THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

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

30 September 2016

How British lifestyle label Toast went from strength to strength

Established in West Wales in 1997 by Jessica and Jamie Seaton, Toast is a British brand renowned for quality and style. The business has a huge online following and now has 11 physical shops throughout the UK. Jessica will be speaking about growing Toast from a small start-up to the successful business it is today at our upcoming Inspiring Entrepreneurs event on 18 October. Ahead of that we caught up with her to find out some of the secrets to her success.

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What were you doing before you started Toast and what drove you to start your own business?

Toast is the second business Jamie and I started. The first designed, made and sold knitwear. We had been working on that business for 20 years and it was time for a change, a new challenge.

What steps did you take to it started?

The first thing we developed was the idea and that was to make modern, simple, easy pyjamas. After that came the question of 'how?' We were motivated by two priorities - firstly, how can we have an immediate connection with our customer, so that we stood or fell by their assessment of what we do; and, secondly, how could we reduce risk and make the most of existing resources. These two priorities drove a lot of early decisions.

What obstacles, if any, have you faced along the way?

So many! One of the earliest was getting funding early enough and underestimating how long that process would take. We thought everyone would share our view that the business was a sure-fire winner. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t necessarily agree. That naivety nearly sank us. But we did get there in the end and with a partner who has stood by us ever since.

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of starting their own business – what would it be?

Do something you love. There will be so many hard times you'll need that passion to carry you through.

 

Take your chance to put your questions to Jessica and the panel at ‘Inspiring Entrepreneurs Marketing Maestros’ taking place on 18 October 2016 at the British Library. Get your ticket here.

28 September 2016

How Grub Club became a successful business in the pop-up market

We asked Siddarth Vijayakumar, co-founder of Grub Club, some of our burning questions ahead of his appearance at the British Library next month. Together with his food obsessed friend, Sid co-founded one of the best pop-ups and supper clubs in London. Here’s how he did it.

Sid

What were you doing before you started Grub Club and what drove you to start your own business?

I was working in online advertising prior to starting Grub Club. I set up an online ad network for PHD, a relatively large media agency in London and, on the back of its, success the parent company, Omnicom, asked me to set it up for the whole network. However the idea for Grub Club had been burning inside me since 2006 when I made a trip to Zanzibar and was inspired by a restaurant called Two Tables which was just that - two tables in someone’s home! I loved the idea that someone can make money from their passion and set up a restaurant anywhere.

What steps did you take to get it started?

I started working on the idea in 2012 when I met my co-founder Liv. To start with we did a lot of research on the market to see if there was a clear opportunity here. Thankfully in 2012 the pop-up market was growing and so we were able to get a lot of advice and help from chefs and diners.

What obstacles, if any, have you faced along the way?

From the outset, people started to tell me it was a bad idea and that I wouldn’t be able to get the necessary funding. No matter what your size, I think there are constant obstacles along the way. It’s important to persevere and never forget the reason why you set it up in the first place.

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of starting their own business – what would it be?

It goes without saying that you need to choose an idea that you are really passionate about as this will keep you going through the inevitable rough points. At the same time it’s very important to think about what you want out of your life, whether it is money or a certain type of lifestyle perhaps and ask yourself whether that idea can sustain those goals.

 

Take your chance to put your questions to Sid and the panel at ‘Inspiring Entrepreneurs Marketing Maestros’ taking place on 18 October 2016 at the British Library. Get your ticket here.

27 September 2016

How Patrick Drake gave up the rat race and co-founded HelloFresh

Patrick Drake wanted to pursue his love of food full time – as a result he co-founded the UK's leading recipe box service. Patrick and his team wanted to give everyone great ingredients and the knowledge to cook fantastic meals and viola HelloFresh was born! We caught up with him before his appearance at the British Library on 18 October.

Patrick drake

What were you doing before you co-founded HelloFresh and what drove you to start your own business?

I used to be a lawyer at Clifford Chance before I moved to Goldman Sachs and then decided enough was enough. I wasn't interested in helping someone else build their dream. I had my own to pursue. Cooking was something I always loved, but beyond that I love to teach people. That's when I decided I wanted to work in food and have my own TV show. So I worked in restaurants for free to improve my skills and started a Youtube channel to practice being in front of the camera. Many twists and turns later (including a little stint in the mind-blowingly cool Fat Duck in Bray) I met with the people who were to become my co-founders of HelloFresh in the UK. It was November 2011 and then in January 2012 we packed the first 10 bags of shopping in my living room. It's grown a bit since then. Last month we delivered 8.5 million meals globally and I got the TV show too. 

What steps did you take to it started?

We could have spent months in research and development before launching HelloFresh only to find that we'd created something the market did not want. So instead of doing that we launched as soon as possible with a prototype. The product was really, really basic but it gave us a starting point and live feedback from real customers (rather than the misplaced encouragement of friends and relatives). We also tried every way possible to market ourselves, from dressing up as carrots in Waterloo station (we got asked to leave by security) to running a speed omelette challenge at food events to whip up excitement. What we learned along the way is that there's no substitute for the personal approach and that you get out what you put in. You could start a business thinking the best form of marketing is a massive billboard in Piccadilly Circus. But if people haven't heard of your product or your concept before, you need to put a passionate salesperson in front of them and show them why your business should become a part of their life. It's old fashioned and its labour intensive, but it works.

What obstacles, if any, have you faced along the way?

The greatest obstacle we faced was to educate a market that had never heard of recipe boxes before. People had happily been buying all their ingredients from the supermarket for decades, so why did they need a service like HelloFresh in their lives? We needed to show people that HelloFresh wasn't an extra line of expense in their monthly budget, but that it could be a replacement for their usual weekly shop. It's not easy trying to turn such a large ship around but through a combination of television advertising, strong PR, speaking to people in person and any other touch points we could find (you may have seen our smiley team at London tube stations!) a new course has been set. 

If you had one piece of advice for anyone thinking of starting their own business – what would it be?

Just go for it! It's been said that an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off the cliff and builds the plane on the way down. Clearly some market research and a viable product are important but, as I said, don't spend months trying to make your first iteration perfect. It's never going to happen and if you are being honest with yourself you are probably just procrastinating for fear of judgment and failure. Failure is merely an indication that you need to correct your course, so embrace each failure as another indication of which direction you should (or shouldn't) take. It's like Thomas Edison said: "I haven't failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that don't work."

Check out Patrick's latest on Instagram: @patrickdrakechef

Take your chance to put your questions to Patrick and the panel at ‘Inspiring Entrepreneurs Marketing Maestros’ taking place on 18 October 2016 at the British Library. Get your ticket here