Where did your personal inspiration, entrepreneurial/leadership purpose come from – what shaped your views?
Well the story really starts with my degree and my studies. I study architecture, not the normal route to being an entrepreneur but as I hope to show it is the reason Elephant Branded exists and I attribute a lot to that fact.
Unlike most degrees architecture takes 7 years to complete. I am sure you can imagine my parents’ faces when I said I would be at university for seven years! However the education is not all at University but involves a number of years working in Industry.
During my second year I was involved in a project to design and build a nursery school in South Africa as part of my degree. We spent 6 months designing the school and then went out to a small township called Jouberton about 2 hours from Johannesburg.
It was an amazing experience living in the township. It was the first time I had seen real poverty and it really shocked me. For a country such as South Africa, which is fairly developed, I was dismayed by the lack of basic school equipment the children had access to. The school opened and they were writing on old pieces of newspaper as they had no books.
After graduating, I was offered a number of jobs in London but in the end I won an International Architecture competition for a job in Guangdong Province in Southern China.
Having never been to Asia, never mind China, I had no idea what to expect but jumped on a plane and absolutely loved it!
While working in China I travelled extensively through Asia during work holidays. I would often go somewhere and as in Africa many of the schools would be built by NGOs etc however many lacked the basic school equipment, which makes a school a school. In the Philippines, Cambodia and Loas I was again shocked by this basic lack of school kit.
I decide something had to be done!
What’s the purpose of your organisation?
The idea was simple.. Elephant Branded… by doing something as small and as simple as buying a bag from a store you have inadvertently donated a school bag to a vulnerable child in Africa or Asia, giving them an opportunity that they previously never had.
Not only does the sale of the EB bag give a child school kit but also all of our bags are ethically sourced, working with village cooperatives making products from recycled cement bags. This gives the older generations the skills to get themselves out of poverty, while investing back into grass roots with our school kits. With these two simple principles Elephant Branded was born!
We sell across 14 of John Lewis’s flag ship stores, through boutiques in Switzerland, FAB in Germany as well as online at ElephantBranded.com
What have been your critical lessons learnt along your entrepreneurial journey?
Cash Flow is King! Ha ha pretty boring but true, especially in a product driven business. Err.. I’m not sure if I could define the exact lessons that I have learnt.
I think that is the great thing about starting and running your own business, every day you learn something new! I have learnt more in the last year than I could possibly have imagined! That’s the great thing, every day is different, it’s not the 9 – 5 but that’s why I love it.
What are the characteristics that in your experience entrepreneurs require now and in the future?
I don’t think that it is possible to classify what characteristics are required to be an entrepreneur; I personally don’t even like the word “entrepreneur”. I came from an architecture back ground with no previous experience of business; I simply saw a problem and wanted to do something about it.
For me there are no defined characteristics, no matter who you are or your background, simply get involved and just try it!
What would be your 5 top tips for purposeful entrepreneurs?
- Be passionate!
- Don't corrupt your original values, no matter how much money people are prepared to give you to deviate. (Very important when considering investment)
- Listen to others but don't be a sheep
- Build a strong team around you, an idea is only as good as those who execute it.
- Be mobile, many people dream of having their own office however a smartphone with the right software can allow you to connect with your team anywhere in the world.
James Munro Boon
Elephant Branded, Bath, Somerset