Q&A with Activ8 Founder, Stu ConroyLast Updated: May 1, 2020
Over the past 16 years, Activ8 has become one of the UK’s leading trade suppliers and manufacturers of accessories for mobile phones and hand-held devices. Stu Conroy spoke to AGENT about life at the helm of the thriving company he set up with his wife Zoë in 2000.
Stu Conroy was all set for a long career in banking when he finally accepted the wisdom of the inner voice that told him he would not be happy long-term in a job where he was not fully engaged.
“Slow down, prepare as much as possible and enjoy the ride more…”
In 2000, London native Stu Conroy established Activ8 in Watford, Hertfordshire with his wife Zoë, and the company rapidly grew to become one of the UK’s leading manufacturers and supplies of accessories for portable digital devices.
Over the past decade and a half, Stu and Zoe have also led Activ8 to become one of the tech sector’s most respected manufacturers of innovative and award-winning accessories, with a pan-global network of retail and distribution partners that puts them to the fore of delivering a product to market as well.
Activ8 is the umbrella for a range of brands and outlets tailored specifically towards the mobile tech sector, including Covert cases and accessories; Shock Sock smartphone and handheld device protection; Casehut premium accessories for portable devices; iFix mobile device repair stores; Klevatek charging technology; and Terrapin affordable solutions for smart tech protection.
Amidst this huge amount of business activity, Stu Conroy generously found the time to speak to AGENT about his startup story, his life at the helm of Activ8, and his advice for entrepreneurs setting up a new business in the modern business environment.
10 Questions for Stu Conroy
1. Briefly tell us how you first got into business, and describe your business goals.
I was working in banking in IT, and just didn’t feel engaged enough in my day to day work that I could see myself doing it for the rest of my life. This was before e-commerce was really doing anything, but I’d been surrounded by programmers, and so I wanted to learn building websites as I saw this as the future—a bit like apps is ‘where it is’ right now as part of that evolution.
My goal was to learn skills that meant I could be in control of my own destiny a little more than waiting for a bank to put in a wave of redundancy. I like working in small teams and problem-solving or solution-finding, so that remains my business goal.
2. What age were you when you realised you wanted to run your own business?
I never really knew what I wanted to do, and when you’re like that everybody tends to see it as a negative. I think having that freedom has been useful as we’ve created new ideas and projects. Not all of the ideas have worked, but there is always something new just around the corner. By my mid-20s, I was aware that I wasn’t going to be a typical 9-5 type person. It wasn’t until I got out of banking that I even considered it.
3. Who are your business icons and inspirations?
In the golf club I was a member of as a kid, I was surrounded by people who did well in business. I saw lots of people run successful local businesses. In terms of icons, I think there are so many I admire for what they do. Everybody obviously looks at someone like Richard Branson, because he just seems to have so much fun doing what he does, but I think there are numerous others who keep themselves to themselves in more low-profile ways, who get the life-work balance right.
4. What has been your biggest challenge in business, and how did you surmount it?
There have been various times when we’ve been up against it, and it’s perseverance that gets you through, or waking up to the fact that your enthusiasm is sometimes misdirected and projects just aren’t right. The transition from a small company that grew quickly to having a number of people employed was the biggest challenge, and having individuals who either grow apart form the company or the company outgrows them. I’ve learnt to slow down as well, because when we achieved success, everything was 100 miles per hour. I’m learning, slowly, why phrases like ‘work on the business, not in the business’ exist. A friend of mine recommend the book The E-Myth and I wish I had read it a few years back. But it’s never too late, and the book actually makes more sense through living through some of the growing pains.
5. Work-Life balance: is it possible? How do you achieve it?
I’m getting better at it. I’m not convinced I can get to the mythical 4 hour week, but I work harder to get space outside of the business. I’ve recently taken on more experience at a senior level to help, and spending more time away from the office, which means I think more about what I should be doing when in the office. I pretty much gave up drinking a year ago and the benefits have been great in terms of having a clearer head and better mindset.
6. What is the first thing you do every day?
I check emails as we have a Far East operation, and so I like to see what is going on there. I’m going to the gym first thing more and more now in the morning.
7. What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?
My son Mack.
8. What is the most important app on your mobile phone, and why?
Office 365 and associated apps. They just make life easier for me since we switched our internal mail and document system to Office 365 in general.
9. What item do you never leave the house without, and why?
My phone. I get panicky if I don’t have it. We set up our iFix smartphone repair service to facilitate the need for fast turnaround repairs, as you just see how much of a part they play in our lives today.
10. What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in business?
Slow down, prepare as much as possible and enjoy the ride more.