Advise for Small-Business Start-Ups

Founder Gun Nowak and daughter Martina Arfwidson of FACE Stockholm

A few years ago, Monocle published a Small Business Guide. On the last page they published the advice on starting and running a small business from a wide-range of entrepreneurs from a diverse number of countries from Beirut to Singapore to Copenhagen to New York. They represented everthing from a vegetable juice maker to a burger shop to a cosmetic company.

Everything they mentioned is something I’ve heard and read in various forms over the past few years on the key success factors in starting and running a small business.

But their advice also struck me as highly relevant to the biggest of big business. For example, “Hire only people who are better than you.” How many large companies and organizations perpetuate mediocrity by having managers who hire either in their own image, hire people who are weaker so as to not pose a threat, or keep yes-men who toe the line?

Matt Nicholson Visual Artists London

“Presentation is everything, especially if you are a small business without, say, IBM’s brand equity. The first thing we did was get a very strong corporate identity and spent a lot of money on the website.”

Vicente Guallart Architect Barcelona

“Innovative companies are not just about earning money. They are about the passion of showing to the world that the ideas were right. Be transparent. People will appreciate how you use their money.”

Mark Walker WB&CO juice Singapore

“You want to change people’s perceptions about your product, in our case vegetable juice. We did that through the design of our packaging. Design was paramount, crucial. So too, of course, was taste.”

Gun Novak Face Stockholm Swedish cosmetics

“Passion and playfulness are absolutely key. If you don’t have those don’t do it. If you don’t absolutely Love what you do, you are never going to succeed.” (

Michael Maharam Maraham (textiles) New York

“We are a company of one font; the only font any one is permitted to use. It’s called Maharam, a variation of Futura. I think you have to be monomaniacal. If you remove choice, the business appears well groomed.” (

Ian Abell Based Upon London design studio

“Don’t cherry-pick too much in the beginning. In the early days of any new company, cash is oxygen, and you can’t choose not to breathe. Understand that the more inspirational projects come later.”

Karolina Vork Fabric print studio Sydney

“We went to our friends for everything, from electricians and IT to the webdesigner we use. We like taking people from different industries, we’re not necessarily looking for someone with a textiles background.”

Tasos loannidis Belvedere Hotel Mykonos, Greece

“Our philosophy is: we are sophisticated people serving sophisticated people. If you offer something, anything, make sure it is the very best. Go deep into everything you do.”

Mike Radcliffe Represent UK recruiting agency

“First, you have to instill trust in your clients, which is why self-belief is so very important. But the best advice I could give anybody is to under-promise and over-deliver.”

Nobuya Hisatomi Golden Brown (burgers) Japan

“I spent a lot of money to create a fashionable interior. It paid off because we often leased out the space for modeling shoots, which covered our rent.”

Antjevon Dewitz Vaude clothing Tettnang, Germany

“For me the key to success means creating a work environment that gives all employees a sense of the company so they see it as their own. This way they will take on co-responsibility.”

Simon Raymonde Bella Union records London

“With any business, go slow at first. Long-term, treat your clients the way you want to be treated. And remember running a small business can be a real drain. I only sign artists I think I can become friends with.”

Mazen Hajjar 961 Beer Beirut

“Budget much more than what you think you will need, then budget some more. When we started building our bottling line, we went three times over because of all the additions, pumps and bits and bobs.”

Martin Ferro –Thomsen Issuu (digital media) Copenhagen

“We asked ourselves: where is the pain-the thing that annoys the hell out of people in daily life? If you can find a way to ease that pain, you’ll probably succeed.”

Gerhard Behles Ableton (software) Berlin

“Make a product that you need. Hire only people who are better than you. Learn to look at it from the outside. The rest is luck.”

For those interested in burgers, the Golden Brown burger in Tokyo is highly rated. Here is one review:

The premium burger shop Golden Brown has opened a new store in the third floor food court of Omotesando Hills. Carried on a wave of popular support, it didn’t take long for the Higashiyama burger joint in Meguro-ku, which only opened in April of 2008, to expand to this Tokyo landmark. Golden Brown’s concept is ‘Fast Good’. The implication is that even the hamburger, the king of fast food, can be elevated to something wonderful if you use quality ingredients.

Both shops have a menu that boasts the Golden Brown Burger. A 100% pure beef patty with fresh mushrooms and Dutch Smoked Cheese, its eschewing of lettuce leads to a refreshingly uncomplicated burger. Accented by the sweetness of onions sautéed an amber brown, it tastes as good as it smells. Even the bun is ingeniously prepared. They use an original wild yeast, which takes longer to ferment than usual yeasts. This leads to a bun with a light texture that balances perfectly with the patty and fixings. The bun is so light, the burger so superbly juicy, just one bite and you will swear the thing is 10cm thick, but you still won’t have any trouble polishing it off. (Time Out Japan)

Some previous posts on small business and entreprenuers are:

G for Gelato

Gorilla Cheese

Self-Assess Your Entrepreneurial Instinct

The Immaterial

Marketing Yourself as a Brand

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