Opening up a global novelty
Blunt Umbrellas started as a design concept on a kitchen table in London in 1999; today the award-winning company exports to 23 countries.
The 1.9m-tall Greig Brebner, working part-time in London as an engineer, just knew umbrellas could be designed better.
Buying kite material from Covent Gardens, the dogged Kiwi decided to make an umbrella that not only looked stylish, but was durable and could handle all weather conditions.
"I soon figured out why a better umbrella hadn't been invented – it was really hard to."
After a few years, he came home to develop his prototype with the help of his father, who runs manufacturing firm Proline Plastics. It was here he met Scott Kington, a marketing executive, and Blunt Umbrellas began in late 2009.
Kington says turnover has nearly tripled since launch, which he puts down to its emphasis on creating a slick, nice brand with a unique product. "If it was a Me Too [product] it would be harder."
The firm has saved on marketing costs with good hits in well-known publications such as The Wall Street Journal, which described the umbrellas as falling somewhere between "a suspension bridge and a Nasa space probe".
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I have always loved thinking about ideas and how to turn them into possibilities. To become an entrepreneur was to settle on the one idea and run with it as far as it will go.
It was a case of jumping off that cliff of indecision about a stable job or chasing your dream of creating your own company. It comes with long hours but also the flexibility to set your own itinerary.
What have been the biggest obstacles?
We have an outstanding group of investors but, to make the business run efficiently, it's always about the balance between keeping an eye on the cashflow while not losing sight of the bigger picture and goals. And, conversely, making sure there always is a bigger picture to judge your decisions against.
Name one thing you've learned while in business and from whom?
Business can be really simple if allowed. You make sure you have a product to sell that appeals to a market. The rest is just complications. You need to add elements like good customer service. I look to Tom Peters and his approach that excellence comes from going the "extra 14 miles".
What are your business and personal goals?
Our aim is to make Blunt Umbrellas a recognised global brand. We also want to promote our ethical-design approach – using materials intelligently to create a longer-lasting more sustainable product. It's about building a company and brand without losing sight of the really important relationships – family and friends.
Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?
Don't go it alone: understand what you can do and what you can't. And don't worry that it might seem to be taking a long time.