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Julianne Ponan and Matthew Ford.

We met Julianne and Matt earlier this year at the launch of Couplepreneurs in March (you can see a little snapshot here) and they later shared with us their very impressive story of Creative Nature which they have been running since 2012. They have until now built their million pound business organically after attempting to secure funding back in 2013. They were unsuccessful. Fast forward to today that sees this inspiring Couplepreneur having launched a crowd funding campaign with their aim to secure £350k to invest further in their business. They are (as we went to press) at 102% of their target. – impressive stuff!  Visit their funding page to learn more.

An incredible funding journey

We caught up with them to ask a little more about their funding journey, how they have gone about it and what the trigger has been together with who has helped them along the way and how they felt as they were about to launch the campaign. Importantly we ask what advice they would give other Couplepreneurs embarking on their funding campaign. We also wanted to understand more about their journey within the growing Couplepreneurs community. You can see more on our interview with Julianne and Matt’s earlier this year here.

If you would like to feature your stories in our regular Couplepreneurs Journeys out to the global community please get in touch with Patricia Bacon, the Founder of Couplepreneurs, on patricia@couplepreneurs.co.uk 

You can also meet Julianne and Matt at our next drinks global community evening on Thursday, 18th October – this is for aspiring, current and exited Couplepreneurs and an opportunity to mix with so many inspiring businesses and meet some of our Trusted Advisors too.

You joined Couplepreneurs after our launch event in March this year – what is your experience of the community so far? How have you benefitted from joining?

Julianne is very animated when she tells us “If we hadn’t come to your event in March, and we hadn’t met Chris and Julie from The Cheeky Panda, we would not have done the funding so quickly.” As a result of meeting Chris Forbes and Julie Chen who run The Cheeky Panda (we interviewed them live at the event – another inspirational story who we will be covering soon – more here on Julie and Chris’ journey) things have certainly developed for both Couplepreneurs’ businesses. Julianne adds “We went out and had dinner and drinks. It was nice to get on with people that were going through exactly the same thing as us.” Matt echoes this and adds “Meeting each other has really benefitted us from contacts and information we have shared and being there to support each other. The networking opportunity is huge as is the support for each other. Meeting up outside of work together has been great. You lose friends you had as they aren’t on the same journey so being able to meet up for a drink with like minded people is super important.”
Matt also tells us just how honesty and openness are so important. He tells us “You can be honest and give real advice and not be concerned about upsetting one other.” Julianne goes on to add “The buck stops with you. You may have times you need to stay until one in the morning even if everyone else goes home.  Knowing that you have good and bad days and knowing that we have their support and that they are at the end of the phone feels very good. With Couplepreneurs you have to automatically trust each other. We loved the launch as we were in a room full of people and there were no egos and people shared their genuine stories about what they have done but in a very open and honest way about how it hasn’t been easy to get there. We are going to this to build our network, seek help and hopefully be able to impart our knowledge and help people in the process.”

How have you gone about funding until now – you did try back in 2013 and you have also appeared on the Dragons Den – were these successful for you?

Matt tells us “We tried to do a funding round in 2013 but we were unsuccessful due to investors at the time saying we were too naïve, Julianne was just a little girl, our forecasts were laughed at and we were told how two people could never launch in to a supermarket, so we failed to get investment then and decided to stick to our guns and do it ourselves.” Matt and Julianne both admit that at that time they were still learning so much about running a business and going in to the funding round without knowing what they were doing. They hadn’t secured any pre campaign investment and looking back realised this was naïve on their part.
Julianne and Matt were then approached by the Dragons’ Den and featured in 2017 and were successful in securing investment. However they decided to turn this down (prior to the show airing) as all the work they had been putting in to get in to Sainsbury’s and the Co-op paid off, all of which happened just after the filming. As this impacted positively on having a much higher valuation given they now had the purchase order rather than only a confirmation when presenting to the Dragons’ they decided that they needed to walk away from the deal.

Tell us more about the funding process? How long did it take to get the funding campaign ready and did this have any impact on the business?

Julianne and Matt worked with Paul Edwards (their Non Exec Director) who Julianne was fortunate to meet through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Programme that she was part of in 2017. Paul’s advice was critical they realise looking back as he recommended a crowd funding route given this is not only offered a huge platform for funding but there was the ability to get great brand ambassadors on board who would invest. Julianne had reservations and tells us “I didn’t initially want to do it as I didn’t want to publicly fail.” Whilst they failed to secure the investment back in 2013 Matt goes on to tell us “This time Julianne had worked for three months to secure investment and we were ready to do this.” The couple tell us how they had looked at some other routes as Julianne adds “Seedrs seemed very gender neutral with a very diverse portfolio. They spent a lot of time understanding the business and we really liked how you get one shareholder agreement.” I ask Julianne more about  ‘gender neutral’ and she tells us “I constantly still get it at shows where I’m told I’m not the owner and it gets to me. I want to say to people how they are going to have to deal with me so they need to believe I am the owner from the beginning.” Julianne has built up huge credibility through her network, PR and building a successful business with Matt but she is concerned how other people who are faced with this challenge can manage it.
She goes on to explain how “I have lots of credibility through PR but what about people like me at the beginning. Having Matt there for support is so important and that’s where the Couplepreneur relationship and its strength really comes in. One of you might be the face of the business whilst the other one is just so integral albeit more behind the scenes.” It took 3 months to get the campaign fully ready and it ate in to Julianne’s time. Julianne gives other Couplepreneurs great advice adding “there was a month where it took so much of my time and sales in that month suffered a little so people need to be aware of this when they are focussed on the campaign development. But without having Matt in the business to keep on top of things it would have been a bigger challenge.” Julianne goes on to tell us “Always have one person spearheading the funding side and trust and work with your partner. It’s never going to be perfect and they won’t do it in exactly the way you would run it so you have to be mindful of that.” Whilst they are so excited to have had such great success with the funding so far they also admit just how exhausted it’s been and are so happy their planned holiday from last year couldn’t have come at a better time.”

How did you feel as you set out and then at the end of the first week after the campaign going live?

Julianne tells us she was very scared. She says “– I told Matt that I didn’t want to go live. But I knew what I had done. Matt reinforced needing to go live because of all the work we had done. Seeing what happened in those first 3 days where we secured over 80% of our target and seeing the whole network we had met along the way getting behind us – it was incredible. Building that community is the strongest part in business. When you have that network behind you, you feel more confident.
That’s why we love Couplepreneurs – we know as the community expands we will have a network of people who we can utilise and can use us and it is different to other groups – there is such value in its closeness. I’m part of so many groups and I feel many now have no value because they have lost that sense of being a group and closeness.”

What will you use the money for?

The couple have great plans as Matt tells us “We will use the money for working capital and stock” going on to explain “We have been in situations in the past year where we have been out of stock and that hasn’t been great. We also want to bring in additional sales people and an Export Manager, more Advisory expertise and warehouse staff. We also want to invest in leading the change to fully compostable plastic.”

What advice would you give to another Couplepreneur looking for funding?

Matt and Julianne give great advice. Matt tells us “Secure a level of investment before going live, put in the ground work, reach out to VCs, angel investors, other Couplepreneurs and other people in your network.” Julianne adds “Ask the worst questions first. What happens if there is no momentum, how do I get it? It is easy to tell someone to create a video and it’s going to suddenly go viral but it doesn’t happen on its own. It’s a result of a huge amount of back end hard work.”

Stephen Sacks

Author of Reboot Your Business and Founder of Funding Nav.

A note from one of our Trusted Advisors

Couplepreneurs is a global community for couple owned businesses to meet, share and inspire their stories and come together to support and be supported through each other and our Trusted Advisor Network within the Community. We ask what Stephen Sacks, one of our Trusted Advisors thinks. Stephen is an expert on funding options and runs Funding Nav to support our community who are looking for funding. You can meet Stephen at our next breakfast meeting on 3rd October at 8.30am where we will be talking about Free Cash and Funding for your business. Details are here to sign up.

Stephen says “Julianne and Matt’s story is really encouraging and should inspire other couplepreneurs to seriously consider scaling and demonstrates that being a couple is certainly no barrier. In fact given the huge amount of work involved in fundraising the fact that Julianne was able to dedicate herself to that task whilst trusting Matt to crack on with running the business was a decided advantage. Having secured investment before fully launching meant that there was a huge momentum to the raise ensuring success so all credit to them both.”

A real couplepreneur success and a demonstration of the value in this network!