We chat to Fred Cassman, director and founder of vape company MIST. He talks about providing a customer-centric service and how competition is the biggest obstacle for SMEs.

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

MIST is a vape company aimed primarily at “new users” and we operate online & in retail locations in the East Sussex areas. Our main aim at MIST is simple, to provide effective products at affordable prices. We are customer centric, and we feel we offer an incredible alternative to smoked tobacco.

What time does your day usually start and end?

My day starts at 9am everyday – I have never been a morning person, 9am is early enough for me! I tend to work better in the evenings when it’s quiet. I am in bed by 12 and asleep by 1am for my 8 hours.

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

My favourite part of the job is problem solving. There is always new challenges on a daily basis, which keeps life interesting. I’m not really one doing the same thing day in, day out. My least favourite part of the job is having to write emails, emails suck!

What inspired you to start your business? (And what made you want to be your own boss?)

I think business is something I always gravitated towards subconsciously. When I was young I was always selling stuff on ebay, or hatching up new schemes. My first step in to the world of business was very early on when I took a particular interest in trading Pokemon cards.

Coming from quite a creative family, I think I have always enjoyed the freedom that running your own enterprise brings you. I think I learned that from my parents. I think that’s what I’m after, and why I’m doing my own thing.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

My mum purchased a vape way back in 2008/9. She saw it on a BBC news article. This was my first introduction to the product.

How did you fund your business?

Capital was generated via a forum, where I was providing a service offering forum users cheaper prices by ordering direct from manufacturers. I facilitated the order from door to door and took a slice of the profits.

What has been the biggest challenge for your business?

There are many challenges. I think the biggest being lack of experience. It is my first “real” company, so everything I am doing is uncharted territory. This can be quite scary at times, but I’m a big advocate of learning on the job.

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

Competition. It’s so easy to start a business these days. If you have a good idea, the chances are hundreds of other people have had the same! Standing out with a clear USP is becoming very difficult these days.

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

My biggest mistake was not accelerating spending/growth during the early years of vaping. I always knew vaping was going to be big, but I didn’t listen to my intuition. Now when something feels right, I tend to take more risks.

What previous experiences have helped you in starting your business?

I didn’t really have any experience as I was only 16 when I started my company. I wish I had some more when I first started. If I knew what I know now, things would have gone a lot smoother!

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

I would say 1) seek advice from the right people and 2) experiment a lot before you commit to something, you will know when it feels right.

Would you do anything differently if you could start again from scratch?

That’s a tough question…I think I would have looked for a mentor from day 1. Saying that, there’s a lot to be said from learning from your own mistakes!

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

That’s a question I often ask myself, or get asked. I would love to work in some sort of incubator for new business ideas.

Do you manage to achieve a good work/life balance?

I don’t think I do, and this is something I’m working on. It’s really hard to not constantly be thinking about work. Getting the right staff in the right areas has been helping a lot, and has taken a certain level of pressure off my shoulders.