This year two NI startups, Uproar Comics and Uni Baggage have been selected as Smarta 100 winners. Since we’ve already featured Uproar Comics and their innovative digital comic experience The DEC here on Startacus, we thought it only fair to give a little airtime to Paul Stewart and his Belfast based baggage postal solution Unibaggage.
So let’s take flight with our first question and unpack the secrets as to why this business would be one of the shortlisted "disruptive" Smarta 100 businesses for 2013.
Over to our chat with Paul Stewart to find out more.
Okay, so let’s go right back to the start - what was your eureka moment for Uni Baggage?
I was a student at the University of Edinburgh and was travelling to and from Belfast and finding it hard to take all my stuff with me. I was getting ripped off with excess baggage fees and I thought there had to be a better way. I looked into shipping my belongings but it was far too expensive unless I was sending thousands of items per year. That is when the penny dropped.
How long did it take for Uni Baggage to go from 'Idea in the head' to a launched and operational business?
Not very long, I was a student, I had a bit of free time on my hands. I thought about it for a few weeks, set down my pint, signed up with my first courier and agreed a price that students could afford. I hired a web developer (he is still with us today) and had a site live taking bookings within a matter of weeks. Being a student I was able to drum up a good amount of business at Uni and also via Facebook.
Without sounding obvious - what's your target demographic? Do you concentrate just on the student / uni market?
Students and their parents - simple. We focus on the student market, we know this market very well and can serve students better than most people. It is a large market in the UK and internationally. We ship for holiday makers and other non students, however this is simply down to them already knowing about us. We have no desire to go into other markets at the minute.
What pitfalls did you come up against, and how much support did you get from friends, family, enterprise bodies etc? Did they get it?
I have had great support from family and friends, they think I am Uni Baggage mad, but are behind me each step of the way. Some people were a bit worried that a startup business was not a "real" job but soon got over that when I was earning more than if I had taken a job in Structural Engineering, which is what I did at University. With most startups there are ups and downs. We have been very lucky and not had any serious problems that were not fixable, we hit brick walls every now and again and have to fight our way through it. When you have a really good day of sales it is hard not to smile. We recently did more sales in one week than we did in our first year of business. That was a good week.
One of your rivals featured on the Dragon's Den and got a big 'I'm out' - but they seem to have done well and also raised good amounts of finance. How easy did you find it in raising the capital to develop your business?
They have done really well for themselves and are taking the business in a different direction from us, I wish them the best of luck. It is great to see N. Ireland businesses doing well. I think Northern Ireland is a fantastic place for startups and has a lot to offer. Uni Baggage is in a very fortunate position where it generates a very positive cash flow. Uni Baggage was entirely self funded (well by my student loan at the time) and currently we are not seeking outside investment. You could blow a lot of money educating people about your service, however I do not think that is what Uni Baggage needs. We have doubled turnover two years in a row, and will continue to eat away at the student shipping market in the UK and Internationally.
How well placed are you now in this growing industry and any major success stories you can share with Startacus!
We would consider ourselves one of the main players in the student shipping market, we have built up a large customer base who love what we do. We get a huge amount of customer recommendations which helps with our growth. We have been nominated for a number of awards this year, the Ulster Tatler Business Man of the Year, The Belfast Business Top 50, and the Smarta 100. We are 1 of only 2 businesses in N. Ireland to make it into the Smarta 100 and are delighted to have made the cut. We need votes to win our categories so please take 5 seconds to vote for us here.
Finally, one piece of advice please to any early stage self starter / entrepreneur who is at that stage of looking to develop 'that idea'?
Get stuck in and have a play around with your idea before putting any serious money into it. Speak to people who have been there and get involved in that industry as much as you can. Have fun with it.
And with that, we wish Paul and his Smarta 100 awarded business well and look forward to hearing moreIf you are interested in NI and Ireland business and startup news you might want to take a look at our recent features on:
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