First Hand — Keeping your head screwed on: Design graduate Sam Part on turning a university project into a business
In summer of 2014, Sam Part graduated from Kingston University with a degree in graphic design. For his final show, he made moulds of his own head and turned them into lollipops. The project earned him a D&AD New Blood award, and has since evolved into a successful company, employing six full-time staff. Three years in, we find out why Sam rejected job offers to pursue his candied dreams, and the importance of applying a creative mindset to the world of business.
After graduation, life went by bloody fast. My main aim was to try and get a job in the design industry. I completed a successful internship at Wieden+Kennedy and was offered a job there, but decided to turn it down.
Before that, for my final university project, I had created a project called Candy Mechanics, which started with a simple spelling mistake. The brief was ‘Know who you are and tell the world,’ and I ended up writing, ‘I’m a lickable guy’ instead of ‘I’m a likeable guy.’ I decided to make myself lickable and created my own head as a lollipop.
Soon after my internship I was given the opportunity to develop Candy Mechanics, setting up shop at an exploratory space in the bottom of Selfridges. The idea was that by the end of the six weeks, you’d have a product to sell. The public could come and watch what we were doing, and we’d 3D scan and print people’s faces. The business started from there.
None of my friends could understand why on earth I’d turn down a job at one of the best advertising agencies in the world. But when I had the opportunity to do my own thing, it didn’t really appeal to me to sit in front of a computer and work on other brands any more. At this point, I don’t think I’d ever go back and be a designer.
Personally I have been through many ups and downs, and I am sure there are many more to come. My brother put me up for a while, and even now I have a box for a bedroom. I would say the major challenge has been converting from a creative into a business man and keeping my head screwed on.
At the beginning, I floated along solely on passion for the idea and blue-sky thinking, and I made a lot of wrong decisions. Now I have a firm grasp on how a business runs and what we need to do to make that happen (sort of). I have pitched to some very influential investors, businesses and individuals as well as building two products and a fantastic, passionate and driven team. I pay six full-time staff, including myself, and I am even going on a holiday this year!
“Never ever stop talking about the idea. Put yourself in interesting situations, and get talking to well-connected people. Keep talking and you might just find your co-founder.”
There are different approaches you can take to turn a project into a business. Mine has been to never ever stop talking about the idea. It helps because then all your friends, teachers and work colleagues are involved on a personal level. There are a couple of key people behind the business (Ben Redford, Chris Tait and Will Leigh) but there have been so many favours from friends. It’s really hard to do this on your own. Finding one or two other people with different skill sets (be it the creative, in finance or with business understanding) means you can do it ten times as fast. Talk to all of your friends and find out who’s done something similar; find out who’s written a business model. Put yourself in interesting situations, and get talking to well-connected people. Keep talking and you might just find your co-founder.
On the side I worked as a freelancer doing design, 3D printing work, and my parents helped me out. I basically scrounged around. I was also working behind the bar of a private party and got talking to my old rugby coach. He was well-connected and helped talk me through everything with the investment process. In the end he gave us a loan which we used to get all of our tech in place. By being in the right place at the right time I managed to get some private funding. Since then, we’ve met more and more people who love the idea as much as we do.
It’s important to be an active part of your network. I have even been back to share connections with other Kingston students looking to head in similar directions. Most of these connections were made down in Makerversity, Somerset House – a hub for creative entrepreneurs who make things. 150 members and a team of enthusiastic professionals oversee and make that all possible. From a business point of view I managed to meet a couple of very well connected investors who have slowly – and after a lot of mentoring – let me loose on their contacts to try and build this business. I also find that it helps to have an end goal; once you have that, it is easy to work backwards in your head and plan out the stages to achieve it.
Looking back, I wish I had made more spare time for myself after graduating. I would say ‘yes’ to all my friends when they asked to go for drinks, or go on holiday. I no longer believe in the culture of sitting at a desk until 3am or over the weekend trying to work. It isn’t healthy and at the end of the day it doesn’t help anyone. But other than that, I have loved every second of growing the business, and learnt more than I could have ever imagined. I am now of the belief that everything you want to do is possible – you just need to have enough passion to make it happen.