44: Interview with entrepreneur Celia Gates from Doctor Cook and Whether Forecast

Today we feature inventor, author and entrepreneur Celia Gates, who I met in 2011 at the British Invention Show in London. She tells us all about her journey of setting up her cookware company “Doctor Cook” and what other projects she’s been involved in since then.


Tell us about your book “From Brainwave To Business”? Could you summarise the best tips?

From Brainwave to Business is the book I wished I’d read when I started out with my cookware invention – Doctor Cook. I reckon I could have saved about £94,000 in costly mistakes had I known what I learnt along the way. The book shares these lessons. It is a start up guide for innovators and creative entrepreneurs. Key points include; not underestimating your competition, developing your market in line with your ideas and evolving yourself as the aim of your success. Originally the book was called From Inventor to Entrepreneur. It is about the journey from being the person with just an idea to the person who makes money from their concepts. Concentrate on developing your ‘self’ to build a business and profit from your products.

What would you advise people who want to publish a book?

The publishing industry has changed dramatically since 2012 when “From Brainwave To Business” was published as part of the Financial Times Series by Pearsons Prentice Hall. I approached the publisher directly with a clear book proposal and the majority of the script. They told me to find a celebrity forward and they’d publish it. The deal was done quite quickly but I don’t believe this is the norm.

If you want to publish a book then you must first ask yourself why. Why do you want to publish your book? If it’s to share your story with a wider world and build relationships with your readers then self-publishing is an accessible and immediate way forward. If it’s to establish credibility then collaborating with reputable publishers may enhance this. If it’s to make money then you should see your book as one string in your ‘Profit Parachute’ and build multiple ‘strings’ to ensure a safe landing from the leap of faith you’ll invariably take. If it’s to make sense of your own experience then write quickly and pour it all out onto the page. Inevitably you’ll end up re-writing whatever you first write so see the initial draft as a prototype and get it done as quick as you can – otherwise you’ll lose the momentum from your inspiration and it will be quite hard to pick back up and start writing again.

From Brainwave To Business

Tell us about your Doctor Cook saucepans! Are you still involved in this company?

Doctor Cook was my leap of faith. I believed in the concept. Cookware had always had long straight handles forcing the user to awkwardly bend their wrist to hold a pan. My background in Industrial Design meant I knew this was not ergonomic. Watching my Granny struggling to lift a hot and heavy pan inspired me into action; ‘bend the pan and not the man’. Saucepans with curved handles were born and at the beginning they very much felt like my babies. Now they have ‘fled the nest’ and taken on a life of their own. I still hold intellectual property but other people make and distribute them.


What are your best inventions?

The ones that are yet to come!

How do you judge a great idea? One of my favourite inventions is a solar cooker from a cardboard box that inspired a wave of similar products in Malaysia. The concept of turning packaging into a socially responsible bi-product that was as valuable (or more valuable) than the product it protected, appealed to me.

I love, love, love my current ‘invention’ – the Whether™ forecast – a lateral and literal thinking tool that helps other people to stimulate sparks of genius and come up with inventive ideas. We are all so much smarter than we think and (in my opinion) our mindset – or the way we think and work together, is one of the greatest challenges we face in the western world. The best inventions are always born as solutions to genuine problems. Mental health – or the lack of, is certainly a growing concern. Plus, I love seeing the light come back into a person’s eyes once they’ve gained enough perspective to solve their own conundrum. This is what Whether™ does.

Do you consider yourself an inventor or an entrepreneur?

An ‘Inventor’ paints the picture of an obsessive scientist secluded in a shed somewhere whilst an ‘Entrepreneur’ is the hotshot, outward focused, energetic, well connected business builder. You can decide. I’m just me, constructively learning, challenging myself (and conventions) relentlessly, failing freely, succeeding regularly and revelling in a life that I take responsibility for. If Entrepreneurs make money then Inventors spend it. In this context I’m an Inventive Entrepreneur!

What are you currently doing?

I love what I am doing. I’m maximising minds that make a difference. In other words I’m bringing brains together for creative and constructive collaboration, conflict resolution and greater growth. It is both rewarding and thrilling and I get to travel the world. I help other people design lives they want to lead and as I approach 40 this feels like it is exactly what I was designed to do. There is a lot to build on too. The face of education is shifting. Collaborating constructively is critical and there is a long way to go before we’ve optimised the use of our amazing minds. I find it a fascinating field of study. If inventions have got us into a mess then, inventions will get us back out of it. So, I’m currently facilitating fresh thinking and empowering others to broaden their perspective and evolve ingenious ideas.

Celia Gates & Ainsley Harriott

What inspired you to start this business?

More than inspiration is was a natural evolution. If writing From Brainwave To Business made sense of my experience developing Doctor Cook then, developing Doctor Cook as a business showed me what I’m really good at and what I love to do. When you know what this is, do more of it! In this guise Whether.to and theGlobalBrainstorm.com are evolutions in action – or learn-as-you-grow vehicles to deliver inspiration and information to a wider world.

What is your daily routine?

People often asked this question and I’m not going to tell you that I get up at 5am, go for a run, drink Misu soup and drum positive affirmations into my mind before most people are out of bed. My life is much more varied than that. Sometimes I’m up until 2am working online with clients from around the world, other times I’m in bed by 10 pm and off to see people face-to-face first thing. It’s the lack of routine that makes my life exciting. On the whole and if I’m not delivering workshops, I’ll get up and start writing or working on my own stuff way before I check emails, the news or social media. This stops me being distracted or influenced before I’m fully focused on how I feel and what I need to get done that day. Yoga happens daily and sea swims when the weather allows. Exercise of any kind has always been important as I get restless if I sit for too long. I also meditate and can combine this with my yoga if I’m short on time. More interesting for you is that I hold weekly meetings with myself whereby I define my targets, design my direction and account for the past week’s action. This is quite a formal process I’ve come to rely on through tough times.

What would you recommend new entrepreneurs? How to get started?

As well as all the usual advice; take action, go for it, just do it, believe in yourself etc. there is one key bit of advice: know your numbers. As innovators and inventors we’re not always keen on the accountability of our actions (largely because we’re spending money we’d rather not be worrying about and the worry stops us thinking inventively). When we’re stressed or scared parts of our brain actually prevent us from thinking as critically and creatively as we’re capable. Effectively our brains let us down when we need them the most. To avoid this situation and as a priority to any new business venture you must attach what I call a ‘life line’ to your Profit Parachute. Know the bare minimum money you need to keep the bailiffs at bay and secure this income stream. Whether pulling pints after hours, working a part-time job until your business starts to make money or establishing a repeat relationship with an initial client that you can rely on, know how you’re covering your basic bills and putting food on the table. This will give you the peace of mind you need to make your business prosper.

Oh… and of course, read From Brainwave to Business!

Above all don’t go looking for your passion, look for problems to solve as these are often easier to find. As you solve a problem your passion will become apparent to you. As you discover what you love to do, do more of it. The biggest investment you’ll make in anything is that of your precious time.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and do reach out if you think I can be of help to you!

To learn more about Celia Gates please visit  http://celiagates.com/ and http://whether.to/you-think/ (Whether tool eBook)

14: Interview with copywriter Mish from Mortified Cow

Today we’ll pick the brain of another copywriter! I interviewed Londoner Mish from Mortified Cow who works and lives around the world.


What kind of business do you run? When did you start it?

I run a two-person copywriting agency called Mortified Cow. (The other person is my husband!) We work while we travel the world as digital nomads. We both have backgrounds in copywriting, but before Mortified Cow we were regular employees at London-based companies. After quitting our jobs in 2012, we started writing for clients on Elance (now Upwork) and worked our way up from there.

What inspired you to start this business?

We were struck by how samey the words on most company websites are: they’re all “focused on your success”, they talk about how they have “the solutions for you” and will “deliver the results you need” – usually “whether you’re a large, medium or small business”. Everyone sounds the same – from lawyers and accountants to web designers and life coaches. More importantly, though, their words feel insincere and meaningless. (No reader ever thinks, “Oh wow… this company says they’re ‘passionate about customer service’. I’ve GOT to hire them!”)

We wanted to help businesses set themselves apart from the competition through personalityful, attention-grabbing text that actually says something meaningful. As a result, we help them reach their dream customers, and we make sure those customers feel like they couldn’t work with or buy from anyone else.

Does your business generate enough money to support you?

Yes. My writing can make all the difference to my clients’ businesses, and what I earn is a reflection of that.

This wasn’t always the case, though! When I started out on Elance, I was charging something like $100 for huge, week-long projects. And then once I came off the Elance platform, I was still charging very little for my work. If I had the chance to go back and do it all again, I don’t think I would (or indeed could) change things: clients were taking a chance by working with a newbie, and I didn’t have the knowledge or writing skills that I have now.

Which resources to run your business do you use most?

Google Docs is the biggie. All my writing is done in Google Docs.

Mixmax is a great little Chrome extension for Gmail. I use it to track email opens (useful for making sure my emails are received!), and to provide an easy way for people to schedule calls with me.

What is your single best non-obvious tip for running a business?

When starting out as a freelancer or entrepreneur, cut out all the “faffing around the edges”. You don’t need a business card, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a website, and you don’t need a plan to handle a zillion customers.

All you need is a clear description of the problem you solve, and your first three customers (by any means necessary).

Don’t worry about scaling, branding, or anything else until you know that people will pay for your product/service.

What would you recommend to generate traffic to the website? Have you tried SEO companies?

Write a book! I recently published a book about business writing called May I Have Your Attention, Please?, and I’ve had so many enquiries as a result of it already.

I’m also a great fan of podcast interviews, blog interviews (like this one!), LinkedIn, forums, Facebook groups, and generally just being “out there” and helpful.

I’ve never used an SEO company for Mortified Cow.

How did you come up with the name of the company?

Unfortunately there’s no hilarious backstory about embarrassed cattle! But we chose the name because of what it says about us.

To a lot of people, it says, “We’re not serious enough for your Very Important Business. Go over there and talk to Platinum Corporate Solutions instead.”

But to a few other people – the ones we want to work with – it says, “We’re going to write something that really puts across the excitement and uniqueness of your business – and we’re going to have fun doing it.”

Do you think that Social Media such as Twitter or Facebook are good marketing tools?

Yes, but they shouldn’t be your only marketing tools: you need to be in many places at once to both increase brand awareness and reach as many people as possible. Yes – be on social media. But be in other places, too.

How competitive is your industry?

Extremely competitive! The problem with copywriting is that too many people think they can do it. They fail to realise that copywriting is very different from “being able to write a sentence on a page”!

The upside is that it’s fairly easy to differentiate yourself from these kinds of writers and charge far more money than them. Not everyone will want to pay your fees, but that’s OK: the ones who gasp at your prices probably won’t appreciate your skills and expertise. The right clients will know you’re worth it, and they’ll be willing to pay a premium to work with you.

What is the best way to publish a book in your view? What do you think of Lulu?

I’ve published a few books around the topics of digital nomadism and business writing, and I’ve always used CreateSpace for paperbacks (and Kindle Direct Publishing for Kindle books).

CreateSpace royalties are the most generous to self-publishers (compared to other self-publishing platforms), and the process of uploading a book and having it available on Amazon is pretty seamless. It’s been a while since I looked into Lulu as an option, but I’m happy with CreateSpace at the moment.

Tell us more about being a digital nomad. Pros and Cons? Where are you at the moment?

We’re in rainy old London at the moment! It’s where we’re from originally, and we’re here for boring admin-related reasons before heading off again next month.

We tend to spend between one and two months in a different city before moving somewhere new. It seems like a lot of effort, but it’s actually pretty easy: we each have a 45L backpack of belongings (clothes, toiletries, tech, etc.), and that’s all we need. It’s an amazing feeling to head off to a new city with everything you could possibly need in a small bag on your back.

We always stay in Airbnb apartments, and yeah… it’s a pretty fun lifestyle! We get to see the world at our own pace, and we’re able to experience living like locals rather than trying to squeeze a ton of attractions into a weekend trip. We have lots of digital nomad friends, so there are always at least a few people we hang out with in each destination.

We haven’t experienced too many downsides to digital nomadism, although we get very broody for puppies and kittens! We do know some people who travel with dogs, but it looks like a whole world of hassle – and not all that fun for the dogs.

Mish’s newest book

Tell us about your other books you wrote.

There’s Travel Like A Pro, which helps digital nomads find flights, book accommodation, and understand their visa and insurance options.

Then there’s also Travel While You Work, which is all about helping digital nomads get settled in a new destination in super-quick time. It also provides heaps of advice and resources for running a business, hiring staff, managing a team, etc. while travelling the world. (We also run a property management agency, so we have a lot of experience in all this!)

My husband and I also wrote Protect Your Tech together, which is a geek-free guide to having a secure and private digital life.

May I Have Your Attention, Please? is my most recent book, and it’s aimed at a completely different market: business writers who want to charm, captivate and convert potential customers through the power of the written word.

There are a few other “fun” books, but those are the main ones!

Do you have a base in London? Where do you pay taxes?

Yes, we have a base in King’s Cross. We’re UK residents, and we pay all our taxes here.

In which countries have you lived so far? Any favorites?

My favourite is and always will be New York: I’m obsessed with the place. Close second (and my husband’s first choice) is Bangkok. The food, the people, the smells, the excitement… it’s a fantastic place. We’re also huge fans of Barcelona.

If someone wants to hire you what would be the process?

Visit Mortifiedcow.com, check us out and send us a message! If you want to see examples of our work, I have a snazzy new portfolio that I’m desperate to share.

Rob & Mish

7: Interview with Michael Cannings from Camphor Press

Today’s interview is with Michael Cannings from Camphor Press who publishes books about East Asia. Read his interview to learn what tools he uses and whether this business is profitable.









What kind of business do you run? When did you start it?

Camphor Press is a publishing company focused on East Asia. Our books are in English and cover a broad range of non-fiction subjects, with fiction to follow shortly. Most of our revenue comes from e-books, which we sell through Amazon, iTunes, and our own website. We started in early 2014 after about a year of planning.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

There are three partners: John Ross, Mark Swofford, and Michael Cannings. John, a Kiwi, is the bona fide writer of the group with a couple of great books to his name. He manages communication with our authors, including the manuscript revision process. Mark, from the United States, is a professional editor with a long career working for Taiwanese public institutions, and also an expert on Mandarin romanisation. Michael is a language and history buff with a background in marketing and web development. At the time we started the business all three of us lived in Taiwan, although Michael has now returned to the U.K. after an eleven-year stint in the Far East.

How did you come up with the name of the company?

Coming from Taiwan we wanted a name that reflected the history of the region. Camphor was one of the most important products of Taiwan in the nineteenth century, and was widely used across much of Asia. It evokes a place and time that resonates with us, but it is still general enough that allows us room to cover a wide range of East Asia topics.

What was your experience setting up your company website?

We did this in-house with a combination of WordPress, WooCommerce, and a commercial theme we purchased. Having the knowledge to develop the site to suit our needs definitely saved us a lot of time and expense, and means that if we want to change anything we don’t need to go back to a developer – we simply do it ourselves. Taking advantage of the skills of the three partners was crucial to getting a small business like ours off the ground.

Does your business generate enough money to support you?

No. The three partners put in a lot of sweat equity, and the business returns a small profit as a result. If we had to pay ourselves the going rate for our time the business would be deep underwater. However, the point of setting up Camphor Press was never to make money – for us it is about providing a platform for great writers who weren’t being heard, and publishing the kind of books we want to read.

What tools do you use to run your business?

The central pieces of software we use are Word (for manuscript preparation), Coda (web development and e-book coding), Photoshop (for cover design), Calibre (e-book packaging), and InDesign (print book typesetting). We use Excel for managing our financials. In a cloudier direction we have a Wiki and Dropbox help to keep everything organised. For SEO the trio of Google Analytics, Google Webmaster and Moz Pro cover our needs pretty well.


What keeps you motivated to keep working on your business?

There is enormous satisfaction in releasing a new book. It can be a lengthy, trying process of debate and revision, but at the end of it we have a product that we know is great. All three of us are hopeless bibliophiles so I think work-wise there is nothing we’d rather be doing. This is the key advantage in aligning your business with your passions – motivation takes care of itself. Except for tax returns – extra encouragement is definitely required there.

What are your future plans for the company?

We started as a digital-only publisher, but there is quite an appetite out there for our books in print. So in the short term with the help of print-on-demand providers we will be offering many more of our books in paperback as well as e-book. We are also moving into fiction, with three novels on the way in the first half of 2016. We will be increasing our physical distribution to get our books into more stores and continually adding to our catalog. In the longer term there is no grand master plan; we simply want to keep putting out great books.

Any tips on the best payment processors?

We use Stripe and the ubiquitous PayPal. We used to use PayPal exclusively, but with our business formerly being based in Taiwan, PayPal’s terms of use created some problems for use in retrieving money once people had paid. On moving the business to the UK, and having tried a few options for payment gateways we found that Stripe hit the sweet spot of ease of use, security, and API support. Looking back over the last year, 62% of our e-commerce transactions were through Stripe.

How competitive is your industry?

Not very. There is not a huge market in English-language books about East Asia, but the audience does tend to be knowledgeable and loyal. Alongside books from the big publishing houses there are a number of independent presses in the region, like Areca in Penang (Malaysia) and Earnshaw Books in Shanghai, putting out some great titles, but the subject area is so vast that there is plenty of room for other publishers. It is very much a “passion” industry though – you are not going to make your fortune in this niche.

Do authors keep the copyright of their books? How are they paid?

Yes, authors keep the copyright, and grant us the exclusive right to market and sell the book for a period of time. We operate a simple revenue-sharing model with our authors, so they receive 50% of net receipts (after taxes, currency fees, delivery and similar expenses) for their books. After the first 1,000 copies sold the author’s share jumps to 60%. We believe this is one of the most generous compensation schemes in the publishing world, and it’s only possible because the primary motive of the business is cultural rather than financial.

How do you find new authors? Do they approach you?

Now that our reputation has spread a little we are approached by quite a few writers. Generally we don’t consider “ideas” for books without at least a few sample chapters already written, and preferably a full draft manuscript. A lot of people have good ideas, but transforming that into writing that will captivate the reader is another thing entirely. We do also approach authors with a view to republishing an out-of-print work, writing an introduction for another book, or working on a new project entirely.

Click here to visit Camphor Press’ website to learn more.