Forging a successful path in the big-brand sportswear industry requires a unique selling point – something that makes you stand out from the crowd. For KYMIRA Sport’s founder Tim Brownstone, his startup’s USP was obvious: cutting-edge infrared technology. Incorporating the tech into a range of clothing was, at first, merely a university side project designed to raise funds for further research into the medical use of the infrared science.
As the business grew Brownstone saw he was onto something, and six years on KYMIRA Sport’s global customer base is testament to one of his central business beliefs: if you believe in something, go for it.
RSNG What inspired you to set up KYMIRA?
TIM BROWNSTONE, FOUNDER ‘I came across some NASA research when I was at University, which really piqued my interest in the science that eventually became the first technology we released at KYMIRA. In terms of what inspired the sportswear business specifically, I was a somewhat poor student finishing off my undergraduate degree and I was looking at the huge cost it would take to get the technology from where it was, to becoming clinically validated.’
‘I started thinking, is there a different way I can do this other than the traditional academic route of a PhD, which also involved huge costs? That's how I stumbled upon the idea that I could use the technology as part of a sports brand first, then I could reinvest some of that money into the medical research and we could use it to really help people, as well as enhance sporting careers.’
RSNG Could you briefly explain the science behind the kit?
TB ‘The technology captures wasted light in the surroundings and body heat from the wearer, and it converts that into a very specific region of infrared. That infrared light is then re-emitted back into the body, which penetrates 4cm and causes a number of chemical reactions which induce different biological effects. The accumulation of those different effects will either enhance performance if you’re wearing it during exercise, or accelerate recovery if you're using it post-exercise.’
‘When I took the plunge I learnt from scratch about textiles, how to design, and even the language’
RSNG You founded the company following five years of academic research – are extensive preparation and research key to the success of any startup?
TB ‘In terms of starting a business, I would actually say completely the opposite. In terms of the entrepreneurial side, I’ve always been a ‘get on and do’ type of guy. I've seen friends spend a year or 18 months reading books about how to be entrepreneurs, and they don't actually progress anything.’
‘There's only so far you can get by reading around your prospective business; eventually you have to take the plunge and start it. From January of 2013, up to when I took the plunge and incorporated the company in April, I was learning from scratch about textiles, how to design clothes, and even the language I needed to be speaking when talking to the people who were developing the fabrics. I had no idea about any of that beforehand!’
RSNG What are the main business lessons you've learned since KYMIRA was founded?
TB ‘One of the big things I try to do is trust the team I built around me. Astin, for example, is head of marketing and that doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to agree with everything he proposes, but I accept that he's better at me at that job, so I give him the freedom to be great at it. A lot of sole founders find it difficult to let go and relinquish some of the power, but I like to think I've always been quite good at that.’
‘At the start I also had the naivety to think all our customers would pay on time, so the first time a big invoice wasn't paid it was quite hard for us to cope. Finally, if you have aspirations to be a global brand, think big from the beginning. It’s far easier to implement processes when you have a small team than it is when you're a team of 50 or 100.’
RSNG How do you forge a successful path in such a saturated sports clothing market?
TB ‘It's actually easier to break into a crowded market that’s got lots of different competitors. Consumer behaviour shows that when there is lots of choice we shop around. In the early days when we had no marketing budget at all, simply by having decent SEO people were finding us, so that meant organic growth was fairly easy to achieve.’
‘In terms of directly competing, we have the unique technology which sets us apart, but we also target complementary areas of the market. The likes of Nike and Adidas, for example, are providing the tops footballers wear during games and the vests sprinters wear during competition, so we are going to compete for what they travel to the games wearing, or the kit they wear when they’re recovering. We are complementing rather than directly competing against the major brands – if we can carve out our niche that allows us greater operating freedom than if we went head to head with them.’
RSNG How do you keep your customers happy?
TB ‘By being the best we can be. Personally I really enjoy jumping on the KYMIRA info accounts and doing some of the customer support, because I love getting the time to interact with our customers. We are largely a customer-funded business, so it's thanks to our customers that the company is where it is today. If a customer gets in touch saying – and I stress this is a very rare occasion – the seam has gone on the top, or there's some other manufacturing fault, we will send out a replacement straight away, no questions asked, because that's our duty to them. Customer rapport is essential, and you have to be willing to hold your hands up and be honest with them, because that facilitates long-lasting relationships.’
‘If you've had an idea going round in your mind for years, that suggests it’s a good idea’
RSNG What three bits of advice would you give someone considering founding their own startup?
TB 1. ‘If you've had an idea going round in your mind for a number of years, that suggests that it’s a good idea and you should run with it.’
‘The only thing I would change if I could go back would be to have a co-founder. In some senses it is nice to be the sole founder, but ultimately that means it's you who's there on your desk crying at God knows what hour when it all goes wrong, and it can be very lonely in those early days. If you know someone who it makes sense to work with, get them involved.’
‘Once you have a team, you have to be completely transparent with them. One school of thought is that the CEO or founder should be going with a brave face every day to motivate everyone, but just like I'm honest with my customers, I’m honest with my team, because if something has gone wrong that's going to affect them, then they have a right to know about it.’
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KYMIRA Sport has just launched its enhanced running range – find out more at www.kymirasport.com