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How to build a healthy start-up – tips from a founder

From Silicon Valley poster boys through to Instagram-friendly “if you can dream it you can do it” quotes, the start-up journey sounds dreamy. But is it really? Lucky me – I had the pleasure of chatting to Suzie Walker, founder of The Primal Pantry at last week’s (pretty packed out) Thames Valley Start Up Grind.

As a nutritionist Suzie wanted “to make eating real food easier and more accessible for everyone.”  She’s on a mission to make great tasting products, with the best real food ingredients and “free of any junk” through snack and protein bars.

A ConnectTVT 50 Game Changer 2017, Suzie generously shared some super-candid insights into her entrepreneurial story to date and some great tips:

Invest in your brand

This is Suzie’s number one tip. She argues that with a food-based product like hers, the brand is your IP as recipes are easy to replicate. She invested heavily in creating the right look and feel for her brand, negotiating with designers to pay them as soon as she could.

Investing in your brand applies to all start-ups – you can tweak the brand as you grow but creating a brand that’s clear about your purpose, values and connects emotionally with your customer gives you a head start.  

Collaborate

Suzie cites this as the best advice she’s had on her path to success. Joint ventures, partnerships, creative collaborations are all great ways to access new audiences, new markets and strengthen your brand.  Having that collaborative mindset will shape how you approach relationships with everyone from investors to your team and open up doors and opportunities to grow from.  It’s how you consolidate and expand your business’ eco-system. Be open minded to collaboration but ensure they hold true to your business mission and purpose too.

Take the risk

As a start-up, the biggest growth steps for Suzie are the ones that pushed her way out of her comfort zone.  They’ve involved a significant risk in terms of commitment, negotiation, delivery. So, Tesco approaching Primal Pantry to stock the brand but wanting the product in a multi-pack format. Or having to tweak the concept as they moved into international markets.  Each of these steps has taken Primal Pantry closer to where they’ve needed to get to today.

It’s that phone call to a change-making customer that made us feel sick or investing more than your annual TO into a new website that will take your business to that next level.  Take the risk.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

This is another great one. As founders, the tendency is to believe that we can get by on our own, find a solution, and possibly…think we know the answer. The reality is, growing a business can be a lonely place and it’s easy to get stuck. People love being asked for advice. If they can’t help you, they’ll no doubt be able to point you to someone who can.  This can be your accountant, your mentor or the guy right next to you at your co-working space.

Bring someone in to do what you can’t do

Chances are that as a founder or scaling business owner you’re CEO, CMO, FD and office manager. Guess what? You can’t wear all these hats. Know your strengths, and your weaknesses and look at how you can bring in real experts to take this part of your business forward.  Last year, Suzie brought on an NED to help with bigger picture thinking and complement her and her business partner’s skill set.

At a smaller scale, it could mean hiring an accountant who can do your VAT far quicker or maybe now’s the time to stop faffing about on Canva and outsource to a talented creative?

Be resilient

The make or break tip.  Securing funding, managing suppliers, negotiating customers on the scale of Sainsbury’s and Holland & Barrett, finding talent, losing talent…Suzie admits the path hasn’t always been a smooth one. Showing up, persevering, collaborating with your team to seek out creative solutions, a little grit perhaps.  It’s what has got her to where she is today - building a brand that helps people lead healthier lives and making a difference every day.  

Suzie’s joining an amazing panel at our next GROW@GreenPark Talks on 12th October.  Watch this space for details.

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