Posted: Mon 21st Aug 2023
A third-generation business owner, Jonny Cottom was born with an entrepreneurial spirit. But he didn’t follow his father or grandfather into the pie- and sausage-making business.
Instead, Jonny took a detour down the “conventional, boring route”, studying mathematics in Manchester before becoming an accountant.
Entrepreneurship has its merits: being your own boss, financial independence, wanting to solve a problem. And then there are those entrepreneurs who want to create something that people can enjoy for many years to come.
That is the kind of entrepreneur Jonny is. He explains:
“I didn’t take over the family business because it was quite tied to where I was from. I felt like there was so much more to see and do. So, I got out.”
He finally gave in to the entrepreneurial itch when he repeatedly experienced the same problem and found out that others did too.
Jonny's business, Breakbottle
Fed up with the waste from single-use plastic bottles and how current reusable bottles were so hard to clean, dry and maintain, Jonny created his company Breakbottle to solve both these issues.
The Breakbottle product is a double-walled insulated stainless-steel bottle that twists open for an easy clean and dries quickly.
When an idea becomes a business
Listening to Jonny tell his founder story for Breakbottle, it seems the idea was born out of frustration. Like a lot of us, Jonny too had a note on his phone of 30 to 40 business ideas. But what spurred him to act on Breakbottle was a “small but consistent” problem that he faced every day. He explains:
“I had a solution to combat the smelly bottle, but being unable to buy it and going through the problem repeatedly is what tipped me over the edge.
“I wanted to solve this problem even if it was just for me. I needed to invest in finding a feasible way to do this and crowdfunding came up.”
The coronavirus too played its part.
After sitting on the idea for a while, Jonny started working on Breakbottle in April 2020. He got free intellectual property (IP) advice through the government, wherein he was put in touch with a few designers and won a grant through the Innovate UK Young Innovator’s Award.
When a trip to New York for a programme got cancelled due to the pandemic, it was the final push that Jonny needed to focus on something that he cared about – Breakbottle.
“Speed is of the essence in situations like these, and I was worried about telling anyone as I thought this idea was a goldmine I was going to run off into the sunset with. Now looking back, it was not.
“I got some free IP advice from the government that helps you bridge that gap between absolutely knowing nothing to having some viable steps to action. I was then put in touch with three different designers, and it was a Goldilocks scenario.”
The first one didn’t get Breakbottle and the two “didn’t vibe”. The second too had a different skillset to what Jonny was looking for but the third was just right. He explains:
“The third company was enthusiastic and engaging and had built businesses themselves, going through different routes from sale to licensing design to running a business. It was what I needed to guide me through my own experience.”
Make or break
Jonny has had his fair share of make-or-break moments that have led him to his current state of success.
1. Kickstarter campaign
He launched the crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter with a 3D print of the bottle he had spray-painted, as there was no funding spare for tooling. However, he hit his £15,000 target at the end of day three and went on to raise £40,000 in total from people preordering based on just the idea.
2. Innovate UK’s Next Steps Award
The next break was again thanks to Innovate UK, who had a follow-on funding programme – the Next Steps Award. Jonny says:
“Anyone who was a young innovator and had shown a certain level of progress or an idea of how they were going to grow the business and its impact on society would get follow-up funding.
“We got £50,000 in additional funding over the course of a year to develop the idea to the next level. This was a game-changer.”
3. Enterprise Nation StartUp Awards: Small Business Goes Big competition
“Pitch day was a fun experience. I finished in third place and £1,000 prize money for the Breakbottle kitty. And then there was another grant through Enterprise Nation that allowed us to be a better business than we would be without, and I'm very thankful.”
The essence of entrepreneurship
People are full of ideas and it is nice to think that this is the essence of entrepreneurship. Jonny did too, but now having gone through the process, he pinpoints:
“Putting it [the idea] into action and problem-solving. It’s a constant learning curve of trying and developing new things. The idea is literally less than 1%, it’s the actual implementation, consistency and persistence that’s the essence.”
A winning launch to market
Not wanting to be a cliché, Jonny reflects on what has helped him succeed with Breakbottle.
1. Consistency is key
Breakbottle was Jonny’s side hustle, working in the evenings, chipping away an hour a night. Cumulatively over time, things started to come together, making a big difference.
2. Upskill yourself
“As a marketer, the person you’re talking to is the most important, not your business. Having that mindset helps you answer the question, ‘What is the purpose of all this?’
“Constantly learn the skills you're deficient in. If you're lucky enough to find a co-founder, choose someone who fills those gaps. Someone must have those skills; if it’s not them, it has to be you, so keep learning.”
3. Keeping the faith
And the final one he points out is believing:
“That's the one thing that keeps you going. If you don't believe you're going to do it, you're not. So, just keep believing.”
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