The Times - Working Life

Paul Tanner - Kirsty Whyte - Freedom To Exist - The Times


We are incredibly pleased to share an article published in todays edition of THE TIMES. Kirsty and I feature as Freedom To Exist as part of their WORKING LIFE column. The article discusses working with your partner, and as fte is just Kirsty and I, it was a great article to take part in.

Don’t give up the day job. Budding entrepreneurs with designs on launching their own ventures will be all too familiar with that advice, yet many are managing to heed the warning without sacrificing their goal of going it alone.

Take Paul Tanner and Kirsty Whyte, a husband and wife team who have designed a range of minimalist watches sold in independent retailers, via their own website and exported to twelve countries. This has been achieved while Mr Tanner, 37, works as a buyer of furniture, lighting and upholstery for Marks & Spencer, and Kirsty Whyte, 36, holds down a full-time job as creative and product director for Soho House, the chain of members’ clubs. Evenings, weekends and holidays are all sacrificed for their business, called Freedom to Exist, and the minimalist watches it produces.

“We often joke about what other couples get up to at weekends,” Mr Tanner says. “Rather than talk about Love Island, we talk about marketing calendars and rather than picnics in the park, we spend weekends at trade fairs. We took our first proper beach holiday in five years recently.

“It is important that your start-up is something you truly believe in as you will be making a lot of sacrifices to keep the plates spinning.”

According to research by Aston University, part-time entrepreneurship is common. Up to 45 per cent of early-stage entrepreneurs are also employed full-time or part-time, based on data collected by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. While it demands impressive reserves of stamina, building the foundations of a business while still enjoying the security of a salary has its advantages.

“Without a guaranteed income, perhaps we could have been steered to a discount culture to pay the bills. I also think there’s something to be said for giving yourself restrictions when starting a business. In our case, it’s been time and that has made us incredibly efficient at weekends and after work,” Mr Tanner says.

The Uxbridge-based Bonnie Lauren Green, 27, works in a technology support team by day. In her spare time she is building an independent PC games company.

“Working on my own means learning, or hiring, every skill-set that would usually be spread across a team,” she says. “I schedule my day down to individual hours and use my commute and lunch hour to write scripts or build models. It’s exhausting, but absolutely the most rewarding work I have ever done.”

John Pritchard is about to go full-time with his sunglasses business, called Pala. While working in a marketing role at AOL, he used his commute between Brighton and London, evenings and weekends to secure investment from Nick Robertson, the Asos founder, bring his products to market and agree a partnership with Vision Aid Overseas, a charity, which receives a donation from each pair of glasses sold.

“If I had given up everything and fully immersed myself full-time into the business, I would have run out of financial support for my family very quickly,” the 44-year-old says. “It would have been a mess. Working the two jobs was invaluable to get the business through the proof-of-concept stage.”

That view is backed up by a 2013 study of thousands of American entrepreneurs spread over 15 years by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It found that people who set up companies while remaining in full-time work were a third less likely to fail than those who quit their jobs to go it alone from the off.

Mark Hart, deputy director of the Enterprise Research Centre, says: “In many countries, public policy aims to promote full-time entrepreneurship. Part-time entrepreneurs are often excluded from government support programmes.” He says that this approach “should be revisited. [Those] who transition from part-time to full-time entrepreneurship often create robust ventures and generate employment. So we should be careful about trivialising this type of entrepreneurship.”

What do bosses think of their workers having such demanding extra-curricular activities? Mr Tanner argues that understanding employers stand to be rewarded. “We have found it’s made us better at our day jobs, as we have learnt skills and had experiences that we can feed back into our regular jobs. We have learnt a lot about marketing, social media, getting traffic to our site, packaging, finances, working with customers, all useful skills in business that we wouldn’t have necessarily been exposed to otherwise.”

Such confidence is not universal. Some part-time entrepreneurs declined to comment on their experiences for fear of upsetting their pay masters. Others said that they couldn’t talk because their bosses did not know what they were up to.

How should a part-time entrepreneur decide when it’s time to go full-time on their venture? Mr Pritchard advises creating milestones: “You don’t want to get into the trap of doing both roles simultaneously and just letting it drift to the point that it becomes a comfort zone, albeit one that can put terrific pressure on the family unit.

“It’s been hard, there’s no doubt. I was married when I first started dreaming up Pala and now I’m separated and although I certainly wouldn’t like to admit it, not placing enough emphasis on family time back then may well have been a contributing factor.”

For Mr Tanner, being in a husband-and-wife team helps. “Kirsty and I will happily both give up our weekends. If we weren’t doing it together, it could really stretch a relationship if one party is doing something for days on end independently.”

Work commitments can inhibit growth, of course: “I try to squeeze meetings [or calls] into lunch breaks, but clearly that in itself is limiting, as many of my suppliers aren’t around at that time,” Mr Pritchard says. “I’ve had to take a fair amount of holiday time to attend meetings. There are times when days feel like you’re simply firefighting, dealing only with the incoming emails at the expense of not actually being able to dive deeper into the more strategic direction to take the business forward.”

With most of Freedom to Exist’s watches being sold overseas, including as far afield as Australia, Mr Tanner says that timezones work in the company’s favour when it comes to avoiding a clash with the day jobs. “We have been able to stretch the available working day to 24 hours.

“We have customers in Asia and America and we work with freelancers in Canada and Japan to customise and improve our website. Also, our iPhones provide all the functionality we need to run a business. We can liaise with customers, we can check orders, we can update our website, we can set up marketing. Ten to fifteen years ago I don’t believe it would have been possible.”

You can read the whole article - HERE

"I was losing the will to live searching for a ladies watch with a leather strap. My criteria were; long enough strap, easy to read face but not huge numbers, dial not too big and not too small, no fuss, no visible brand name, and elegant. Paul and Kirsty were extremely helpful, and their service and speed was much appreciated. A great brand; I’m glad I found it!

Monica - Customer