Growth & Customers

Coming back from the brink of bankruptcy

Frankie Thorogood shares the mistakes he made with his multimillion-pound business TCA and how he used those learnings to launch Pott'd.

Frankie Thorogood

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Frankie Thorogood’s business journey started with the football snood craze. He couldn’t purchase one anywhere, so decided to start up his own sportswear brand where other football fans could buy them.

TCA soon turned into a company selling everything from snoods to compression shirts and other athleisure wear, and it became a multimillion-pound business.

However, one small oversight threatened to bring TCA crumbling down—Frankie was not on top of his cash flow and was buying more stock than he could afford.

After digging himself out of a £300,000 (€347,000) financial hole, he later went on to sell the business and set up his second venture, Pott’d, using all the lessons he learned from running TCA.

This episode explores the importance of branding, cash flow and how to stand out from your competitors on Amazon.

Here is all his unfiltered advice below:

How a football snood inspired the creation of TCA

Bex Burn-Callander:

So tell me, you’re a serial founder, but you’ll have to cast your mind back to the previous venture.

So your TCA days, it all started with a football snood, is that right?

Frankie Thorogood:


Yeah, I think it was one of the coldest winters on record in the UK and footballers started wearing snoods, so I went out to try and buy one for myself to wear at Sunday league, and I realised you couldn’t actually buy them anywhere.

JD Sports and Sports Direct didn’t stock them, and that was when I got the seed of the idea that, well, there must be other people as well as me that want to buy them and no one’s selling them, so let’s maybe give it a go.

Bex Burn-Callander:

So you had your finger on the pulse, you managed to source them yourself presumably, and perhaps started selling them before anyone else had cottoned onto the idea?

Frankie Thorogood:

Yeah, I’m sure I was the first person in this country definitely to be selling them. I still don’t know to this day where the footballers were getting them.

They must have had some overseas supply, but I was the first one to start selling snoods, and that business turned out to be obviously a bit of a craze, so it came and went quite quickly.

But it’s what got my foot in the door in business to start with and then obviously that kind of gradually became a sportswear brand.

Creating a range of products will help you to build a sustainable business and brand

Bex Burn-Callander:

Because you got into all different kinds of apparel. You had loads of different SKUs.

So how did you go from the one hero flash-in-a-pan product to actually having a range that people wanted to own the whole thing of?

Frankie Thorogood:

Well, I think it was pretty obvious to me that snoods were going to be a fad and a craze, and it wasn’t going to last forever.

And, in fact, what did eventually happen was the Football Association banned them, so footballers had to stop wearing them, which ironically turned into a huge day for sales because it hit the news, but the writing was on the wall for snoods from the start.

So I kind of knew that wasn’t going to be a sustainable business.

So as a person that loves doing sports, and I was playing football all the time, I was just kind of aware, I could see, basically, see footballers started to wear something underneath their jerseys, which was a new thing.

So when they would exchange shirts at the end of the game, they were wearing something underneath it. And it turned out that this was coinciding with the time of the rise of Under Armour in the US, and so I realised that if the footballers were wearing these compression tops, maybe that was something I could look into.

I hadn’t noticed any people in Sunday league wearing it or kind of amateur sports people.

So that’s where the next idea came from, and I thought, “Let me investigate compression wear, the benefits, and maybe I can kind of go there.”

And that was the next step.

And compression wear turned into one of our core product lines at TCA, and they still sell the compression stuff that I developed back then to this day.

You’ll need to pay suppliers before you have time to sell the stock—so don’t order more than your current cash flow can cover

Bex Burn-Callander:

So you build this sustainable brand, your gear is being rocked by these athletes, and you’ve got a big name out there.

So tell me how did it nearly all come crumbling down?

What was your flirtation with bankruptcy?

Frankie Thorogood:

Well, I think to simplify it, I didn’t understand the concept of cash flow.

And, to be honest, it’s still something I’m not that great with, but I, basically, had no idea this business was going really fast and whatever we developed and launched was selling. Customers loved it.

And I had to wrap my head around this idea of cash flow. I, literally, didn’t understand the concept.

So when things were going really well, I was like, “Okay. Let’s expand the range. Let’s launch 20 or 30 new products this year instead of the five that we’ve been doing because clearly there’s demand for what we’re producing.”

So we did.

We developed about 30 new styles, and I believe this was in the Q4 of 2017 when we were due to launch them. And they were great products, carefully developed with the team, so we were pretty happy with them.

But the problem was I hadn’t understood the concept that I would need to pay the suppliers back before I’d had time to sell the stock.

Honestly, it’s so simple.

It is embarrassing to admit now, but I’d managed to get this business to millions of pounds of revenue without coming up against this problem and all of a sudden, I wanted to supercharge the growth, launch all these products all at one time without any finance in place whatsoever.

This was just running off the sales cash flow of the business.

And, of course, it didn’t work.

And it got to the point where I was like, “Hang on a minute. I owe my suppliers all this money for stock that we’ve received, but I haven’t had anywhere near enough time to sell it.”

So it’s, pretty much, as simple as that, and that’s how we ended up in that mess.

Don’t leave it all to your accountants—make sure you are aware of the financial position of your business

Bex Burn-Callander:

Can you remember the day or where you were or how it all came unravelling?

Did you suddenly speak to your accountant, your FD or did you open a banking app?

What was the moment that hit you, and you were like, “What am I going to do?”

Frankie Thorogood:

Well, the thing is it comes on a little bit slowly.

There’s one supplier, say, invoiced you, and I’m like, “Oh, God, that’s a bit of a stretch. We can pay it, but the bank accounts are looking a little bit empty.”

And then the next one comes in, and you’re kind of then scraping the bottom of the barrel.

And eventually it dawned on me that this was a problem.

At that time there was, basically, no financial control in the business at all. And it’s just because it’s not something that I’m interested in or good at. I’m good at the other stuff,

I just hadn’t bothered to think about it enough.

So it wasn’t a single day, but it just slowly crept up on me, and I was realising that we weren’t being able to pay these people back and the stock wasn’t selling fast enough.

So it was at that point I started to reach out, and I spoke to my accountant.

At that point the accountant had really just been doing the kind of compliance work, like paperwork and submitting tax returns and stuff.

They weren’t actually overseeing the finances of the business and making sure something like this didn’t happen.

And I think, to be honest, it’s maybe a lesson for people listening is that, at least for me, I kind of thought my accountants, although they weren’t being paid much, they were, essentially, just doing, like I say, the compliance.

I kind of had this idea in the back of my head that maybe they would know, or maybe they would warn me if something was going wrong, but they weren’t paid to do that, and they weren’t doing it.

So that was a huge kind of oversight again by me.

And I think that maybe I was just sort of wishful thinking, “I’m sure we’ll be fine. The accountants might be on it.” They weren’t on it.

I was lucky to have a really great accountant that I was working with, and I went to her, and I said, “I think I’m in a bit of trouble. What can we do about it?”

And she was one of the people that really helped dig me out of the mess.

How to dig yourself out of a £300,000 financial hole

Bex Burn-Callander:

So how big a hole were you in? How much did you owe?

Frankie Thorogood:

I think it was about £300,000 (€347,000), what we ended up in a hole with, and so a huge amount. And the problem is once you need that money desperately, people don’t want to give it to you because you’re not a really particularly attractive borrower at that stage.

Even though we had a really healthy business, we had products, perennial sellers that, even to this day, are the top sellers on Amazon. We knew we had a good business.

Banks just don’t want to dish out money quickly and to fill that type of hole that we had.

So it was about £300,000 (€347,000), and I think we’ll come on maybe to the solution shortly, but it cost us a lot of money to unravel at the end.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I often hear this from entrepreneurs where it’s like the bankers only want to give you an umbrella when the sun is shining. When it starts to rain, that umbrella, there’s no sign.

Frankie Thorogood:

Get your umbrellas early.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Get your umbrellas early. Yeah, that should be the motto on every founder’s T-shirt.

So what did you do? How did you raise that kind of capital at very short notice?

And also how did you handle those conversations with your suppliers who were presumably left waiting for their money?

Frankie Thorogood:

Yeah, so this is quite a few things ago.

And so, I mean, the first thing is we had a great relationship with suppliers, and I used to visit them, which I found out since is a little bit unusual, especially if people mainly operate in the Amazon space, but I met my suppliers in 2012 and the company still works with them to this day.

So we built up a good relationship with them. I used to go and visit them at least once a year, usually two or three times, out in China.

So we had reasonable terms, although they weren’t good enough to allow for the mess that we were in, but we also had a good working relationship, a personal relationship with those guys.

So some of them, we were a trusted customer of theirs, they were kind of happy to just hang on a bit and trust us, and so that kind of bought us a bit of time.

There was so many people involved that helped get me out of that. I mentioned my accountant, Debbie. She then introduced me to Gary, who became the finance director of TCA.

And then Chris, who I’d recently hired as my COO, were kind of like three of the main characters that really helped me to understand what was going on and dig me out.

So they were kind of helping me actually put together a cash flow spreadsheet for the first time and work out what that all looks like. Then I spoke to every single bank under the sun to try and get some funding.

I borrowed money off of all of my parents, all four of them. I borrowed money from the bank. I pretended that I wanted to buy a car, so they gave me a loan for a car that obviously went straight to China to some invoices that were owed.

So I’d beg, borrow and didn’t steal, but I probably would have if you pushed me just to try and raise cash any which way I can. And so that was kind of how we did it.

And then that wasn’t enough.

The bank wasn’t going to move that fast to give us the trade finance that we needed, although they ultimately did, which we really needed to continue to grow the business anyway.

But we ended up selling, I’m going to say £600,000 (€695,000) worth of stock for about £100,000 (€116,000). So a half a million just written off to try and dig out this hole.

And it took years, took three years to actually unravel the mess.

Price is an indicator of quality, so discounts won’t always help to sell your stock

Bex Burn-Callander:

What, you just discounted so heavily to make sure people bought it just to get the turnover coming in?

Frankie Thorogood:

We learned quite a lot through this, aside from the basic things, but we did lower price, and it didn’t work that well.

And that’s one of the things that has actually influenced my thinking going forwards is that what we realised, ultimately, is that customers wanted to pay more for our products, not less, which is counterintuitive, but it was a very interesting lesson.

So we did discount. Obviously, that was a first thought we had. Didn’t really work. People just thought… I don’t know what they thought, to be honest.

But price is an indicator of quality and if you’re too cheap, you’re going to put, certainly, some customers off, and our customers care about quality so that was an interesting lesson.

In the end, by the time we sold the business, we raised prices like every three or four months. Slowly but surely, they were 50% higher than they had been before, and sales weren’t dropping off.

So we realised that we could actually sell our stuff for more money, which is another separate lesson.

But the way we actually offloaded that stock was we found wholesale buyers who were looking for sportswear for actually physical retail stores, and they wanted to buy in bulk.

And we built up a great relationship with a couple of them, and they got an amazing deal off us because they bought all of our stuff for some sort of crazy discount. But we had no choice.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Oh, that’s really interesting. But that’s better than going direct to the consumer with crazy discounts because then it’s really hard to raise prices back to the previous levels, at least not in one jump.

So that’s clever. You go to a wholesaler and then people still feel like they’ve got a decent deal, they make their margin, and you get some instant cash flow.

Ignorance is bliss and it will help you to keep your confidence from wavering

Bex Burn-Callander:

Frankie, you say you have four parents. I have to go back. How do you have four parents?

Tell me a little bit about that.

Frankie Thorogood:

Well, I think it might be beyond the scope of our conversation, but parents separated, new partners.

We’re all raised by all four and most of all just came in handy when I needed money.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Hopefully, they’re not listening to this show, “You only want us for our bank balance.”

No, I just had to ask.

Frankie Thorogood:

No, it’s fine. I did borrow money from all of them and significant amounts, which I didn’t appreciate at the time how much they were trusting me because I’ve now come full circle and people have asked me to help them out in a situation.

I’m like, “Are you kidding me? That’s a huge amount of money, which you may never see again.”

The funny thing is when we were doing all this, I was meeting with the banks and asking people for money, I actually was almost so ignorant and so naive of the depth of the problem that we were in, that I never lost faith, I never lost confidence that it would all be fine.

And it’s almost like that kind of ignorance, I guess, ignorance was bliss. It just gave me that confidence to go to people and say like, “No. You will get your money back. It’s a really good business. We just have a short-term problem.”

I think, ultimately, that really helped, not only with the friends and family. The family would have probably given the money anyway and just wrote it off because they love me, but the banks had to take a little bit of a risk on me, and I think it did help almost being so naive.

But I paid back my parents.

Entrepreneurs thrive in a crisis

Bex Burn-Callander:

But talk to me a bit about your mindset then because you’ve mentioned the positivity that you brought to the situation, which I think is amazing, and we can expand on.

But what were your feelings when you realised that you had spent all this time building this amazing business, and this one mistake, this one kind of silly oversight, threatened to completely unravel everything that you had made.

What was your emotional state like at this point? Did you have feelings of terror? Failure?

How did you feel at this point?

Frankie Thorogood:

I really think I’m the type of person, and I think a lot of entrepreneurs that might be listening could relate to this, but I thrive on a crisis. I love it.

When I’ve got my back to the wall and the odds are against me, to be honest, is when I perform my best. I kind of thrived on the challenge and I just said, “It’s time to knuckle down and go to work to solve this.”

And I really back myself in those type of situations where everything is on the line and, like I say, I’ve just got to knuckle down and go to work and turn it around.

And it’s also the times when other people would be keen to write me off is probably my motivation more than anything is to try and disprove people.

So that was kind of what the feelings were for me.

Underneath that I think if I’d had time to dwell and stew on it, it could start to become the less productive emotions of fear and just kind of like ruminating on what … Because I’d put so many years into the business at that point, it could all be coming to nothing.

I just think of my natural state as not to go down that negative route, and it’s just to, like I say, come out swinging, try and solve the problem. So that’s kind of how it played out in my head really.

Be an agent of your own destiny—if you can get yourself into the mess, you can get yourself back out

Bex Burn-Callander:

And when you say, “Back yourself,” do you mean just having faith in your instincts and trusting that you will be able to work it out?

What does back yourself mean?

Frankie Thorogood:

I think I’ve got what they call in psychology, an inner locus of control, which, again, I think a lot of entrepreneurs probably need this to be successful, but that means that I feel that I am responsible for what happens to me, whether it is good or bad.

And so I felt responsible for creating the mess that I was in, and I also felt that I was in control of being able to turn it around.

So I think it’s a natural innate, something I was either born with or developed early on, it’s just that inner self-confidence. And I’m not like that with everything, but I do think whether I win or lose, I always feel like it was in my power to do so.

And I think, as a general rule, it’s probably quite a good place to be.

Although the flip side of that is you can start to think that you need to control everything, or you need to do everything, and you start to struggle with things like delegation. And maybe sometimes things aren’t directly down to you, and they were good or bad, but you might take responsibility for it.

So it’s a double-edged sword, but I think the good side of it is what helped me out in this case.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s really fascinating, and I think a lot of people listening will, as you say, identify with that feeling and that feeling of being an agent of their own destiny and being able to steer the ship one way or another.

How to make your brand multimillion-pound seller on Amazon

Bex Burn-Callander:

And you did steer this ship soundly in the end and TCA became a multimillion-pound brand on Amazon where it can be extremely hard to stand out from competition.

Especially in something like sportswear where I don’t even want to imagine how many different shops and Amazon itself selling all these different types of sportswear.

So how did you do it?

Frankie Thorogood:

So I think the Amazon piece is quite interesting, and I actually did a presentation on this at an Amazon event last week and it kind of forced me to go back and investigate the story and what I had done a bit more.

And I think the way I was able to be successful on Amazon, ironically, was to do, pretty much, the opposite of what every other single person who tries to be successful on Amazon will do.

So by way of example, I didn’t turn up to Amazon thinking I want to sell something and make money on Amazon.

What my mission was, was to create a world-class sportswear brand that just happened to be selling on Amazon.

Bex Burn-Callander:

What does that mean?

Frankie Thorogood:

Well, I think Amazon is a marketplace, right? That’s what it’s called. It’s called a marketplace.

And when you think about the term marketplace, imagine a marketplace in the real world that’s not on the internet. What is a marketplace?

It’s basically somewhere where almost anyone can turn up and start selling whatever they want, and they tend to go towards lower quality products because of that reason because there’s a very low barrier to entry to turn up and sell in the marketplace.

My instinct was everybody is shopping on Amazon, and they actually want to buy good products.

They don’t want the cheapest thing, and so if we can create, like I say, a world-class sportswear brand with incredible products that we spent months and months, sometimes years, developing and designing, and we put that into the Amazon Marketplace where everybody else is playing a price game and selling low quality things we might just clean up, and we’ll be the outstanding brand in that context.

So that was what turned out to be a bit of a USP with the business, was a focus on great products, focus on a great brand, and just taking that and putting it into a context where that was actually quite rare.

How to communicate quality and stand out from competitors on Amazon through your copywriting

Bex Burn-Callander:

How do you communicate that on Amazon though?

Because you’re presented with this very sort of anodyne shop window, and it’s very hard to stand out because, ultimately, you have to just show a picture of what you’re selling, and you’ve got limited space.

So how do you communicate quality, especially if people are searching, and you just see all these little icons, all these little different versions of things?

So how did you do that?

Frankie Thorogood:

Yeah, good question. I mean, it changed over time.

So back in 2012, the Amazon Marketplace was very in its infancy, and you actually got very few tools to play with. So you had, basically, a product gallery and some bullet points and a title, so very constraint.

But even within those variables, I was able to convey to the customer that they were buying a great product with a team behind it that had thought about what they were selling, and they weren’t just churning out cheap rubbish.

So it’s small things, but my background is in marketing. Before I started TCA, I actually wanted to go into the advertising industry and that’s because I love working out how to communicate to customers, which is what advertising is to me. So it was tiny things.

In the bullet points it was a tone of voice and the copywriting, which I did all myself and I still do now because I still think that that’s something unique that I can bring to the table.

So writing in the right tone of voice, it would stand out from maybe a competitor that’s just listing some features in a very direct way and there’s no kind of emotion behind it.

One of the simple things I did was just naming the colours of the product. So we would have, let’s say, a compression top in the early days that was blue, red, black, and yellow.

So I spent hours, probably too long in hindsight, thinking of what shade of blue that represented to me and what I would like to label it to a customer.

I can’t remember what’s a good example now, but there’ll be a cool name for a blue colour and there’d be a cool name for the red so weren’t just these obvious primary colour names.

And that speaks to customers. They understand that you’re working with a real design team it’s kind of like a brand that’s got some thought behind it.

So even in the early days, 2012, when all you had was pictures tied to bullet points, we could still stand out. The product imagery, of course, we spent hours on just to make sure that the lighting was correct, and we would show off to its best ability.

And it takes a little while because you might not be the cheapest product on there, but once you start to get a couple of sales, and you get what we got, which was rave reviews because the product they got was so good, you can slowly but surely rise up the rankings.

And that’s how we did it.

Starting with a great original product will get you good reviews

Bex Burn-Callander:

And that’s it. You can’t fake reviews. Basically, you have to have a good product because otherwise you will get slaughtered in the reviews and there’s just nothing you can do about that.

Frankie Thorogood:

Yeah, absolutely.

And, I mean, we’re talking about Amazon specifically here, and it is more relevant. Like reviews are your lifeblood of your business on Amazon, but if you start with a great product, you don’t actually have to worry about getting good reviews because everybody likes what you’re selling, and we never had to worry about it.

We’re always looking over our shoulders worrying about negative reviews and whether our rating was going down to four or three, it was never an issue because we knew the product was great.

And so I say to people starting a business specifically on Amazon, don’t fall into the trap of just finding something to sell. To me, that’s running a business backwards.

Don’t turn up to Marketplace and say, “What can I sell?” That’s crazy.

You need to work out what customers need that they don’t currently have and then put the work in to make a great product and kind of the brand bills itself.

Bex Burn-Callander:

We had a seller from Amazon, her company is Gamely Games, and she said, “I don’t understand why people go with a me-too product to Amazon. Then you’re in a race to the bottom from day one.

“You need an original product so that no one else is selling what you are selling, and then you can choose your price point, and you build in enough of a kind of buffer there that Amazon can take what’s theirs, and you still have a decent margin otherwise it’s impossible.”

And that resonated with me.

And that’s clearly the path that you took as well.

Frankie Thorogood:

Yeah, exactly. Like I say, it was, “I want to build a sportswear brand. There’s this thing called Amazon, which makes it really easy to get your product in front of customers.”

So that’s how I did it.

And it’s only with hindsight that I can see that that was really the opposite of what almost everyone was doing on Amazon at the time.

And to be honest, still to this day the question I get is, “How did you find what to sell?”

I’m just like, “What are you on about?” This is really not the way to run a business.

I mean, to be honest, some people might be good at that. Maybe they can, and it’s all game in the system but, for me, it’s make a great brand, make a great product, put it on Amazon because that’s where the customers are.

How Covid and mental health challenges inspired Pott’d

Bex Burn-Callander:

So speaking of make a great brand, make a great product, your new business is Pott’d.

So tell me where you got the inspiration for that. It’s a massive step away from sportswear. So how on earth did you come up with the idea for this venture?

Frankie Thorogood:

Lockdown was very helpful actually for me to get the headspace to prepare TCA for sale just to kind of close that off because that’s when we ended up selling.

It was right in the heart of Covid and being able to work from home and just having a bit more space to myself and less interaction with the team really gave me the space to actually go and sell that business.

And 18 months prior that TCA was valued at less than a thousand pounds by a business broker and 18 months later it was a multimillion-pound exit. So Covid was quite helpful for me in the sense it gave me the time and space to think about that.

Then, of course, it changed everyone’s lifestyle, so myself included, a lot more time in the house. And, unfortunately, what I found was I would fill that time with screens.

And so it came to the point where me and my girlfriend, we sat on the sofa, this is after work hours, and we’re both hunched over on separate sofas, scrolling our phones with the TV in the background, and I just thought, “This is not how I want to spend the rest of my life. It is not a good use of my time.”

I could feel the negative effects on my mental health. And I’m a creative person and I wanted to do something creative.

So we decided that we’re not going to do this anymore. And we started to experiment with different types of craft products because that was obviously a great thing to do in Covid at home.

And we tried various bits and pieces and the one we liked most was air drying clay. And, basically, that’s where the idea came from.

I thought to myself, “Well, I know that TCA is going to be sold in a few months,” because we were on that process.

And I thought, “What am I going to do afterwards?” I’ve heard a lot of stories about people that put their heart and soul into a business for years, and they sell it, and then they’re just depressed afterwards.

And I thought, “I really don’t want that to be me, so why don’t I start a little side hustle with this air-drying clay and that will keep me busy when TCA has sold.”

So that’s kind of how it got started. That was the inspiration. And like I say, it really just started as a little bit of a hobby on the side, really started from scratch.

We were cutting up blocks of clay on the kitchen table, wrapping them up, posting things out. It was kind of like back to day one of TCA again. But that’s how it all came about,

Bex Burn-Callander:

But did it very quickly mushroom from this tiny little side hustle type venture to being something that was a bit more… Had legs?

And how quickly did that happen?

Frankie Thorogood:

So, yeah, it did. I mean, we started off very small, 50 units of this thing.

Like I say, we were, literally, chopping clay ourselves, so it’s kind of like labour-intensive, but they sold well.

And then it is, literally, like the same as the snoods. That sold. Let’s order some more and sell some more.

And it just kind of started ticking over and growing and growing until it became obvious that there was at least a reasonable size business in this.

TCA got sold. And, to be honest with you, I wasn’t actually feeling in need to run a new business as I predicted. I was quite happy to just spend time in the gym and just relaxing and doing other stuff, but Pott’d kept going, kept going.

And then probably six months after I was like, “This is a really serious business now. There’s an opportunity to do something special so let’s now start to invest the time in it and see what we can do.”

Don’t rely on one hero product—slowly expand your range

Bex Burn-Callander:

But I noticed your approach with Pott’d is a bit different because when I looked at the website, very simple, only one particular product for sale at the moment.

Are you planning to sort of branch out or are you going to keep it very simple, very pared back, concise?

Frankie Thorogood:

So I think one of the issues, I guess, with TCA, which was the sheer number of products that we had and that did kind of come up in the sale process, and it’s like people were saying, “How do you manage so many?”

To us, it didn’t seem like a big deal, but it did make me think, “Okay. Maybe it’s better to have a bit of an 80:20 principle where we don’t have to spread ourselves so thin over so many products.”

So Pott’d is great because we have the one kit which is doing really well. I don’t think one product makes a business, or very rarely. People’s tastes might change, so anything could happen really. One product is too much to be pinning all your hopes on.

So at the moment we’re developing other products in the space, which is kind of like a new space that we’re defining as a creative activity space. And so I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t expand the brand and expand into more products that kind of hit the same points for customers that Pott’d did.

So it’s about encouraging creativity and being good for your mental health and ideally being able to share it with someone else, whether it’s a partner or friends.

So at the moment it’s the one product that’s doing most of the work for us, but this year we’re launching three or four more, what I think are amazing other products in the similar space as well.

Finding a timeless product

Bex Burn-Callander:

I love that you say, “Share with a partner.”

I’ve got this vision of all these people across the nation with their Ghost moment with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze having their Pott’d kit.

But you said that it was, “A hit with customers.”

But how are people finding you? Are these fans of the TV programme The Great Pottery Throwdown? Has there been a big clay pottery revival? Have you been riding that wave?

Frankie Thorogood:

It’s a good question. To be honest, we’ve not taken a step back and looked at it on a really macro level what you’re talking about there. Is pottery or is air drying clay a huge wave at the moment?

We’ve not actually looked at that as in terms of a macro trend.

A lot of people ask me, “Maybe this was a lockdown thing?” It’s not. People still want to do creative activities as we call it now when they do have the option to go out.

So I don’t know on that level whether there’s a pottery revival, but I do think people are more conscious of mental health, they’re more maybe cost conscious as well.

And Pott’d is very affordable and a great value product. Like I say, you can do it with two or even four people with one kit, and it’s kind of hours of entertainment.

So I think that doesn’t really change. People want to be creative. They like to get into a flow state, which is extremely easy when you’re working with your hands, that’s a scientifically proven thing.

Working with your hands gets you into a flow state, people like that. Do more creative stuff and kind of bonding.

So what me and my girlfriend found as well was it’s just like you can sit there, and it’s actually different sitting shoulder to shoulder with someone as opposed to maybe opposite somebody, and you’re working on your own thing together with your clay, and you can just start to talk more and open up a little bit more, and it’s this beautiful bonding that happens, and it can happen with a friend as well or family member.

So I think all of that stuff is kind of timeless, and I don’t think people will stop wanting that anytime soon. So again, that’s why we got the confidence to launch these other products which had nothing to do with clay because they hit all those same kind of points.

Is it important for people to understand your brand name?

Bex Burn-Callander:

Can you keep the same name? Can you still have everything under the Pott’d brand or are you going to have to do a radical change there?

Frankie Thorogood:

No, we’re keeping the name Pott’d, and when it’s not a pottery product it won’t make sense, but I don’t think it matters and I don’t think anyone really cares.

And, basically, at TCA I remember I worked with a guy called Peter. He was actually the creative director of Under Armour at one point, and he came and worked with me on TCA.

And I remember saying to him, “Oh, the brand name, I don’t know whether we should change it, or could we really expand with this because it kind of doesn’t mean what it used to mean?”

And he said to me like, “Anything can be a brand.”

And I thought, “Oh, my God. You’re right.”

Look at Under Armour. I mean Under Armour is probably one of the worst brand names ever invented. Under Armour makes no sense on a pair of trainers. It sounds like underarm is too long.

People spell armour differently in different countries. There’s just so many things wrong with it and yet it’s a top three sportswear brand in the world.

So I think it doesn’t matter what the brand is called. I think this is what Jeff Bezos says, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

It doesn’t matter what the name is.

Amazon’s a terrible brand name. It’s about the value and the equity that you build up into through everything you do and your products and how you interact with customers.

Bex Burn-Callander:

What does TCA stand for, by the way?

Frankie Thorogood:

Yeah, so I kind of regret bringing that up because that was a question I hate getting.

So originally it was Total Compression Advanced because it was compression wear that we were doing. We changed the meaning of the name to Thorogood Competitive Apparel, so it could be broader than just the compression clothing.

But ultimately, TCA is the brand and that’s what people know it as. And, like I said, it kind of doesn’t really matter. People know what the brand stands for in their minds and in their experience.

So it turned out not to be a problem and I think the same will be true for Pott’d as well.

Relinquishing your business can give you a fresh start to try something new

Bex Burn-Callander:

Do you still watch TCA like a hawk? Do you still go on Amazon or do you still look out for how the brand is going down here and around the world?

Is it possible to ever really let go when you’ve put so many years of your life into something?

Frankie Thorogood:

Well, I did wonder but, for me, it actually came as a relief to be able to let go of TCA. And I think maybe it comes back to that kind of inner locus of control topic that we were talking about before.

But I’m one of these people that I’m kind of 100% obsessed with something, or I’m not.

So it had come to the point with TCA where I actually had an urge to go and explore other things in life, hobbies and different types of products and brands I had ideas for, but I couldn’t do it with TCA still under my control. I had to be all in on TCA.

So it became a real relief to me to be able to relinquish it and have a clean break and say, “You know what? I’ve done my part on this now, and it’s someone else’s job to take the journey further.”

So from that perspective, it was a very good thing for me to sell the business and the team stayed on after the sale, so I knew it was in good hands and I did get updates and I heard about things they were doing.

They launched some amazing new products which I probably wouldn’t have done, and they had a different leadership, so they went and explored those new products in kids’ sportswear, which I think is some really awesome stuff.

So I was really happy with how they took it on, and the only bad news was that whenever I need new things, I actually have to go and buy it now a normal person.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Well, you don’t get a founder discount.

Frankie Thorogood:

I think the founder discount has run out now. I, literally, have to go on Amazon and order things.

The future for Pott’d and working with mental health charities

Bex Burn-Callander:

And that point about moving on to new things: so you’re still young, is Pott’d your swansong venture?

Is that going to take you to the end of your days, or do you have loads of other ideas that you are desperate to bring to market at some point?

Frankie Thorogood:

Yeah, I think a lot of my ideas are around the creative activity space that we’re doing with Pott’d.

We talked about mental health a little bit and creativity. Those are two of my passions and I guess my core values.

So Pott’d, it is a very successful brand, but I also would like to see an impact on another level as well.

So, for example, with Pott’d we work with a charity called North London Cares, which is helping older neighbours in the area who are struggling for a social connection, and the charity brings those people together for activities and stuff.

So I started volunteering at some of those, and I said, “Well, how about we do a clay pottery night?” And so we did. We donated all the clay, and we went in and taught these guys how to use it and I think people had an amazing time, and it was a real hit.

So we’re continuing to do that type of work with North London Cares, and I want to start working with some other mental health charities as well.

So I’m excited about that for the future of Pott’d is to make an impact outside of just the business which, to be honest, is kind of a strange thing for me to even say. It doesn’t seem like me, but it’s something I’m passionate about, so I think that’s driving me forward.

And then, no, I don’t think Pott’d will be my last business. It might be my last physical product business for a while. I’m not sure.

It’s something I do know how to do, but I’d be keen to learn how to maybe do a different type of business model in the future.

And I think I’ve got personal projects that I want to work on, like writing and other creative pursuits, so they might turn into business as well I’d imagine.

Fighting absurdity with absurdity

Bex Burn-Callander:

It’s interesting how as a leader, as an entrepreneur, as a human being, obviously we always evolve and our motivations change, our goals change, so it’s good to leave some space for that to happen.

But Frankie, I have one more question for you and I can’t resist asking you this: I saw on your LinkedIn the quote on your pages, “The best founder and CEO of all time.”

And there’s like a list of the awards every year and then into your future, into perpetuity, “The best founder and CEO of all time.”

Tell me about that.

Frankie Thorogood:

I mean, I don’t know if you spend a lot of time on LinkedIn, but it is full of garbage. It is just full of it and I haven’t got time for that type of stuff, people really beating themselves up, going on about how great they are, these awards.

I mean, that joke about the best CEO was because I went on someone’s profile who was trying to help me sell TCA at one point and his profile had like CEO of the year award.

I was thinking, “Who’s giving out CEO of the year? And who are you? I’ve never heard of you. You’re not CEO of the year.”

You know what I mean? It’s just ridiculous.

So I just don’t have time for that stuff on LinkedIn. So I think I just deal with the absurdity of existence by shoving absurdity down existence’s throat, I guess.

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Want to know more about Frankie Thorogood, Pott’d or TCA?

You can find out more on Frankie on his LinkedIn.

For more on Pott’d, check out their website or drop them a follow-on Instagram.

And you can check out the TCA website.

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