Founder Focus: Earl of East
Unlike others in our Founder Focus series, Paul and Niko of Earl of East have not only launched a successful business but held down careers whilst at it.
For an insight into how they turned their creative outlet into an all-consuming multi-sensorial brand stocked by over 180 stores worldwide, we caught up with Paul and Niko at their newly opened lifestyle store, coffee shop and event space, bonds.
We just wanted to have a shared passion project as a couple, the idea of Earl of East was that it was something that could change and adapt over time. It wasn’t even fixed on one product necessarily, we just wanted to create something that was community driven.
It was only when our regular market stall started getting a lot of interest that we realised we were onto something and that scent really seemed to resonate with our customers. It was then that we realised we wanted to launch our own brand and scent became the focus.
WHAT WAS YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH?
We have 4 pillars to our brand and they underpin everything we do; Create, Curate, Collaborate and Community. As the business has grown and developed these pillars have become a sense check for any new launch, idea or store opening.
HOW DID YOU KNOW EARL OF EAST LONDON WOULD WORK?
We really did start at a grassroots level doing market research in Netil Market in Hackney. Before launching our brand we learnt a lot about our potential customers, the kinds of packaging they liked and the scents that resonated with them. So, when it came to launching our own line, we had a good idea of what would work.
Still to this day we burn test new scents in our shop before launching them, its a really good way to see whether or not customers like the scent.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE STARTING THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
This sounds very simple but just go for it. We know many people who have great ideas but want them to be absolutely perfect before they put it out there. Without testing the market you will never know if your product is something people have an appetite for.
In our first year we really went out of our comfort zone, we spoke to other business owners, we said yes to a lot of things to see how they would work out and it gave us the confidence to keep pushing our business.
Our other piece of advice is don’t start a business for an easier life. You will work all the hours under the sun to make your business work, and you will want to. In the end, you will reap the benefits but it takes a lot of dedication to get something off the ground.
DO THE TWO OF YOU HAVE A MENTOR?
We don’t have a mentor, but we have a lot of friends who are business owners and they have become our sounding board. We aren’t mentors ourselves but we do like bringing people in to the business who are building something of their own and hope that we can become a platform for their idea.
WHAT BOOK DO YOU RECOMMEND EVERYONE READS?
We are much more into podcasts and would highly recommend ‘How I Built This’ from NPR. It is so inspirational to hear the stories of some of the worlds biggest brands and there is a common thread amongst a lot of the stories, that they went for it and learnt along the way.
WHAT IS THE MOST WORTHWHILE INVESTMENT YOU HAVE MADE?
Time – We have sacrificed our weekends and evenings to build this business from the ground up whilst holding down full-time jobs. The lack of spare time has been challenging but it’s easier as a couple to do so.
WHAT ONE FAILURE ARE YOU GLAD YOU EXPERIENCED?
In the early days, we started working on events and we began working with someone else who we didn’t know that well, it became a real distraction from the core of Earl’s business.
We were overly trusting and it left us in a situation whereby we started to question the entire business and where we were going. Needless to say, we wouldn’t change that experience because we learnt a lot about ourselves and what we wanted. It also made us push even harder to make a success of Earl of East.
WHAT’S YOUR PLAN B?
We have a million and one business ideas, we just don’t have the time to do them all. The beauty of Earl is that it’s not just one thing, that’s even more apparent now with our bonds. stores, they have their own energy and are establishing themselves in the independent retail world. There are so many facets to the business that it feels like we are running plans A-D in tandem.
WHAT PIECE OF INDUSTRY ADVICE DO YOU OFTEN HEAR BUT DISAGREE WITH?
That you can’t hold down a career and build a business. We have chosen to do both and it has allowed us to grow the business much faster and without any outside investment. We have taken risks that we wouldn’t have done if we were solely reliant on our business.