimise download?
- How much time should we allow for printing, stitching, finishing and packaging the final products?
Just this week we held a production trial. We took our highest customer demands and, in characteristically agile style, created user stories around them. Breaking these down into system and production demands we established the maximum conditions and then defined a programme to tested them live. It was hard work;-
- Arrival and initial business discussions – Hard work; straight from the place to the beach; a relaxing prelude for what was to come.
- Testing system capacity – A customer had provided a dummy-run of the foreseen orders against the defined use case. This gave us realistic file sizes, quantities and the customers preferred transferal approach.
- Testing the machine capacity – We explored how the 2000 units per day could be made available most quickly and defined a process that allowed printing to commence before all transfers had completed.
- We explored material and print combinations that would pave the way for new products and faster, potentially lower cost, production – We worked until midnight.
- We celebrated! All tests a success at Midnight we hit the city Night Life.
- Day 2: We used the city as inspiration for our future plans. Nothing like a place in the sun and several thousand years of conquering history to inspire!
Ready to Scale?
These activities not only unlock hither-to unknown potential (we are now satisfied that the production can match at least 10 000 units a day), but they also cement the relationships. And the relationship between a company and where and how it produces products is critical to its success. It has to be nurtured, developed, allowed to evolve and remain as open as possible. I’m pleased we can tick all these boxes.
We left having had an amazing break from the miserable late British winter. Having solved a lot of problems we were brimming with plans for the future all the way back and chuckling at the amazing time we’d had achieving it all!