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“You should just give up now. What makes you think you can actually do this?” he said. It was the last day of university and I was ready to kick some entrepreneurial behind. Except, my careers advisor didn’t seem to think so. “It’ll be so hard.” he said. “You’ll lose all your money. You’ll fail, for sure.” I think I was supposed to be terrified; put off by the thought of eating 12p two minute noodles and foraging the reduced aisle at the supermarket for the rest of my life. I stared back at him as he ranted and all I could think was, ‘I can’t wait to get started’.
There’s this scary statistic that comes up every time someone mentions entrepreneurs: 9 out of 10 startups don’t make it past their first year of trading. It’s always bandied around in an almost fatalistic way, like as if success is something that happens to the lucky or the privileged and you’ve either got it or you don’t. Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of working with hundreds of startups and I think the real winners are the ones who have an insatiable drive to succeed, who aren’t afraid to pull together what it takes and aren’t really phased by the latest statistics because they’re too busy turning their dreams into reality. To them, failure is nothing but a temporary setback.
Another thing I hear a lot is the idea that being an entrepreneur is about having an incredible bank of knowledge or a huge address book of contacts that you can rely on to guide you towards success. I think that’s old news, too. If we look at the challenger brands in the market today, we can see that that’s not really how they started. You don’t have to know anyone or have a weighty career in food and drink to have a go. Interest from investors and trade buyers today goes beyond those conventions, and your tenacity and determination will set you apart. There’s a democratic revolution brewing in the food and drink industry, not least through events like Bread & Jam.
Bread & Jam gives budding entrepreneurs the opportunity to learn from the greats and pitch to buyers that might otherwise take months or years for a business to meet. One of my favourite things about running Bread & Jam is that it’s also one of those rare occasions where it is completely acceptable to say “I don’t know”. As entrepreneurs, I think there is this relentless pressure to know everything and everyone and to know exactly what you’re doing all the time. I think we should instead focus our admiration on the entrepreneurs who aren’t afraid to acknowledge the gaps in their knowledge and know they can’t do it alone, who are actively seeking out an incredible network to help them. They are the kind of go-getters that will be attending this year and I can’t wait to meet them.
Meg Haggar, Raw Halo
Navigating your way to food start-up success is a tricky journey, with many obstacles awaiting you. Every successful brand makes mistakes, they’re inevitable. It’s not about avoiding making them, it’s all about how you respond and learn from them.
Firstly, and most importantly, the success of your business is determined by your product. Spend time trying to get that right from the start, and if it’s not right then fix it. Listen to your customers and improve your offering with new flavours and improved recipes. Ensure you have a scalable and reliable production. Once this is set-up and working well you’ll thank yourself as your production volumes increase over time.
Work hard at building up your various sales channels, whether this is online, via wholesaler or direct to trade. The more eggs you have spread across more baskets the better, and where possible you should avoid situations where a single customer dictates the success of your business. Look to international markets once you have built a good base in the UK, and focus on those regions that are easier to trade with especially in the EU.
When it’s time to shine and stand out from the crowd, find ways to validate your products, whether through awards such as Great Taste, or certifications by various bodies specific to your sector. And then shout about your success as much as possible. PR and marketing are powerful tools so find ways to maximise your opportunities and squeeze as much from your budgets as possible. And don’t forget to engage with your end consumers via social media. Remember it’s a two-way conversation so don’t be afraid to ask your followers what they like and dislike, make them feel part of the brand and you’ll soon have an army of brand ambassadors.
Richard Hollingbery, Godminster
One of the great triumphs that we were able to achieve, unwittingly, was the introduction to the market place of quality cheese wrapped in wax. Let me explain…
Up until that point waxed cheese had a reputation for being the ‘sweepings’, off cuts and questionable stock from the larger dairies. So suddenly here was a quality product presented in a unique way – two of the most helpful factors for any start up business!
A second great triumph was winning the Fresh Ideas award for innovation in the Global Food and Drink Industry Awards for our horseradish vodka in 2007. We should have capitalised more on that award and we have learned our lesson as a result!
However, mistakes in a company of our size could happen when there is a lack of planning or communication within the business. I have learnt that the more scenario planning, budgeting and forecasting, in conjunction with your team, then the less likely you are to make errors.
My greatest piece of advice would be to enjoy and praise your team on the fruits of its labour. Showing willingness to identify and address any problem areas head on is important for business progression, and we certainly live by this mantra.
My last piece of advice – embrace everything you do – you only get one proper chance!
Ben Branson, Seedlip
3 things I wish I’d known
- Patience – Launching food and drink products takes a long time. It took me two years and that’s as fast I could possibly do it. If you are creating anything new or unique, prepare yourself that the actual product will take the longest.
- Snakes & Ladders – it’s up and down, highs and lows, and the sooner you can accept that and actually embrace the rollercoaster and the unknown, the better. One minute you get an order, the next you don’t hear anything or get rejected.
- Focus – so much to do, so little time, lots of plates spinning, lots you could do… but what should you do? I initially wanted to launch 5x products in two sizes – we actually launched one in one size and got really focused on making that the best it could be.
- Growth – From myself in my kitchen 18 months ago to having 20 employees, products selling in 10x cities around the world and Seedlip stocked in some of the best cocktail bars, restaurants and hotels in the world.
- Family - Working with my mother’s farming side of the family using ingredients we grow and my father with his design experience on bringing the brand to life.
1 greatest ally
I didn’t and still to a large extent have no clue what I’m doing and my naivety is my most important attribute I have learnt to embrace. It means we try things and do things that if I had all the industry experience we wouldn’t even attempt. Enjoy asking the stupid questions!
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