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My blog covers the MANY highs and lows of starting, scaling and selling my business for 7-figures, in just 4 years. If you're an ambitious entrepreneur then add your email below to get a new episode delivered every Wednesday.

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The Molzi Story, the baby years

Retail sales agency and baby brand - a match made in he...

Molzi began and ended its short life as very different businesses. Not just in terms of revenue and people, but actually the fundamental concept and services that we offered (and still offer today, just called Brainlabs instead!).

I’ll do a blog soon that goes through the original Molzi business plan in detail, so you can see how important it is to have a plan, but how possible it is to deviate from it once you start getting feedback from the all important customer.

The plan was for Molzi to be a sales agency that helps consumer tech brands enter the European retail market from abroad. So instead of hiring their own local sales team, they would pay Molzi (or at that stage, little old me) a monthly retainer and a commission on the sales that I made. A super simple business model, due to the fact that it was what I’d spent the last 10 years doing in ‘proper jobs’. So I already had a network of potential clients and retail buyers. I was lucky enough to be in a position where I didn’t need to take a salary for the first few months, so it couldn’t have been a simpler and more cash flow positive business.

But, I thought I’d add complexity and cost to the mix by then planning for the actual long term Molzi business to be an online-only brand of baby products. I even had the brand name picked and registered – BongoBelly. This was a nickname for my one year old daughter and does even have a catchy theme tune – likely to be available from Spotify by the time you read this.

Interesting-ish fact - BongoBelly Ltd actually ended up being repurposed and signed contracts with some of the largest FMCG brands on the planet – much to the confusion of their legal teams – but that’s a story for another blog…

So the plan was for the freelance retail selling to build up a cash surplus to fund the baby brand. I got my flights to China booked for the Shanghai Baby Show. I was ready for action!

Celebrating 'handing in my notice' day

Celebrating 'handing in my notice' day

Pre-launch prep and learnings

I had to work a 3 month notice period in my previous job before starting Molzi on 1st May 2017. Almost exactly a year after my first actual baby was born, my first business baby joined the World. Slightly embarrassingly I still to this day mix up whether it was Molzi or Cassie that was born in 2016 or 2017. Father of the year.

Despite working diligently on handing over my responsibilities during my notice period (I’ll let you decide on whether that’s sarcasm or not), I managed to also use that time to get all my ducks in a row. I did a bookkeeping course, registered the business, opened a business bank account, and started telling my LinkedIn network of how Molzi was going to change their life.

I designed the logo myself and created the first creds deck. Safe to say graphic designer was one of the first roles we hired into the business.

The title page of the original Molzi creds deck

The title page of the original Molzi creds deck.

Then the time came, I left my job, had a leaving do that I missed due to food poisoning, and Molzi went live on 1st May 2017.

The first week – setting the pace

Because of the work I put in before launch, I had a pretty busy first week in business. Day one was a drive up to Manchester to meet a potential client, and day two was a flight to Frankfurt to meet another. It wasn’t clear yet whether I could generate money like a proper company, but I could certainly rack up the expenses. The bookkeeping course was coming into its own already, good old nominal ledger codes.

Fortunately, these first leads were pretty warm, and I’m not a bad sales person, and Molzi had its first 2 clients. They were followed by two more by the end of month one. I would put that first months success down to a combination of luck, years of building relationships, timing and some salesmanship, but I genuinely believe that the success of the first month gave me the inner belief that business wasn’t too difficult and I could take on the world. Without wanting to spoil the ending, it did get a bit harder but we did ok.

Now I had some clients and the sudden realisation that I had to deliver some value in return for the money the clients were paying me. Not sure how I’d overlooked that, but my focus shifted from selling to clients to selling to retailers. I had some decent success and after the first 6 months or so the business was generating about £10k a month in revenue. Not bad for a one man band. Plus it was giving me lots of time to spend with my daughter and family. The perfect lifestyle business.

I had my trip to China and quickly realised how much of a minefield the importing of own-brand products is, let alone baby products. I enjoyed the trip and told myself that I would refocus on BongoBelly once I’d built up a larger cash buffer. In reality, I knew at that point that BongoBelly wasn’t the opportunity.

This photo is the only thing I ended up getting from the sourcing trip

This photo is the only thing I ended up getting from the sourcing trip

Our biggest moment came in December 2017 when Molzi hired employee number 1. In reality it was the least risky hire of all time, as I’d worked with Ethan for 4 years prior. The plan was for Ethan to focus on Amazon as the channel that all brands were struggling with. Not sure if this will shock anyone or not, but I never did (and still don’t) know how to actually do any of the Amazon optimisation work myself. In hindsight I think this really benefited the business as it meant I had to focus on Molzi rather than client work.

Keeping up the short Molzi tradition, Ethan’s first day was a 4am pick up and a flight to Dusseldorf for a new client pitch. An agency business is pretty simple to run, in the sense that as you sign more revenue, you hire more people (cost!). The problem was that I didn’t know any more Ethan’s, so the moment came where we had to hire our first unknown person.

We started off very picky and then quickly realised that a poorly funded start-up business in Farnham needed to beg anyone to join us. I think it took us roughly 10 seconds to realise the first hire wouldn’t work out, but took us 10 days to build up the courage to sack them. Early learnings that helped us get better and better at hiring. We got pretty good at it, pretty quickly I’m pleased to say.

Ethan joins the adventure

Ethan joins the adventure

We made it to the end of the year

We finished year 1 with revenue of £115k, a healthy profit and a team of 4 people. The concept had been proven and it was time to have some fun! It was roughly at this point that we started sharing the stages of the journey on LinkedIn. Not just major milestones, but general things that we were up to. It's pretty common place now, but was slightly more unusual at the time (I'm not claiming to have invented content marketing however!). This strategy wasn't really a strategy at the time, but gave us a huge step up when it came to scaling. The value in having people kind of know who we were and what we were up to meant very few pitches were truly cold. Semi-warm in fact.

I’ll cover off year 2 in the next episode (read it here). I can’t imagine you’ll be able to sleep with the suspense, apologies.


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