Fantastic business idea? Here's how to make it happen...

Campaign and YunoJuno are helping make entrepreneurial freelancers' start-ups a reality

The ad industry is filled with them, awards wouldn’t be won without them, and costs would soar if not for them. Freelancers; the fuel that keeps adland moving. It’s no secret that freelancers are a talented lot, and we’ve met a bunch who are pouring their skills into starting their own businesses.

Businesses that utilise new technologies, build products to make our lives easier, and change the way a traditional process is done. The diverse experience, adaptable flexibility and entrepreneurial drive of freelancers not only helps them pursue their ideas, but also brings them to life.

But launching a new business is never easy. Three guys from the creative and tech industry who managed it are the founders of YunoJuno – a platform through which talented freelancers and innovative employers can connect with each other in a direct, transparent and cost-effective way.

They built their entire product with input from the freelance community and employer network they aimed to serve. Four years on, their client base includes some of the most recognised companies in the industry.

Paying it forward with advice they wish they had access to when they started, YunoJuno and Campaign brought together freelancers attempting to make their start-ups a success, with a group of investment, marketing and legal experts, to talk about tackling key challenges, developing business plans and unleashing new opportunities.

Noel Leeman, 
freelance digital designer/2015 Sweet FA Freelancer of the Year, London 

Elevator pitch, please…

Crash London is a platform designed to provide a foot in the door for graduates breaking into London’s creative industries. It will provide a network of industry mentors to support them, and even find potential lodgings to help them find their feet.

How did the idea come about?
I helped a young creative who had an interview in London, but no place to stay. My wife and I put him up for a bit, and again when he got the job. We also took him out to drinks and events with people in the creative industry so that he could meet others in his field. He benefited hugely from it and I thought it could be rolled out on a bigger scale to help more people. 

Unless you know someone in London, getting that break is tricky. You just need to look at the hilariously overblown housing market. It’s going to squeeze out all but the well-off, resulting in less diversity, creativity and success for all. The case has been strong for a while now that more diverse organisations produce more divergent and innovative thinking. We want to ensure companies are finding the best people for the job, not just people who are able to live in London.  

How did the idea develop?
We’ve done a lot of research with people in the industry and the idea has changed and developed. Being a freelancer and working in lots of different agencies, I’ve found some test subjects who’ve given me positive feedback and some great ideas.

At first, our main expectation of Crash was that users could be put up in someone’s home, Airbnb style. We’ve decided to focus more on hooking people up remotely with mentors, sharing ideas, critiquing work and answering questions about working in the industry, rather than just finding a place to stay. 

The networking aspect of the idea is really valuable because you can spend time chatting with someone who can point you out to someone else… and eventually you build a network of your own.  We want Crash to be a one-stop shop playbook for people breaking into the creative industry.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
There are more young creative people who want to get involved than there are mentors. We need a lot to get the ball rolling. We need more industry help and sponsorship. So if you want to help change the face of creative industries as a mentor, get in touch.

Quality control is also hard; we want to make sure we get high-quality people coming through. Crash must be seen as a badge of honour. Sometimes things like this have a certain stigma attached – like a hardship fund for people who can’t afford to live in London – but Crash is almost a scholarship. People should think: "They are from Crash, that must be because they’re good."

We want to start working with tutors at universities to find the best students for this and actually control the number of young people who come into the system.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
There are always legal things in the way. The research phase we’re in is helping us work out what we’re doing and why. Prototyping things, and trying things out at a basic level first, are lessons I picked up working as a designer in start-ups. A common theme is that people build their things too quickly and don’t test them out before spending time and money. I’m being slower about these types of processes. We know that we’re adding value with everything we do and testing it all beforehand. 

What’s your next step?
Doing more events. I want to take over a Youth Hostel for a week and curate the space for networking events. We want more industry people aware of what we’re trying to do, as well as getting people we know and contacts at universities to try it out. The idea has the potential to grow outside just the creative industries, and also to grow outside London into a global platform.

Natalie Thumwood, ex-freelance creative producer; Dan Thumwood, Engineer, London 

Describe Harrison Ovens in a few words.
N Handmade, all-British, luxury, artisan, solid-fuel ovens. We’re small and family-run. My husband Dan builds the ovens and I am building the brand. 

What does success look like to you both? 
N We’re not interested in making hundreds of mass-produced ovens. We want to be able to keep our artisan, family-run, credentials. Success is also to be together – we’re married, and being able to forge a business together is amazing.

What has been the most surprising thing for you?
D That people love our ovens! Everything is created in a vacuum, so you don’t know how it will be received until you release it into the world. 

N The most incredible thing is all the international interest Harrison has generated. We’re very proud of the Britishness of the brand and it really does seem to shine through. 

D My background is engineering and Natalie’s is freelance creative production. It’s amazing how much she has soaked up over time about brand-building and strategy. 

N We are symbiotic. Dan builds, but can’t market, and I certainly can’t weld metal!

What is your advice to others?
N Stay freelancing while you are building the business. There is a time when you need to step off and be totally committed – just jump. 

How has being a freelancer helped you?
N When you move around freelancing you meet lots of contacts who help you. Great people in this industry love what they do, so seem to really enjoy helping start-ups. 

We’ve had help with the logo design, photography, retouching – that’s how we got a well-developed brand early on. Someone suggested a magazine that might be interested in doing a piece on the Harrison (Uncrate), so we sent them a press release. By the time we got home we had a full inbox, mainly from the US. Then other influencers got hold of us from there.

You are never stable and secure as a freelancer, so it’s not a big deal to take that bigger step to start your own business. You have always had periods of stop-and-start, and transition. I think it makes it easier to make that bigger step.

What’s your next step?
N Harrison Ovens now have Australian distribution, are currently appearing in GQ and Vogue and we’ve shipped an oven to New York for a shoot and full-page editorial in Elle Decor US. We’re working on a grill, extractor hood and bakeware range.

D We’re planning a "Grand Tour" to Australia, Dubai and the US for promotion. We’re also exhibiting at Best of Britannia in October. I’m developing a small Japanese robata grill and a bespoke extraction hood. 

N We’re moving down to Margate and buying a house with a shop-front and a cellar. We’re hoping to sell Harrison-branded bakeware and linens, as well as the ovens. The brand is potentially bigger than the product, so we’re brand-driven every step of the way.

Murat Korkmaz, freelance digital designer, London

In one sentence, what’s the big idea?
I’ve designed a communication app called Talkee. Users can send instant voice messages to their contacts through their phone or smartwatch.

Where did the idea come from?
The initial idea happened when smartwatches came out. My concept was to send and receive voice messages through your watch. The app came from that. I wanted to bring chat rooms into a modern era. It’s not a unique idea, but the design is fun, new and exciting.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
Speed of competition: keeping up is so tough. The way the tech industry drives forward is immense. My worry is that I might end up waiting too long before being able to release my finished app and competitors outclass it. 

But the competition is also good, because it proves that this is an emerging market and people are interested. When  another voice-messaging app, with more than one million users globally was acquired by Spotify, it only spurred me on more. 

Also, choosing the right people to work with is really hard; they need to be fully committed to the task.

What’s surprised you? 
Realising my potential. I always knew I could get where I want. I was hesitant at the start, but once I went for it, I was amazed at how much I achieved myself. Having a tough life has made me feel I have a point to prove – that anyone can do anything. Although I’m still trying to find more investment, I feel it’s a huge achievement.

How has being a freelancer helped? 
It’s given me time to learn my craft quickly. I’ve worked in about 30 agencies in a short amount of time and have learned so much. You also get to have better time management. When I leave a contract and have some freedom, I jump into the app and jump back into work any time I want.

Yuno Juno has also helped by providing a relaxing and simple way of meeting investors and mentors. I’ve found mentors through [its] Make It [programme] to guide me through legal issues. I’ve learned a lot about ownership issues, so now I’m going to protect my ownership as far as I can. 

What’s your next step?
I’ll be pitching the idea to find investment, and attending as many IT and tech events as possible to meet new people. A lot of tech apps are released too quickly and don’t perform perfectly – but I’m waiting for perfection before releasing my app. 

Give a nugget of advice for others doing similar start-ups.

Hone your tech know-how. Graft to get the perfect design, user experience and functionality; the most important factors. If you’ve got a solid idea, don’t be scared. The market is saturated but think above the rest; really test your idea with friends and family and see if they like it. What my peers said was very important. I wouldn’t have pursued it otherwise.

Choosing the right people to work with is really hard. When an idea is fresh, nobody, apart from the creator, knows what it can achieve.


What advice would you give the entrepreneurs?


Be clear who your target customers are. Think about their needs, how your product or service will make their life easier – and talk in their language. With all the fabulous tech innovation going on, it’s all too easy to fall into functional tech-speak mumbo-jumbo.

Find your most vocal fans, and have them become evangelists for your product or service. With social, it’s now easier than ever to spread great word-of-mouth – and it’s completely free.

Don’t give up trying to get through – to that key potential partner, that journalist, or that dream target customer. Don’t take the lack of response for lack of interest. People are busy, persistence pays off – keep trying.

Olivier Van Calster
Former marketing director, eBay UK


Identify a narrow segment to launch into in order to prove scalable and organic growth. Once you have penetrated that segment and created a product and/or service that serves their requirements, you can broaden  the target market you want to address. 

Be able to explain what your company does in a concise way, as well as effectively communicate what problem you are solving and why yours is superior to existing solutions. 

Always provide customers with the opportunity to give feedback so you can improve your product
or service, and communicate with your customers as often as possible. 

Natasha Ratanshi  
Principal, Piton Capital


Most of the legal issues you face have been experienced by others before you – follow market practice to save time and costs. If a start-up has more than one founder, be clear what will happen if one leaves. Defining the consequences at an early stage allows co-founders to agree on a fair solution and avoid problems later.

 A lot of early-stage companies use poor-quality template employment contracts. It makes sense to put
in place appropriate service agreements for founders and early employees. 

Investors will also want to know that a tech start-up owns the IP rights on which it relies. Anyone involved in developing IP on its behalf should be required to assign the relevant rights to the company.

Simon Leslie  
Associate, Taylor Wessing


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