Meet James of E-Cigarette Direct…
A former English language teacher, James co-founded E-Cigarette Direct after ten years trotting round the globe. Since then he has co-authored the first peer reviewed study into vaping, spoken at conferences and on podcasts and conducted dozens of interviews with vape researchers and experts.
1. Can you explain to us how the idea for your business came to you and how the whole process kicked off?
At the time (2008) I was working in Qatar. On holiday in the UK (you do that when you are working abroad) my mother held up an e-cigarette she had found at a trade show and asked if I could build an e-commerce website to sell it. It took me a couple of weeks to build the website, then we went to the bank to set up an account, dug into our savings and set up an AdWords account pointing at the website.
2. What were the biggest challenges you faced when bringing the idea to market?
The two biggest limitations were funding – we started on a shoe string – and a lack of expertise in e-commerce. While we have all sorts of skills in-house now, we had to do everything ourselves, learning (and making mistakes!) as we went along.
3. Where do you think good ideas come from and what inspires you?
I think the good ideas come from your subconscious, and when you are least expecting them. In fact, I often find the best ideas come to me either in the shower or when I am surfing, bobbing up and down in the line up waiting for a wave.
11 years into the business, I now find that what both brings me into work and inspires me is the people I work with. Realising you are responsible for the livelihoods of over 90 people is a great motivator. There’s a sense of responsibility to do your best, and there’s also being part of a team who are both smart and great fun to work with.
4. What are your company’s values and why are these things important to the business?
We actually have 12 values! We decided that saying what we really think and being explicit was more important than arbitrarily limiting the number of values. These values include:
Exceed customer expectations, whatever your role
We believe the customer experience is key to the success our business. And everyone in the company affects customer services, whether it’s the people in our shops, the warehouse team who need to get deliveries out promptly, the developer making the website easier to use or the HR team who need to hire great people who can provide great service.
Trust over control
We’ve seen other businesses grow large and get tied in knots by bureaucracy. In contrast, we are pursuing a goal of minimum viable bureaucracy. In its simplest terms, we define that as the minimum amount of bureaucracy to avoid chaos. But do achieve that, you need to trust the people who work with you rather than trying to control everything they do.
Problems happen, it’s how you deal with them that matters
Businesses always encounter problems, some small, some big. When that happens, it’s important that all the focus is on solving the problems, not on assigning blame. Everyone makes mistakes, but having a blame culture only wastes energy, creates a climate of fear and leads to a culture where people hide mistakes.
Being kind is key to the culture of the business, and to the long term relationships that make a team click.
Focus on what really matters
There’s an infinite number of things you can do. So it’s key for a business and its people to identify what’s really important and can really move the business forward, and focus the majority of efforts on those areas.
5. What is next for your brand?
We’re growing our team, especially in the field of IT and web development. IT infrastructure, automation and a seamless customer experience online and in store are key for the success of a modern business, and we believe it’s this area which will help drive the company forward.
6. What one piece of advice would you have for someone just starting out on their business journey or currently going through a setback?
One value I didn’t mention early was playing the long game, and I wish it had been more in our consciousness eleven years ago. If you’re starting a company and you want it to last, it’s important to consider elements such as branding at a very early stage in the business, because they can be very difficult to change later on.
The first time you have a setback it can be devastating. After a while you realise that if you and the company have resilience, you can go through all sorts of setbacks and survive, and you start to be more sanguine about them. One thing that is super-important for your mental health is to be able to switch off from work when it’s time to take a break, no matter what’s going on at the office. I find Stoic philosophy, and its instruction to focus only on what you can control, very helpful here. You can use this philosophy to help you influence what you can, when you can, and switch off when it’s time to finish work.
7. What resources and tools do you use to remain productive or up-to-date on industry trends etc?
To stay up-to-date I use specialised social media groups who focus on news in the industry, as well as a daily quick check of twitter and Linked In, google alerts and alerts from Ahrefs. The best tool I use for productivity is Todoist. This online tool allows you to colour code your tasks by priority, assign dates, reminders and times and even awards you ‘karma’ when you complete a certain number of tasks.
More info on James…
Brand Name: E-Cigarette Direct/Halo Vapour Co
LinkedIn handle: james-dunworth-65942512
Twitter handle: @inijames
Facebook handle: James Dunworth