Just do it!
Our co-founders, Christine and Jenny, were named UK Family Business Entrepreneurs of the Year 2018 at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards in London on 24 January 2019 at a very smart awards ceremony held at Coutts Bank. Here’s a few thoughts from Christine on winning this prestigious award and what’s next for Charley Chau ...
It has been a week since Jenny and I were named UK Family Business Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 at the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards and I'm still reeling!
We won the Family Business Entrepreneur category for the North of England and then were named the overall winner of Entrepreneur of the Year for the North back in November which was already more than we would ever have dared dream about, so to go to the national final at Coutts in London and come home with a third award was simply mind blowing!
Being in a room full of entrepreneurial superstars was completely nuts – it was amazing to share a stage with people who have literally created businesses worth hundreds of millions of pounds – me, a crazy dog lady, with our little company that started on my sitting room floor!
When I went up on stage to receive the award on behalf of Jenny and I, I was put on the spot and asked what advice I would give to someone looking to start a small business. I choked – my mind was spinning and I blurted out “Just do it!”. In comparison to the other winners, my ‘speech’ wasn’t perhaps as insightful into the life of our business and I have been playing it over in my head as to what I could have said. However, if asked again, I think the parting shot would still be the same: just do it (as Nike would say).
We’ve been very lucky – Jenny and I started our business as a hobby and we were able to fund it ourselves as we were both working full-time. Two years down the road and Charley Chau was too busy to manage around our “proper” jobs so we had to make a big decision – shut Charley Chau down or take it seriously. Taking it seriously meant quitting our careers. At that point in 2012 our turnover was £24,000 and we were not making a profit. But we believed that our quirky little hobby had potential.
Anna snoozing in an early prototype of what has become our signature Snuggle Bed, back in 2010 just before we launched Charley Chau. Anna and Charley loved the beds so much that we felt we had to see whether or not any other dogs would like them too!
Lots of "what if’s" started to creep in… What if we quit our jobs and Charley Chau didn’t work out? What if we lost all our money? What if it went wrong and everyone said “we told you so”? What if we were just deluding ourselves? What if...?
We could so easily have taken the easy route and stayed put in our city careers with our reliable salaries. But I am so grateful that we didn’t. We decided to just do it.
We left our jobs (and regular income) behind, which was super scary. There was no prospect of Charley Chau paying us a salary as every penny was re-invested in growing our little business so we moved back into our mother’s house to enable us to carry on working on Charley Chau. It’s a good job that we get along with our mother and that she is so supportive of us!
Jenny and Tino with Granny Chau - our mother has always been 100% behind us, even agreeing to us living back at home to make it easier for us to work on Charley Chau!
We didn’t know the first thing about running a business, we just set out to make gorgeous dog beds. There are even times today when I face a new business challenge that I still feel like I don't know how to run a business. But personally, I love it. I love the sense of achievement of being being able to say "I did this", which I didn't often feel when I worked in the City. I love the daily challenges that help me learn and grow as a person. And I love that I still get to make gorgeous dog beds! We’ve made some corking mistakes along the way and learned some big lessons but, most importantly of all, we've learned to be resilient and to deal with the challenges that are part of the parcel on this incredible journey.
So, if you are thinking about setting up a small business, and you think your idea could fly, just do it – have belief in yourself and just do it.
Our little monkeys agree: just do it!
Being named UK Family Business Entrepreneurs of the Year is an incredible high point in the journey that Jenny and I have been on together as sisters and business partners. It’s also a fantastic testament to everything that Jenny has contributed to Charley Chau over the last eight years at a time when Jenny has been stepping back from the day-to-day operations of Charley Chau to focus on some personal projects.
Jenny and I at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards drinks evening after finding out that we had been shortlisted as finalists for the 2018 awards
Without Jenny’s hard work and support, Charley Chau would not be where it is today – we never thought when we first made a Snuggle Bed on the sitting room floor that it would grow into a business with happy customers in over forty-five countries around the world. Jenny still has a vested interest in our little business as an owner, so even though Jenny is stepping back from the day-to-day running of Charley Chau she will continue to keep a keen eye on the growth and development of our company.
Jenny says: “I want to say a huge thank you to all of our customers and friends for your support throughout my amazing time at Charley Chau. We have the best customers and I feel so lucky that many have become good friends over the years. Rest assured that in my adapted role for Charley Chau, I will continue to support our mission to make dog beds that are comfortable as caninely possible.”
For both Jenny and I to win the award for UK Family Business Entrepreneur of the Year Award at this particular time in the growth of our company feels like a fitting celebration of everything we’ve achieved together so far. Not having Jenny, Tino and Mabel in the office every day will take a little getting used to but it is not the end of our story as sisters and business partners.
Charley Chau remains a family-owned small business and Jenny will be at Crufts for a couple of days. We’ve got heaps of lovely new beds and blankets to bring out this year that we’re really excited about and the first launch of 2019 is next week in fact – just a small launch to ease us into this amazing start to 2019. Do keep your eyes peeled!
A huge thank you to the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and all of the judges – this award has kick-started our year on an intergalactic scale! GBEA is an incredible celebration of entrepreneurial spirit in the UK and we’re so grateful for the spotlight that you shine on small businesses like Charley Chau. Congratulations also to all of the other GBEA award winners!
When we announced winning the UK Family Business Entrepreneur of the Year award on Facebook and Instagram last week, the support from our customers and other friends was incredible. We really are so lucky to have met so many wonderful people – whether it’s virtual meetings on FB and Insta or in the real world. We do of course owe our customers a huge thank you. From day one, it has been our customers who have enabled us to grow – not just by placing orders but also by giving us feedback, encouraging us, by spreading the word about our little company. Thank you all – none of what we have achieved so far would have been possible without your support.