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Article: Our story - Starting a business in a global pandemic

Our story - Starting a business in a global pandemic

Tigercub Prints - James Sketching Children's Prints

Our story begins with how I imagine many other small businesses start, having had a few too many cocktails and starting the sentence - ‘Hey wouldn’t it be cool to start a business…’

How it began

My wife Jess and I were away on a much-needed holiday as new parents, with our bundle of joy being just six months old. We’d just completed the finishing touches on our little-ones nursery back at home and I’d finally hung the nursery prints that I’d bought about 8 months earlier from a small print shop in London. To be honest, I was never 100% happy with them, but being a designer myself I always find I’m extra picky with artwork.

The moment the business came to us is still vivid in my mind. Harry was asleep in his pram. I was perfecting pushing the pram back and forth with my foot and was just starting on my third cocktail of the night. Jess and I had always talked about starting a side-hustle together. I was a Creative Director at a fantastic design agency based in Cardiff called Designdough and was always on the lookout for other creative outlets. And Jess had toyed with the idea of opening a wedding dress shop but nothing ever stuck. So after asking ‘Hey wouldn’t it be cool to start a business…’ Jess replied ‘Yeah I’d love that but what would we do?’ Then it came to me clear as day. “How about a nursery print business?” Usually, after suggesting a business idea, Jess would point out all the obvious flaws to my half-baked plans and call me a complete buffoon, but to my complete surprise she replied “Oh my god, yes!” 

After that, the ideas came thick and fast (as were the cocktails). “Now for the important question… what should we call our business?” We both stared into space for a second and then… “Tigercub!” It’s what we affectionally called our little one (all parents give their little ones nicknames, am I right?) With that answered everything just fell into place. By the end of the holiday, we’d scoped out competitors, decided to launch on Etsy, planned our first range of illustrations and registered our domain name and socials. Things just got serious.

Starting a business in a worldwide pandemic

Really Serious! Like worldwide pandemic serious! Like many others, we found ourselves in the impossible position of working from home in fast-paced jobs whilst trying to juggle childcare and managing a start-up. It’s safe to say that those first few months were… challenging. But an opportunity arose when I became furloughed, allowing me to look after our little one full-time.

Over the next few months, while Harry had his naps, I started illustrating using the skills I had developed having worked at Designdough. Over the years I’d also spent a lot of time working with start-ups and I had a pretty good idea of what it takes to launch a successful business and the importance of good branding and design.

We never rushed the creative process. I spent a lot of evenings and weekends creating the brand and drawing out rough sketches. I illustrated a quirky moose, majestic tiger and Scandi fox to name a few of the original designs. After a few months, I finished our first collection. There was no sign of the pandemic easing or the endless lockdowns subsiding, but we decided to just go for it. Fully prepared or not. Sometimes you’ve just got to do it. There’s never a perfect time to launch a business, so pandemic or not we hit the big green button on our Etsy shop and waited with bated breath for the orders to roll in…

Tigercub Prints - Children's print on shelf

Our first taste of success 

After a day or so we heard that oh-so-wonderful ‘ka-ching’ from Etsy. The ultimate dopamine hit. Each time it had us leaping up out of our seats grinning ear to ear. But the first orders we received were from family and friends, for which we were extremely grateful, but we were most excited for that all-important organic sale. The one that comes from a complete stranger falling in love with our designs and being compelled to purchase. It took a couple of weeks, but it finally happened. And it continued to happen slowly but surely. Each order from then on made us more and more determined to keep pushing our little business. 

Our Values

We’d thought a lot about the kind of business we wanted to run. We wanted the illustrations to be completely unique, avoiding anything that looked cartoon-like or overly childish. We wanted to bring a more artistic feel to the designs by creating a range of Scandi-inspired nursery prints that parents would be proud to show off. And we wanted to run the business by putting quality first. Always! Whether that be the finish of prints themselves, the attention to detail in the illustrations or the friendly service we offer our customers.

Before long, Jess became a complete Instagram guru, quickly building a following and mastering her photography technique. She’s always been incredible at customer service and applied everything she’d learned during her career. She’s also become a master of quality control and will not let a print leave without checking every inch of it before lovingly wrapping and packing every order.

Whilst Jess settled into her role as ops manager, I stuck to what I know best… Drawing in front of the TV. But somehow our individual skills complement each other and as the sales started to build so did the 5-star reviews giving us the confidence that we are on to something great.

Tigercub Prints - The team - Jess & James Rothwell


Post-pandemic, the next phase for us is understanding the world of business on a deeper level, getting to grips with accounting, SEO, networking, marketing and everything in between. That’s a lot of hats you have to wear as a small business owner and sometimes it can be overwhelming. The key is to keep focused on what’s important and break it down into achievable chunks.

Here's to the future

This year we made the ultimate leap. Jess and I both left fantastic careers and went all-in. We are now full-time business owners and are so excited for what the future may hold for our little business.

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