Birju Pujara, Founder & Chief Skwibbler
1. Why did you become an entrepreneur?
Well, it was never planned. By simply being at the right place at the right time, I ended up working at a friend’s start up. That was in the electronic cigarette industry, where we were one of only three companies. For the next 7 years, we took it from zero to a £22m business. When we got acquired in 2014, I worked for the corporate who bought us out and soon realised that, for me, the fun was over; I discovered my true love happened to be ‘the chase’ – building the product/brand from the ground up; so that’s what I did.
2. What are you like as an entrepreneur?
In my previous role, I quickly figured out what I was good at and, more importantly, what I was bad at. After that, I surrounded myself with the right people to ensure those ideas came to life. So I would say I’m collaborative! I like to bring together the best of everyone to create a ‘dream-team’ for that particular business/problem case.
3. What makes the story of your personal career interesting?
It would be the way in which I came into business – via the electronic cigarette industry. A revolutionary industry like this comes around once in a generation and to have been there from the outset, with zero business knowledge, and then turn it into a company that hired over 80 people in just 7 years was incredible! There was nothing orthodox about how we grew that company and still, in our biggest year, we grew 1000% from the previous year's sales –a truly thrilling experience.
4. What is your biggest professional accomplishment?
I’m sure there are plenty! Whilst this wasn’t the biggest, I remember the feeling it gave me most vividly: After our biggest year at the electronic cigarette company, we tied up a shirt sponsorship deal with Birmingham City Football Club. Now given that I am a Villa fan, it made it bitter-sweet, but seeing the brand we came up with in our small office plastered all over the stadium and people wearing T-Shirts with our brand on; I’d say that was my proudest moment – maybe one day I’ll sponsor Aston Villa and that can knock this off its pedestal!
5. What is your biggest professional blunder?
Not starting Skwibble earlier. I thought of this idea 10 years ago, when my niece was born, but got so distracted with the other business, I parked it. Yes, the experience I’ve gained from my previous role has certainly made the proposition I have today stronger than it would have been, but I still always find myself questioning what if!
6. What is your dream for your company?
Quite simply, to be the solution for the problem. Having entered the parenting industry, I feel there are so many areas that Skwibble can tackle and improve and I’m hungry to do so on a global scale. In years to come, if I see children looking at their Skwibble Memory Book to see what they got up to as a child, it would be all worth it!
7. Who is your role model and why?
Given my long-term ambition of setting up a charity and solving some of the inequality in the world, I would have to say those Entrepreneurs who built incredible businesses and then devoted much of their time in improving the world are on the top of the list. I think my top 3 would have to be Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Manoj Bhargava.
8. What motivates you?
The two major motivators for me are:
charity – building a successful product which can, in some way, improve the world is a huge motivator for me. We already have plans on how we can bring charity into the Skwibble proposition in the future.
The success in building something from nothing. There is something special about taking an idea and creating something substantial from that. I always liken it to the idea of physically building something from scratch – there is a wonderful sense of achievement when it’s completed and there for the world to see.
9. Why crowdfunding and why with Invesdor?
I’ve always been keen on crowdfunding for Skwibble as I think it’s the right fit for the company. I envisage that we will need more funding as the company grows and the idea of having the product put in front of so many investors at such an early stage is great for exposure, if nothing else.
Invesdor stood out to me as the best platform for Skwibble, considering this was my first crowdfunding raise that I’d ever done. I found that as a ‘newbie’ they were great at helping you along the way to give you the best chance of success. It wasn’t just about giving us advice, but in many cases they provided the necessary tools too.
10. Why would you invest in your company? Give three reasons.
There is a clear gap in the market for a product like this – parents at the moment are pushed to products that aren’t really made for them and therefore aren’t getting the great experience that they should be.
We appeal to a very captive, ever-changing and growing market: parents.
Probably the most important of them all – it’s fun! It’s an exciting project to be involved in and, for much of the creative part, you find the biggest success when bringing your inner child out to play! It’s easy to be innovative when you enjoy what you’re doing!