National Business Awards Entrepreneur finalist focus: Chris Li, Founder & CEO Bath Empire

Describe your background and journey into the business world
I come from an entrepreneurial background as my family ran their own restaurant and it was whilst working for them as a student that I developed a real appetite for having my own business. The company that I started by selling taps on eBay in my spare bedroom in 2006 is now at the forefront of an online transformation in the UK bathroom industry.

How did you fund your business?
After taking out several personal guarantees to fund the business in its formative stage, I have been able to secure loans from the bank on five separate occasions to help fund growth. In July 2013, I secured an £8.5 million investment by ISIS Equity Partners to allow continued expansion which will focus on a £5 million relocation of our company headquarters – more than five times the size of our existing base.

How are you managing the challenges associated with starting up your own business?
One of the biggest challenges I faced when I started my own business was being so inexperienced. At 22, I was faced with the dilemma of maintaining my own development as a young entrepreneur as well as managing a rapidly expanding business. Fortunately, I had a business mentor and have since appointed experienced heads of departments to enable the company and workforce to strive towards a common goal.

Can you give any advice to others starting up businesses?
My advice would be to have a clear strategy from the outset, primarily based upon thoroughly researching the market which will give you the confidence and the vision to put your business plan into action and reach your goals. As well as having a great idea, you also need the self-belief and the ability to turn a dream into a reality – and a successful one. I love Steve Jobs’ advice to “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish”.

How do you foster innovation throughout your business?
The innovative approach upon which the company was founded, namely the desire to keep reinventing the business by introducing new initiatives and product lines, continues to set us apart and fuel our growth. As a young entrepreneur, I am committed to providing employees with the opportunities, training and support to inspire them to build upon that foundation of innovation.

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