What do you currently do?
I am one of three founders and sales director for Pulsin’ Ltd. We’re a young and dynamic health food business that manufactures tasty nutrition bars free from dairy, gluten and soya. We have developed our bars to have significantly lower natural sugar content than our competitors. In addition to the protein bars and raw choc brownies, we have recently launched an exciting range of kids’ snack bars that are gluten free, dairy free and nut free. Finally, we have a range of unflavoured protein powders that consumers add to fortify their favourite foods such as porridge and cereals. Our company employs nearly 40 staff and is growing at 65 per cent CAGR.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
Simon (Ashburner), Ben (Lewis) and myself met at the University of Bristol in 1997 where we shared a student house. We always knew we wanted to start a business together and used to experiment in our student kitchen with interesting food ingredients. After graduating we each went off to work in our own careers in London. Ben qualified as a nutritionist, Simon went on to work in management consulting and later a category manager for 20th Century Fox, and I taught special needs children but also competed internationally in Ultimate Frisbee.
Ben developed some raw energy balls that I took to a music festival. They quickly sold out which gave us the impetus to eventually give up our day jobs to start Pulsin’. We took out a bank loan, bought some basic machinery and started making and selling energy bars to health food stores.
We are motivated by providing a healthy but tasty solution to on the go snacking. It’s our vision to provide an alternative to high sugar junk food by making our naturally inspired products available to everyday consumers.
Who do you admire?
We very much admire the Innocent founders for reinventing the smoothie category. We also respect and identify with their bravery and risk taking, particularly in the early stages of their business. Their marketing is unique and they innovated a new style of friendly communication with the consumer, placing messages all over the bottles including the very bottom.
Looking back is there anything you would have done differently?
Yes, we wouldn’t have started selling products into the U.S. so early on in our life cycle. We have not had enough resources to fully support the U.S. export business. It’s a tough market and it can wipe out your profits. This is particularly evident when you include the added duties, shipping and clearance charges that hike up the RRP of the products.
It would have been better to focus more on our home market, particularly since the UK is the 5th largest economy in the world and has some excellent retailers.
What advice will you give to someone just starting out?
Don’t be a perfectionist. You’re unlikely to create the perfect product from the start, as it’s a constant evolution. We started with hand made products that had a shelf life of 3 months. We quickly got them to market but iterated the recipes hundreds of times to create the product we have now (and we still work to improve these). In the same vein, our earliest pack designs were made on Ben’s computer, which we printed out ourselves. We now have professional graphic designers to make pack designs for pre printed wraps. We constantly learnt from our mistakes and from consumer feedback but we also benefited from launching energy bars before the market got saturated so had a few years to experiment.
In essence, it’s important to take risks whilst you’re young and don’t be too worried about making mistakes. Being an entrepreneur is about being a relatively good decision maker. Running a successful business seems to equate to making thousands of above average decisions that cumulatively work in your favour!