10 Questions with Andy Stephenson
Andy Stephenson's journey with PNE Enterprise can be traced back to 2014, when, after identifying a need for fun yet educational activities for children, he founded Weekend Box, a subscription-based craft service.
To turn his idea into a reality, Andy approached the PNE Enterprise team, who supported him to make an application for a Start Up Loan to develop custom-made boxes and to invest in new marketing channels.
Weekend Box now produces more than 250,000 boxes per year, which are delivered to children across the UK, Germany and Austria. Andy's entrepreneurial drive earned him a mention in Richard Branson's autobiography and a visit to 10 Downing Street.
In this interview, we asked Andy about starting out, the challenges of launching a business, and what's next for Weekend Box.
1. How would you sum up your business?
solves the problem of what to do with your children over the weekend. We provide time-poor parents with inspirational activities and everything they need to enjoy more quality time with their children.
2. How did you come up with your business idea?
I was looking for gift ideas for my niece and nephew - I wanted to buy them something that was fun and engaging but also that helped them to develop key skills and explore the world. I couldn't find anything suitable so I quit my job and started making Weekend Boxes.
3. What challenges did you face when setting up your business?
Where to start? Challenges come in thick and fast every day, but I just treated every challenge like a problem I needed to solve and got on with it. Sometimes it's easy to overthink things but one thing I've always found is it's better to take action than deliberate. Don't worry if you make a mistake, but just bear that in mind in the future to make sure you won't make the same mistake again.
4. What support did you receive in the start-up stage?
About 3 months into starting the business I applied and received a Start Up Loan (delivered through PNE Enterprise and Virgin Money) - this was for £7,500 and helped us to develop our own custom-made boxes as well as invest in new marketing channels. In terms of mentoring/advice, I reached out to everyone I knew (and some I didn't know!) in the first couple of months of the business to ask specific questions or tell them what I wanted to achieve and hear their thoughts and guidance. Some people thought I was crazy and that the idea wouldn't work (it's pleasing to prove people wrong sometimes!), some gave really useful insight and advice or connections and some people just gave me the confidence to keep going with their supportive words. Everything helps to shape you.
5. How do you differentiate your business from others?
Specifically within our boxes, we provide a greater variety of activities than anyone else (from cooking to planting and STEM activities as well). As a business, we're completely data-led and build software to help optimise the business in every area.
6. Which other entrepreneur(s) inspires you and why?
William Chase - incredibly inspirational story about turning an under-performing potato farm to a profitable crisp brand (Tyrell's crisps) - and Richard Reed of Innocent who helped to build a multi-national business combining fun and positive change, showing it can be done.
7. Last year you were one of the stars at Sage's London Summit and featured in Richard Branson's autobiography - what has been your biggest business achievement so far?
Still being here five years in! We've had a rollercoaster of a ride so far and I'm eternally grateful to the Weekend Box team for all their efforts in getting us to this stage. Here's to the next 5 years and beyond!
8. What's next for Weekend Box?
This year, we're expanding our product line, expanding into Europe as well as launching subscription boxes for other brands - watch this space!
9. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
1. Get going on day one - don't hang around, the world won't wait for you.
2. The best kind of market research is selling your product or service, however rough and ready it is.
3. People buy stories not products - use this to your advantage.
4. Have a greater purpose or vision - don't be in business just to make money. Find your cause or calling and use your business to help make the world a better place in any way you can.
10. Finally, what colour socks are you wearing?
I purposely wear odd socks so today's are two different shades with flowery patterns on. As a side note, next time you're pairing your socks think about how much time you waste doing that across your lifetime (I estimate a week or two of your life) then in a moment of enlightenmet, throw all your unpaired socks into your draw and each day have a lucky dip (this starts your day off with a smile as well, which is good for your wellbeing and everyone you meet).