This month, Transmit Start-Ups turns five years old. That means we’ve been delivering start-up loans and business mentoring to entrepreneurs from across the UK for over five years and to celebrate, we’ve caught up with some of our very first loan recipients to find out how they are getting on. First up, we spoke to Richard Bell, founder of Newcastle-based Psalt Design and who contacted us about a loan in 2013.
Psalt Design is an award-winning creative studio based in the North East which designs & manufactures bespoke high-quality furniture & interior products with a focus on concept, material & process. All of Psalt Design’s fantastic products are manufactured responsibly by the best craftsman in the UK.

When did you first start your business and what made you start up?

The concept of Psalt Design began in my final year at University whilst studying for a Furniture & Interior Product Design degree. Having regularly visited trade shows and exhibitions, I found that a lot of the brands that I had aspired to work for began as small collectives or design studios themselves. This seemed like an exciting opportunity, as it would allow us to create a brand whilst having full control of the vision & products we released.

The first product Psalt released, the Bubble Tank, was well-received at shows and was shortlisted for a number of awards. This was the initial catalyst that showed us that there was real scope in our vision and that people were interested in our brand, story & approach to the design process.

Following the success of this product, we were able to develop new products which led into annual collections which have allowed us to work on some amazing projects in beautiful spaces around the globe.

What makes you different in your industry?

The thing that is great about this industry is that it is constantly evolving which means, to stay relevant, you need to adapt and develop as a studio. Our core ethos will always be that we aim to create modern, meaningful & functional products inspired by concept, material & process. We aim to blend the gap between art and design whilst creating products that look as good in a home, office or kitchen as they do in a commercial environment.

Another big factor for us is collaboration. We love working alongside the craftsmen that manufacture our products and are lucky enough to work with some of the most talented makers in the UK. Being able to work together on our ideas regularly helps us ensure that each detail of each product is the best it can be.

What was involved in starting up and how long did it take?

Our first step when setting up was to ensure we had access to workshop equipment so we could design and manufacture items. As Alumni, Psalt became part of Sheffield Hallam’s hatchery scheme which provided us with our first office space, business support and workshop access.

At this point we considered ourselves as creatives rather than businessmen and the support we received through the Enterprise Scheme gave us a huge amount of support when it came to things like putting together a meaningful business plan, setting up & ensuring we had the correct licenses for our products.

As part of this scheme, we were also awarded a bursary which allowed us to initially find our own premises, buy some tools & begin producing our products.

Following this, we were able to become self sustainable as a company and grow relatively quickly.

What has your business achieved over the last five years? What is your favourite success story to date?

Since starting-up, it is amazing to see how the company has grown. I have had the opportunity to exhibit and sell my work all over the world as well as work on some amazing projects in beautiful spaces. We have specified our products for brands such as ‘Nando’s’, ‘Propercorn’ and ‘Campus Living Villages’ as well as showcasing our work in exhibitions alongside some of the world’s best-known designers.

How have you found being your own boss?

Being your own boss can be a real challenge and one I have loved. Design is my passion, life and job so I still get the same excitement now as I did seven years ago when I head to the studio. The hardest part for me is switching off at the end of the day. Running your own business means there is always something to think about or something that you can be working on. It’s really important to learn how to take time away from the business and this is something that I still occasionally struggle with. If you are really passionate about something, then it can be really hard to hand over control. This is a really important part of our future growth and is something that has been made a lot easier with the right people in place.

What have been your favourite moments and milestones so far?

There have been a huge number of milestones but one of the highlights, on a personal level earlier this year, was realising that the process for our product range had been successfully streamlined. We had an order for more than 500 custom variations of our Myosotis notice boards for an install in Manchester. The manufacture, quality-checks, packing, delivery and sign-off went perfectly and it was great to know that each member of the team fulfilled their task to such a high standard to ensure the customer received a great service. 12 months earlier, this would have been a real challenge but, with the right process in place, I was able to work on future leads while this was being carried out. This was the moment when I realised the scalability of this company and by removing myself as a bottleneck, a lot more could be achieved as a team.

What have you learnt from the first five years in business? Is there anything you would do differently?

My advice to myself five years ago would be to work harder on my business plan, focus more on growth and read more books based on business. When Psalt started, we saw ourselves a lot more as a creative studio than a business. Our profile in the industry grew fairly quickly but money was never the main goal. Our aim was to design interesting products and do what we loved as a job. I wouldn’t change this approach if we were to do it again but there was definitely a point where we realised, that to do our vision justice, we had to invest a little more time in the strategy in order to grow.

Any challenges you have faced? And what lessons have you learnt?

One of the main challenges for me was (and still is) handing over control of work I am so passionate about to other members of the team. It’s really important to utilise the skillsets of others and get specialists on board for certain tasks. As a start-up it can seem like the best option to do everything yourself but I have found this can dilute the skills you offer the company. There are lots of highs and lows throughout but it is important to learn from these as they can help shape the future successes of the business.

Why did you choose a start-up loan over other methods of finance?

We decided to use the start-up loan as we had generated a large amount of interest for our Bubble Tank and needed to invest some money in prototyping and manufacturing our first full batch. This seemed like a good opportunity as we were able to get lots of information from our adviser.

Would you recommend a Start Up Loan from Transmit Start-Ups to other businesses? How beneficial was the free business support?

The business support we received was great, beneficial and played a large part in our initial growth. Being able to access this loan through Transmit Start-Ups gave us the platform to produce in greater quantity and in turn begin to sell our first product.

How much did you get? How did you use the loan and have you secured any other funding since then?

We took out a loan of £4,500 which was used to prototype our product in more detail, streamline the process and produce the first batch. After taking out this loan, we were able to repay and continue producing future batches whilst developing new products. We have not needed to take out any further loans as our turnover has provided enough to maintain and grow the business.

If you could give one tip to a new entrepreneur, what would it be?

“Do good things”. This is the quote we have had in all our studios and is one which encapsulates everything for us. If you do good things, they will have integrity and then others will believe in the brand and want to be part of it.

If you’ve been inspired by Psalt Design’s start-up story and want to get in touch about a start-up loan or business mentoring, then get in touch with our team today.

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