60 second interview: Simon Middleton, Great British Banjo Co.

Posted on 17 Feb 2015 by Callum Bentley

The Manufacturer talks crowdfunding, the power of brands and local sources of supply with founder of The Great British Banjo Company, Simon Middleton.

Since the original Kickstarter for the Shackleton Banjo, you’ve extended into other products under the Shackelton brand. How important is managing a brand rather than a product to your business model?

Simon Middleton, Great British Banjo Company
Simon Middleton, founder, Great British Banjo Company.

Before I got into making instruments I was a brand strategist. I wrote books about branding and I’ve sort of influenced my own approach to my business.

When we started the banjo making, we needed a good story and the best British banjo story we could find was the story of Shackelton. We used that story to promote the factory and that project.

But what happened then was about 50% of the enquiries we got were from people who weren’t particularly interested in Banjos, but were interested in British manufactured goods and were interested in the Shackleton story. It was then that people started to ask “what else have you got?”

Can the ‘story’ strategy apply to more traditional manufacturing businesses?

I think it depends if the business is making for other businesses or if they’re customer facing – we are absolutely consumer facing.

Consumers don’t buy products, consumers buy stories, and that’s always been my philosophy. I think lots of other British manufacturers could follow the same path. In fact I wish more of them would.

Does the fact your supply chain is extremely local play a part in your success?

Actually I don’t think it has to do with Norfolk. The people who bought a jumper from us in Moscow and Portland, they don’t care about Norfolk or where I’m based. They care about two things; one, the brand and; two, it’s British made.

These two people, who are really good examples for us, they can tell their friends about this great jumper they’ve got based on the photo of a British explorer taken over 100 years ago, made by a small British company.

They’re not interested in Norwich or Norfolk or London or wherever, they’re interested in Britain.

How successful have your kickstarter campaigns actually been?

60sec Int GBBC PQAccording to Kickstarter we were in the top five per cent of successful campaigns. Of course there are some which have raised more money than we have, but the truth is with crowdfunding is that half of these campaigns fail.

Even of the ones that succeed, the majority of them are very small. We managed to raise nearly £50,000.

How confident were you going in to the crowdfunding domain? Did you have a fall back plan in case you didn’t pull it off?

The fall back plan is to sort of dust yourself off and start again another day. My plan is the same as Shackleton’s – if we don’t make it we’ll come home, dust ourselves off and we’ll try again next year. If I worried too much about failure, I wouldn’t have started a banjo company.

What advice would you give to a small company looking to do something similar with crowdsourcing?

Don’t go into Kickstarter unless you’re willing to work 15 hours a day at it. It is all consuming. You can’t just set it up and then go on with business as usual.

Great British Banjo Company StoryThe other bit of advice that you don’t necessarily have to seek crowdfunding in isolation. We are also seeking funding through traditional channels. We’re selling shares in the company to Angel investors.