Building a sustainable and scalable business.
Having met at the end of 2014 on e-harmony, the dating website that hones in on personality and values, Julie Chen had an idea that had been percolating for a while and shared this idea with her new partner Chris Forbes. Julie knew Chris needed a little convincing and so at the end of 2015 when Julie took Chris to meet her parents in China she knew there was an opportunity to take Chris on an additional trip and show him why she wanted to set up the business. This trip involved a 3 hour flight and a 4 hour car journey and it was here that Chris was able to see so much bamboo and how they could create a sustainable business and turn this in to toilet paper, kitchen roll, tissues and more. And so on 2nd January 2016 upon their return to the UK…
Couplepreneur – Chris Forbes and Julie Chen
Business Established – January 2016
Website – www.thecheekypanda.co.uk
Industry – manufacture bamboo toilet paper, kitchen roll, tissues
The Cheeky Panda was born.
Chris and Julie come from business backgrounds in Headhunting and Consulting and as a result are “Seasoned but not too seasoned” as Chris added.
Chris and Julie have gone on to win numerous awards for the fastest growing, sustainable tissue brand. A recent addition was for best new product for home and living at the Natural Organic Europe exhibition in London in April 18.
Their product is currently being stocked in some of the world’s biggest retailers and is a big seller on Amazon.
Special guests at the inaugural All In Summit
Chris and Julie were one of the Couplepreneurs we interviewed live at the inaugural Couplepreneurs launch event this year on 15th March 2018 at the Soho Hotel – it’s annual All In Summit and where we have named 15th March as International Couplepreneurs Day. People in the audience were fascinated by Chris and Julie’s story, not least as they met and set a business together within a year and with the investment they have attracted and rapid international expansion.
Whilst the idea felt original and special it was also a little scary embarking on it too. During the journey one of the huge seminal moments and smart moves according to Chris was his meeting with the Head of Essex Innovation. As they ate their curry Chris then put his product on the table and said ‘How are you going to help me sell this?’ A smart moved indeed as this led to huge support and Julie and Chris being part of a mentoring programme that was invaluable for their learning and business growth.
Another smart move was the crowdfunding campaign that they undertook in 2016 to explore the potential and this attracted £100k of additional investment. It was at this moment both Julie and Chris realised what size of opportunity lay ahead for them with the business. As Julie said –
“We’re both very passionate about sustainability, and we spent the next year visiting tissue factories, learning about the many benefits of bamboo and formulating the plan for our the business.”Julie Chen
But how do they make it work?
It’s very clear that their personal interests are completely aligned as you spend time with Chris and Julie and in our interview they both spoke about how they are “stronger together, they pitch better together, they like networking, they don’t argue and being a couple has had a positive impact”. They quickly identified the roles they were going to take in the business, something they think is key. But in the early months it was hugely challenging and they didn’t take a salary for the first 18 months. They lived and breathed the business so getting the balance right is important too and you can see they love what they do but also enjoy talking about the business so appear to have found a great and healthy balance.
And what advice would they give an aspiring couplepreneur?
They told us “Never leave anything unresolved and really think about if your partner is the right parther. We wanted to create a cost effective and viable eco-friendly alternative to toilet paper and we wouldn’t have chosen anyone else to work with.”
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