5 mins with…Tobias Kormind, co-founder & MD of 77 Diamonds

We chat to Tobias Kormind, co-founder and MD of diamond jeweller, 77 Diamonds. Tobias tells us how, even online, he builds a relationship with his customers and takes them through a journey at an important time in their lives.

Please explain who you are, what your business is, and what it does/aims to achieve?

77 Diamonds is a modern diamond jeweller. We offer fine bespoke jewellery at affordable prices. You can choose from the world’s largest selection of diamonds on our website, or come in for a tailored one-on-one appointment with an expert either in Mayfair or Manchester. Our fine jewellery is made to order and comes out of our own workshop in Mayfair.

What is your favourite part of your job and what is your least favourite part?

My favourite part of the job is getting great feedback from our customers. Usually it’s feedback on the product and service, as well as a romantic proposal story, which reminds us that what we do contributes to important – even transformational – events in our customers’ lives.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

Post the bubble busting, I worked in tech and online marketing and as my sister had married into a diamond family, I helped a few friends to get their engagement rings and when I saw how amazed they were at the value compared to prices on the high street, I realised the demand was there. I seized the opportunity to fill a massive gap in the market and create something new. We decided to wrap the business around the new emerging customer, rather than fit them into a traditional peg.

How did you fund your business?

We are self-funded, having grown out of our loans from the directors and own cash flow. That path has been very tough and something I would go back and change if I started over today.

What has been the biggest challenge for your business?

It’s always been execution. With limited resources our plans have always exceeded our capability to execute, which has been highly frustrating at times. Being able to control our destiny has come at a cost, and we have watched some of our American competitors who raised many rounds of funds grow much bigger than us (albeit in a much bigger market). But in the end, we provide a better more personalised offering, rather than a large call centre, and our customers are able to build personal relationships with our team and come back for further purchases as they pass through life’s journey.

What do you feel are the biggest obstacles to growth for SMEs in the UK?

A lack of finance. By the time a bank is willing to lend, you usually don’t need the funds anymore. Institutional funds want an arm and a leg. There are no real investors filling the gap for SMEs that need funds.

Have you made any mistakes along the way and how did you overcome them/learn from them?

It’s not a question of if we have made mistakes, it’s a question of how many, how big and how easy they have been to correct. I already mentioned taking in investment. The others have been not focussing early enough on scalability projects, instead waiting for them to cause back-logs before tackling them. Despite massive automation, I still feel our systems are too manual, but it is a never-ending task.

What previous experiences have helped you in starting your business?

I was fortunate enough to come from a finance background, so instead of being just a creative with ideas, we were able to grow the business with realistic expectations of cash flow, margins, and profitability. Having also founded an online marketing agency, an early understanding of online marketing and how to efficiently promote a brand online was a great help.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start their own business?

Focus on IT, accounting, and don’t skimp on building a strong team as it will pay off many times over. Be self-aware and fill in your own weaknesses with strong people.

What do you do to relax away from the hustle and bustle of work?

Running, the gym, and playing sports with the kids – we love bike rides and even a bit of skateboarding.

What would you be doing if you weren’t running your own business?

Be a mountain guide or a surf instructor!