Posted: Fri 27th Sep 2019
Chris Forbes, co-founder and director of sustainable tissue brand The Cheeky Panda, tells us about the company's incredible journey from crowdfunding their start-up to a £25m valuation.
How did the idea for The Cheeky Panda come about?
My co-founder Julie Chen came up with the idea for a sustainable bamboo tissue product. We'd been discussing the idea for about a year before we went to China to investigate how sustainably this could be produced.
My background is in management consultancy. I knew a lot about the theory of supply chains and manufacturing in retail but hadn't actually developed a product before - it was an exciting idea.
We went from selling maybe £500 of product in the first month, to £2,000 in the second month, to over £6,000 after a few months - and then it snowballed.
What steps did you take to launch the business?
We decided crowdfunding was a good way to test the product before we took it to market. The last thing we wanted to do was buy a container of product and then have it sitting in a warehouse for a year or two because it cost too much to market and sell.
Using Crowdfunder did four things for us:
It was a good way to see if people had the appetite for the product
It helped to pay for the first container
It created a base of customers for us to start with - a set of early adopters who then became repeat customers
It started creating a buzz around our brand
We raised about £12,500 at the beginning, which was brilliant. It showed us we weren't crazy! Crowdfunder works with Amazon, so any product that is successfully funded there automatically gets included on Amazon Launchpad. Amazon Launchpad is an online platform that showcases cutting-edge, market disrupting products from start-ups.
What benefits did you receive from being part of Amazon Launchpad?
That was our segue into Amazon - it was what first got us in front of their massive customer base. People looking for products could find us on Launchpad and started to write reviews about our items, which is where the momentum started to build.
When we first started on Amazon we were just selling a case here and there, but very quickly it moved to being a couple of pallets a month. We went from selling maybe £500 of product in the first month, to £2,000 in the second month, to over £6,000 after a few months - and then it snowballed.
How easy was it to learn to use the platform?
Amazon requires a bit of time and patience and it can be a learning curve if you're not very technical. Having said that, it's very rewarding if you put enough time and effort into getting it right. It's one of the top retail platforms in the world and the easiest way to get your brand out there.
What has been the impact of Amazon on your business?
Retail today is a story of two halves; online and offline. Even when customers are buying a product in store, if they haven't tried it before many will go online to see what the reviews are like. That's where Amazon has been great for us - you can build momentum there before you sell elsewhere.
What are your ambitions for the future?
We've just done a £1.5m fundraise which values our business at £25m and we are now doing a European Amazon deployment. We'll work with Amazon in different countries in the same way as we work with them in the UK.
We know that sales don't happen overnight, you have to invest time and effort in each region, but if we approach it in a similar way, we're hoping it will yield well for us.
We sell about £70,000 a month on Amazon in the UK and the country makes up one tenth of the European marketplace. That means if we get it right on Amazon throughout Europe, we could be doing half a million a month.
What advice would you give other start-ups?
It's easy to spend a lot when you're starting out, but the best thing you can do is focus on generating sales first and then you can start to invest money back into the business.