Lessons Learned: Mark Chadwick, Founder and Director, Carbon Clear

SmallBusiness.co.uk asks an inspirational entrepreneur to share their experiences and offer advice for SMEs. With the benefit of hindsight, what do they wish they'd known when they started? This week it's Mark Chadwick, founder and director of carbon emissions management company Carbon Clear.

Companies offering the chance to offset carbon emissions by investing in environmental projects have begun to spring up with increasing frequency over the past few years – yet the focus has principally been on big business. Mark Chadwick founded Carbon Clear with both companies and individuals in mind, helping them to understand carbon emissions and to reduce their carbon footprint.

‘I started in the technology field, but I’ve always been entrepreneurial – but not necessarily with an environmental bent. As my partner says, I “got religion” and founded the company in 2005. In effect it employs capitalism to solve a problem, but that’s not our reason for forming, we have a genuine and deep sense of dread about climate change and when I had my first child I was thinking 40 or 50 years ahead to the world that I’m going to leave behind for her.

Keep it simple

‘The idea was very simple: to offer people the chance to invest in carbon-reducing projects around the world, which make tangible livelihood improvements to people in developing countries – some of the communities most vulnerable to climate change.

‘We managed to scale it down from a focus on large business to a focus on ordinary people too. It’s not always about taking an idea and making it bigger, sometimes you have to think the other way around. At first we came across a lot of scepticism but now the media are fully on board.

‘We tried to ‘bootstrap’ the project – getting by on the bare minimum – but really we were trying to work in a market that just wasn’t there. People would think, “What difference is giving just £10 going to make?”, without thinking about the fact that £10 is an enormous amount of money in the developing world; you can get a lot done on a small amount. We spent a lot of time trying to find our market, using focus groups and trying different product ideas and, in the end, the problem just seemed to be that the service wasn’t convenient enough – we needed to make it simpler.

Keep a broad focus

‘At that stage too, we were thinking solely about individuals. Companies were contacting us to see if we could help out, but we weren’t interested, which was clearly a mistake. I think we were so focused on our original business plan that we were not thinking widely enough. You should always remember that your plan will probably change – don’t be afraid to go down various paths. You can spend so long thinking about one angle that you end up in a kind of planning paralysis. I realised we needed to stop thinking about making sales and get out there and make them. My advice would be not to think of business planning as a substitute for actually doing business.

Be brave

‘Another tip is to focus on high-value customers from the outset. It can be terrifying, but the trick is to be as credible as possible and as up to date with your market as possible. If it comes off, you’re in a great position. Be expert, be accountable – it takes real front, but you’ve got to be brave and get out there and do it.

A problem shared…

‘Something I will never regret is finding a business partner to share those pressures with me, as well as complementing my own skills and experiences with his. We were both at the London Business School together and I knew that I didn’t want him as a competitor. Working with someone else can help to develop ideas and to give you a lift when you are low on energy. We both had more to gain by being collaborative and, in fact, as an industry that’s true as well. It’s a market populated by small and medium-sized companies, run by well-meaning, ethical people – if you can work together with other people in a mutually beneficial way, you should.’

Adam Wayland

Adam was Editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2006 to 2008 and prior to that was staff writer on sister publication BusinessXL Magazine.

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