Tell us a little bit about your company. What is your business in your own words? How long has it been running?
I’m Julie Holmes, the creator and co-founder of a company called JUST Innovate Ltd which manufactures and sells a neat little gadget called Hey Mic!. Hey Mic! is a Bluetooth wireless microphone explicitly designed to connect with smartphones to capture great audio with your videos.
Our business has two founders: Steve Clarke and me. We’re both professional speakers who decided to work together early last year, and we’ve been running since June 2017. We launched Hey Mic! within 90 days!
Was there a lightbulb moment?
It happened when I was working at a trade show, where I was speaking to a group of about 200 people. I wanted to capture some audio of the essential messages I had put together for this presentation and the questions asked by the audience so that I could share them back with other people in my business, namely sales and marketing.
I’d done recordings on my phone before, but they were never good enough to be used as it was often hard to hear in big, busy rooms. I knew at that moment I needed to create something that would make it easy for me to capture and reuse the audio, so that’s where the idea of Hey Mic! was born.
Were there any big pain points when you were starting up the business?
One of the most significant challenges we had was purely finding time to get things off the ground.
Both Steve and I are busy, full-time speakers and business leaders, so carving out and creating another company was incredibly hard. So, as you can imagine, we were both working evenings and weekends as we tried to get Hey Mic! off the ground and it often felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day – we got tired! But we believed in our product, so knew we had to make it happen.
What has the high point been so far?
We donated a couple of Hey Mic!s to the Professional Speakers’ Association in the UK to help raise funds for their Foundation, which collects money from its members via auctions for other speakers when they fall on hard times, or just need a helping hand.
I was amazed to see how excited everyone was to bid on our product! It was so rewarding to see how much money we were generating for the cause, but it also reinforced that people in our marketplace; our friends and colleagues, saw how valuable Hey Mic! could be for them.
Have there been any low points and how did you overcome them?
There have definitely been some low points. When our first prototypes came back from the manufacturers, they didn’t work how we wanted them to because there had been some changes to the engineering. We were so excited to receive the product we’d worked so hard on and had people waiting to receive it, but we couldn’t send them out, which was incredibly frustrating and quite disheartening.
But I guess that’s one of the trials and tribulations of getting a new product out the door!
Another challenge was just the time it took for us to learn how to acquire particular skills. Neither Steve nor I had come from a consumer, product-based background, so we had a lot of learning to do along the way.
Did you get any support along the way or was there anything you found useful when you needed help?
We’d had a ton of support along the way – our network has proved invaluable! Not only with regards to buying the product, which is kind of what you’d expect when you’ve created something your peers need, but more in providing suggestions of people to work with.
For example, we partnered with a company based in Essex on the recommendation of a fellow CEO, to build our manufacturing capacity and capability. We would not have found that contact had it not been for the endorsement from one of our colleagues; we probably wouldn’t even have been able to release our product in the timeframe we did without them.
We’ve also received some incredible support from the freelancers we’ve hired. Our content writers, web designers, marketing experts, social media people, all helped so much when it came to getting things done. Knowing that our expertise lies in the business leadership, having these people who ensured everything got promoted, posted and put online was a huge relief.
What’s the best thing about being your own boss?
I think the best thing is getting to plan the whole vision for the company and to be in control of where it’s going.
It does create a certain level of stress when you have people relying on you, but it’s so incredibly rewarding to have that vision; to build something, and then see it materialize.
How has life changed since you started your own business?
Both Steve and I were already running our own businesses, so I’m not sure things have changed for us that much. We have brought in some additional people to help, and we now share the story of business with other entrepreneurs and start-ups. We do devote time each day to watching out for support requests, making sure we’re answering questions and keeping an eye on the day-to-day operation of the business.
Plus, there always seems to be a stack of Hey Mic!s somewhere in each of our houses!
What advice would you give someone starting up a business?
First, always be willing to take a chance, but make sure it’s a well-thought-out and deliberate decision. I’m the sole source of income for my family, so I had to make sure I had the support of my husband to build this business. The same is true for Steve. We both had to know then and now that our families are comfortable with any risks we may be taking.
My second piece of advice would be to leverage your network. Who do you know? How could they help you? Who could they connect you to? Can they help you talk to as many people in your market as possible to validate what they need? In short, don’t be afraid to ask those around you for help; more often than not they’ll want to be part of your journey!
What are the plans for the future and how do hope to progress with the company?
We’re always receiving feedback from our existing customers and prospects. Sometimes to improve Hey Mic! but other times to ask if we could make a mic to do something completely different. We’re using all of this feedback as a foundation for our next generation products – the first of which we hope to release in the next six months.
The majority of our revenue is reinvested in the company in the form of research and development, so we can create awesome new products for speakers, teachers, trainers, vloggers and everyone else that wants to be heard.
Despite our big aspirations, we want to continue to grow the business in a very measured and controlled way so that it’s consistent with the way we want to live each day and spend our time. For us, it’s about balance and enjoying the success as well as the journey.