Inspired Business podcast with Dean Jackson video transcript
Just a quick note before we start: this entire first season of Inspired Business was recorded before the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, hence there being no mention of it in the interviews. Thanks, enjoy the podcast.
Toby Bradford: Hello and welcome to Inspired Business, the business podcast from the University of Derby.
Toby: During this series we are bringing you inspiring stories from across the business landscape in Derby, Derbyshire and beyond. We discussed the issues affecting your business and provide key insights from our guests for you to take away. I'm Toby Bradford, your host for the series. I'm joined by my co-host, business expert Angela Tooley, who will offer you valuable analysis on the topics we cover.
Toby: This week we take a dive into the entrepreneurial world and consider what large business can learn from the idea of being an entrepreneur. We'll be talking to Dean Jackson, the founder and owner of Huub Design. Now, Angela, you know Dean.
Angela: Yes, I do. What a great bloke. He's certainly very interesting, has an inspirational story to tell and quite obviously has a passion not only for the business and the product that he's developed but also for the city that he has lived in for most of his life and he's now running his business in, giving something back to the city.
Toby: Yeah and he takes us on that story, on that journey from the spark of the idea to a successful company via the Olympic Games. And how he got there is a story in itself and it's wonderful to listen to him telling it.
Angela: Yes indeed.
Toby: But he also has some interesting thoughts about entrepreneurship, and, in fact, the word entrepreneurs itself, and how that can apply to larger businesses.
Angela: Yeah, it's interesting isn't it, the word entrepreneur. And we've always had people who have started and run their own business but it's a word that has only really come into its own in the last sort of 10 years really. We all have great ideas but how many of us actually take those great ideas and turn them into something that's a financially and commercially sound business? And really, perhaps, that's something about the definition of entrepreneur. It is about someone who takes those risks and actually is prepared to have a punt and perhaps accepts those knock-backs and bounce forward from them. And Dean certainly is able to tell that story as well.
Toby: Dean very much tells that story. There are lots of risks and punts involved. Angela will be back later for our analysis but, for now, let's hear what Dean has to say.
Toby: I'd like to welcome Dean Jackson to our podcast. Hello Dean.
Dean: How are you mate?
Toby: I'm very well. I'm sitting in Dean's office. There's a racing bike, a Chopper, a Bullworker, a picture of a Space Hopper and an Evel Knievel toy on the wall. I'm feeling at home here.
Dean: The image you could have of the bull worker and the chopper, of me riding round looking like some 70s muscle-bound bike rider.
Toby: Yes, that's an interesting idea for our listeners. But we're not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about you and your business. So, tell me, what is HUUB?
Dean: What is HUUB? We're a company based around making products to make athletes faster. Now that's - that's been born from a world of wet suits and triathlon that we started in and I wanted to reinvent the wetsuit category for triathlon swimming and open water swimming. And, as we come onto dry land from that water world, we've tried to frame the business as to what our core competency is – and it came down to speed. So we are about making athletes faster and rewarding them for all the effort that they put into their training.
Toby: So the company starts with an idea. So it was just one idea.
Dean: And a desperation to pay a mortgage.
Toby: Oh really, okay, but where did that idea come from initially?
Dean: It came from the thoughts of my head of thinking you're too stupid, Dean, because, if it was a good idea, someone else would have thought about it. But I've worked for several brands, I was 40. And I knew my cards were up, my number was up or whatever that saying is. I knew my day was ending when the CEO of the company I was working for – and I was running global sales – he just said: “Dean, I think it's time we parted. I can't afford to pay you any more. You've taken us to number one in wetsuit world with this brand.” And we were based in Derby, actually, and I was running the Seattle office. So I was commuting a lot and, you know, we got to a good place.
Toby: Commuting to Seattle?
Dean: Yeah, once a month, I was there for a week. So I've got good air miles, you know, I was platinum status. I had a big seat. But I knew it was coming. So, a couple weeks, months before, I'd written a business plan and I thought now's the time to do it on my own. But, yeah, what's my point of difference. And I'd worked in running shoes before and I've worked for several sports brands. And you had shoes for runners for different foot types and different kinetic chains [an engineering concept that describes human movement – how the movement of one part affects another] and all of this. I thought: why isn't there different suits for different swimmers? You look at women. They’ve got less dense muscles, they float better and yet the neoprene thickness was the same for a women's wetsuit as the men's. So I started asking questions. And I asked one of the greatest open water female swimmers ever what she liked or disliked about wetsuits. She's going: “Oh, they’re too buoyant. My bum's in the air. I need to engage with the water better.” So just started thinking about two different buoyancies in wetsuits. And most swimmers in triathlon are not from a swimming background so they're dredging the bottom of the lake or the pool.
Toby: So what does that mean? Explain that to me.
Dean: Just sinky legs. We invented this term sinky legs. And, when I first launched it, I've got my Stormtrooper [from Star Wars] and the Six Million Dollar Man to show how some float really well and others don't float great.
Dean: Toys again. So, while they are a reminiscent piece of the bedroom which I had when I was living in Alvaston at eight years old, I actually took them out on the road. The toys went on the road. It was like Toy Story does business. And to show that sinky legs is 85% of triathletes. When they swim, their legs sink. They haven't got a good engaging kick and they're just not from a swimming background. And so we needed to change the buoyancy profile of wetsuits. We needed to get legs and hips really high in the water, decrease the frontal drag and just make the athlete go faster. And, to me, I'm going, well, why has nobody done this and that's where I thought, well, I must be the stupid one. A wetsuit has to deliver flexibility in the upper body so you can swim and buoyancy in the lower. But everyone was putting five millimetres, which is the industry maximum and triathlon maximum, along the whole length of the suit and I was just perplexed by it. So I experimented with this three-five buoyancy, which was three millimetres on the upper body instead of five and five millimetres on the lower body instead of five all the way through. And, for women, we had three-three: three upper body and three lower body. Less buoyant because they didn't need the buoyancy. And that whole concept took off and went crazy.
Toby: So, it was the science really.
Dean: Yeah, to really strip it back, it was let's do this through science and properly look at it.
Toby: Rather than, oh, what colour should the wetsuit be?
Dean: Seriously and I've worked for three other wetsuit companies and I'd say: How do we test the suit? “Well, we asked our sponsored athlete how they liked it and they said it felt really fast. It's 10% better than the last suit.” And that's what their marketing message was built on which, is a load of BS. And, to me, we needed to prove that this was credible. And the name of the company HUUB is Germanic and it means bright mind.
Dean: But it's also the Christian name of Professor Huub Toussaint. And Professor Huub is one of the leading hydrodynamicists in the world. And I went and met him at Schiphol Airport in the train station lounge. And I said look I've trademarked your name but I'd like to work with you and he says well –
Toby: You did that before you spoke to him?
Dean: I leveraged his name against him. And he said: “Well, I'd love to help you, Dean, but there's one condition and that is, if I tell you how to make a suit better, you listen to me and you do it.” I said, well, that's kind of why I'm here because I'm the thick one and you're the smart guy and you’re a professor. He said: “Well, I've been to several sports brands in the past. We tell him how to make a product faster and they’ve ignored me.” Which bewilders me. Why would you ignore incredible advice and guidance. So we shook hands on the deal and then, in the waiting room, I got out all the wet suits from all the other brands and he just started laughing and pointing and going: “Why is that there? What does that do? What does this do?” And it was obvious that the market wasn't using science and we needed to reinvent the proposition and tell the triathletes how to go faster. Yes, it was, it was born out of science completely.
Toby: Brilliant. Now, one thing that struck me looking at – doing a little bit research into you – wetsuits for triathlon, it's a very niche product.
Dean: It is, yeah.
Toby: Is that a massive leap of faith on your part or did you really believe that there was a market out there for this?
Dean: It was probably desperation and belief - that I hoped there was a gap in the market because I needed to feed my four kids and send them to universities and all that kind of thing. So I could see it. Again, I thought I was a stupid one because, if it was there and no-one else is seeing it, then why not? Had they tried it and it hadn't worked? And then, the more asking around, you know, it was, well, we've never seen this before. So will it work? And, yes, is it is a niche but, when your business has no turnover, the first year I turned over just short of half a million, which was huge. Now, we'll do five million this year so it makes half a million look quite small, when you're doing that half a million now in some months. But, you know, we know we're going to reach a ceiling and we have to move. So, you know, the first ceiling was how much rubber can we put into the UK market? And then it's overseas and then the US and then do we come onto dry land with tri suits but, if you're going to do a tri suit -
Toby: A tri suit is?
Dean: A tri suit is what you wear underneath your wetsuit. You do everything in it. You'll swim, you bike and you run in it. Just so you don't have to stop and change. So the triathlon suit is worn underneath your wetsuit. But, yeah, we can all make a lycra tri suit, that's quite easy. But, if you're going to do one, do one with the difference. So I took the same approach to the triathlon clothing, the tri suit, as I did the wetsuit. And that was, you know, pocket positioning, hydrodynamics and now we've done a huge amount of work on aerodynamics. So, again, we're making the athlete faster through no extra effort but just through a scientific application.
Toby: Now going back to the initial idea, how long did it take from having an idea, meeting Huub, to having something you could take to the market?
Dean: It was very quick actually and it probably shouldn’t have been that quick. I spoke to a couple of banks who weren't interested. It was 2011 and I did a triathlon in July with some friends and beat them and I was very proud and the chest was puffed out. And then I raced them again in September and they annihilated me. And my head had gone. I'd lost my job with this previous company, Blue Seventy, and one of the friends I trained and raced with, he said: “What's up with you?” I said, well I've lost my job and Christmas is coming and I'm struggling a bit. And he said: “Well, what do you want to do?” I said, I want to launch my own brand. “You need to speak to my mate Tom.” Ok I haven’t got a clue who Tom is. I didn’t even know what my mate Mark did, you know, we just road together I tried to beat him to the sign for the village. And it turned out Mark's a senior partner in Deloitte and he’s part of a little investment group from Nottingham called Turning Point. He rang me two weeks later and said, you know: “How'd it go with Tom?” I said, I’ve not heard from Tom. So five minutes later: “Hello, I'm Tom.” It’s, like, the mysterious Tom had rang me. And Tom Mawhood, he was just out there scouting for possible investments for Turning Point. So I met Tom at Denby tearooms towards the end of September and, within five days, I had to go and do a pitch to 12 investors from Nottingham. Now I don't mind talking to people and you can put me in front of a thousand people and talk about wetsuits and running shoes or whatever you want but, when it's 12 individuals who've got your future in their hands, oh, it’s scary as hell. They said, yes, we like you, kind of liked the idea but we like you more. So it was the sixth of October we signed a shareholders agreement and they gave me £5,000 and said that's the first of five. So you've got £25,000 but you need to come back with three hundred … we worked in dollars - $300,000 worth of orders, get an Olympian wearing one of your wet suits and prove that your wetsuits the fastest in the world.
Toby: That's quite a big challenge.
Dean: It was a huge challenge. If I was asked to do it now, I'd say you think I’m on crack, this ain’t happening. The triathlon season for selling in had gone. All the shops had bought their stock but I got straight on a plane, cheapest flight, cheapest hotel I could find, went to Hong Kong, met an old contact and went to the factory with my drawings of the ‘wonder’ wetsuit. And they went: “You can't do that, you won't be able to do that and that's … no-one's done that yet.” So we've worked our way around it. We kept some beautiful technologies, some new stuff that I should have patented at the time.
Dean: But I needed to get to market so I just rushed this through. I got my first prototypes back. It was, like, two or three weeks and, by the second week of December, I was out there selling.
Toby: From October.
Dean: It was ridiculously quick. It was crazy, it was whirlwind. And I remember walking around a store in Sussex and I've got my wheelie bag and I've met the buyer and I've got all my samples out. “Yeah, I'm gonna give you an order.” And I got straight in the car and I drove down to … I was going to Brighton way. And at this point I'm Christmas week and the weather was dreadful and my wheelie bag’s rattling away down this cobbley road. I’m like, what the hell am I doing? What is going on? You know, I've got these samples, I'm really late, I've got to hit the next milestones otherwise I don't get any more money and I've got me £5,000 pounds dripped in. And then, to lift my spirits, a friend from America said: “I hear you doing a wetsuit brand and I know you'll pull it off so here's a $200,000 order.” Blimey! So with some orders from the UK, a shop that doesn’t exist any more, Total Fitness in Nottingham had a lot of faith in me and a shop in Manchester, Royles, I hit that landmark with 300,000. So it’s like, right, they can help fund that now but I had to go and get validation of the product. So Olympic Games are 2012 in London and …
Toby: So what year was this?
Dean: This was 2011. So I thought, right, there's one, I got the orders in, check two is getting Olympian wearing it. Well, there was two Olympians, Alistair and Johnny Brownlee, who were signed up with other wetsuit brands. And I'd done the deal for one of them. So I thought, I can't get near that. But they needed a pilot for the games. Somebody who was going to swim like a fish, bike like a demon and then it didn't really matter what happened. But they’re just going lead Alistair and Johnny to get them to the run safely. And there's two athletes in line for it so I went and sponsored both of them. So I went back to the investors. I said, look, I can't guarantee which one it's going to be but I've got both. So three athletes going to represent Great Britain, two I can’t have but one I can have. Great. Tick. It turned out that none of those two went to the Olympics. They picked a complete outsider but I'd done my bit at the time. And then to prove it was the fastest we went to the Netherlands with Professor Huub and we went to Eindhoven and there was something called the MAD system, which is a measurement of active drag, which is a wind tunnel for water if you like. And swimmers swim along the 25 metre-long almost a ladder and it measures their force and frequency and gives you a data point.
Toby: There’s a thing they touch within in the pool as they are swimming along.
Dean: Yes and that had one force plate on it. That cost me 5,000 euros every time I went. So I went, met Professor Huub there, did some testing. “Yeah, your suit’s faster, your women's is definitely faster because there's less buoyancy and they're engaging with the water better.” So I got that data and that was it, tick, tick, tick. So the investors said, right, we'll give you a hundred thousand pounds now to buy the stock. So a friend’s got a little warehouse and I put my first delivery in there. And I delivered my first wetsuit to my first customer. I delivered it to him in Hyde Park on 1 May 2012. So we've gone from October to May, China sourcing, on boats, flying some stock in, to the first sale. And, from that first sale till September, which is my first financial year, we did half a million quid, it just …
Toby: From nothing to half a million quid.
Dean: Yeah, from nothing. You know, I was a bit like Dennis Waterman I wrote the theme tune, sang the theme tune. I designed the product, marketed the product sold, the product - from my kitchen table. And, after the first few sales, I invested £4,000 in converting a bit of my garage to an office. Just had knocked down for an extension. I was gutted.
Toby: But you'd got that foothold in the market, that was the important thing. What would you say was the most important thing? Having triathletes, international triathletes looking at your suit? So you've got, I mean, you said you couldn't get the Brownlee brothers but you had some pilots so how did you go from that to getting it visible?
Dean: Yeah, I mean good question. I'm a huge, huge believer in taking punts and there was two brothers who were world champions, the Raelert brothers from Germany. And I just packaged up two wetsuits and sent them to them. Please try these. A little bit naive because you know the sponsorship deals around and all that. And this was 2012 April the first and there was a triathlon being streamed from the States, and it was being streamed – it was one of the early streamed live events - because Lance Armstrong was competing in triathlon after finishing in his cycling career. This was when everyone thought he was kind of clean. And, at the swim, the camera’s zooming in at the first swimmer coming along. And I'm seeing this red flash. And I've got a red technical piece on my wetsuits on the bicep. And I'm sat there in the middle room, the wife's in the kitchen, I'm seeing this little red flash. And Michael Raelert got out the water first in my wetsuit and I'm crying. My wife says: “You all right?” [high-pitched mock emotional voice] “Yes, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.” It gets me now thinking about it. And, straight away, my phone's going. “Was that you? Was that your suit? What was it? What was he wearing?” I got a message back from Lance Armstrong's management: “He wants to wear your suit. Can you make him one with yellow inserts for Livestrong [cancer foundation started by Lance Armstrong].” Oh yeah, absolutely. And I made the suit and I put it on social media. Here's this, guess who this suit’s for. Three months after, I think it was, he got done for cheating and all that stuff. But Michael Raelert coming out the water first was a massive moment. And that was a pure punt that I just sent them the suits. And I got as many athletes as I could and I put suits on their back. There's a young girl did the Olympics in London called Flora, Duffy an up-and-coming talent from Bermuda. I gave her a suit and she wasn't anywhere in the swim in London but it was a suit coming out of the water. She went on to become triathlon world champion and big money took her elsewhere. But, yeah, it was just taking all these little punts. I'm going around to clubs, knocking on the door, doing training nights, doing swim nights with them. And just get people to hold it scratch it and sniff it. So they'd seen it and then turn the TV on I might see it again. And it was just that barrage from all angles and doing it as cheap as I could because I didn't have a lot of money.
Toby: But this is … me listening to this is making me think because you started this at a slightly older age, more experienced, it’s using that experience that you had from your previous career and knowing where to push.
Dean: Yeah it is. Oh, totally. You know, there will be nuggets of advice that may come from this or may not but I'm a huge, huge believer in don't just run at it because you like it. Know it, understand it and get under the skin of it. You know, we can all go and say I want to open a pub yeah but we don't know probably too much about beer and logistics and licensing and food and hygiene and all those bits that go with it. But, yeah, we'd all like to open a pub. I wanted to get into wetsuit world. I'd worked for three other brands. I knew the sport pretty well and I knew what buttons to press and push and where to go. Yeah, big time.
Toby: Now, we've talked about a little bit about beyond wetsuits and you've branched out at times haven't you? You've gone into Events Management, you’ve linked with Jenson Button to bring his triathlon to Derby. Is there anything else you've branched out into?
Dean: No, I think I learned a lesson from that though as well. That, just by talking to Jenson. He rang me up one day and said can I have some wetsuits and I said I can't afford you to wear that because I know how expensive Jenson Button is. He said: “No, it's outside of Formula One it's just look after me and my mates and it's all good.” So a wonderful opportunity and got to know Jenson and his team. He had a triathlon in Luton. I said, you need to bring that to Derby and: “Well, convince me.” So, you know, other counties want it, cities. So I wrote proposal on Derby was the finest city. I wanted to, you know, go and sell bits of Derby off after I'd written this proposal to him and he said, yeah, let's do it. But then I had no way of putting an event on. I kind of knew a little bit. So we set HUUB Events up really to put on the Jenson Button triathlon and bring that to Derby and say thank you Derby for your support. Had a loan from the Enterprise Growth Fund in the early days. It was incredibly helpful to us. So this was like saying well, you know, let's put something back. Jenson came, Gordon Ramsay came. It was an outstanding event. We had Bailey Matthews there with a kids’ triathlon. It didn't really make any money but it put something fantastic on. But what I learned from it - and it's more my FD [Finance Director] spotted it than me – he said it's taking your attention away.
Dean: You need to be focused on what we're good at, which is wetsuits and tri suits and go in that triathlon market. So it was there and it worked but in the end we just kind of let it go and handed over the races to another race organiser.
Toby: This is what somebody said to me. They said Dean is very good having to look at ideas and then, if it's not working for him, he will come back and focus on what's important.
Dean: Yeah, yeah. And it's hard because, when you’ve built something, you think I want to keep hold of it. But you have to say yeah I'm going to let that go and move on. And I had aspirations to move into cricket and look at that sport because, if we can improve triathletes’ performance and cyclists’ performance, who's to say you can't take any sport to bits and pieces and put the pieces back better and lighter and stronger and more efficient. So, yeah, played around with all kinds of ideas but you've got to come back to what you're good at and what you know.
Toby: But you have diversified to a degree. There’s cycling wear.
Toby: General training wear, casual clothing, jackets, stuff like that.
Dean: Yeah, I've tried to fill the triathlete’s wardrobe. Triathletes are very proud to be what they are, which are immense athletes, very committed, very focused and they kind of want to wear a badge of honour of triathlon. So I wanted to fill the wardrobe with the training wear and the competition wear. And we moved into the soft goods, you know, the nice casual items. They're never going to be big number sellers for us but it just keeps that triathlete connection.
Toby: They're proud of wearing HUUB wetsuits, they think it’d be nice to have a little bit of a HUUB …
Dean: It really is. It's kind of that work rest and play thing, you know. If you're into motocross, you're going to wear as many brands that reflect motocross as possible so your peers in that sport recognise you're into motocross. Runners do it, you know, they’ll wear brands that typically aren’t high street, you know, be it an Asics, be it an On or a Hoka or something. And you get got someone to go, yeah, you're a runner. And it's that community and it's that tribal piece that I wanted to be part of. So it's never going to move the needle massively, it's always going to be a burden of stock but we’re at the heart of it. We tried to do it for women. It was more difficult because there's so many brands competing for that.
Dean: And we kind of said, well, let's stay in the space but pull back a little bit. We did a range with Gordon Ramsay's wife, the Tana Collection and it did OK but I wish it could've done better. But, without scale, you don't get the better pricing from the factories and, without the better pricing, you're limited to your sales channels.
Toby: Is there anything else you're going into? What's next for HUUB in that sense?
Dean: Well, it's cycling now and, you know, we're going to hit limits on wetsuits and rubber and around the world. We still got some big territories to go out on wetsuits and triathlon, Germany and the US especially, but cycling is, you could say it's overcrowded but I kind of quite like that because there's a lot of overcrowding of me too. And I want to go into cycling with an aerodynamic benefit so that the fastest suit for cycling on the track in the world at the moment, we make. The fastest team for pursuit in the world or one of the top three, we make their suits. And that's the guys from Derby, the HUUB Wattbike team. And I've gone right at the very top of the pyramid so my technology can filter down. And it'll not only filter down the cycling pyramid, it will bleed into the triathlon pyramid. So, now, when I talk about aerodynamics in my triathlon suits, I've got credibility behind it and I’ve got testing with Dan Bigham from the HUUB Wattbike team at the amazing Derby Arena, where we do our testing. And then we've got wind tunnel facilities where we go as well. So we can package it all up and what we learn in one field will benefit in the other. So cycling is a push for us. Investment is needed in that. The team that we have came to me initially for some clothing and I said I'll give you a bit of money. And then we're doing the suits. And each suit they wear if you retailed it would be £5,000. And then they go: “Oh, we’ve just become national champions, we need two suits.” [mock stressed voice] Oh, doing my head in. But it gives us that credibility.
Toby: But do you have suits for retail there aren’t £5,000?
Dean: Yeah, we do. Yeah, £300 will get you a very fast cycling suit that you can step onto the track and know you've got a competitive advantage … whilst the rules allow it. They're constantly changing the rules. Cycling seems to hate innovation. You know, they did it with Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman and they're now doing it with the HUUB Wattbike team and our cyclists and the clothing that we're producing.
Toby: You've said previously you didn't like the word entrepreneur.
Toby: But that's what you are. You get stuff done because that's what an entrepreneur does.
Dean: Yeah, I think it's because I'll open up LinkedIn and there's lots of people calling themselves entrepreneurs and I sometimes wonder if you've earned the stripes and sweated enough to call yourself an entrepreneur. I can't call myself a doctor, you know. Maybe I could say I'm doctor of triathlon. I don't have the qualifications and I haven't done it, I haven't been to university and done the masters, PhDs or whatever you need to become a doctor. And I just think it's a term that is maybe used by people who maybe aren't quite sure. “I'm an entrepreneur.” Have you really put your house on the line? Have you really sweated it? Have you lost properties? Have you lost businesses? Have you been knocked down and got up again? So I prefer the term hurdler.
Dean: Because you start off on the B of the bang with great gusto and you hurdle. And then you’ll have another one. You might knock a couple down and you may fall down yourself but you're going to get up and you're going to run again. And you're running at speed and this hurdle’s coming toward you - I just got to get over it. You’ve got to hurdle it. And we're hurdlers on a never-ending track because you never have a free 100 metres or … there’s always something. They may become less important than what they were or they may be even bigger and more important than what they were. But there's always something you got to get over so, yeah, I don't like the word entrepreneur. I'd rather say I’m a hurdler.
Toby: My next question was going to be what are the essential skills of an entrepreneur but I suppose we should say what are the essential skills for a hurdler then?
Dean: Yeah, so the essential skills for a hurdler, I think, you could be a 100 metre runner or 800 metre runner on a track, I think I've just got to worry about running tactically in a straight line or around the bend or just run my own race and have my tunnel vision. I think, when you're a hurdling entrepreneur, you've got to be a bit stupid and you've almost got to ignore good advice or what people tell you. Because you've just got to run at it and think, I'm gonna shut my eyes and lift my legs and try and get over it and get on with it. Because, once you’ve done it a few times, you'll keep doing it and doing it and doing it.
Toby: But with the benefit of the experience that you talked about before. Sort of, having that within your mind when you're throwing yourself ov
Dean: Yeah, yeah, I've done it before and, if I lift my knee high enough, I can do this, I can get over it. And I kind of know what the next one might be or I know that in four strides I’ve got to do it again and four strides I've gotta do it again. You're right, it teaches you the space between the hurdles.
Toby: And, if you don't make it over that hurdle, think about why you didn't make over that hurdle, and analyse it.
Dean: And there's another one coming so learn quickly from that one because there's another one on its way. Yeah, definitely, the experience counts huge, huge amounts and, again, maybe that goes back to my distaste of the entrepreneur, you know. Hey, you're 23 years old. “Yeah, I'm an entrepreneur.” Yeah. In this day and age of social media, you know there are some amazing entrepreneurs that are doing stuff, you know, with videos and that. My son shows me and bewilders me but they're great, they're building incredible businesses from it. But I just think it's used without that wealth of experience that can change the outcome. I've had businesses, I had a business before and it collapsed. It was a running shop in Nottingham. I had one in Derby that I grew and built and that's still going today and I'm no part of it. But I went to do it again when I had many other businesses and I had too much going on and I had to close one down. But what I learnt from that, you just get up and go again. So, yeah, back to that experience.
Toby: Now, one of the reasons we're doing this podcast at the moment is about entrepreneurship and why it's important the UK economy. What is what's so vital about hurdling, entrepreneurship to the economy in general?
Dean: Well, I think we we're at the entry level of employment, you know, when we’re growing. Once we get moving, we take it on staff at a great rate. We’re unlikely to be haemorrhaging those staff. It's going to be a growth until we get to, I don't know, there'll be some stats somewhere that says, once you get 30, you might bleed up or down depending on what your turnover is. I can have a bad year and I'll still be needing more staff. You know, we're going to keep growing that. You know, we’re taxpayers. We’re not big enough to domicile at different points around the world so we don't pay tax. You know, there are lots of things that we can benefit to offset some of that tax but, because we’re small businesses, we're probably not savvy on that. You know, we're quite good, we know about R&D [research and development] tax credits and we know about Patent Box [a scheme that allows companies apply a lower rate of corporation tax to profits earned from patented inventions] and we've been as smart as we can, you know, on the tax that we're paying. But I think a lot of small businesses, you know, they'll get up, they’re making profit and they're reinvesting again, they reinvest in people. And it's also the fresh ideas for the future. We've got, you know, some big companies in this city, Rolls-Royce and Toyota. They’re there and they're surviving off local smaller businesses, be it from engineering or supply chain feeding into that. And, you know, I don't know too much about it but I bet they're not businesses they've set up. It’s small entrepreneurial attitudes of people who probably used to work there, used to work in other sectors of engineering saying: “Well, I'm gonna set up my own little shop and we're going to supply that beast that's on our doorstep.” And I think that's what's quite exciting about Derby. You know, I grew up with “get your job at Rolls-Royce” and it's safe, it's nice and simple. “Go and work at Qualcast or rail, Combustion or Celanese” and all that. And get on the pathway, stay with the company for many years. And it was almost as though Darby was anti-entrepreneurial because it was these pathways were kind of set. But now that mentality I kind of see is: let's feed these big companies and set up our own little workshops or advice companies or, you know, whatever it may be that's going to add value.
Toby: So is it that the larger companies aren't using entrepreneurial spirit when they're thinking of new ideas and how to develop. Because, you're still a growing company but, as a company gets bigger, do they lose that?
Dean: I think they must do. I have this analogy and visual in my head of: I'm a little speedboat, I’m been annoying as hell in a port of oil tankers and I'll zip around and I’ll move around really quickly and these tankers take so long to move that, you know, the tide’s changed by the time they've moved. And that's how I look at it with business and maybe some of the big businesses. It's such a slow shift for anything to happen. And I think one of the hard things to do is to keep your culture lightweight, nimble and flexible. My FD's, you know: “What projects are you on now?” And he'll struggle to keep up with me. I have to keep him informed the best I can just because it's what opportunity I see next and I'm chasing. In the bigger companies, you know, there'll be so many layers and there's a lot of ass-covering isn't there, you know. We CC [carbon copy] the whole world on an email to ass-cover ourselves. “Well, I sent an email.” That doesn't mean nothing or anyone’s read it. But I think we have a bit of that society as well. And I, you know, the bigger corporations you'd like to think that they're breeding the entrepreneurial spirit. I went down to Deloitte. One of my investors as a senior partner there and he works in the incubation unit. And they’re just bringing out new ideas out of this unit all the time. That must be … imagine how exciting now that would be.
Toby: But that’s in a major company.
Toby: So there is space for that.
Dean: Oh absolutely, absolutely. You need those kind of rooms or spaces or the crazy ones where, you know, you're a little bit off the wall, you perhaps argue with your manager too much because you've got another idea so you go and play in that playpen over there where you can do what you want and here’s a bit of a budget. That must be fantastic. And I've seen it and you read about it in books and other companies that do it but I wonder how much if it really goes on. You'd like to think it goes on everywhere. But I think the true entrepreneurial spirit only comes out when you've got to pay bills, you've got to have a point of difference and you’re competing against lots of others in that field. And you’ve just got to go at it with a very different angle and a very different approach.
Toby: But is there anything you can teach these larger businesses from where you are?
Dean: Yeah, I was invited in to Rolls-Royce to go and give a talk to one of their, like, specialist engineering departments and I focused on what a two-year-old would do. So my grandson, Jackson, he's not Jackson Jackson, he's got a different surname. So Jackson, he'd look at a 12kg dumbbell and we'd have just done, you know, kettlebell training and he'd go and try and pick it up. Now, if you or I looked at a 100kg dumbbell, which would probably be in relation to our weights versus that, you just look at it and go: “I ain’t picking that up.” But he'd go up and pick it up because he thinks: “Well, I'm just going to try this. It might work. I don't know.” He’d got no preconceptions about it so he went and tried it. And it was the same with me for the Olympic Games. I wanted my logo coming out the water first at the Rio Olympic Games. Now, I wasn't a sponsor of any big federation, I wasn't, you know, a Visa, Coca-Cola, so how was I going do that? So we looked into the rules of the Olympic Games for kit supply and, if you supply a nation with a technical piece of kit, you're allowed a logo up to 30cm squared, which is ridiculously big. No-one else had picked up on this so I’d sponsored the Slovakian triathlon federation. Two members of that team. I said I'm your kit supply for the Olympics. They went: “Oh, yeah, rock on, Deano, big deal this one.” And I sponsored a guy called Richard Varga, fastest swimmer in triathlon. But we read the small print, produced him a suit and put a big 30cm squared logo on the front. He was in Rio and he went to kit check-in and they said: “Your logo’s far too big, son, go and get it blanked out.” So he toddled off, got it blanked out, came back the next day and they went: “No, you were right, Richard. We've checked the rules and your logo was big enough.” And he went: “It's a good job I’ve got a spare one then isn't it.” And he pulled his spare suit out and he was first out of the water at the Olympic Games. And you've got the triathlon, first out that big HUUB logo and we showed it, actually, in the QUAD cinema, we had him live. That was another teary moment. And that was just by looking at the rules and not taking it for granted and like going, well, let's start again. Let's just reread that and see what it really says and going, well, again, are we the stupid ones because I don't think they quite get this.
Toby: But that’s looking at the hurdles and going, let's do our research again, you know, how do we get over the hurdle?
Dean: Exactly, yeah, and what's the most efficient way to get over that hurdle or is there a cheat, you know. How can we do that?
Toby: Now then, we're getting towards the end so what advice would you give somebody who's considering setting out on their own, whether they're a 23-year-old or a 40-year-old? What advice would you give them?
Dean: I’d probably give two, really. One that I touched on earlier is know the space you're going into and know it intimately and know every single nuance of it and inside and out because you're going to need an armoury of weapons when it comes to getting exposure for your product, researching in your product, when the market is going to buy it, what prices, what the margins are, the supply chain for it. You're going to need so much. It isn’t a case of, you know, I'm going launch a wetsuit next Friday. It just does not happen. Know whatever you’re going to do incredibly well. Research it. But, at the same time, ignore everybody because those that say you can't do it are the ones that are scared to do it. And, if you're prepared to do it, ignore them because, if they were that smart and that good they’d have had done it. So the fact they're telling you not I think is a lot of people's inner fear that they just daren’t do it themselves. So crack on with it and give it a go and learn from some of those mistakes.
Toby: So that’s the thing, learning from mistakes isn't it. It's taking on that hurdle. Maybe that's the difference between a smaller company that's growing and a larger company. They've made lots of mistakes and the fear of, because you've got so much investment in other things, whether you want to go further.
Dean: Yeah, you know, for a large company to make a small mistake could be hugely detrimental.
Toby: So is there support out there for budding entrepreneurs?
Dean: Yeah, there is, I mean, I think we're very lucky in Derby, you know, we've had, as I mentioned, the Enterprise rowth Fund that was very supportive of us. And they gave us a grant to take on several members of staff before we could afford several members of staff. So I could gear up and be ready for the growth of the business. That was a massive support. Derby is a village. You know, we are the city but it's like a business village and it's thanks to members of the University bringing partners together, Marketing Derby is an incredible tool. If you're looking to set a business up in this city, pay your 500 quid to Marketing Derby. It’ll be best £500 you ever spend. You're not only going to get lots of free coffees and bacon rolls at several locations but you'll get to meet other business owners and network and share stories and support and that's invaluable. That's been a huge, huge assistance to me.
Toby: Now we've talked about you bringing events to Derby but you're involved in promoting the city in other ways. We talked about Marketing Derby, and you coming to the University and going to other places. So you're big at promoting the city. I mean, you're doing it right now, in fact.
Dean: Yeah, I'm a bit fed up of travelling the world and people go where's Derby and you have to go “it’s next to Nottingham”. I want people to go: “Oh, yeah, Derby, yeah, Nottingham’s next door to there, isn’t it?” I think, you know, I'm Derby through and through. I lived in the States for two years and worked for another triathlon company and we could have moved for my next role anywhere in the world. They said: “Wherever you want to go, we’ll transport you there, we’ll help you get set up, you can go anywhere in the world.” I said I just want to go back to Derby. And I think it's that, like I touched on, that village feel and I'm proud of it. If we can bring star names to the city and triathlons. I'm part of a group of businesses that have helped bring the Darley Park concert back to Darley. Michael Brain from Hannells led that charge. You know, we can all chip a bit in and make it happen. Now that event should be sustainable for years to come. So we are a small, very small business in this city but the collective can really make stuff happen. I'm just very proud of it and, you know, we're kind of the underdog at times, especially with the city next door, but we put up a damn good fight.
Toby: Dean, what do you consider to be your greatest achievement with HUUB?
Dean: Ooh, do I just have one? I've got two really. I think, for me, it was when we put our sign up on this building, which is a beautiful building on Full Street. A huge amount of history. And I came and stood outside when we did that and I had a very teary moment. You know, this Alvaston lad, who ain't the brightest, has managed to achieve this, which, for me, was a wonderful thing. It earns a living for a small, incredibly productive, fantastic team. That was a proud moment for me and it's kind of putting your mark on the centre of the city of Derby. People kind of see it and there may be inquisitiveness of what it is. And you say, kind of, I did that. But I think the main one for me is the fact my family are proud of me. It makes me immensely proud. And, when my wife's proud of what I've achieved and when they talk about it with, you know, with excitement and enthusiasm. So, yeah, I think it's that really. It's making others proud kind of does it for me.
Toby: And what's your favourite product? I mean, I've been looking through your inventory. There's a swim float for people with heavy legs, which I think is a lovely idea.
Dean: Yeah, and it's called the big boy [laughter] and the slightly smaller version for women is called the toy boy. My favourite product, I think, is our black t-shirt because I obsess over t-shirts and we found a lovely t-shirt supplier and it fits great and it's comfortable to wear. So, yeah, there's lots of science and aerodynamics going on but I just really love my black t-shirt.
Toby: You are wearing a black t-shirt now.
Dean: Yeah, it's not … it's a HUUB prototype one that hasn't got HUUB on it. I'm testing the fit and shape. The problem is I keep changing my shape and holidays and things and going this t-shirt’s now a bit tight, change the cut.
Toby: One thing I wanted to ask you … you keep saying I'm not the brightest and you keep …
Dean: Probably to work on that.
Toby: Yeah, you do [laughter]. I think for somebody who's achieved what you've achieved, I think maybe it's not what you think it is.
Dean: It's that imposter syndrome isn't it, you know. I'm here and I'm not, you know, the one with the degree, an engineering degree, but here we are. Yeah, I mean, I'm dyspraxic as well. I think that probably didn’t helped me through school but I think that's allowed me to look at things a bit differently. So I think you're right, I think I have skills that I don't recognise but I have, you know, inabilities that I do. And I did have some help with that getting over that. But, yeah, I think maybe it's probably a good thing to keep a bit of that humbleness as well, that, actually, I need to really prove that this is a damn good idea and that this will work.
Toby: Well, it seems to be working.
Dean: Yeah, it does. You know, we'll hit those turnover numbers and we're profitable and we've got companies interested in buying us and we've rebuffed them and said no.
Toby: Oh really?
Dean: Yeah, we went through a round last year but we've had great support from the bank so we said no, we'll work with you, it doesn't hurt my shareholding by working with a bank. It grew it. So, yeah, we'll see what … next five years we may be looking very differently. But, yeah, we've got a wonderful brand and a wonderful city, producing amazing products with the best ambassadors in the world so. Yeah, Mondays great, Mondays are brilliant. [laughter].
Toby: Now, as we draw to a close, this is the big question: what's the single most important piece of advice you can give our podcast listeners.
Dean: Believe in yourself and, if someone says no, ask them why. And it's that old, was it, five whys and you'll get to the bottom of the problem. Yeah, if they say no, don't take it as a no, take it as an I've got to go and understand why there's a no. Because if I’d have said to somebody I'm going to be first out of the water at the Olympic Games with my logo in a size that would shock everybody, can I do it? They'd say no. But there is a way to do it. So, yeah, believe in yourself and take no as an amber, not a red.
Toby: Excellent. Now then, we're sitting in your office in the HUUB Bikeworks building in Full Street in Derby.
Toby: Where people can come along and find out about you and see your products here?
Dean: Yep. Yeah, we have a showroom downstairs. It isn't merchandise like the sexiest shop in the world, which I would like, because it's a working unit and we take stock in and out and to expos and shows. But, yeah, we welcome people to come in because there's no finer way to buy a wetsuit than actually put it on, get fitted properly and understand it is a tight garment, it does feel a bit restrictive, it's a bit claustrophobic and we can talk you through the experience rather than just, you know … Yeah, online sales are great but we’d much rather people come in and have a good fitting experience with us.
Toby: And, talking of online, you've got a website.
Dean: Yeah, huubdesign.com. Doing very well and growing. And weve just had a shift of resources to, you know, move our advertising. The ROIs [returns on investment] we’re getting through the SEO [search engine optimisation] and through our social media.
Toby: Using lots of acronyms now.
Dean: I know. Scares me. When you're 40-odd and they start using all these acronyms it's like: what's that one mean?
Toby: But you're on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram.
Dean: Yeah, we're on all of those.
Toby: So how can people find you?
Dean: If you go just HUUB Design on Twitter and Instagram and, well, Instagram’s actually HUUB, and Facebook’s HUUB Design.
Toby: Excellent. Well, it's been a marvellous afternoon.
Dean: Yeah, you know, you can tell I like talking so thanks for asking me great questions. [laughter]
Toby: Well, thank you to Dean Jackson from HUUB for joining our podcast. Thanks very much.
Dean: Thank you, Toby.
Toby: Well, we've heard from Dean and he's told us about his journey with HUUB that started with an idea for a niche product and developed into a successful business. I've been joined again by my co-host Angela Tooley who is our resident business expert. So, Angela, we talked earlier on about taking a punt. And Dean had some extremely interesting stories about how he did that.
Angela: Oh yes and you can't deny there was an incredible amount of luck involved as well. And the fact that he started his business in 2011, the year before London 2012 [Olympics] and he is actually entering what is a very niche but also a hugely growing market in terms of triathletes, in particular amateur triathletes. I would like to think that, yes, he took a punt but I would describe it more as calculated risks. And I think Dean is incredibly good at doing the research before he actually took those punts. So, yes, Dean had spent most of his career working in the performance sportswear industry.
Toby: So he had a deep knowledge of the business.
Angela: He had a deep knowledge but he didn't take that for granted and, at the very start, he went out and he did the research, he looked at what his competitors were doing, he looked at what was happening in the market in terms of material developments, he spent a lot of time talking to customers.
Angela: And he really got under the skin to understand who his customers were and what his customers would want.
Toby: Because he said, surely somebody's done this already, surely somebody's come up with this idea, this idea of creating a wetsuit that is performance based, that is designed to increase the performance of the athlete.
Angela: Yes, he did. And I'm sure many people at that point would have just walked away from the idea but he went and he looked and he investigated and he researched that. And he found out that, actually, this was something that was new to the industry at the time. I think he said that the industry was more focused around look and style than it was around what he was trying to do, which was something
that was more focused around performance and speed. And that was something that resonated very strongly with his potential customers.
Toby: So, when he did take what I would call the punts, he was backing that up with his own knowledge of the industry and his own research into it. When he went out to Professor Huub Toussaint and had already trademarked the name, when he sent wetsuits to various athletes because he thought, if they did wear them - and they did wear them, it would be really good exposure for him.
Angela: Yeah, exactly. I think he, very early on in developing the HUUB brand, he developed a concept of a brand that was very closely associated with speed of performanc. And, actually, that, in terms of a brand value, was really the starting point of building a successful business. And that was validated by Professor Huub and the research that they did and the testing that they did on the fabrics together. So, actually, HUUB as a name and the wetsuits as a product are validated by that world-class research and testing. But they're also validated by the customers in terms of having HUUB suits that are first out of the pool on the first leg of a triathlon. It wasn't only validated by those professional athletes but it was also validated by what I would class the mass-market, those amateur athletes who buy into the science, buy into what they see in terms of HUUB brands being first out of the pool on the television and actually wanting to buy that. He spent a lot of time talking to customers and potential customers and really understanding their needs and getting under the psyche of a typical triathlete who would wear his suits. And, actually, that's a really important thing to do. And there's a term that is increasingly being used to describe this, which is about customer-centric innovation, which essentially is about making sure that what you are creating addresses the needs of your customers. Too much research, too much innovation happens in a silo [in isolation]. So, actually, you create something that's absolutely fantastic but there isn't necessarily a market for what you're doing.
Toby: So that relates beyond the idea of performance athletic wear. In any business, you need to know what your customers want. There's no point producing a product that your customers don't want.
Angela: Absolutely, it's not about making sure that your customer wants to buy your product and needs your products but it's also understanding some of these other nuances, like understanding what they're prepared to pay for it. So, they might say this is absolutely great but they might not pay £100 for it, they might only pay £50 for it. So you can then use that to start developing the product characteristics. Dean's in a market that is very niche, where he absolutely understood that his customers valued the science base that he built the brand around. And, actually, that was one of the reasons why they were buying his wetsuits because of that science-based innovation that had been validated. But you don't necessarily always have to do that. So, not every design has to be gold-plated. It's about understanding what those characteristics are in meeting those customer needs and making sure that they're balanced.
Toby: Dean made some very interesting points about entrepreneurship. He doesn't like to use the word entrepreneur. He likes to use word hurdler in the sense that
every challenge is a hurdle. You either leap over it without a scratch or you hit it and learn from why you hit it and then get up and ready for the next one which is coming up fast. He also made some interesting points about how those entrepreneur ideas can be used within big business. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Angela: Yeah, I like his hurdling, I think it's a great analogy on life in general in the fact that, inevitably, we all hit hurdles and it's about how you deal with those as to how you move on and how successful you can be in the future and how much you learn from those. So I think that's an absolutely valid point to make. With regards his thoughts about how entrepreneurship and how entrepreneurs can help big businesses, I think he's absolutely correct. As businesses grow, they tend to lose some of that ability to be flexible and dynamic and they lose some of that creativity that is so important for innovation. And that's just the nature of how things develop in the fact that, as businesses grow, there's more people in there. With more people, you have to start putting more structure and more bureaucracy and processes in there. And, quite often, as businesses grow, they become more risk-averse. I guess they have more to lose and there's more at stake when you're employing 50, 100 people than when it's just you on your own in your kitchen.
Toby: But is there something that, within those circumstances, you think larger businesses could do within the idea of entrepreneurship?
Angela: Yes, quite definitely. And I would encourage anyone who works in a large business to pick up the phone and go and see what others are doing. And see what other smaller businesses and how they're working and the environment that their people sit in at some point. So, for example, there's some really quite simple things that you can do just to start building that creative environment within a larger business. So, if you compare a typical office in a large business compared with, perhaps, a high-tech small business, you associate large businesses with white-walled offices, lots of lines of desks, people almost sort of sitting in windowless rooms, you know, and working in that sort of environment. If you go and see many of the businesses that I go and see, smaller businesses who are perhaps more creative, sort of technology focused, they're perhaps more open plan offices. Just even things like their colour schemes are very different. You just get a different sort of feel. They quite often have big social areas. I went to a company the other week and they’d got a hangout area they called the cave and there was comfy furniture and a TV. And it was just an environment just to allow people just to sit and reflect and be creative without the computer in front of them or the phone's ringing or things like that. And, sometimes, just by implementing those sort of environments, you can just help stimulate that. Many companies now are introducing ideas boards, ideas competitions, where you can submit ideas that you've had throughout the year and they will get looked at and assessed and some of them that they think are really good will get taken forwards. So there's lots of different things that larger businesses can start to do just to develop that environment. I think the important thing is not about stimulating lots of ideas because I think, by nature, people have ideas, it's about what you do with those ideas. And one thing that perhaps larger businesses aren't very good at is working with individuals to take those ideas forwards and assess those ideas. In Dean's case, if he's got an idea that he wants to work with, then he can very quickly pick up the phone, talk to a potential manufacturer, he can go out and … you can do something with it very quickly. He doesn't need to wade through lots of gated processes. He doesn't need to get permission from anyone and he can do that. And he can very quickly take something to market.
Toby: So that's his speedboats and oil tankers. It takes a long time for a big business to actually turn towards an idea.
Angela: Absolutely. And we're in an age now where businesses need to learn to be more agile and flexible in the ever-changing environment that we're in. The most successful businesses will have that ability and culture to enable them to take opportunities as and when they arise.
Toby: Dean's big giveaway, let's say, was don't take no for an answer … well, take no for an answer but understand why it's a no. Is that what your big takeaway would be from what Dean's been talking about?
Angela: I think that was a really valid point that he made. Dean spoke about being like a two-year-old again and two-year-olds ask why all the time. But, actually, don't be afraid to ask why. What we need to encourage are those open conversations rather than closed conversation. So your idea in its pure form may not be possible but, actually, an adaptation of it may be. So, by asking why, you can start to tease those things out and start to understand the underlying issues. You can start to develop solutions for those challenges and for those issues that have arisen.
Toby: Thank you very much, Angela.
Toby: Next time, we’ll be joined by Trevor Williams - former Chief Economist at Lloyds Bank, and a visiting Professor at the University of Derby. You’ve been listening to Inspired Business, a podcast from the University of Derby telling amazing and inspirational stories from businesses in Derby, Derbyshire, and beyond. Please subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. Leave us a rating or review and tell a friend who might also like to listen. Also, if you’d like to be a guest on a future episode of the show please get in touch. You can find contact details and more information about the series at www.derby.ac.uk/inspiredbusiness. Thanks so much for listening, we’ll catch up with you again very soon.