Our Tomorrow’s Leaders series has
already delivered some great advice for anyone looking to start their own business, including last week’s chat with Sean
Mallon from Bizdaq. We want to send more thanks out to Sean for sharing his
experiences, but a new month means another inspirational interview with someone
behind one of the UK’s leading start-ups.
This time, we met with Meriel
Kehoe from Claudi & Fin, a
delicious (and expanding) range of frozen Greek yoghurt ice lollies. Meriel
gave us insight into her transition from the television industry to starting a
brand-new business and some of the help start-ups can lean on while they grow.
What’s your career story in a nutshell?
It’s been a bit eclectic! After I graduated from university with a degree in European Languages and Politics, I went to work as a bilingual account manager and technical translator. I got bored quite quickly and set my sights on becoming a TV producer and director, working my way up through the ranks from being a runner.
Over a career that spanned 15 years, I worked on a variety of shows from Big Brother and Made in Chelsea to Gardener’s World and Location, Location, Location and had a lot of fun along the way. When I had my son, Fin, I began to question how sustainable a career that involved long hours and a lot of travel would be and around the time he turned one, I set up Claudi & Fin with my business partner, Lucy Woodhouse.
What has been your proudest career moment, so far?
Shortly after we set Claudi & Fin up, we came across a competition on a business website for start-up food brands. Sainsbury’s were looking for new and innovative food suppliers, and offering a few contracts to the companies with the best ideas. At the time, we had only just got a recipe sorted, had no manufacturer, no website, and had never sold a single lolly but we decided to enter anyway.
We had six weeks to turn everything around and I’m proud to say we managed it – just in time for the Dragon’s Den-style pitching day we were invited to attend. From the 400 hopefuls that entered, Claudi & Fin was one of four companies offered a contract to supply 250 stores nationwide. Overnight, everything changed – taking our fledgling brand from kitchen table to supermarket shelf.
Meriel Kehoe (right) with Lucy Woodhouse
Describe your workspace. Are you tidy, or do you work in organised chaos?
We’re just getting ready for a trade fair, so currently, the whole office is in chaos. Crates of packaging and freezers full of our healthy lolly range are ready and waiting to be loaded into a van. That’s not the norm, though, and it’s usually pretty tidy with everything in its place.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee! Strong, black with one sugar, please.
Which stationery item could you not live without?
Pens! It’s probably a hangover from TV days when I got used to taking copious research notes from every call I made. I feel completely naked without a pen and although my memory is very good, I like the security of knowing that if something slips my mind, there’ll be notes lurking in a book somewhere to remind me.
Who is your business idol, and why?
Sarah Willingham. Last year we won a competition with The Guardian newspaper for business mentoring. We were delighted when we were allocated Sarah, who brought a wealth of experience from the food industry as well as her experience setting up and then selling on successful businesses. Sarah really encouraged us and suggested how we could make the business more profitable. I admire her because she’s both incredibly positive and pragmatic.
What’s the best thing Claudi & Fin has allowed you to do?
The business affords me a certain amount of flexibility which means that I can go to school concerts and parents’ evenings without any fear of recrimination from an overbearing boss! I also really enjoy the variety involved in running your own business. It’s a cliché but no two days are ever the same.
Which workplace habit can you not stand?
People labelling stationary and getting territorial over things like staplers and rulers. Life is simply too short!
What advice would you give to people starting
their own business?
Do your market research
thoroughly! It’s not enough for your friends and family to think you’ve got a
brilliant idea – you need to prove your concept has a market far beyond your
immediate circle. Organise focus groups, consult industry reports, and research
your competitors until you know them inside out and back to front. Until you’ve
done all this, don’t spend a penny!
Once you have proof of concept,
be honest with yourself about where your strengths and weaknesses lie. If you
can do something yourself, do it (to keep start-up costs to a minimum), but if
you can’t, outsource to a freelancer and reap the benefits of their years of
training and experience without the costs associated with a full-time hire.
How do you switch off?
Yoga. Even if it’s just on a mat
in my house, it gives me a chance to shut off from my permanently enormous
to-do list. Sometimes solutions to problems come when you aren’t thinking about
trying to find the answer.
What’s next for Claudi & Fin? What are your plans for
We’re really excited to be
developing four new, amazing products to add to our range of Greek-style frozen
yoghurt lollies, which are currently stocked by Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Tesco,
Ocado, and Budgens. In addition to increasing our range here, we are also
looking to expand beyond the British Isles into new territories both in Europe
and beyond. By 2019 we want to be the go-to healthy brand for all the family
with ambient and frozen ranges. The sky’s the limit!
Want to share your experiences of running a start-up? Or
maybe you’ve got some timeless advice to share with other young hopefuls? Tweet
us at @viking_chat to become the next member of the Tomorrow’s Leaders series!