Innovation and enterprise blog

Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

28 September 2020

Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups diary – The Street Food Company – part 1

We are once again following another business through the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme, The Street Food Company. You can read last year's diary from JR Pass and The Good Slice’s diary from earlier this year. You will hear first-hand about the programme’s different sessions and how they are using these to focus and change their business direction. Let’s here more from James.

“Hi, I’m James and together with my co-founder Kevin, we started The Street Food Company.  The business sparked from our backpacking adventures and tasting the world’s best street food, from Bangkok’s shredded mango salads, chorizo chilli mint hotdogs from Havana to the toasted coconut curries of Sri Lanka. Back in the UK, we couldn’t find the same electrifying flavours and inspiring dishes anywhere and were bored with the more mainstream dishes everyone was offering.

Street Food market selling grilled foods

We decided to make a range of bold, adventurous and unique Street Food sauces that helped others easily recreate the world’s best street food with just a few simple ingredients, no need for specialist skills or hard-to-find herbs and spices. We started supplying university chefs to help them provide street food for their students, but the business has recently grown into theme parks, football stadia to pub chains and hotels across the UK. Our simple mission to help anyone easily recreate the world’s best street food that we find on our travels was well underway!

Fast forward to March this year and all that changed.  All our customers had to close their doors and the food service sector as we knew it changed overnight. We quickly decided to turn our focus to diversifying our business and to launch a retail side for consumers who wanted to cook more adventurously at home with bolder world flavours. The Innovating for Growth programme couldn’t have come at a better time as we now had access to a group of specialist advisors who could help us in every aspect of our new retail growth plan, to ensure we focussed our limited resources in the right direction at such a critical time.

We kicked off with a session by Rasheed Ogunlaru, owner of Soul Trader. The meeting was not only a great way to meet and interact with the other businesses on the course, but it also focussed on us as founders and the importance of looking after ourselves and that we have a clear vision, mission and plan for our own lives as much as we should for our business.

The rest of the course was focussed on our growth plan, which centres around a simple one page Business Model Canvas tool, that helps you layout how you will deliver products and services that your customers value and will pay for. Our opening strategy session with Robert from Red Ochre identified the key to our growth as being:

  1. A clearer value proposition for our products.
  2. More defined target customers.
  3. Finding the right marketing activities.
  4. Identifying the right partners to sell the products through.

With a much clearer focus on what we needed, we dived straight into brand sessions run by Dave and Sandra from ABA, which helped us realise the importance of branding, it being the sum total of everything your company does and how it behaves. It’s how customers feel about your brand and not what you think they feel. This focussed our thinking on the purpose of our company, what we could be best in the world at and how we should communicate this to our customers.

Our company purpose has now changed from helping people to make street food at home to one with a much bigger mission of making truly unique, adventurous and fun products with crazy bold flavours that other companies are afraid to do; that challenges the status quo and pushes the boundaries of food and flavour. We are reinvigorated as the potential and possibilities feel limitless.

Drunk Pony Ribs from The Street Food Company

We excitedly jumped into a Marketing session with Helen from ABA where we learned to create detailed customer personas to really understand our customers, focus on communicating the emotional benefits of our products and to detail our customer’s journey to give a five star service at every touchpoint.

With customers on our mind, we met with Dean from Fluxx, an incredible product and service innovation company.  We felt we knew our customers, but Fluxx challenged us to question our assumptions and delve deeper, suggesting great techniques like diary studies and split testing to really get inside the heads of our customers and understand how and why they use our products.

Last, but certainly not least, was financial planning with Julie from Metavalue. This session addressed our questions over budgeting, pricing and KPIs, helped us to create a financial forecast and plan and has instilled a commitment in us to review our P&L (profit and loss), balance sheet and key financial information monthly.

The programme has been incredibly useful in helping us work through our new business direction and we can’t wait to get stuck into Part 2 and let you know more! Feel free to follow us on Instagram and Facebook or contact us at hello@discoverstreetfood.com. ‘Till then, Let Your Taste Buds Travel!"

24 September 2020

A day in the life of… Hazel Russell, co-founder of The Wood Life Project

Hazel is the co-founder of The Wood Life Project, alongside her husband Jimmy. The Wood Life Project manufacture beautiful, innovative, eco-friendly, practical products for the family home, with a focus on mealtimes. The product range consists of children's tableware, pet bowls and a range of boards for grown-ups. All products are manufactured in the UK and use sustainably grown and harvested wood from the UK.

Since launching to wholesale in September 2019, they now work with 50 retailers, sell via their own website, as well as through Not on the High Street and Joules.

Hazel Russel at Top Drawer

Hazel and Jimmy first sought support from Business & IP Centre Norfolk, at Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, for help with Intellectual Property. They then went on to get further support from a Menta Business Advisor. They contributed to the BIPC report, Democratising Entrepreneurship, and were invited to the launch event at the House of Lords, hosted by Lord Bilimoria.

Life in a product business start-up with multiple sales streams means that no two days are ever the same. I have to wear many different hats; head of sales, head of finance, customer service, supply-chain manager to name but a few.
So today my day has consisted of:

5.30 Alarm. 6k run and upper body weight session. Exercising first thing is a non-negotiable for me as it helps me start the day in a positive way, where I feel great and have time to myself. This morning I listened to an audiobook, Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley.

6.30 Get myself showered and dressed.

7.00 Get the boys breakfast and ready for school.

7.30 We leave for the drive to school. Back home by 8.30.

8.30 A quick clear up of the house (from the carnage that is left from the children!) and then I sit down at my desk to begin work.

9.00 Following up on the leads from virtual trade shows we have been exhibiting at, a new experience as we would normally be at a trade show in person as I write this. I have really missed meeting all the lovely retailers in person and the buzz that comes with exhibiting at a show. Is this the future of events like this?

The Wood Life Project dog bowl

9.30 Answering emails, engaging on social media and invoicing.

10.00 Time for a Zoom meeting with our local Innovation Centre. We are investigating ways of improving our supply chain, in particular logistics. We are passionate about ensuring our supply chain is transparent and as ethical and sustainable as possible. We are striving towards eco-excellence and will not stand still on our journey. We are also looking into what grants may be available to us, so a really useful session.

11.00 Packaging review for new product range. We are about to launch a range of boards for grown-ups and some Christmas-themed tableware for children. We are working with a graphic designer and have a lot of packaging copy to approve.

13.00 Check in with our manufacturer. We have recently become FSC and Grown in Britain certified, and we had a big delivery of certified material arrive with the manufacturer. There are new procedures in place to ensure all material is segregated correctly and recorded throughout the processing of the material, so a quick call to ensure all procedures had been followed correctly was a must. We are also beginning development on some children’s cutlery, to complement our children’s tableware range, so we discussed a number of manufacturing methods to come up with the best designs which are also efficient on the machines.

14.00 Packaging up orders, including gift-wrapping and gift tag writing (I love this part of the day as some messages are so funny and sometimes very random!). Today was a fairly quiet day for orders… The calm before the storm of the Christmas period!

The Wood Life Project Christmas tablewear

14.30 Post Office run for all of the day’s orders. Luckily, we have a very patient post-mistress!

15.00 School run. I love picking the boys up from school and hearing all about their day. They have adapted really well after having nigh on six months off school and have had their first full-week back at school.

16.00 Back home and time to prepare the family meal.

17.00 Family mealtime. A really important part of the day for us as a family. We love having this time to connect with each other.

18.00 Family time.

19.00 Bedtime for the children.

20.00 Sometimes I will log back on and finish off any work, but mostly I try to relax with my husband and switch off.

22.00 Bedtime.

17 September 2020

Julie Deane: Living proof that you can start and adapt a business from your kitchen table

Julie famously founded The Cambridge Satchel Company from her kitchen table in Cambridge, with only £600, as a means of paying school fees for her children. Being seen on the arms of celebrities and bloggers such as Taylor Swift and Liberty London Girl quickly gave the brand global recognition.

To celebrate Julie's upcoming event, Kitchen Table Talks: adapting to the times with Julie Deane OBE, in partnership with Santander, we caught up with her to find out more about her business journey, and why every business should have a dog for company.

Julie Deane sat at her kitchen table

Championing the self-employed cause

Julie’s monumental start-up success from “a cup of tea and a big idea” to a globally recognised brand is living proof that anyone can set up a business they’re passionate about from their kitchen table. Throughout her rise to business success, Julie’s philosophy has always been to champion aspiring entrepreneurs, believing that everyone should have a chance to take control of their own destiny and achieve their life goals.

“Personally, self-employment changed my life,” said Julie. “There are over 4.5 million self-employed people in the UK and there are now more possibilities to set up as self-employed. People can now create opportunities for themselves – they now have options.”

Whether it’s getting a brand new product to market, securing investment for a potentially ground-breaking invention or simply spreading the word about your available services using social media, there are now more ways than ever to achieve your self-employment ambitions.

Julie has now had to come back to where it all began, her kitchen table, when Cambridge Satchel Company's office closed during the pandemic, she realised that founder stage Julie may have had better ways of working than now. "I’ve rediscovered the necessity of making decisions quickly and not overthinking. The clarity of focus when undisturbed has been good when reflecting on how best to move forward. There are fewer distractions and more hours, reclaimed from commuting, but how did I separate life from work? How did I shut off when the house is filled with work reminders? I have some questions I’d love to run past the first year founder me!"

The importance of work/life balance is also key, especially when it comes to pets. "I can do without most things, my dogs don’t fall into that category. The garden has never looked better and the dogs have never been happier – those are the balances that have kept my spirit high."

Classic Satchel in brown

Overcoming limited budgets with creativity

With such a small starting budget, Julie had to be extremely creative in raising awareness of her new business. Julie admits she was a self-proclaimed “queen of the free directory listing”, utilising as many local resources as possible to get noticed, such as regional newspapers, fashion and lifestyle editors and business directories. In fact, it was her innovative relationship-building with fashion bloggers and lifestyle editors that would eventually propel the brand to the next level.

In 2010, Julie was contacted by fashion bloggers in the United States, who were desperate to wear her satchels to New York Fashion Week. This massively increased the exposure of the brand, and having the satchels on show on the laps of front row fashionistas caused quite a stir. This culminated in Bloomingdales stocking the satchels in the iconic 5th Avenue store in New York – quite a meteoric rise from Julie’s quiet Cambridgeshire family home.

The importance of staying true to your roots

Perhaps the really impressive aspect of the global growth of The Cambridge Satchel Company is that the brand has continued to remain close to its roots. Julie has been the brand guardian throughout the years, using social media to maintain close relationships with customers and building the human aspect and relatability of the brand.

Julie’s first company photo shoot of her product range even featured her own children as models. This proved to really resonate with customers, especially given that Julie’s children were such a significant factor in the company’s creation.

Julie cites her greatest achievement in business as being able to scale the business globally whilst staying true to who she is.

“We’ve taken investment, and it would be very easy to step back and potentially get too big for our boots but we’ve remained the same company essentially – we have a direct relationship with our customers and want it [to stay that way],” she said.

When stores had to close due to lockdown, these roots proved once again to be key to success. "The Cambridge Satchel Company was born on the internet. Our customers and following were built online and so from that perspective it’s always been a strength we feel we have. During lockdown though, there was an increased need to reach out and help customers with browsing, product advice and customer service through all online channels. I even recorded videos in the garden for some customers to answer queries."

This has also led Julie and her team to reassess and not be afraid of changing decisions made previously. Her current three priorities for the company are:

  1. Communication is on the priority list every week – yes, the team is smaller but that doesn’t mean it’s easier to make sure we’re all on the same page. Remote working has some benefits but does challenge communication and the maintenance of team spirit.
  2. We have used this time to reflect on who we are as a brand and what sets us apart from competitors. The next step is to action these thoughts – this week we have already commissioned a new look photo shoot.
  3. I’m looking to simplify our offer. Currently there is a large range of styles, sizes and colours, so an overwhelming amount of choice. Simplicity is king and during these times when we are operating with a smaller team we need to get back to basics. 

The Sophie in red

Guard your intellectual property with your life

One of the biggest challenges Julie faced in the early stages of building up her business was protecting her intellectual property. The company’s first factory and manufacturer actually attempted to steal her original designs to create an imitation product.

Julie, however, soon learnt from her naivety, and opted to set up her own manufacturing facility in Leicester and operate using non-disclosure agreements when working with third parties, which helped her protect her brand.

In the space of just twelve months, Julie discovered 330 fake websites that claimed to sell her satchels – some even displaying an imitation trade mark. Fake profiles had also been set up on social media channels claiming to be The Cambridge Satchel Company and selling counterfeit goods.

“We enforce our trade marks aggressively and have fake websites shut down,” she added.

“At MarkMonitor meetings I am surrounded by household names, far bigger than us. We have to join together to defend ourselves but it is a huge drain on resources.”

Intellectual property infringement is no laughing matter; it can cost you thousands. However, you can get all the information and guidance you need to protect your ideas and creations here at the British Library at our regular workshops and through advice clinics.

The Emily Tote in French Grey

Work with honesty and integrity

The Cambridge Satchel Company has quickly become a brand that people can believe in across the world and this has led to global success. This is particularly the case for China, which is now the business’ second-largest territory for sales. Even Prince William paid a visit to a festival in Shanghai which housed Julie’s very own ‘Great Wall of Satchels’.

Julie has used the recent months to think about the brand in a more meaningful way. "We recognised that this was the time to stop, pause and reflect on exactly why we deserve to exist and survive. What we offer that’s of value and sets us apart. Those fundamental questions led us to recognise that we needed to rediscover the brand in a way and be bolder. The project has brought so much excitement and clarity – definitely the most defining, valuable solution."

Julie has been deservedly heralded as a true British business success story and was acknowledged by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron who asked her to lead an independent review of the UK’s self-employment landscape. The resulting report outlined 10 recommendations for the Government’s consideration that would support the growth of the self-employed community in the UK. This included increased use of libraries and enterprise hubs.

The Cambridge Satchel Company’s inspirational story is a fantastic example of how one great idea can spiral into a global business success. As Entrepreneur in Residence, Julie shares her own expertise and experience to help users of the Business & IP Centre achieve their own self-employment ambitions. Kitchen Table Talks: adapting to the times with Julie Deane OBE is on Tuesday 22 September, 10.30.