Entrepreneur V Academic

Mini Reflection.

My biggest self learning point so far, is that I really love writing and i love theory. I absolutely love studying entrepreneurship.

Consequently, I would love to pursue at some point, a career as an academic. An academic within the area of business, entrepreneurship and involving people. Potentially sociology based. I really have enjoyed learning about all the theories of learning, entrepreneurship and team interaction. I could bury my head in books all day and write essays continously.

Comfortable within my own academic introversion.

My love of learning, i’ve realised stems from my love of thinking. Moreover, it is almost impossible to separate learning from thinking, one and the same (Marton and Ramsden 1998).

Marton and Ramsden. (1998) What Does it take to improve learning?, In Improving learning: New perspectives, ed P Ramsden, London: Kogan page.

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Interview with Jules Quinn, founder of the *Teashed and entrepreneur

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The *Teashed – Jules Quinn

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Check out the *Teashed here.

1. What is the Teashed mission statement?
To take over the world, one teabag at a time.

2. What is your mission within that?
To be the UK’s leading speciality tea brand, bringing new ideas and concepts to the way we drink tea.

3. How would you define your product/service?
Quality, convenient and fun tea

4. How did the idea for the Teashed come about?
I was on a work placement making lots of cups of tea for a designer. I didn’t drink tea, but he used to send me out to purchase speciality tea. I realised that whilst there are lots of coffee options, there wasn’t fashionable, experimental tea.

5. How long did it take to realise?
It was about 1 year in development.

6. Did it organically come into being or was there a structured process to get from A to B?
I had a structured, researched business plan. I knew what I wanted to achieve from the beginning. My business plan has obviously changed as the business has progressed, many things I included within my business plan initially didn’t work out.

7. When was the moment you actually thought “hang on, there could be a business here!?” When John Lewis got in touch and they wanted to purchase an order. Before that moment, it had all been theoretical.

8. Why do you think the Teashed has been such a success so far?
Low overheads and minimal start-up costs. The business was able to growth as it needed to and wasn’t limited by needing large investment.

9. Do you do any market research before setting up the business to suss out your audience? Yes lots and lots. I needed to really consider who my target market was and prove that just because I thought it was a good idea, that it actually was a good idea.

10. Who is your audience?
25-35 year olds mainly

11. What are your expectations of the company within the next 18months?
Growth, international growth, new products, greater awareness of the brand; I want to rapidly growth the business and I have a plan to do so.

12. What would you do with unlimited resources?
Build a warehouse and pay for more advertising. At this stage of my business, I’m reliant on the advertising channels that I know and I can utilise.

13. What are the short term plans? What are the long term plans?
In the short term, I want to grow the business as large as possible. In the long term, I want to sell the business.

14. Do you have an exit strategy?
Not yet. I know I want to sell but I haven’t decided exactly when that will be. Nor have I developed the business enough to just hand it over, I’m putting structures in place now as I develop it, so it isn’t so owner dependent.

15. If you were starting again, would you do anything differently? If so, what?
I would not tie up so much money in products rather buy less at a more expensive price, rather than lots at a cheaper. I would have been able to sniff out what was selling, instead of ending up with too much of one and others selling out.

16. How much time do you spend working on the business in an average week?
48 hrs, often more.

17. Have you sacrificed anything for its success?
My social life/ being young. I spend every opportunity and moment I can working on the business. This means I don’t have the same free time as my friends as I’m busy building my business. But it is not just my business, my job, it is also my passion and hobby.

18. Have you acquired investment to expand or what is your funding strategy?
Not yet…I’m still considering my options and the best way to expand.

19. Your website is fantastic, were you ever dwarfed by the tech side?
No not really, you just tell the tech guys what they need to do. The key is knowing exactly what you want the website to do and how you’d like it to function. You need to know more than, “I just want a website”. Draw it out and remember once you have people on your site, what do you want them to do when they are there.

20. It is a busy market place with the likes of Charbew, etc…. What did you do to get noticed? Cool packaging, developing a brand, events, not worrying too much about other people and just doing your own thing. I really focused on getting the right branding and utilising the names, making sure that was right. It worked!

21. What is a typical day for you? Where does the Teashed fit in?
Wake up 7am. Check international emails straight away whilst having a cup of tea. Shower, get dressed. Then either spend the day working away at my desk, sorting orders or going to meetings.

22. What is an entrepreneur? How would you describe one?
Someone who isn’t afraid to sacrifice in the short term to gain in the long term. Someone who is not afraid of hard work and someone who is not afraid.

23. Would you define yourself as an entrepreneur? Or how would you define yourself?
No, I would just say I have my own business.

24. Which entrepreneurs/business people do you most admire?
Any woman in business. I love a bit of girl power!

25. Do you think anyone can start up a business?
Yes, if they have the right attributes. It takes a certain type of person with a certain type of skills and the ambition to do it.

26. Do you think some people are just born natural business people? Or do you think it can be learnt from experience/education?
No one is born knowing how to run a business; you learn those skills over time. But if you have inside you what it takes to run a business as that is your personality and that is quite hard to change. Some people are more enterprising than others and see opportunities.

27. You’re from a fashion marketing degree , what extent was your knowledge of business and entrepreneurship before the Teashed?
I have done little businesses since I was 14. Each one felt like a little practice for the Teashed.

28. What area of business do you struggle with the most?
Numbers, but they are a necessity, especially in the beginning, monitoring your business and growing it.

29. What inspires you? Motivates you?
To not have to work for anyone else and doing it on my own terms, my way.

30. Describe yourself in three words?
Business focused, happy and fun

31. What is success?
Being happy within your current position or seeing the path ahead of you as achievable.

32. Low point?
Loosing stockists and managing effective relationship with so many other demands on the business.

33. What excites you?
My vision of Tea

34. What are you most nervous about for the future?
Growing the business and losing control of it.

35. You work alone without a business partner…how do you find this? Do you have a network?
Yes, I pay for all the support I need as and when I need it. This works great for me. I think I would struggle to find anyone who has the same level of commitment and dedication who also shares my vision, so giving away shares wouldn’t work.

36. As a business person, what would you say your ideals are?
Work hard but be nice.

37. Do you think there is a successful pattern to becoming an entrepreneur?
Work hard, day and night. Never give up! Take knock backs as an inevitable learning exercise that is strengthening your business.

38. Before the Teashed, what were your career aspirations? In the long term, what are they now?
To have my own business, I just wasn’t sure what it would look like. In the long term, to carry this on and grow it, then start again.

39. What do you attribute all your personal successes to?
Hard work and family support.

40. What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?
Weakness – numbers and Excel and strength – product development an design.

41. What set you apart from other students that made you take the entrepreneurial risk?
I only ever wanted to run my own business, so I knew I’d do it, just wasn’t sure when.

Reflexivity is the new black

Stating

Within business I see the process of reflection as something that is crucial to learning within an enterprise and is something that our business as one unit is embracing. However, this reflective practice is often after the fact and as such can be deemed to a certain extent as dangerous. It can put off deconstructing and answering some important questions affecting your performance until tomorrow, things the team could address today. Through my reading, I have discovered the process of reflexivity, which is something I’d like to explore further and a process I think could be vital to our team.

Deconstruction

Reflexivity is a process which engages an individual (or team) to detect an issue there and then, exploring it and moving forward (Reynolds and Vince 2004). It is very similar to an emergent strategy, as it involves the implementation of strategy, not going in the expected way and reacting to that immediately (Worthington 2005). As such within business, where the external environment changes all the time, it has a crucial role.

Reflection allows an individual to consider a situation after it is over whereas reflexion enables a team or individual, to reflect and react in the moment. As such this is a reflective process, based on adapting to the changing internally and externally environment. It embraces the notion that it isn’t the details of the changes around you that are important, but the way you react to the changes that boosts your chances of success (Covin and Slevin 1997).

Reflexivity in practice was something that we used a great deal in Enactus Newcastle. We came back together at regular points through the week and explored how our strategy and projects were going; we reacted to any difficulties and exploited any emerging opportunities. We did not sit back and wait until the end of the full strategy implementation and then reflect on it. As such, this process is ideally suited to the activists, without our business, the ones who remain in the here and now and drive us forward. Their objectivity and drive to react, is a crucial skill that we need to harness within reflexivity. Members, like myself are more inclined to sit back and wait to see how things unfold over time or to discuss and explore situations further.

Within the work place and in business, over the past couple of years, I’ve allowed myself to be more reflexive. I realised, that you are never restrained or being forced to follow out a plan, no matter what; a detailed strategy is not a personal/organisational contract of action. As such, it “helps no one commercially or emotionally to sustain a situation that makes no sense” (McKean 2011), consequently it enables all those involved to constantly think, “is this actually working?”.  I don’t advocate, constantly chopping and changing strategy on a weekly basis, as it will fracture the business and cause damaging inconsistences (McKean 2011). But the value is within the fact, it helps a business fight fires in a more coherent manner and it makes avoiding the pit falls easier.

Moreover, the value of reflexivity is the immediate engagement with all participants. For the activists within our business, I can see the process of strategic planning, is painful to them; they just want to get out there and do it! But this provides a forum to express concerns or highlight issues in the here and now, instead of having to wait until the end of the process when the team does a “wash up” on a project. Consequently, team members feel listened to and can see short term gains within a long term strategy.

During our sustainability project, reflexivity was a tool that we could have utilised which may have benefited the project. Whilst there was a general understanding that things weren’t going well, we never addressed it in the moment. We didn’t change our strategy or analyse what exactly was happening, hence as a team we kept falling over issues, that felt obvious and completely out of the blue at the same time. When we came together as a team to reflect, a lot of what we were reflecting on was things that could have been solved and explored when they were happening. They weren’t deep rooted issues that needed to be analysed, they were simply practical issues, that if as a team, we’d addressed them, then we may have performed better. As such, utilising reflexivity in future projects and without our business, is something we need to build into our strategic process.

Theorising

I’ve explored several models for reflection. There is one model that stuck out during my wider reading that seems to be an ideal reflexive model. Rolfe (2001) developed a reflective model that based itself on Borton’s (1970) developmental model. Rolfe’s model is very simply, but unlike the other models of reflection, it involves a sense of immediacy and activism, without extensive theorising.  The model is made up of three basic questions, that go in a cycle; what? so what? And what next? As such it involves identifying an issue or situation at the moment, not in the past, then exploring what this means to the individual or business and then constructing a plan forward for change or a considered reaction to the issue.

The value in this model is not just in its simplicity, but in the directive questions that force an activist’s response, to do something rather than a lengthy considered reflective approach. Whilst theorising remains an important aspect, I do think in business, there needs to be a process which is about quick thinking and reactivity. Reflection should be the forum to explore and understand why things have happened in a particular sequence, where as being reflexive should be about tackling an issue and getting on top of it, there and then. Furthermore, within reflection, especially in our teams there is often an element of blame of culture; it is easier to blame a person, rather than to blame the process. Until we gain engage in a reflective process, that is open and honest, without “defensive routines” (Argyris 1991), reflexivity adds real value as due to the immediacy and urgency, emotion to an extent is remain. The process is about changing; achieving the common goal, not just about understanding hence the need to react overrides the blame game.

Construction

Applying this to our team and my individual processes, reflexivity alongside reflection should be built into our team ethos and process. McKean’s (2011) writings, in summary highlight a process for business success:

Success = identifying factor/need for change à reacting/reflexivityàdeveloping strategy and contingencyà implementation alongside reflexivity à outcome à Reflection.

Consequently, this is a process I’d like to see built into our team and is something I will be sharing next week. Whilst reflection will perform a framing tool around a task or business, a crucial factor in the beginning and the end for learning, in contrast, reflexivity will be a process we engage in constantly as a task progresses, enabling a flexibility, reactivity and developing our emergent strategies; something we haven’t been utilising so far as a team.

Try something new….

As i’ve gotten older, i’ve become less conformist. Yet, I still find myself having habits, within business and otherwise, that I continue to do. Methods of working, that I continue to realise are unproductive, but they are familiar, so I’m going to keep doing them.

One of my objectives, is to do at least one thing a month, I wouldn’t have normally done, within a professional environment. Taken a chance in business; risked it. Go on gut instead of rationale.

I found this Ted talk quite inspirational covering the subject…….

http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_cutts_try_something_new_for_30_days.html

Try something new from today….make every second in business count. Don’t let the decisions be made for you; actively engage and take a chance on others.

Communication, communication, communication

Our business team meeting was as ever fruitful, filled with the unspoken and overflowing with frustration. However, this time, it felt positive at the end. It finally felt like a step forward. Through-out our discussion we weaved our way through points that we have been avoiding as a group (although as an individual, I’ve been perfectly aware of these from day one and communicated these many times – but this comes onto communication, the theme of this post) and pragmatically discussed through them. What was the most interesting for me, as I tried to take a neutral, challenging and objective stand point, was that many of the things the team initially rejected in the beginning, especially things I put to the team, in terms of lack of quality in the end product, the team seemed to come full circle in the end and agree that these were lacking.

Points covered within our post-Motorola discussion of the sustainability project were;

  • Communication in the last project was the main issue; we are heavily reliant on Facebook. Meetings are poor productivity wise, due to the lack of engagement and atmosphere we conduct them in. This is a complete lack of understanding and listening within the group.
  • We don’t use our Motorola’s. We see them as things we have to do for our assignment and hence they are completely superficial. Moreover, once we have done the pre-Motorola, we don’t look at it again and assess at the end whether, we’ve achieved our goals. Nor, do we usually complete a post Motorola, assessing our end product.
  • We don’t experiment with different ways of working and we simply repeat similar mistakes, with the soul of aim of completing the project, instead of focusing on how to complete the project in a quality way.
  • We don’t have a middle assessment or break projects down or break roles down or set deadlines, consequently we have a mad rush at the end to pull things together. It isn’t until the end we realise, things we’ve missed, extra research that should have been done and difficulties certain members have been happening.
  • Lack of engagement within projects comes from the fact, many members only get a very superficial understanding of the project and consequently, they can’t penetrate deeper and explore different ideas, as they aren’t aware. Moreover, this leads to a complete lack of understanding with the direction of the project, as members don’t understand why the project ends up going in the direction it goes in.
  • We don’t brain storm in the beginning as a collective, so the project becomes a mish-mash of individual member’s ideas that aren’t developed as a team. Hence the different elements within the project can come across as disjointed. Moreover, certain members feel completely overloaded.
  • We focus on individual contributions instead of the unit contributions; hence issues of blame and such like can come to the fore.

This was a huge step forward in regards of the team identifying problems and developing productively. ; Especially in regards to the issue of communication. We don’t communicate within the group, we don’t communicate ideas, difficulties, we don’t hand over effectively from one section of the project to the end and any forms of communication we do have, are ineffective and inefficient.  , Consequently, each section Research, report and presentation, ends up completely disjointed. We need to consider a productive way to diffuse the knowledge into each, so that understanding isn’t lost. Also, we simply focus on the quality of the visuals of the presentation. As the visuals for our presentation, as always were good, as a team we deem this as good quality. But in fact, I think our presentation was quite poor. We didn’t manage to summarise the report or present our implementation plan; it wasn’t a pitch. As our presenter wasn’t involved in any other area of the project, you could tell when he was presenting the whole, he didn’t really understand a lot of it or was re-interpreting bits, which became misleading to the audience. Once again, effective communication is here, not just within the team but to our wider audience; both are lack. The final delivery of a pitch should be a collective effort and the script should be presented back to the team beforehand for review or even to an outside for feedback.

Waber (2013) considers that the crutch of any successful team and business is the act of meeting face to face, something we try to do once week but we are yet to have a full meeting with every member there. He considers “physical touch promotes closeness which leads to better co-operation and higher performance”. The point of his simple, but insightful article is that whilst when we are greeted with failure and a failing team, we often opt for drastic, physical solutions; in fact small changes can make the difference.  He puts forwards two crucial elements that can unite a business towards performance; increased interaction and dressing the uniting part.

In terms of reflecting and applying this, the most successful teams I’ve been a part of have worked together, met a lot both professionally and socially and viewed themselves as one unit. This bonding came from simply spending time together and instead of looking at a problem, from the view point of a group of individuals; they viewed it as a unit. We also had a leader, me, who really pushed forward communication. I held weekly, often more, meetings to check in and discuss. I relied on these meetings to communicate information and I had a secretary within the group. Someone impartial, who ensured the meeting, went ahead productively. But when assessing the failures of the team, I immediately considered that poor communication was at fault and the team, which was huge and sprawling, relied on tech communication.

A similar situation is happening here, we are too focussed on Facebook, which you can chose to read or not and forget that communication, isn’t just about communicating information and putting forward your ideas and views. It is about developing an effective communication strategy, one that engages all team members and offers the opportunity for feedback and discussion. It is also about feeding off the team in front of you; you can gauge interest levels, motivation and whether the team is actually backing the direction of the project.

Within most forming teams, constant meetings can seem like a bind and unproductive; meeting for meetings sake, especially if the meetings don’t work in terms of engagement. But initially in the beginning formation of a team, I think face to face meeting is crucial. Utilising that time together might be more time consuming in the short term, but in the long term it actually saves time. In Enactus and Gateshead Council for example, the teams are now so established and work together in such a manner, that the amount of meetings needed is reduced and communication over Facebook can occur effectively in the interim. But each team still has regular meetings, whether there are things of importance to discuss or not. Sometimes, meetings are just airing frustrations and updating on our individual work load, with no real sense of urgency; a check in.

Waber’s (2013) other assertion is about dressing the part. Enactus was very focussed on this. In our informal meetings, we dressed down and like ourselves. But in our proper meetings, we dressed smart casual, in business attire and we held our meetings within formal surroundings. We felt professional and business like; consequently, we were more productive and professional in our conduct.  As our team progressed, we eventually opted to wear the colour blue as a uniting uniform. We owned matching tailored shirts and when we went to events, business competitions and meetings, we wore these items to not only set us apart and make us identifiable, but to unite us as a team. There was something very team like and professional about walking into an environment, with a visible uniform. We noticed the change from the fact in uniform we rarely said, “I’m part of Enactus Newcastle”; in fact the response became “we are Enactus Newcastle”. Even as individuals, we referred to ourselves as a “we” and not a distinct unit of the team.

Whilst I don’t believe our team would go for the uniform idea. I do think increasing the amount meetings we hold face to face and we could utilise a uniting factor, by creating a team name with an identity. Instead of approaching the task “what do we have to do”, instead with an identity the question should become “what does Team…. Want to achieve within this?”

Amy Anderson (2013) puts forward other relatively small ideas that could enhance our communication within our team. She puts forward the age old truth that “success in business is greatly impacted for better or worse by the way in which we communicate”. Consequently, assessing our current communication as a team and individuals, it isn’t difficult to see why our productivity and success is limited. In short, our team will not improve, unless we really look deeply at the ways we are communicating and their effectiveness.

Within her article she makes some startling assertions backed by research from Dr Lund, that 8% of communication is based on what you say and 55% on your facial expressions and 37% is based on the tone of their voice. As someone, who takes a lot of time to reflect, before they speak, so usually my words are very considered, I was shocked by this result. Moreover, my body language is very telling and I’m an extremely expressive person. Sometimes I find myself, turning away, crossing arms and becoming completely disengaged if I am approached in an aggressive manner or instantly shot down, when I think something I’ve said deserves a bit more value. I’m not an angry person or aggressive, but what I’ve come to realise about myself, is that I’m very passive aggressive. I can be this way even within the workplace. I clench my jaw, I twist my hair, I pout and I become visibly un-cooperative, I’m no longer listening out of principle. This sounds completely childish, but I know myself and I know when to snap out of it.

As I’m aware of this tendency, I work very hard to try and look at things from the other person’s point of view and attempt to control my body language. To take emotions out of it and to constantly recite the mantra “it’s not personal, it is business”. Gradually, I’m becoming much better at this but I still have my moments, one of which was yesterday within an interaction with a member of our group, where I could simply disengage completely. Instead, I managed to rationalise her comments and realise that the key to the problem was miscommunication within the team; it was not a personal attack. We are both looking at the same issue but from two stand points with two separate insights. In terms of something personal to take forward, I need to consider my body language and the way I communicate in a group and less focus on what I’m saying.

Anderson (2013) develops other communication advice that could be invaluable if applied within our team. Our meetings are often disorganised and people are itching to leave. As Anderson (2013) suggests, within communication (and within meetings), you should set expectations of what you wish to gain out of the communication, which is stated at the beginning and clarify if you have met them at the end. Applying this to our meetings, this involves setting goals and objectives at the beginning of the meeting, not only to guide but to communicate what we need to do with in the time so everyone’s expectations are realistic. We also need to clarify at the end, if we met the goals and objectives, to ensure that our meeting time was efficiently used.

Another point from the article, was the idea that interaction is a two way street. It is not just about letting everyone speak and communicate their points, whilst they all fall into a vacuum. It should be about listening and digesting people’s points. As a team, we are very good at talking and expressing ourselves, which is of course a good thing. But we don’t listen to each other; hence a lot of valuable information, potential ideas and team decisions are lost. We spend a lot of time as a group being confused, lost and not moving forward. Within our team, I spend a great deal of time asking questions and listening to others, especially within our team meetings. I prefer to take a back seat role instead of being so dominant. There are a lot of dominant personalities within the group, so another strong female will only make our meetings more unproductive.

This leads me onto, Anderson’s (2013) final bit of advice; adapt communication style varying to situations. As a team and individuals, we need to adapt to others, within our communication strategy. This comes down to even within our presentations, we don’t communicate effectively or efficiently what we are proposing and pitching. We don’t step it up professionally, as we are simply presenting to our coaches. If we considered our style and our audience more, our communication could be more effective. Moreover, we could take steps in assessing what our key messages are and structuring our communication around them.

The session enabled the team to not only review our past performance, current communication within the group and to reflect on this progress so far, we were also able to strip down Anderson and Waber’s articles and apply key learning from their key points to our future activity as a group. Therefore, as a team we made several positive steps forward for the future, in terms of pragmatic plans;

  • We will take a step back before each project launch initially to refocus and assess our performance from the last project, before storming into the next business project.
  • Before our project launch meeting, individually, we need to go away and make sure we understand the project brief and come up with potential ideas. At the project launch meeting, we will have this in a class room environment and we will facilitate a brain storming session. The planning before the meeting should ensure that our ideas and points are developed; we will go round the room listening to ideas and evaluating and feeding back as a group. We hope that ideas may be developed within the group, provoke contributions, to ensure engagement within the project. This will allow give the whole team the means to really consider the pre-Motorola as a useful tool in planning.
  • We will have more meetings and break them down into beginning, middle and end meetings before delivery of the project so we can be reactive and engage. This middle meeting is crucial to re-assess progress and to check in with everyone’s status. This will also be another face to face form of communication, reducing the confusing occurring due to Facebook. The increased meeting will increase our face to face communication time, which in turn should further bond us as a team.
  • The project manager will be responsible for controlling meetings, facilitating discussion and ensuring we achieve the objectives of the meetings. They will set out what we need to achieve as a team by the end of the meeting. This will mean team members will have more realistic expectations of the time needed and communicating the goals, means progress is more tangible.
  • We will use the Motorola’s more as tools, to use them to help the projects and the weekly reading will be developed to help the project.  The pre-Motorola will be an essential planning tool and mode of reassessment through-out the project. The post Motorola and the pre-Motorola will be effective in terms of reflecting on performances of a past project, especially in regards to the issues we have with communication. Have the communication strategies employed been more effective, efficient and how did they impact on the final product of work.
  • We will consider changing our attire to be more professional when we are working on the business and projects. Moreover, we will also consider uniting ourselves under a team name, creating an identity. Our meetings will be approach more professionally with attitude, preparation and we will select a better environment to enhance this.

These really pragmatic solutions are a step forward to try and ensure the project development becomes more efficient and effective. These solutions are not major changes, they are utilising things we already do inefficiently within the time and giving them more structure and thought.

On an ending note, we were given the feedback as already mentioned that a lot of what we are doing focuses on ensuring the delivery of the project and not on the quality of the project. Firstly, I don’t think we have any controls there to monitor the quality but also I don’t think we can run before we can walk. I think our first priority has to be delivering on the project, as we are yet to fulfil a project brief completely, although last time was an attempt. Secondly, once we start actively completing the projects and delivering, we can then start to look at how to improve. Delivering a project and fulfilling the brief as a team, is surely the first objective here. Consequently, improving our communication, which has repeatedly been labelled as a huge weakness and was responsible for the failure of the last task, is the first step in delivering a project successfully. Once this has been achieved, we can plan how to deliver a successful project.

Online article references

http://www.forbes.com/sites/amyanderson/2013/05/28/successful-business-communication-it-starts-at-the-beginning/

http://www.ftpress.com/articles/article.aspx?p=2087653

 

 

Case study business: Mrs Crimbles

Crimbles

Mrs Crimbles – Gluten Free – A case study

 

Mrs Crimbles is the main competitor within the market place I’d like to go into and a business I actively admire; although my business start-up would be very different (watch this space). They have launched single products lines gradually and made themselves slowly visible on the market, especially more so in recent years.

The thing that separates Crimbles out from all the other gluten free products in the market is taste and consistency; the quality of the product purchased. You can tell real people have baked these and tasted them! They haven’t just sought out replacement products and thought “this will do”, they have been innovative in their own right, creating products that not only penetrate the gluten free market, but also penetrate the everyday purchasers trolley.

So how did they begin…?

  • Well it all began with the macaroon. My Grandma’s favourite biscuit was a macaroon and she told me their rise of popularity came in after the war. A coconut macaroon was the staple at my Grandma’s tea times. Coconut went hand in hand with luxury.
  • Mrs Crimbles started with a macaroon vision, in a kitchen, sold very locally initially and then with her fleet of vans, nationwide. These tasty treats came directly from her kitchen.
  • Mrs Crimbles was set up in 1979 – over 30 years ago. They were the first producers of gluten free cakes and treats. But what is important to note, is Macaroon’s are naturally gluten free, therefore this aspect of the business was not really a selling point until later on and capitalised on.
  • Mrs Crimbles is a small business based within the UK and has consistently has stayed so, it has only very recently taken steps to go internationally with its produce.
  • Their first product and only product for many years, was the macaroon; one plain and one dipped in chocolate. Macaroons are naturally gluten free and also delicious; but the core of the business was to produce these tasty treats and not the gluten free aspect of it. Even before my diagnosis as a coeliac, I ate copious amounts of macaroons at my Grandma’s house. Consequently, they were not set up as a gluten free company, with the aim of targeting the gluten free market; they were set up to sell Macaroons. The gluten free aspect was incidental. Consequently, their product portfolio was very small for a long time and focused souly on macaroons.
  • Initially, their produce was stocked within specialist food shops, high end super markets (like Harrods) and special dietary farm shops.
  • Due to their taste and popularity these cakes became popular within the average population especially during afternoon tea and also the gluten free market; consequently in the early 90s the products began making an appearance within UK supermarkets. The gluten free market started buying their produce far before they identified the trend, word of mouth was the crucial pushing power taking this small business into one that is currently experiencing massive growth. In the beginning the product was stocked within the ordinary biscuit aisle, as a speciality biscuit. But today, these products are stocked both within the gluten free section and the normal biscuit section within supermarkets as they have two market bases.
  • The company has jumped on the recent expansion of the gluten free food market and we’ve seen the expansion of their product range, especially within the past two years.
  • The expansion has been gradual and was focused in the beginning within establishing their name within the gluten free market place with the macaroon products and expanding those lines. So there was the introduction of the Cranberry flavour, white chocolate, jumbo macaroons that are almost the size of a cake, to coconut rings. They began to take up more shelf space.
  • As the gluten free market and demands have become larger, you may have noticed Crimbles within coffee shops and such like. They are now the established gluten free alternative cake option. Even in bakery’s and coffee shops that produce their own products, you’ll often see a Crimble selection that has been bought in.
  • Why? Well, like with the vegetarian market, it is no longer acceptable to not be able to offer at least an option to the 10% of the population who can’t eat wheat or gluten. You’d be surprised how many times, I have to go without in restaurants or coffee shops because they can’t offer me anything.
  • We’ve seen very recently, introduction of lots of new baked products such as muffins and brownies, flavoured crackers for cheese and biscuits and crisps within the crimbles range. Many of these products are head and shoulders approve the others, but still aren’t perfect. Crimbles is still my go to gluten free brand of choice, but there is still an element of compromise with taste and consistency within some product.
  • They are one of the only gluten free companies, that due to keeping it small and keeping control, can promise 100% gluten free products, as it is all they produce within their business, it is not an added side, replacement product. For example, their production line and how they create them are within an 100% gluten free environment.
  • Their businesses like many small bakery businesses have taken the route of the personal touch. So on their packaging they refer to Angela (now the new Mrs Crimble) and on the website there is always updates from Howard, the warehouse controller.
  • Their vision of the gluten free baking world, is very similar to that of the great British Bake off. Which featured quite a few numbers of gluten free recipes this year on the show. Their products feel aimed towards the middle classes, older females and there is a touch of the W.E about them. Many of their products remind me of those moments, sitting round my Grandma’s table eating a macaroon as a child.
  • But like with most gluten free products, they chose their price points to be high. This is enabled by the fact, the average Joe considers their products to be a “treat” and gluten free buyers are willing pay a lot more for their products. As a gluten free purchaser I accept my shopping basket will be £20 per large shop more expensive than my friend’s.
  • Once capitalising on their gluten free label, they took the route of educating their consumer about what it means to follow a gluten free diet, the benefits and how their products are gluten free. I remember the moment of purchasing Crimbles and finding out they were gluten free from the packet. I’d been purchasing them for quite some time, without realising they were gluten free.
  • They sell all their products now online, which is brilliant for ease of the gluten free consumers. For the gluten free consumer, providing ease and efficiency within the shopping experience is crucial.
  • Their website is very interactive. They have set up a section dedicated to gluten free recipes, which not only promotes the purchase of their products but also saves time for the gluten free consumer. Thinking of a pudding to bake from scratch when you can’t have gluten is a nightmare!
  • Moreover, they have also made it far easier for the consumer to purchase their products. They list all the supermarkets and an up to date list for each single product and where it can be found. For consumers such as myself, I know Sainsbury’s and Tesco stock the most of these products, so that is where I shop as i value having lots to chose from. I’d never go to Asda, Morrison’s, etc. etc. as there is nothing but an after thought for me to purchase.

 

The impact of Crimbles can be seen from the feedback on their website.

“I always thought of gluten free foods as lacking in taste and ‘not as good as the real thing’ – Mrs Crimble’s products have certainly set me straight on that front.”

“The chocolate coconut rings… mmmm yum! Thanks for adding flavour to “free” foods.”

“Even my daughter and parents who aren’t gluten free loved it!”

“I would have to say that given the choice now between these and the plain or chocolate ones I would pick these. Gluten free diets are not the most fun, so thank you for the new flavour!”

Mrs Crimbles almost by accident has jumped into a large hole within the food place market. But this is a super large hole, with lots of potential and the above comments, show there is room for lots of expansion and development.

http://www.mrscrimbles.com/

Entrepreneurship Reflection

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After my interview (below) with Brigitte from Beauty By The Geeks, some of her answers surprised me.

The fact that, you really can plan all you want within business, but sometimes when things hit the floor, they do their own thing.

The idea of a symbiotic relationship; the benefit of working within a team and how Brigitte and Rose originally labelled themselves as almost a singular unit. The positives and negatives of each, were complimented by the other. Brigitte really describes it as a motivitator and something positive. Nothing in her answers, referred to conflict or frustration. There was an acceptence and awareness of each other,  in regards to Brigitte knowing about her short attention span and being aware of Rose’s dislike of networking.

Knowing Brigitte from the very beginning of her idea conception, to the stage she is at now, I can see her journey and progression. A little like I can see my own progression until this point. It reaffirms to me, that entrepreneurs are not born, they are gradually made. It is a realisation of personality traits, personal networks, motivations, teams, passion, environment and skills that all come together as one and enable entrepreneurial activity.

Seeing her jouney at first hand, the highs and the lows. The realisation of the skills gaps, the mistakes but also the successes, makes me feel empowered about the future. She is inspirational to the notion of having a mission and vision and seeing that through, inspite of the circumstance.

She also shares my promotion of female entrepreneurship, an agenda I’ve always pushed and pushed. Us girls are capable of fantastic things.

So for this week, Brigitte West of Beauty by the Geeks – you are my hero and inspiration. Something I will take away from our discussion is your fearlessness, I endeavour to be as fearless are you.