BUSINESS SHOW: Growing fast with a small team

Matt Lumb, CEO of Tangle Teezer, speaks with Hunter Ruthven, editor of at the Business Show in London’s Excel.

Tangle Teezer is a detangling hairbrush brand, gained some publicity at Dragon’s Den. The brand is based in London and is a worldwide success.

The brand puts a lot of their success down to functionality – they have a great product that works. They don’t spend money on marketing because world of mouth and organic growth has been so strong. They started exporting pretty much from day 2, and scaled up very quickly for a small business. The brand no longer considers itself a small business – they are a household name for the UK. However, it does believe it still has huge potential for further growth.

If you have a product as opposed to a service, exporting rapidly is difficult. Most people have a budget to work to and for small businesses this may not go a long way. A huge chunk of Tangle Teezer’s initial budget went on international Intellectual Property procedures. This is key as once a product is on the market that’s it – you can’t retrospectively apply for the IP. The company’s goal is to be a market leader in every territory and critical to that is finding decent partners and distributors in each country. In a lot of cases they chose start-up distributors, a different one for each region, as it meant it got a great deal of attention rather than an established brand focusing efforts across 30 or so different brands.

Tangle Teezer is used by the government as an example fairly often of what can be done with small businesses at an early stage to get exporting. Small businesses are held back by a lack of knowledge about exporting so it’s really key to get your homework done. UKTI is there to help and Tangle Teezer used them from a very early stage. Getting out there to export will seem intimidating, but there’s a lot of help available and it’s important to remember that every brand makes plenty of mistakes, you just have to try not to make the same ones twice.

Tangle Teezer tries to keep the supply chain as short as possible. This means that if there’s an issue it is easier to pinpoint it and address it. They manufacture the brushes in the UK which is an excellent way to ensure that if there are any hiccups a higher-up can be down there to quality-check in no time at all – rather than having long flights ahead of them.

The made in GB tagline makes a difference in a lot of countries – perhaps not so much in the US, but in a lot of places it’s a great mark of quality. For some products it may be drastically cheaper to manufacture elsewhere, but this is not the case for Tangle Teezer so they have chosen to keep it all UK-based.

For what it is, Tangle Teezer has a relatively small team. When it comes to hiring it has been pretty organic. One of the main things to look out for is getting the right people on board that value your brand and keep the culture of the company. Growing too fast and hiring too many people risks destroying this culture and it can have a huge influence.