46: Pitta Chips – Interview with Sophie Harvey from Soffle’s

Today we interview Sophie Harvey from Soffle’s.  I tried her chips at an exhibition in London, Olympia. I loved the chips so I thought I asked her for an interview and she gladly obliged!

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What inspired you to start the business? Tell us about your background!

I started making pitta chips at home for friends to have with beers and dips, everyone loved them so I thought that everyone needed to try them, I started making a bit of a project out of it, designing a bag, making stories about my adventures then popping up at events with a tray. Bit by bit I started doing more events then had a small run of hand sealable bags made with my logo. This meant I could take them to my local Hackney pubs as this was the start of getting them out there. The inspiration has always been how much people have liked them and the enthusiasm about the brand that made me want to turn it into something. It was great to be able to make something that everyone enjoyed so much.

Previously I had worked for an Auction House and then onto a Art Gallery in London. I studied Fine Art for my BA so great to use my artwork for the brand as that was really the starting point of Soffle’s.

What is your USP?

There are so many! But these are my top 3:

1. The famous Soffle CRUNCH!!!!

2. Our ingredients is all FRESH! We bake this into the dough then oven roast with olive oil rather than using powdered extracts for flavours which is extremely important for the way our pitta chips taste.

3. They are so versatile! They pair up perfectly with a beer, hummus, fresh avocado, tzatziki, soup, salad, cheese……..basically you can have them with anything! A home staple in fact.

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Sophie Harvey

What was your biggest challenge setting up your business?

It has all been super challenging but always in completely different ways. At the beginning the physical labour and endless hours of producing the product was very hard and self motivation was key to this period and then upscaling and changing the way I had always thought I wanted to run the business was also very challenging As I pretty much worked alone until a few months ago every aspect was something that I needed to manage. So from doing the accounts, being a salesperson, artwork designer, making deliveries or roasting the chips it can become hard to focus or get things done as well or as organised as you would like them to be which can become quite frustrating.

What is your advice to new entrepreneurs? How to get started?

Just start, make it happen. There is definitely a lot to be said for planning and working out how you are going to do things but ultimately you need to get into action asap. Time can pass very quickly without anything happening and it can be possible to miss opportunities. I definitely didn’t do enough planning as it wasn’t something at first I planned to make into a business so all my time was spent in production and working out how I could increase the production. I also worked for a long time before I decided to give up my job which made it very hard to get to the next stage as time was so limited, if you think it will work and have good reason to think it will then put 100% in as soon as possible. It can become very tiring if you are dragging something out and not having the time to work out how you can make it work.

Ask for advice from everyone you can. Again something I didn’t do until about a year ago as I was so busy in production it was very hard to get out and about. As soon as I did I started to really learn how things worked. Always have in mind the key stages that you are going to need to make the business work. Understand what roles can be done by others so you can then focus on the next stage.

Are there any business books you recommend?

Not yet, next on the list start reading business books!

What is your favourite flavour?

Chilli & Garlic WILD, super HOT made with fresh scotch bonnets its comes with a warning and best in the pubs!

What are your future plans for the company?

Our chips are being introduced to selected Waitrose this month so we are really excited to work on that. In the early days of roasting chips in a garden shed it was something i had always hoped for and of course i always thought it would happen but the reality of it actually happening is a time to think back to the days when I spent endless hours in a shed roasting pitta chips!

But the main focus is all about having our chips with the beers in the pub and the breweries. It is what I made them for and for me is the best environment to be part of.

What is the best business decision you’ve ever made?

Move out of the shed!

For more information about Sophie’s pitta chips please visit Soffles.com.

38: Bircher Muesli Pots – Interview with Anna Mackenzie from Cuckoo foods

Today we feature Anna Mackenzie from London-based company Cuckoo foods.

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What kind of business do you run? When did you start it and where is it based?

I’ve started an FMCG (Fast-moving consumer goods) food brand called Cuckoo which sells premium on-the-go Bircher muesli pots in innovative flavours for those who are busy and looking for a breakfast or snack that is delicious, easy and healthy. We’re based in London but the products are produced in Wales. We sell in to retailers such as Selfridges, Waitrose and Tesco.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

When I was a student, most of my summer jobs were working for smaller companies or startups. I went to Edinburgh University where I studied Business Studies and Psychology, and started Cuckoo straight after graduating, so never had another full time job.

What inspired you to start this business?

I started Cuckoo with Lucy Wright, one of my best friends from school. We’ve always shared a love for food. When we were on a school trip to Switzerland we were staying in a hostel and they had Bircher muesli (which is originally from Switzerland) and it was by far the best thing they had to eat. It was delicious and we wondered why it wasn’t more of a thing back at home. We forgot about it and eventually went our separate ways to Uni. When I was there I found I couldn’t find a breakfast in the shops to take to the library as it was either a croissant (unhealthy) or a yoghurt (not filling) so this idea of a lack of on-the-go breakfast was at the back of my mind. The summer I graduated I was at home and my mum was whipping up these Bircher mueslis for breakfast; all more unique and even tastier versions than I had tried before. Catching up with Lucy at the end of the summer I mentioned the idea to her of turning it into a business and she was really keen – the next week we started working on the project and what is now Cuckoo.

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What would you recommend new entrepreneurs? How to get started?

Meet up with other entrepreneurs in the wider industry and seek as much feedback and advice as you can. Don’t be scared to share your new idea as that is the only way you’ll validate it, and ultimately if you’re passionate about your idea and have come up with it, no one is going to copy it as well as you. Make a step by step plan of what needs to be done and see who you can seek advice from at each stage to get you to the next stage. People will introduce you to others and it’s a great way of creating your own support network whilst getting advice.

Who do you think is the most accomplished entrepreneur you’ve met?

We had the honour of having a coffee with Simon Woodroffe the founder of Yo! Sushi a few weeks ago after we met him at an awards ceremony. He shared his wisdom on how he thinks of new ideas (looking to the near future and thinking about what people will be doing and then saying OK let’s look even further to the future and do that) and marketing and PR (everyone who starts a food company is going to say their food tastes great so you need stand out and be talked about by doing amazing things outside of the good food, which should be a given).

How many people are involved in your business?

It is still just Lucy and myself full-time. We then have marketing interns and great team of Directors, and now outsource or work with freelancers on our accounting, production, operations and PR.

Do you think it is a good idea to start a business with a friend?

Yes – Lucy and I are extremely lucky as when we first started to work on the business we never once thought about what the other would be like as a business partner, or what if it didn’t work out – we just went with it. We have different strengths and weaknesses, we’re honest with each other and we also socialise outside of work with our group of friends – all of which are reasons why I think it works so well. You also get to have a good laugh everyday!

How competitive is your industry?

The FMCG food industry is extremely competitive and everything about your product and business needs to be aligned for it to be a success and even then it takes a lot of hard work and persistence, no matter how good the idea and product is.

To learn more about Cuckoo please visit Cuckoofoods.co.uk.

34: Bespoke celebration cakes – Interview with Jennie from Jennies Cakes

Today we feature Jennie Turnbull from JenniesCakes.co.uk who makes cupcakes and bespoke cakes.

Jennie Turnbull from Jennie's Cake in Wyboston
Jennie Turnbull from Jennie’s Cake in Wyboston

Tell us about yourself and your company!

You could call me a workaholic but I just like to be the best at what I do. If it involves cake then there is something I do. Along with bespoke cakes, cupcakes, cookies, bakery cakes, tarts, tea boxes and other treats, I also cater for serviced tea parties and buffets. Adult and children’s parties for cupcake decorating and teach private and group classes for baking and cake decorating.

What would you say makes you stand out from other companies?

Cake decorating is a very competitive market to be in, so I do offer a lot of things that other cake makers don’t. In this market you have to be constantly evolving to stay in business.

How many years are you in business? How has the business changed throughout the years?

5 years I have been in business and it has changed massively. For the first couple of year I just made cakes and cupcakes just to see how things went but now I am catering for whole weddings and teaching other people baking skills.

What was your most interesting project?

There have been so many challenging cakes that I have loved doing and I also appeared on DIY SOS with cupcakes but I think the most interesting thing is where I can take my company next.

What would you recommend other entrepreneurs? How to get started?

Research everything; trust your gut and you must have a passion for what you do

How do you acquire new customers?

I do use social media but mainly Facebook and I post on groups and things if I want to concentrate on, like Mother’s day orders or special offers, I also run a few competitions. I also have a website which does well and I am on a local website for recommended business. It is not something I really have to worry about now as I have worked hard to build up my reputation and most new customers are recommended to me and they come back for all their special occasions.

How do you use LinkedIn?

I’m on there but really don’t use it, I don’t think it really fits in for my profession.

What is the best business decision you’ve ever made?

Jumping in with 2 feet and becoming my own boss.

How many people are involved in your business?

Just me, I do everything then I have a team of ladies for functions. Hard work yes and I have thought about hiring but that is a bit of a headache at the moment with no time to train anyone.

How do you stay productive and not get distracted?

I am a workaholic!

Any books about setting up a business you can recommend?

Never read any, I basically did a lot of the learning in my jobs. There is nothing like on the job experience, you can’t get that from a book.

What inspired you to start this business?

Someone gave me the idea after I made my daughter’s birthday cake, it took me a while to think about then one day decided to go for it.

What is your daily routine of running your business?

Organisation, double check everything, paperwork, baking, decorating, cleaning and then more of the same, every day. Keeping to appointments, time scales etc all done with lots of tea and the radio on.

What are the best and worst parts of running your business?

The best bits are seeing the looks on people’s faces when they see what I have created for them, also that I can (and should more often) work when I want. The worst is if I have got something wrong, which is not often but it kills me and take me ages to forgive myself, something I don’t think I will ever learn.

Are there any blogs, podcasts or Facebook Groups about business you follow closely?

I follow the big cake makers and anyone that puts up food related recipes, tutorials etc. I also like to go to the gym so I also follow a lot of keep fit people as well as it makes me feel better about eating so much cake!

To learn more about Jennie’s cake business please visit JenniesCakes.co.uk.

31: Gourmet Marshmallows – Interview with Oonagh Simms from The Marshmallowist

Today blog post features Oonagh Simms who runs a marshmallow company in London.

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What kind of business do you run? When did you start it and where is it based?

I make gourmet marshmallows in unexpected flavours, from strawberry and basil to blueberry and sipsmith gin. These are sold in luxury retailers as well as bars and restaurants throughout the UK.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I moved to Paris at 18 and trained as a patisserie / chocolatier. After 4 years I returned to the UK to live in London and began working for a luxury chocolate company. It was then that I realised something was missing in British confectionary. You see, in Paris I would make perhaps 4 different types of marshmallow a week. They were used in the famous Gateau Royal, brought along to dinner parties or served as a petite four. But in England they were just pink and white puffs. I started experimenting after work with different flavour combinations, using fresh fruits and herbs and spices. Some were successful, some were less so. But after a while I had flavours that I felt tasted incredible and a product that tasted unlike anything else.

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What inspired you to start this business?

I managed to blag a Saturday market stall on Portobello Road and alongside a friend, we started to sell the marshmallows. I would make them at night and we would work the stall together on a Saturday. At first it was just a way of me testing new marshmallow flavours (and making a bit of extra money) but very quickly the marshmallows started getting lot of attention – Vogue magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, the BBC.

That was 4 years ago and a lot has changed since- The Marshmallows are now stocked by Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. I have my own bakery and have taken on fantastic staff to work alongside me. I’ve just finished my first recipe book which comes out soon, have some really exciting collaborations and I’m finally starting to feel as though I might just be getting there.

What is your daily routine of running your business?

Although years of working in bakeries and kitchens meant that I had to be up at the crack of dawn, thankfully, I don’t have to do that anymore. I wake up at 7.30 and I’m in the bakery by 9. Being a ‘marshmallowist’ sounds quite soft and fluffy but I seem to spend most of my day carrying out extremely heavy lifting. Attaching large mixer bowls to a one ton hobart, fixing broken strings on my ganache cutter, lifting 25 kilo bags of sugar from my van.

The marshmallow process takes 3 days from chopping fruit to make the fresh puree, to whipping up the sugar, pouring , setting, cutting, conditioning and then packing.

Our online shop sends alerts to my phone so as soon as someone places an order, it comes straight through to the kitchen. Making sure that customers come to our online store and are happy enough to order again is really important- 70% of my business is through our web shop. So I had to very quickly get out of the ‘chef’ mind-set and think about design and creative aspects of the company. How we package and wrap the marshmallows how customers feel when they get them.

I take all the photographs for our Instagram account and social media so I always have to remind myself to stop what I’m doing and take a picture of it instead. It isn’t something that I gave much thought to before but over the last year it’s become increasingly important- it’s also a great way of connecting with food lovers, food producers and chefs. Being in a kitchen all day can be quite isolating – so being part of an online community, even if that’s 100 people liking a new flavour you’ve made makes it a lot more satisfying.

Events take over a lot of my evenings – I offer a pop up stand and S’more station for corporate parties, weddings, street food markets, I love doing these and am never happier than when selling or serving on a stall. If I’m not setting up at one of these then I’m catching up on emails, invoicing and accounting – this has really crept up on me. At first it was easy enough to manage but as the business has grown I had to get my head around spreadsheets a lot faster than I would have liked.

What are the best and worst parts of running your business?

The perks of the job are unimaginable – I get to decide who I want to work with, how I want things to look, sound, taste. I also realised that I couldn’t do it all by myself so, last year, my sister Jenny came to work with me – being able to do this together means that the downsides (the lack of money and lack of social life) aren’t quite so hard.

What would you recommend new entrepreneurs? How to get started?

I never set out to be an ‘entrepreneur’ I just learnt a craft and thought that I would be quite happy doing that – making chocolates, creating new flavour combinations, working in a kitchen as part of a team.

Any books about entrepreneurship you can recommend?

Quite unorthodox but, Peter Hook’s autobiography Hacienda- How not to run a club. A brilliantly written account of setting up and running the famous Hacienda nightclub in Manchester in the 80s and 90s. Of course it was a genre changing behemoth and was set up through sweat, passion and creativity but it ended up costing them a fortune. Bankrupting all of the owners more than once. A lot of very important lessons on falling into owning a business to be learnt. It is also a really fun read.

Want to learn more about Oonagh’s company? Please visit Themarshmallowist.com, to buy her book please click here.

28: Beef Jerky – Interview with Gregory Nemitz from Beefjerky.com

Gregory Nemitz sells Beef Jerky online since 1995 at Beefjerky.com. In this interview he’ll reveal what he has learned in the last 20 years of running the business.

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What kind of business do you run? When did you start it and where is it based?

Beefjerky.com is a sole proprietorship that began in 1995, at the dawn of the commercial Internet. It is a customer service oriented business. I take great pride in offering premium quality, fresh beef jerky at fair and reasonable prices. The price chart on the ordering page is easy to understand and gives a further discount with every additional bag ordered. I always mail the beef jerky in Priority Mail packages. My USA customers get their package in 2-4 days, the many International customers get theirs in 7 to 10 days. My office is in beautiful Southern Idaho.

What inspired you to start this business?

In 1995 the commercial side of the Internet was just starting. I had been occasionally making beef jerky since 1980, mostly for family and friends, and for Christmas presents. Everyone loved my family recipe for black pepper beef jerky. I had a tech friend and we had been talking about how the Internet just might amount to something someday. We thought we should get involved somehow. A few weeks later I woke up one morning and it was sharply clear to me that I needed to buy www.beefjerky.com that day, ASAP, or I might not get it! I called my friend and told him to originally register the domain for me, right now. So for $70, that is how I acquired www.beefjerky.com and started my beef jerky business.

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What keeps you motivated to keep working on your business?

I really enjoy operating my Beefjerky.com business. I like that my customers are getting fresh, healthy, and delicious beef jerky from me. I keep the production cycle short so all the jerky is sold while it is still very fresh and tastes at its best. I like that it is a healthy product that is high in protein. It is helpful for people on Paleo, or who choose to eat low-carb to lose weight and get healthy. Not many people realize that Beef Jerky is an incredible source of protein. A lot of the people who buy the beef jerky are athletes or are sports teams who are looking for a tasty snack that is high in protein to help build muscle. It is the perfect snack after a long day of practice or training. And it tastes great as well!

Do you have unique flavours?

Beefjerky.com has six flavours. They are unique takes on standard, well-known flavor styles. Some jerky webshops have so many flavor choices it is a chore to decide. With only six excellent variations, Beefjerky.com makes jerky shopping simple. My two most popular flavours are Final Frontier Black Pepper Jerky and the Original Hickory. Both of these have deep roots in traditional, old-fashioned beef jerky. My Final Frontier has large grain, cracked black pepper and lots of it. For some people it is too much, but it is very easy to rub off the extra, to make the level of pepper just how you like it. The Original Hickory is a very old school flavor that can bring back childhood memories of early jerky experiences. These two flavors are sugar-free. My other four flavors are Honey Teriyaki, Ring of Fire Hot Red Pepper, Whiskey BBQ, and Sweet & Spicy.

What would you recommend new entrepreneurs? How to get started?

The most important thing to a new entrepreneur is carefully choosing your market. Your market must have enough potential customers to make your startup investment of money and work pay off in a reasonable amount of time. Beefjerky.com’s market for beef jerky is easy to define, it is: humans with teeth. Almost half of everyone really loves good beef jerky.

What would you say is the hardest part about running a business?

The hardest part of Beefjerky.com is keeping up with the ever-changing Internet. It is a consistent learning environment to know how to apply corrections to SEO, website styles, and new cross-platform functionalities. It is a constant SEO balancing act to keep Beefjerky.com on the first page of the Google results. Another issue is the changing landscape of international laws about importing beef jerky. For example, the United Kingdom completely prohibits the importation of my beef jerky. Growing the business is also a challenge. I look for opportunities to cross-promote my customer list with other Internet business, bulk orders for events & promotions, and new ideas.

Do you have a Unique Selling Point?

The main USP is FRESH; I sell fresh beef jerky. The jerky in your local store, gas station, etc. can be several months old. Beef jerky really tastes best when it is very freshly made. All the marinade ingredients still have their fresh &, popping flavors that accent the beefy goodness. I really try to keep the production-to-sales cycle at just 2-3 weeks, so the beef jerky is less than a month old by the time my customer eats it. Go to your local store and compare prices, even with shipping, my prices are not crazy high. Also, some people like the Astronaut involvement with my Final Frontier jerky. Beefjerky.com’s Final Frontier Beef Jerky has flown to space five times on the Space Shuttle, Soyuz, and Progress rockets.

What are your future plans for the company?

My main focus moving forward is to keep on improving traffic and conversion to sales. Beefjerky.com is one of those things that once you hear or read about it, the concept sticks in your mind as sort of, “Of course, I can buy beef jerky on-line. I never thought about that before!” Increasing traffic is all about acquiring more of the public’s mind-share. Then my focus is on improving the Beefjerky.com website to better convert all that new traffic into new customers. That is the other end of gaining more mind-share. Both work together in harmony to grow sales exponentially.

What’s your favorite app?

Fount Connecting Entrepreneurs is the app that I use to connect with other entrepreneurs. It helps me with taking Beefjerky.com to the next level.

To learn more about Greg’s beef jerky please visit Beefjerky.com.