05 Mar Start-Up Series winner: Bird Sunglasses
Company: Bird Sunglasses
Description: Award winning ethical & sustainable sunglasses & prescription frames. With a social purpose – ‘Sharing Your Sun’ – gifting solar powered lights to Africa for each frame sold.
Founders: Ed, Paul and Lawrence Bird
Can you tell me a bit about your business background?
Our founding team comes with a varied business background. I (Edward) founded the business with help from my two younger brothers in 2017 and up to that point had been leading one of the biggest education charities in the South West, this is alongside being a professional drummer and TEDx event organiser.
My co-founding brothers Lawrence and Paul both have business backgrounds in digital design, branding and illustration. Lawrence is well known for his brilliant branding and design skills, and has worked with international brands all over the world. Paul is the Director of Elixel, a digital creative agency. In 2018 Paul was named tech personality of the year and has helped establish Plymouth as a digital hub on the Tech Radar map.
Where did the idea for the business come from? Was there a moment or experience that made you feel a need for it?
I come from a creative family where everyone’s got skills in designing, making, tinkering with new ideas – for as long as I can remember, my brothers and I have wanted to turn one of our many creative projects into a business. I’m a drummer and had been working on a product idea for drummers in 2015, which was my introduction to the wonders of working with wood and other sustainable materials. I carried the learning from this project and saw a gap in the market for sustainable eyewear that was both beautifully designed and made.
What is the business’ USP?
Bird’s mission is to create eyewear which not only looks good, but does good, too. We create beautiful eyewear using sustainable materials, including FSC-certified wood, repurposed aluminium, and recycled packaging. Every pair purchased brings solar light to families in Malawi, Zambia and Uganda through their Share Your Sun partnership with SolarAid.
I knew right from the beginning that Bird was going to be a purposeful business. Our ‘Share Your Sun’ partnership with SolarAid came together very quickly, we pitched the idea to them and they loved it. This partnership is really unique and through the work of SolarAid, we can closely track the impact from our sales and the difference it makes. We’re proud to be the only sunglasses brand to have a solar connection. We recently worked out that in our first year of trading, we personally helped over 1,000 people in Africa in this way. This has been a real reason for celebration for our team, to do what we envisioned.
What has your experience with raising funding been like in the past? Had you ever tried to raise funding for this business (or another business) before entering the Start-Up Series?
We originally launched our brand with a small crowdfunding campaign in 2017, which was hard work at the time, but really successful. We were shortly after featured in Forbes, The Mirror and The Independent which gave us a huge profile boost as we started out.
Working in the education and charity sector meant I was used to raising funds through grants or benefactors, however this funding round is the first time any of us had embarked on any larger scale institutional investment. We spend a lot of time researching and putting our pitch deck together, and even longer pulling our complete business plan together. It was worth the effort and really helped us think about our strategy and purpose.
Why did you enter the Start-Up Series competition?
The Start-Up Series felt like a good fit for us. We liked that the platform was accessible and open to many types of businesses and it was clear that there was wide range of companies in the portfolio. This indicated to us there was a good level of experience and support across industries, just what you need for building a brand on and offline.
How did you find the application process?
The process was straight forward, though we spent a good amount of time thinking through the questions and applying ourselves to the context (something we would recommend to anyone answering questions like this).
How did you find the ‘deep dive’ with Worth Capital?
This was super helpful. Meeting with Matthew and Paul gave us the chance to turn those online answers into real life – revealing more of our personalities, products, back story and future plans. We came away from the deep dive with a mountain of useful ideas to think about, many of which we’re now outworking as we begin to scale.
How do you feel about winning the competition?
To win anything is encouraging, and for us this was the culmination of years of hard work, planning, refining and believing it was possible. So to be named as winner and receive investment is a monumental success for us. We’re very grateful to be in this position, because as brothers we’ve always wanted to work together, so it’s something of a dream realised.
A lot of businesses entered – what do you think made your business stand out and win?
We have an ethos of creating, not competing – because this is where real innovations are born and new ideas really stand out. We spent a lot of time creating the brand, taking our time to think things through and get the products right. In 2019 during our first year of trading, we won Frame of the Year at the Optician Awards (which is like the Grammy’s for eyewear). We were up against frames from huge international brands, but we like to think our frame stood out because we were doing something new and taking bold steps in a different direction. We hope this is the same reason for winning this competition.
What stage is the business at currently?
We’re now establishing a full-time team and bringing in experience where it’s needed. Bird HQ has opened a new office in Exeter and we’re getting busy creating, testing and building the foundations for growth.
What do you plan to use the Start-Up Series investment for?
Being able to implement a full-time team with support is a huge step for our capacity and productivity. We’ll be introducing augmented reality for customers to try-on frames on our website, along with some important streamlining of systems and opening new marketing opportunities.
Finally, what’s your ultimate vision for the business?
Our frames are designed for individuals who want to change the world and look good while doing it. Bird Sunglasses is committed to creating beautiful, thoughtful, ethical sunglasses that look great and do good.
We want to create a movement in eyewear and for Bird to be at the forefront of making innovative sustainable eyewear alongside making a difference through our Share Your Sun project. We’re thankful to be in this position and very excited about building the brand.