In celebration of International Men’s Day, Simon Duffy at skincare brand Bulldog and Julian Ball from extreme sports agency Iconic tell us why they started their own businesses.

It’s International Men’s Day this Saturday and it seems apt to celebrate the men who’ve taken the plunge, followed their dream and started their own businesses. And it is a plunge… According to research carried out by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), fear of failure is one of the main barriers to entrepreneurship in the UK with 43% of the population affected (compared to 40% in Germany and 30% in the US).

The research also describes the typical UK early-stage entrepreneur as male, late thirties and “motivated by opportunity, rather than necessity.”

So we talked to two entrepreneurs based at Workspace about what motivated them to start their own business, how they adapt their workspace to fit the needs of the modern man and whether it really is as scary as all that.

Simon Duffy left Saatchi & Saatchi to found Bulldog, the skincare range for men, in 2006, with his partner Rhodri Ferrier. They spent the first year finding investors and sourcing ingredients, before launching in Sainsbury’s. He only realised the size of the challenge when he stood in Sainsbury’s “for almost an hour and did not see a single Bulldog product bought!”

Luckily, for everyone, men eventually saw the benefits of soft skin and now you can find their products in more than 17,000 stores in 14 countries. They launched in Tesco, Boots and Waitrose and are now stocked in Walgreens stores in the USA. The business, based at Grand Union Studios in West London has grown from seven employees to 17 in two years.

But even if their growth had been less spectacular, it wouldn’t have mattered. “But even if Bulldog had ended in failure after just a few years I still think it would have been the right decision to quit the day job and start something new. You learn a great deal through doing something for yourself and it’s also very exciting.”

The space at Grand Union Studios reflected the atmosphere Simon wishes to cultivate in the office: “It’s a fun and relaxed atmosphere – you often see someone’s dog or children in the office, and there is always music playing – but we also pride ourselves on setting very high standards and getting a lot done.”

Julian Ball set up Iconic Agency two years ago with Tord Nilson and Richard King. He had been a semi-professional skier and a brand manager for a clothing company but running his own business was always the goal. ”For me it was something I knew I always wanted when the time came. To pursue something of your own and work in sports you love and are passionate about is a dream come true. It hasn’t been easy but there are no regrets from either of us.”

Iconic AgencyTord (left), Julian (middle), Richard (right)


They now represent sportsmen and women like Kate Ormerod, who was the first female in the world to land the coveted ‘Double Cork 1080’ (Google it) as well as top adventurer and Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, Mark Kalch and the top extreme sports brands. They’re all keen sportsmen too which helps with keeping a work/life balance. “We work in this industry because we are passionate about it. We are all active, playing sport a few times a week each. We all consider that important in keeping us motivated and making sure we have that balance not to run ourselves into the ground.“

They’ve been based at The Lightbulb in Wandsworth for 18 months now. “We use the office space to complete our day to day tasks for clients but also as our creative space to develop ideas and strategies,” Julian says. “The communal areas offer convenient spots for us to meet clients and network with other businesses in the block.”

It’s clear that a traditional career path no longer motivates many men. Simon Duffy suggests this can only be a good thing. “There is probably now more flexibility and opportunity to experiment and try new stuff than ever before. None of the stereotypes fit everyone.”

I think modern men probably have many different roles, and what's great nowadays is that it's never been easier to balance a career with helping out at home with your kids.

Simon Duffy, Bulldog Skincare


These changes could also help out women, Simon thinks. “I think modern men probably have many different roles, and what’s great nowadays is that it’s never been easier to balance a career with helping out at home with your kids. I hope this challenge to the 'traditional rules of being a man' continues for a long time.”

If you’re thinking about setting up your own business, it’s worth checking out the workshops and seminars that we regularly hold in Workspace centres. You’ll get plenty of advice from business owners who’ve done it before.