Hi, my name’s Neil Cocker, and my business is Ramp T-shirts.com.
Did you have a ‘day job’ prior to this? If so, what was it?
Not really. I’ve been very lucky to effectively self employed my whole adult life. I started a record label straight out of university, and have had a series of businesses since then.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Growing up in quite a rural area I sometimes worked on farms for pocket money. I once worked for a while in a cattle market. I had to be up at 5am, then spend a few hours herding cattle, sheep etc around various pens in a huge cattle shed, in the freezing winter cold. Getting pooped on was a daily occurrence. Then I would go home and get ready for school.
What gave you the idea of setting up on your own?
It was never really a conscious choice. There were just a bunch of us making music in Cardiff, and we decided to strike out on our own. We basically faked it until we, errr, maked it. And then one day we looked up, and realised that we were somehow running an award-winning record label, with a top ten hit, and were flying around the world at the weekends to perform. We never really made much money, though!
How did you manage to achieve it?
Naivety, ignorance, luck, and perhaps a little charm. We would make a MUCH better job of it now if we had our time again. We were just guys in our mid twenties, muddling through. But we all learned a lot, and it set us up for the various businesses and projects that we all run now.
How confident were you that it was going to work?
For that first business, the record label, it wasn’t a case of confidence. It was a case of just doing it because we loved it. With my current businesses, Ramp T-shirts and Dizzyjam.com, they came off the back of good customer research, and some much more cohesive planning. We’ve always known that we would be stable and profitable. But scaling it beyond that is the difficult (and ongoing) bit.
What has been/what is your biggest challenge?
Scaling a business is always tricky. Whether that’s a service business where you charge for your time and expertise, or it’s a tech startup, getting it to the point of generating either significant profits, or repeating growth, is always immensely tough. Getting from zero to one is hard enough. But getting from one to ten is usually a lot harder.
Don’t assume that a good idea is the same thing as a good businessneil cocker, ramp t-shirts
What have you learnt along the way?
Don’t assume that a good idea is the same thing as a good business. Just because you would use it, doesn’t mean anyone else would. There’s lots of research and iteration to be done before you get to a point of success. Most of my assumptions, that I thought were based on sound knowledge, normally turn out to be wrong. I wrote about how to avoid that here.
What has been your biggest achievement with your brand?
With the record label, Plastic Raygun, we had a Top Ten hit with one of our artists in 2001. With RampTshirts.com we created a really clever cold email campaign that garnered us with a lot of attention, a lot of sales, and is often called the best cold email of all time.
What has worked well for you?
Being open to meeting new people, and not getting too stuck with my head down working on the idea. It can be very time and energy-consuming to be speaking to potential partners and customers but, if you’re focused, it can reap rewards in the longterm. I’ve been guilty in the past on losing site of the business priorities in order to take more ‘interesting’ meetings, so try not to end up chasing squirrels’.
You can find out how to sell merchandise with no upfront costs online here
I’m much more interested in living an interesting, fulfilling life, that is full of exciting, kind peopleneil cocker, ramp t-shirts
What has not worked well for you?
Finding people in Wales who have relevant experience to act as advisors and mentors to help us grow. Unfortunately, there are very few people here that have been through the entire lifecycle of a successful tech startup, and are reinvesting their time and energy into the startup ecosystem. It’s why I set up Cardiff Start as a community, along with some others, and also why I’m offering free mentoring to early-stage startups.
Are you making more money than you did in your day job? Is that important?
I’ve never really had a ‘proper’ salary, so that’s difficult to answer. All I can say is that money isn’t a key motivator for me. As long as I have enough to be comfortable, I’m much more interested in living an interesting, fulfilling life, that is full of exciting, kind people.
You can find Neil’s website here.