Photo: Scott with Scottish Enterprise CEO Steve Dunlop at the Unlocking Ambition programme finale.
One of Scotland's brightest young entrepreneurs shares his tips for success with our teenage Orbiteers.
We sat down with Scott Dickson in a coffee shop to learn his story, and his words of wisdom for young entrepreneurs. Scott – whilst sipping on a green tea – reflects on his journey so far, and explains how he built his business without selling equity to investors.
Scott is the founder of Phox; a water filtration bottle that reduces plastic waste. “Our mission is simple: reduce single use plastic in consumer products” Scott states. “We want to prove that you can build a company in Scotland that saves the environment and generates a profit in the process.”
Scott’s entrepreneurial journey began in primary school. “I recall setting up a tuck shop for the teachers, and that first money making venture sparked a lifelong interest in entrepreneurship”. Scott studied at Larkhall Academy after leaving Primary School, however struggled with the rigid school structure. “I don’t like being told what to do and I prefer to be in control of my own affairs. I decided to leave school at seventeen – against the wishes of my teachers and friends – and enter an engineering apprenticeship”.
Scott, now 25, found that working for someone else wasn’t the best match for his entrepreneurial flare. “I liked making the products, but I hated the office politics and the bureaucracy.” He moved from engineering to sales and began selling loft insulation door-to-door. Within nine months, he was promoted to a sales manager.
“I enjoyed the thrill of making a sale” Scott reflects, “however my passion was beginning to fade and I knew that I had to make a change”. Scott believes that you find the answers as you go along, and there’s no point in working if you’re not passionate. Such thinking is reminiscent of Steve Job’s “connecting the dots looking backwards” philosophy which he shared during his famous Stanford address. “Moving jobs makes you more creative, and you’ll eventually stumble across something that you love” Scott adds.
Photo: Scott wins the Scottish EDGE funding competition. Scott has won over £150,000 in prize funding since starting his business in 2016. He said that prize funding “is a great way to grow your business without sacrificing equity”.
At just 19, Scott decided to “cut out the middleman” and begin selling his own loft insulation. “I finally found a way of controlling my destiny. I had the time of my life when running my first business. I recall feeling that “burning desire” state of mind, and I knew that I was cut out to become an entrepreneur”
Trouble was just around the corner. His supplier ran out of stock and the business ultimately had to halt it’s operations. “It was fun while it lasted”, says Scott.
Scott moved on to work for a utilities company and eventually launched his own utilities firm. He hired an employee, signed a broker partnership, and bought an Audi with the proceeds.
Again, trouble was around the corner. Scott sold 70% of the equity to a business partner and placed all of his trust in his partner. Eventually, tensions rose between the partners and Scott lost the business.
“It was gutting, but I learned that I had to maintain control over any businesses that I launched in the future”.
Scott launched Phox in 2016 after witnessing the harmful effects of single use plastic on the environment. “I wanted to tie a higher purpose to the brand, and by making a product that saves the environment we’ve found that consumers become emotionally attached to the brand”.
The Phox Bottle contains a water filtration device that purifies tap water. The bottle aims to reduce single use water bottles and plastic cups. Just under 1% of plastic cups sent to the landfill are recycled, and Phox aims to tackle this problem by offering a high quality reusable water bottle.
“We’ve managed to grow the business organically and the company has no debt or equity investment.” Scott’s strategy has been to use grant funding and award funds to finance his growth plans. He has won over £150,000 in grants and prize money which he invested into marketing and stock.
Scott purchases his stock from overseas and has built a sales funnel using Amazon and targeted social media advertisements. He reinvests the proceeds of each sale into ordering new stock – limiting the requirement for debt financing.
When asked what advice he’d give to teenage entrepreneurs, he said: “find your passion and don’t settle for a job or a business that you don’t like. Learn as much about what you’re doing as possible, and take advice from the programmes provided by Orbit when getting started.”
Photo: Scott and his team member, Paul, with the Phox water bottle.