In 2004, Rob and Paul Forkan’s parents became victims of the tsunami. With one GCSE between them, the pair worked their way up in various companies to save up and start their own business. Gandys flip-flops can now be found in Selfridges. They’re already in Topshop, House of Fraser, Schuh as well as Nordstrom, one of the biggest department store chains in America (to name but a few), which makes Rob the perfect guy to give entrepreneurial advice to GoThinkBiggers…

You will have doubters, so have a core of believers, too

When they first started approaching retailers, they were laughed out of the office. “People told us we were bonkers, that this wasn’t a brand,” Rob remembers, “then you get some people who just laughed. You can have a great idea, but you’ll still have to overcome a lot of doubt. If you’ve got a core of believers, they can spur you on.” 

Ask for advice, constantly, from experts 

It’s all very well having people believe in you, but that’s about 10% of the battle – first, you’ve got to make sure your product is good. And your mates probably won’t give you the feedback you need because, well, they’re your mates. “People talk and plan and sit around discussing ideas, but you need to knock on the door of retailers,” he advises. “If you’ve invented an app, knock on the doors of the developers. When you take your product to market, you know what to develop and work on.” 

Listen and learn from the feedback

If someone tells you they don’t like the product, you’ve got to ask why or you’re never going to learn. “With ASOS [who now stock Gandys] we kept going back to them with the flip flops and they kept saying how they loved our ethos but they just weren’t right,” he says, “they were too much like Havaianas. We kept testing it out and trying again and again before we came up with a unique selling point. A ropestrap.” A USP you say? Well that leads nicely onto…

Have a USP

Yes, this is one of those annoying buzzwords that get bandied about constantly, but only because a unique selling point is one of the most important aspects of setting up a business. With Rob and Paul, they have a unique message behind Gandys: not only is it in the memory of their late parents, but each £230,000 they make will go towards building a children’s home for orphans aka the Orphans for Orphans campaign. And they worked this into their branding: “Everything we do is from our unique upbringing,” says Rob, “in the box we put a postcard because of all the travelling we did as kids, the tiny footprint on the flip-flops represent our mum’s favourite poem and the kingfisher is there because it’s our dad’s favourite beer. We also put a passport stamp on the flip-flops, because we collected so many of those over the years.” 

You don’t need a degree and you don’t need to be an academic. 

Both the brothers are dyslexic, and neither did a degree, but this didn’t stop them. “People can get disheartened by [dyslexia],” says Rob, “but it’s not everything. Paul, for example, is incredibly savvy. He can sit down in rooms with guys worth billions of pounds and hold his own. I know a lot of people with straight As that couldn’t do that!” Rather than exam results, it’s the experience the guys have, and the belief, that have got them to where they are. Both started at the bottom, with Paul working his way out of a warehouse into the office before becoming an accounts manager and Rob working for a tiny online jobs board. 

All skills are transferable 

“A lot of people start by looking for the perfect job, but you can prove yourself somewhere else,” he says, “Everyone fights for that same cool job, and if you went and got experience working for a local company you might find that helps you stand apart from the millions of applications.” Because the pair had experience with accounts, marketing and sales, they could then throw all these skills into setting up Gandys, despite the fact they’d never worked in fashion or retail. 

Aim high 

The first big break Rob and Paul got came from a low end, but massive, retailer who overheard them pitching the flip-flops in a boutique in Shoreditch. They had a meeting, but turned them down. “Because they approached us, we realised we were onto something but it wasn’t a retailer we wanted to work with,” he explains, “if you go in low, it’s hard to climb up. We said no to the opportunity because we wanted to go to the top, and kept going until it worked.” 

Check out Gandys flip-flops here (they’re incredibly cool) and, if you’ve got a cool idea but aren’t sure where to go with it, why not apply for this fortnight-long opportunity for young entrepreneurs? Or check out Think Big, who are constantly funding young people’s projects. Nice.