A SCOTTISH company that was started with less than two hundred pounds in 2019 is on target to turnover £10 million in 2023 after helping blue chip companies around the world to engage remote workforces.
Go Swag was thought up by friends and former colleagues, Ben Greenock –who previously secured investment on Dragons Den – and Conor McKenna, product designers who saw potential in the disjointed and slow-moving promotional product industry.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the acceleration of remote work meant teams were distributed across the globe, which has forced big businesses to think differently when it comes to staff incentives, team-building and boosting morale. With Go Swag, Greenock and McKenna have stepped in to solve their problems, handling everything from design, production and worldwide delivery – quickly solidifying its reputation as one of the world’s leading sellers of branded gifts in the process.
Offering bespoke gifting services that are underpinned by the three pillars of their business: sustainability, quality and utility, the pair are redefining the corporate goody bag and are on a mission to toss out the tat.
Their decision to work only with other companies that align with their vision has turned out to be a shrewd business move.
Ben Greenock said: “That’s why I think that’s why we have become as successful as we have. In the initial consultation, we tell people there are three things they need to consider. Can the goods be recycled? Are they good quality, because if not they will end up in landfill and people are going to feel cheap. And can they use them regularly and get value from them?”
“We’ve had big brands asking us to send items that don’t fall into those categories, and we’ve said no. But that firm stance has been very well received – it makes them feel they’re in good hands because sustainability is really important to everybody.”
Based in Glasgow, Go Swag’s 13-strong team will soon grow to 33, and there are plans to open satellite offices in America, Europe and Asia, with the international annexes relying on local suppliers to offset the company’s carbon footprint.
While working at Waracle, a Dundee-based digital tech company, McKenna and Greenock solved problems by creating products for industry big hitters like Virgin Money, RBS and Sainsbury’s Bank. They now use their skills to create seamless gifting experiences after being sent sub-par goods to welcome new team members, and are currently working on software that will integrate into the digital platforms of businesses, making the what, where and when of corporate gifting hassle free.
The early days of Go Swag were rocky, with the pair working on it during their downtime, juggling logistical and supply chain hiccups and navigating the choppy waters of Brexit and a global pandemic.
Soon they realised they were targeting the wrong audience, and moved their focus from start-ups with small orders to high-growth tech companies that were crying out for gift packs for existing clients, new starts, anniversaries and holidays. Their first client after launching on tech product sharing site, Product Hunt, was Alaska’s Anchorage Museum.
It was this, said Ben, that propelled he and McKenna forward, including a rebrand. “That’s when things really took off. We started only accepting minimum orders of 50 and targeting bigger companies. That’s when we realised what had been going wrong.”
Go Swag, which was started with an investment of £180, took off then the pair switched their focus towards big tech companies with a minimum order of 100. The change in strategy paid off when Go Swag landed GoCardless in August 2019, which set the company on its way to becoming the seven-figure success it is today.
With large swathes of the workforce, particularly in the world of tech, not going back to the office permanently, an opportunity to foster connections creatively was presented to Greenock and McKenna.
Conor said: “It was a case of everyone scrambling to work out how to keep teams together, boost morale and keep teamwork and culture intact. A big part of that is coming on calls and having something in common – a mug, a hoodie or a water bottle – as your teammates, wherever they are.”
“It’s a really nice experience to get and we have the advantage in that we get to create these moments of joy.”
Ben added: ” We’ve had so many reports of company morale being boosted. We are quite considerate when it comes to the items and the culture of the company and what they’re trying to do. Are they trying to create warmth? A better working environment? Make people healthier?”
“We don’t just put stuff into the world, we try to create experiences rather than just a gift.”
Clients are dotted around the globe and include Spotify, Amazon, Draft Kings and Hello Fresh. Premium suppliers include outdoor equipment companies, Arcteryx and North Face; Glasgow-based bag designers Trakke; reusable water bottle company, Ocean Bottle, and eco friendly food product purveyors, Black and Blum.
The pair can pass on the advantage of being based in Scotland to their clients, more than 50% of whom are outside the UK, benefitting from the lower tariffs and tax available sending products from within the EU to the US.
Ben, who is the sales and consultancy arm of the company, is no stranger to business development, securing investment for a dating app from Nick Jenkins during an appearance on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den in 2015, while Conor’s experience includes designing for start-ups and the Scottish Government. Conor’s role is more behind the scenes, developing software, forecasting and managing the logistics of running a global company.
Their shared experience of growing up with dyslexia has stood them in good stead for managing the ever-shifting sands of an international business.
Conor said: “[We] had to learn stuff, really fast. I couldn’t rely on teachers because they just got so fed up. And it turns out, that’s a huge advantage for startups, because you can’t go into a startup as one thing, you essentially hold 12 different roles. You just have to work it all out.”
They give credit to their carefully crafted team for the growing success of Go Swag, and are looking to more than double their workforce in the coming months.
Conor said: “We’ve been really lucky in terms of the people we’ve hired […] It was friends and family to start with and then we advertised. We were quite seasoned in terms of finding good people [thanks to previous roles] and we’ve been lucky in that those people are thriving within the company.”
Ben added: “It’s so important to hire the right people. Work has got to have a great culture and that was key. Hiring the wrong people can destroy a culture or can destroy the company, because you’re constantly having to pick up stuff that gets dropped.”
“If you’ve got a team of really highly skilled people, you can teach the new people the skills they need, but you can’t teach certain things. So it’s those certain things that we look for.”
The future includes their expansion, driven by their mutual desire to “keep disrupting the promotional product industry” but with steady profit growth they aren’t looking for investment – yet.
Ben said: “We’re not in a rush to take money. We want to bring in people that will bring value to the company, and if that comes in the form of investment, we’d be open to that. But we’ve got the luxury of taking our time with that and making the right choices.”