When people ask what I do, my response is never quite what they expect. My journey is one that has taken many unexpected turns and twists, and the resulting business I now find myself in is quite unusual. So, what I do? – Well, I design, manufacture, and sell a brand of knee protectors for the trades and construction industry through my business, Recoil Knee Pads (www.recoilkneepads.com). Yes, it is unusual, and I hear you ask – how do you get into that? Well, the back story is one that makes a good tale.
The story begins back in 2012 when I was a student at Strathclyde Uni studying product design engineering. I was about to start the final year of my course and needed to decide on a problem to solve which would be the focus for my design project. My Dad, a joiner who suffers from severe knee pain and arthritis, had come home from work with severe pain after a strenuous day of fitting a floor in a new kitchen. He joked: ‘why don’t you develop me a new knee protector that I can use at work that will keep my knees protected and save me from severe pain at the end of the day’. This was the start of my journey into the world of business start-up and entrepreneurship.
I spent the next year developing a new solution to my dad’s kneeling pains. The solution, a new knee protector which uses springs between two layers to absorb impact and spread pressure evenly across the knee! Upon graduating in 2013, after receiving very positive feedback about my design, I decided to enter two business start-up competitions: The Young Innovators Challenge and The Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards. I was fortunate to win both and secured an initial £55,000 to set up my business and turn my idea into reality.
Since 2013 I have been on a roller-coaster journey. There have been incredible highs and devastating lows, but each event leaves a story and experience that have been instrumental in getting Recoil to where we are today and developing as a person.
The stories I have could well exceed the word limit of this blog, so I won’t go into them all. However, to give a flavour for the experiences, my most exciting moment probably was, after months of hard work, managing to have my product listed by a UK DIY retail chain that I previously worked for as a student. That was an exciting experience of walking into the store I once spent my evenings and weekends replenishing the shelves and see my product proudly sitting on the shelf! I even bought a pair, just so I could get the receipt which is now proudly framed and on display in my office.
My proudest moment, however, was when we received one of our first ever reviews online from a customer who told us the product had ‘changed his outlook on life!’. This customer later got in touch with us via social media to tell us of how he had struggled at work for years with knee pain, and was considering a change of career as he didn’t know how much longer his body could manage and he was worrying about how he could continue to make a living. This was the moment when I truly realised the importance of our product and the benefits it brings to those that need it most.
The journey hasn’t been all plain sailing, and there have been plenty of lessons to be learned along the way. In the early days, mostly through my own inexperience, we experienced production delays resulting in a 12-month delay to product launch; cash flow issues resulting in me having to bootstrap the business to two other jobs and working close to a 100-hour week for a substantial length of time; and logistical challenges resulting in us assembling our first 500 products by hand from the garden shed in my parents’ back garden! In this time, I learned a lot about myself, my motivation, my drivers! I believe these mistakes, although not ideal to have happened, provided an opportunity to learn, and come out stronger, more empathetic, and more determined. It isn’t about making the mistake; it’s about how you react to having made it and what you do next.
Recoil still has a long way to go, but we have been successfully selling for the past 5 years now and have a strong UK based manufacturing supply chain and a regular stream of international sales. I often support other entrepreneurs with advice and stories from my journey as I honestly believe entrepreneurship and business start-up can bring with it so many wonderful experiences and I love to encourage and support others to experience the journey. My one piece of advice I always give is: if you have an idea and want to start your own business, go for it, do what is right for you and trust your instincts. You will never know if you don’t try. Everyone will have a different entrepreneurial journey and experience and there is no ‘right path’. Trust yourself and follow your dream.