5 Minutes With Woodenheart Studios

Gurneet Ahluwalia has just bought the studio space that has been used by many different groups in Cardiff’s musical history. Most recently, it was Offshore studios but it was also, at one time, the headquarters of the legendary Kruger Magazine.

Since he moved to the city last year, Gurneet has been trying to turn it around for the studio.

We spoke to him about how he plans to do that and how he’s been finding his self-employment so far.

You’re not from Cardiff. How did you end up here?

I came here about two years ago, I’d been to Cardiff loads of times with touring bands and I fell in love with the place and my ex-girlfriend was from here and so I moved here for her. I just sought of found the studio space.

You toured with bands. With who?

Viatrophy, Sylosis, Renowa. I recently went on tour playing bass for Goodtime Boys. I’m back on tour in March with Sylosis.

Where you’re at now, that used to be Offshore. What’s the story?

When I moved into where I lived now, my housemate is friends with the Offshore guys. We went for a drink in Gwdihw one night and they said they wanted to get rid of the studios. I checked it out the next day, then I paid for the studio after that.

Was it a big purchase?

Not as big as you would imagine a studio to cost but it did take all my savings and a little help from family. It wasn’t hundreds of thousands, but a few thousand.

All your startup costs were from your personal savings?

Yes.

You must be pretty confident about your ability to make it back.

Yeh – I don’t see why not, I’ve been doing it for a few months now and I’ve been able to make rent and not lose any money so far. I think I’m just more confident in the fact that I don’t just want to do an office job and I don’t want to go on tour all the time either so this seems like the perfect place for me to do that. As I’m a composer as well, I want to be able to have a space for myself and I think that was the main reason for buying a studio – and I want to record good bands as well.

What’s it been 8 months?

No – only 5.

Oh right! So obviously you’ve got a commitment not to work an office job. What drew you to self employment?

Being in charge of my life, not having to answer to anyone. I don’t mind having to answer but I’d reather be in control of everything myself. My Dad is self employed, most of my family are self employed, so… I wanted to follow that. I think it’s really fun and really cool to own a studio. That’s pretty much it.

How’s it been so far? What are the highs and lows?

I’ve enjoyed meeting new musicians in the area, making new friends, working with good bands. What I haven’t enjoyed, although it’s not so much that I haven’t enjoyed it as it’s been hard, is not getting regular income. having that on your back is tough because you don’t know when the next money is going to come in. The last few months have been fickle because of Christmas – people haven’t got that much money and so they haven’t spent that much in the studio. I haven’t not enjoyed anything really. I’ve worked long hours but that’s OK because it’s what I want to do with my life. Whenever I feel like I might not be enjoying something I always think back to when I was in an office job.

That’s a good way of looking at it. When you were starting out, who did you get help from in terms of advice?

No one really. I only signed up to Venture Wales for business support a month ago and obviously, now they’ve stopped – so good timing on my part! Just friends helping me out here and there: lending me drum kits and stuff I couldn’t necessarily afford and little bits that I need. No one has played a massive part in what I’ve done but I’m hoping to meet new people.

Self-employment allows you freedom. So what does your typical day look like?

It depends on when the band comes in. I’ve had to get up at 7 and be in the studio for 8. Sometimes I don’t get up until 10 – but I can’t sleep past then, I have to get up at 10. I take my dog for a walk, go to the studio and edit, do the admin, the email and that’s really it. If bands are in until late, I’m in until late. There’s no real routine. I’m always in the studio.

You’ve got a 24/7 approach to your work?

Pretty much. Every day something has happened so I don’t have a day off. I don’t mind that because it doesn’t feel like I’m working.

And you’re not just recording bands… you’re a composer too, right? Tell me about that.

I’ve always been interested in soundtracks. Film music and TV music. So a couple of years ago, I knew a guy who is a director and he did a film called Following Footsteps so I asked him if I could do the music for it. I fell in love with it from that point… the idea that you could change the mood and the way that someone would see that scene. I’ve just landed a management deal which is going to help push that further as well.

Will that form part of your business?

Not really – it’ll be a separate thing. But if anyone came to record and wanted stuff from a composer then…

***

Gurneet’s plan is simple: be really good at what you do and the rest will follow. Obviously, ridiculous hours, scary appointments with the bank manager and an awful lot of hard work are waiting just up the road from the studios but you couldn’t wish for a better business plan than quality first.

In Praise of the Elevator Pitch

Time was that people used to take big rides in lifts. The birth of the skyscraper brought with it the ability to take business executives higher and higher up into the stratosphere where lofty offices are accompanied by equally lofty budgets at their disposal.

Nowadays, we’re living in a world that seems to be getting lower and lower – executives may be working on the first floor along with the secretaries and the media managers and although the 1:20 elevator ride may be, largely, a thing of the past, the huge spending allocations are not: people still need services.

Now it’s just a matter of pinning someone down long enough to get your elevator pitch out.

***

Since I decided to work on Plastik Magazine as my job last spring, I’ve attended enough business meetings to last anyone a life time, been to more dinners than a restaurant critic, brushed shoulders with top academics, governors, councillors, corporate executives, marketing managers and even an opera singer. I’ve also had a lot of time to think about the question that every one of them has asked: “What is Plastik Magazine?”

When I was initially asked that question, I would go into great lengths to talk about what we covered much to the boredom and bewilderment of the dignitary standing in front of me.

All they really wanted was an elevator pitch and I gave them an essay – but coming up with an elevator pitch isn’t as easy as it seems. How do you get it all in?

I like to imagine that I’m building an incredible sandwich – the kind of sandwich that you can hold comfortably in your hands, that makes your hands all messy but despite all the sticky fingers and mayo globs around your mouth, when you get to the end of it, you still feel content and want to eat the whole thing again.

 

How to make a better sandwich

 

The sandwich is a classic. It will never go out of fashion because it is the perfect lunch. It’s seen thousands of variations: hot ones, unfinished ones, cheap ones and expensive ones with solid gold toothpicks to hold them together. No matter what kind of sandwich you’re making for your lunch, they all start with one thing: a slice of bread. The bread of the elevator pitch is an introduction to a potential investor. Start off with something straightforward like, “Hey, I’m Marc Thomas, editor of Plastik Magazine. Really nice to meet you.”

Don’t skip to the filling before you’re ready. If the person you’re talking to has a second to speak to you, they’ll let you know and then you can start layering on the mayonnaise or butter (depending on your preference.)

The mayo or butter of your elevator pitch is a quick overview of your idea/business. You don’t need to go into detail or explain why you’re the best just yet. No body will ever care that you’ve solved all of the transmedia sector’s problems if they don’t know what transmedia is – and the chances are, they do not already know what you mean by transmedia, so explain that too.

When I first started talking to people about what Plastik Magazine does, it would always be a bumbling blurb of ideas that all went off on their own tangents before looping back round to a huge tangle of buzzwords and catch phrases. By sitting down and thinking of what we actually do, I was able to spread it all out evenly, simply and understandably: “Plastik Magazine is an online magazine that takes a very comprehensive view of culture in Cardiff – from the latest releases by local bands to the way that streets are planned and spaces are used.”

Instantly, the person opposite me or on the other end of the telephone knows exactly what it is that I do – I don’t have to go into any more detail.

Once you’ve got the butter spread, you can start going into the greens: lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, layer your staples thick so that the investor can understand that your sandwich fits in next to the other sandwiches. Without a reference point to help them place you in your market, the person you’re speaking to might get a squiffy idea of where you’re coming from.

“There are lots of music magazines in Cardiff, also lots of what’s on guides as well as the traditional news media and a host of blogs and websites.”

You can go as deep as you like here but just remember that eventually, you’ll run out of time and if you’ve made yourself look too much like everyone else, there’ll be no point the sales manager or executive being interested in what your business has got to offer – she knows a list of people who her company has worked with before and enjoyed working with.

The principal, and unforgivable error, is to leave out the main filling: the meat (or meaty vegetables, if you’re a vegetarian.) No body likes a sandwich that doesn’t have a unique selling point, even if they don’t think about it in those terms. Imagine you’re looking at a menu in a corner cafe. You can see chicken and ham, egg and cress, ham and tomato but most of the time you’re going to go for the slightly exotic choice, right? Who wants a standard sandwich when they can choose Falafel and Greek Yoghurt or Barbecue Rib and Chilli?!

It’s exactly the same with the elevator pitch: you’ve got to take the two minutes that you might get with an investor to really extol the benefits of your startup and blow your competitors’ offer out of the water. What do I say? Usually something like: “Other magazines either look at just music or comedy or cinema or x interest, but Plastik is in touch with a huge audience across a broad range of interests. We’re accessible, friendly and entertaining.”

And what’s the thing that pins all that together? One of those slightly annoying but all the same necessary toothpicks with the shiny paper on the end…. “No-one can reach an audience like Plastik Magazine can.”

By this point, people are dying to eat your sandwich. It’s being held together by a snazzy cocktail stick, it’s got a mouthwatering filling, a fabulous selection of greens to help ease the guilty waistline but it’s still only got one piece of bread – so let’s go ahead and add the final piece of bread to finish it all off. Just like our first piece of bread was to introduce ourselves, our second piece of bread seals the deal. Leave every elevator pitch with something to work on: a meeting to arrange, a document to send, a file to share or, if it goes incredibly well, a cheque to help your business grow.

So to recap, your elevator pitch needs to be short, informative and inspirational. Remember that you’ll only have a few minutes with most people initially and never forget to get an appointment to be in contact again before you leave.

The elevator pitch, like sandwich making, is an art form that you’ll grow to love and the good news is that the more sandwiches you make, the easier it becomes.

5 Minutes With Freshflow

Lois Franks is increasingly busy. She left university with an undergraduate degree last summer and decided to go against the grain – using skills that she had developed outside of her studies to make a living.

Now, less than a year on, she’s just employed her first employee and thinks she might need another one before too long.

Plastik Magazine caught up with her one busy Friday to have a chat about what it’s like to have a startup that works – we’d sure like to know!

 

Tell me about Freshflow

 
Freshflow is a business that’s been kind of going for three years. That was under the name of Lois Nelson Marketing – me as a sole trader. As of 1 January this year, we launched as a limited company. We support businesses who work with businesses ranging from accountants to IT companies and various things in between by helping them get more business. We’re a business development company – we link clients with clients and book them meetings.

 

What is your main business?

 
At the moment, telemarketing. We speak to potential clients on behalf of businesses to get the sales staff in front of the right people. In the future we’re looking to go into other areas of development and marketing too.

 

When you say other areas, what kind of stuff do you mean?

 
At the moment my husband works in business development at his Dad’s company. He’s just been brought onto the staff to launch a new area of the business: thinking innovately, bring fresh ideas and get alongside businesses and helping them to think outside the box.

 

You’re talking about strategy right?

 
Yes. Strategic development.

 

How did you decide to become self employed?

 
When I was a student someone approached me and thought that I might be good at doing telemarketing stuff and I started doing it and calling on behalf of him. I was self employed as a sole trader. It came to third year and the company had heard that’s what I was doing. They asked if I would consider doing some stuff for them. I had two clients as a sole trader and as third year of uni was a bit mental, I ended up just working for one. As it came to graduation, the thought of working for myself was really appealing so I decided to make a go of it as a graduate. And here I am.

 

And how’s it been for you so far?

 
Good. I’m not going to say it’s amazing all the time and that it’s easy because it’s not. I love the challenge and the adventure. The flexibility is amazing. At the moment, I also work in a school in an underprivileged area with some kids in year 9 that are struggling in school. I’m working with them to help the kids get plugged back into school. Self-employment means I’ve got the flexibility to do a lot of things as well as focussing on the business.

 

If you had to do a divide in time, what do you spend most time doing?

 
That’s what’s a real tension for me at the moment. I’ve got quite a few clients at the moment and so a lot of that time is taken up by working for the clients. I need to free up a bit more time to work on the business itself rather than just doing the work of the business. I’ve just taken on another member of staff and I’m looking to get an additional person as well. They’ll be doing more of the hands on stuff which will free me up to meet more potential clients for Freshflow.

 

It’s cool that you can take on extra staff. A lot of new businesses struggle to make the jump between 1 and 2 employees. How many people do you reckon you could employ in three years time?

 
I don’t see Freshflow being stagnant, as a little thing that has a few clients. I think the work that I do – I’m careful with the clients I work with. I’ll only do work for businesses who I think will really benefit other businesses. I think the bigger that is and the bigger that can be the better. It’s as big as the world will let it be! It can grow as much as there’s a requirement, I suppose.

 

When you’re getting started, who gave you a hand? Who helped you?

 
I used Venture Wales and the business mentor scheme that they’ve got going. I had a business mentor. In addition to that, I’ve got family friends who have businesses so I just chatted to them a lot: I was picking their brains about tax, accountants and setting up a limited company. I’m lucky that my father in law is a business man so he was able to help a lot advising [my husband and I]. We did a lot of reading and learning about things that I didn’t have a clue about. All of those things together really helped.

***

Lois’ company, which she runs with her husband Ben, is a great example of what can be achieved by a graduate if they just get a little bit of help. Her work shows that it’s a great service which really sets one startup apart from another: numbers aren’t everything – but when it comes down to a cut, a business that delivers is better than a pretender.

5 Ways To Network In Cardiff

Today, I met a guy with a great business idea. He moved to Cardiff last year and has most of the resources that he needs to get started on making his self-employment dream a reality… the only problem is that he doesn’t know anyone yet.

In a city as small as Cardiff, with a population of only 300,000 people it can feel pretty cosy sometimes. However, when you need to pay the bills but you can’t get in front of the right people, it can feel like a much scarier place.

That’s why we wanted to give people like the guy I met this morning, some tips on how to network in Cardiff and get started on making some real progress with their startups. Here are five ways that you can easily get in front of decision makers in this city:

 

Twitter

 

If you’re reading this article, the chances are you’re probably already quite switched on to the power of social media. But we’re not just talking about tweeting – to really make the most of this powerful networking tool, you’ll need to do a little bit of detective work too!

Because of the way that Twitter works, it’s not always easy to see who is an expert in what. Just think of all those times you’ve met someone in person and not known who they are despite their knowing you by your furious tweeting habit.

Engage with influential people in Cardiff’s twittersphere. Let groups like @wearecardiff and @thinkark known about your interesting projects, tell @plastikmag about your idea. You can browse the people that business writers like Western Mail business guru @sionbarry are following to get an idea of where the power in Cardiff lies.

Ultimately, treating people like people is the best way to get to know who is who. Offer to buy them a drink to talk about your business. It’ll be a much nicer experience for you both than an elevator pitch.

 

Cardiff Startups

 

If you’re looking to speak to other startups, there’s a great tool right at your finger tips. Facebook has a growing community of people engaging with each other using the groups feature.

Cardiff is no exception. In the Cardiff Startups group you’ll find people sharing resources that have really helped them, asking for advice on service providers and posting news about their startups.

If nothing else, it’s good to know that when you’re having a day of crushing self-doubt about your ability to run a business, you’re not alone!

 

Cardiff Blogs, Pecha Kucha, TedxCardiff

 

Doing your networking online is convenient, but it’s no where near as good as meeting people in the flesh and having real conversations without any hashtags in them.

Cardiff has a wealth of soft business events on the go and some of them are brilliant. Cardiff Blogs happens on a fairly regular basis and is, as it says on the tin, a meet up for people who blog in Cardiff. They usually invite a panel of speakers to talk about topics like ‘How to make money on your blog’ or blogging for a certain niche. While you might not gain any business from this, the blogging community is very well connected and handy to know if you’re in need of some expert opinion.

Pecha Kucha is much more to do with ideas. Creative people are invited to use slides to talk about their work or a subject that they’re interested in. While it’s a worldwide event, Pecha Kucha Cardiff takes place at Chapter in Canton.

There’s also TedxCardiff which is a similar idea to Pecha Kucha but on a bigger scale. The forthcoming event is at the end of March but sold out in twenty minutes! You can’t afford to miss an event this popular, so next time it comes along, make sure you’re by the phone to call up the Millennium Centre’s box office.

 

Drink at Chapter

 

Another way to meet people who might be interested in working with your startup is to drink at Chapter Arts Centre in Canton. While it might sound like an excuse to try one of their extensive ranges of designer beer, actually a lot of media executives spend a lot of time in the arts centre: either enjoying some cultural event or else using the beautiful space as a meeting place.

Rumour has it that the powerpoints in the canteen at Chapter are so coveted that if you’re not up earlier than the birds, you might miss out – but if you grab one early, you never know who might end up sitting on your table to work for the day. Definitely worth an early morning!

 

Capital Cardiff

 

So far, we’ve recommended ways to network with other people running startups or media businesses. But there’s a whole world of other networking opportunities out there if you scratch a bit deeper.

One of the benefits of going to an event like Capital Cardiff which takes place on 29 February, is that you meet people from businesses like Cardiff Metropolitan University (one of our city’s biggest assets), Xenos business angel network, UK Steel Enterprise and many more (http://www.southwaleschamber.co.uk/capitalcardiff_exhibitors.asp). Also, you can still register to pitch your business idea to investors. Not bad for a free event, right?! Best register now to avoid missing out on a great opportunity.

10 principles for forward thinking business

We’re living in a very noisy world. More than ever before, we have more choice than ever before.

Take an everyday decision like where to buy coffee. Ask yourself some questions: How much time do I have? Do I want to take a walk before I get to the cafe? Should I go for an independent or a chain store? Do I want to drink in or ‘take out’? Do I need to use the wi-fi? What kind of atmosphere do I want to drink my drink in? Tall, Grande or Venti? Foam or no foam? Milk or no milk? Card or cash? Pre-order and prepay on my iPhone or have a conversation with barrista?

Before you know it, you’re needing an aspirin for the headache you’ve just caused yourself.

Now take a bigger decision like: which PR company should I employ to market my business to potential clients? Can you imagine the choices that people are going to have to make in order to find your business? Alot!

However, if startups and medium sized businesses take a note out of one product designers book, they’ll save themselves a lot of hassle in the long run.

In the 1980s, a designer and thinker named Dieter Rams devised a set of ten rules that design should follow if it was to be ‘good.’ Although Rams applied the ideas to products, you can apply the same ideas to your business and build for growth and ease!
 

Good business is innovative

 
When anybody starts a business, it’s usually because they’re pretty sure they’ve got a good idea which no-one else has. Innovation is where the problems with an old idea are changed to create a whole new idea.

Take t-shirt printing for example. Neil Cocker, a regular contributor to Plastik Magazine, started Dizzyjam to solve the problem that bands were having printing merchandise with their name on it. Neil set up a website which allows artists to upload the graphics they want, position it as they choose and then market the t-shirts to their fans. Never once do the bands pay for stock – they just collect the profit from the sale of the t-shirt.

Dizzyjam didn’t invent the t-shirt printing press – they just combined an existing technology with a problem that an industry was having.

Business will struggle to succeed if the innovation isn’t there. Every business needs to fill a gap in the market or at least squeeze itself in with a different angle. If your business doesn’t currently solve a problem, you’re missing a trick and walking a dangerous tight-rope.
 

Good business makes a product useful

 
What is the front facing use of your business? One of the greatest innovations in modern history is the iPod. It revolutionised the way that we listen to music and even the sales of music by allowing people to store thousands of songs at one time.

In fact, it even led to further advances in technology with the famous scroll wheel paving the way for a touch screen iPhone.

The Lomography company is a particularly good example of how to make a business useful. The plastic camera was largely overtaken in popularity by the onset of the digital era – people wanted instant photography and they wanted to be able to see what they were shooting. Lomography came back into fashion by finding a use for an old product – the company made it cool to have ‘happy accidents’ with photography. They emphasised their plus points.

The good news about this particular rule is that it’s never too late to make your business useful – even if it does mean facing up to some harsh truths!
 

Good business is aesthetic

 
There’s a psychological benefit in good design for both the user and the supplier. If your business looks good, people are more willing to enjoy using it.

When you’re building your business, this rule doesn’t have to only apply to the logo and colours.

Take local coffee shop Barker Coffee as an example. The menswear store Barker decided that they would open the cafe up last year in the unit next to their current store. The company have blended into their surroundings but still manage to carry their entire brand message into the new arm of their business: untouchably cool, refined and also a great social atmosphere. Their business looks exactly as they would like their customer to be.

And… as a side note… their drinks menu is second to none. That can’t be a bad way to do business.
 

Good business makes a product understandable

 
One of the biggest problems facing startups is telling people exactly what the point is. Take a few minutes to watch this:

We’d embed it but they disabled embedding…sorry!

No one wants to invest in Brushfyre Media because no body know what it does. This rule applies to startups in the technology market in particular. If your business isn’t instantly understandable to someone who has never worked in your industry, they’ll never know that you can solve their problem.

In the long term, this is apocalyptic if you’re looking to work outside your industry. Want to reach media businesses with your sanitation solution? Don’t talk about environmentally proficient transportation and transformation – talk about clean waste disposal!
 

Good business is unobtrusive

 
Bright lights, bells and whistles do a lot for some people – but we’re living in a noisy world. Reining it in might not be a bad option. Everyone is familiar with the Dyson vacuum because they made a point of making everything they sold simple and easy to hide – and yet, you know exactly what to buy when your hoover gives up the ghost, right?

The same principle applies to designing your business. If your offer is really as good as you say it is, you shouldn’t need to be loud and shouty to get your marketing spiel across.

Need another example? Try Coca Cola vs Pepsi Cola. The Coca Cola company rarely ever market themselves on TV through commercials – with the notable and much awaited yearly Christmas advert. Pepsi Cola markets itself relentlessly with big cinematic adverts that feature helicopters and explosions.

But when I say, ‘Name a fizzy drink’ to a child, they’ll probably blurt out  ‘COKE!’ – incidentally, Coke sells 1.6 billion servings daily. That’s a sixth of the global population drinking the brown stuff each day.

They’re doing something right!
 

Good business is honest

 

What your clients think about your business is only half of what you tell them. Especially for startups, the temptation is to boast about the revolution that their business will start – but it’s not always an honest claim.

More and more people are realising that the sensational claims made by businesses aren’t always the reality. Defining yourself honestly is one of the best things that you can do for your business.

The worst thing that you can do with your business is to let your clients down because you’ve oversold the benefits of your business. It will only leave you with a bad reputation.
 

Good business is long-lasting

 
Design for the future is one of the least valued ideas in business. Everyone wants to be trendy – but a trend will change in a year or six months. Design for 6 years in the future. Leave space!

Remember MySpace? Barely… right? However, six years ago, everybody and their pet cat were on MySpace – bands were marketing their music, businesses had pages, individuals pointed people to their personal site to grab the latest news about their endeavours. Last year between January and February, the website lost 10 million members!

As well as avoiding a lot of catching up and learning curves, if you build your business around what is necessary rather than what is simple and available, you’ll be a market leader and may win business by selling your own success.
 

Good business is thorough, down to the last detail

 

As we’ve already mentioned, the temptation to focus heavily on your logo and website when it comes to branding is inevitable but it’s also dangerous.

Your business must focus on working out how to deal with a crisis situation: what is your personality? How can you make your brand values evident in the way that you handle a product failure or a missed deadline?

While you shouldn’t have to prepare for failure in advance, if a mistake is made, knowing how to design your recovery is a super useful ability.
 

Good business is environmentally-friendly

 
We’ve got a shallow view of environment. It’s not all about green transport. In your field, is your business giving off a noisey/smokey aura or are you doing renewable work?

Imagine a small telesales company based in Cardiff. One day, they need to make 300 phone calls. However, because they haven’t thought about the future of their business, they forget that when turned down by someone on the other end of the phone line, they can’t just hurl insults.

The telesales company is building their business around an unsustainable idea. They should be building for growth and keeping good relations with potential customers.
 

Good business is as little design as possible

 
“My goal is to omit everything superfluous,” said Rams himself, “so that the essential is shown to best possible advantage.”

Having read all of the above points, you’ll probably recognise some things that seem obvious to you. Good work! You’re already designing your business well!

The only thing left for you to do is to continue assessing your business regularly and working out new ways to build a better company.