We recently sponsored The President’s Young Entrepreneur 2019 award at this year’s Sheffield Chamber of Commerce annual dinner. We were proud to sponsor the award and feel Tom’s inspirational story should be heard. As such, we sat down with him to find out more.
Firstly congratulations on winning the award Tom. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Lincoln but moved to Sheffield to study Economics at the University of Sheffield. Towards the end of my first year I started Plastic Phobia, a distributor of eco-friendly products, such as bamboo toothbrushes and steel drinking straws. I worked on the business during the following summer in the evenings while working in finance at a charity in Lincoln during the day. By the start of my 2nd year at university, we had an overwhelming demand from retailers for our services and I decided to leave my course in favour of growing Plastic Phobia. One year later and we supply well over two hundred retailers and have premises in Manor Top, Sheffield.
What was the inspiration behind Plastic Phobia and what prompted you to set up your own business whilst studying at university?
I’ve always been passionate about environmental issues but never did much about it until one day in my first year at university. It was the morning after a student party and I went into the kitchen to find a mess of spilt drinks and plastic straws. Someone had washed a plastic straw to re-use it, which is good from an environmental perspective, but it was chewed up and gross! A flatmate then mentioned the existence of steel drinking straws as an alternative and I thought ‘that’s brilliant, everyone should have one of these’.
Despite the hangover I went straight to the laptop and assessed the current availability of steel straws. They were quite rare but there were plenty of factories who could make them. I saw this as a business opportunity that would benefit society and one that couldn’t wait so I got to work immediately.
Where does your drive to succeed in business originate and have your motivations changed as your firm has grown and developed?
There’s a drive in me to do big things that help humanity. Originally growing up I wanted to be a doctor but realised I could serve huge numbers of people through enterprise. I’m passionate about the environment and the idea of Plastic Phobia gave me the opportunity to do something about it.
I do have a personality where I get obsessed easily and for me the key was learning to channel that desire into enterprise. Once I’ve set my mind on something, I go to the extreme to make it a reality because what’s going to stop you? There are no limits when you start a business. The main drive is simply to do great things that influence the lives of millions.
My visions have got bigger and bigger as the business has grown as I realised how many opportunities are out there but I think the motivation has been consistent. There’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing your actions make other people happier and more prosperous.
Why do you think the company has resonated with clients and other businesses so successfully?
From the start we have focused on customer service. Nothing annoys me more than a customer having a bad experience! Whether it be an order delayed or a parcel damaged in transit, we take corrective action to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Friendly and efficient customer service is a value we pride ourselves on.
Trust between us and the retailers we supply has been key too. We are an environmentally friendly company and our customers are eco-friendly retailers. There is a lot of greenwashing out there. We do the hard work for our customers in researching supply chains and products to ensure they match our community’s green values. Our customers know they can trust us to do this research for them.