My Gran taught me to make jam at the age of 14. After making it from my parents’ kitchen and selling it at farmers’ markets, I came up with a way of making jam from 100% fruit. I pitched my idea to Waitrose when I was 17 and, in 2007, they launched SuperJam in all of their 260 stores.
My first business idea involved hatching chicken eggs on top of the TV and raising the chicks that hatched. Once they started laying eggs, I sold those to neighbours. Unfortunately, my chicken-farming career was sadly ended when the local fox ate my chickens for dinner!
I see starting a business as an adventure; for me, the most amazing feeling is seeing something that I created sitting on the shelves of a supermarket store. I also love the idea that the success of my business can benefit other people, by using its profit to support community projects, such as the hundreds of tea parties we run for elderly people.
My approach is to find the simplest way to test your idea, risking as little money as possible, and finding out if it is something that people want to buy. Sure, people will tell you it’s a nice idea, but until they put their hand in their pocket you don’t really know.
Dan Germain – who created the Innocent brand – told me that any brand should just have one message, and that it should put all of its effort into trying to get that one message across. Too many people say ‘here are ten reasons why you should buy my product’.
My heroes are the late Anita Roddick (founder of The Body Shop), Ben and Jerry and other entrepreneurs who showed that business can be a form of protest. By sourcing ingredients responsibly, being vocal about poor ethics that were the norm in their industries (like animal testing, for example) and using their packaging to shout about issues they cared about, their businesses were a force for positive change in the world, and not just a money making machine.
Of course. When I was pitching my ideas to supermarkets and 100-year-old factories at the age of 16, many of them didn’t take me seriously. I guess that was partly down to my age, but actually mostly because I didn’t have any experience or money behind me. I’ve actually been amazed by how willing other entrepreneurs are to support a young person with an idea. There’s a huge amount of support available and, in my case, Waitrose were willing to hear an idea from anybody – even a 17-year-old kid!
In my case, I learned that absolutely everything had to be right. If my marketing wasn’t great, nobody would hear about SuperJam. If the packaging didn’t look great, people wouldn’t take it off the shelves. And if it didn’t taste great, they wouldn’t come back!
Everything always takes longer than you first think!
The first step is to try. I meet so many people with an idea for a business who are just afraid of giving it a shot, and that is a real shame.
Try, have fun and be nice.
What was strange for me was that being the intern was actually my first time working in a real job. Having started my business at 14, I have never worked for anyone else.
I hate lying to people, so I felt terrible making up stories! Everyone at Jane’s Pantry were very welcoming though, despite thinking I was just there for work experience.
The team at Jane’s are hilarious, so it’s hard to pick just one. Mark, the bakery manager, told me after the reveal that he had thought it was weird that I had such an interest in the jam in their doughnuts!
When I walked onto the factory floor after Neville, the owner, had given a teary speech to his staff, I realised how much all of this means to everyone in the business. I have never had an audience look at me with such focus, hanging on my every word, worrying that I was there to deliver bad news about the future of the company and their jobs.