Moonlighting: the spare-time entrepreneurs

In 1919 Jack Cohen decided to start his own business. He used his demob money from the Royal Flying Corps to buy groceries to sell on a stall in east London, and at the end of his first day sales were £4 with a profit of £1.

Fast-forward to today, and while his company may have had a tough year – in October, it was forced to issue a profit warning – Tesco PLC still reported a global trading profit of £1.6 billion for the first half of 2012. It is this kind of success story that inspires people to set up on their own.

Since 2000, more people than ever have started their own businesses. In the next three years more than 20 per cent of adults in the UK will start a business, actively try to start one or run their own business, according to research by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. And many of those are doing it on top of a full-time job – figures from the market analysts Key Note suggest that about 1.8 million people in Britain combine working for themselves while working for an employer.

Balancing dreams with practicalities isn’t easy, but those who combine starting their own business while maintaining a paid job say they do so for income stability (very few start-ups are profitable in the first year), for the benefit of working with other people (rather than on their own), and as a back-up in case it all goes wrong. Fear of failure is what puts most people off: four out of five start-ups are unsuccessful.

So as you sink into the sofa after a hard day’s work, spare a thought for those who get home, only to start work again says the Telegraph.

When Asif Walli, now 36, visited relations in Delhi 30 years ago he was captivated by a market full of sights and smells he had never encountered before. The experience stayed with him, and two years ago he decided to set up a business selling Indian snacks with a British twist.

He started first with Indian pies, using his mother’s recipe, but the pies took too long to make by hand to produce in large quantities. He then tried traditional Indian biscuits made with semolina, called naankathai, and he currently has a range of six flavours. But it is his adaptation of an Indian street snack called chevdo, similar to Bombay mix, that has brought him most success. Chevdo traditionally includes potato strips, lentils and nuts – Walli’s version has unusual additions such as dark chocolate chunks, candied orange and honeycomb.

By day, Walli works as a business support specialist in the IT department at the University of Westminster, where he studied business information technology. ‘I said when I was a student that this wasn’t really me, but 13 years later I’m still here,’ he laughs.

Now he combines the job, which he needs to pay the bills, with his snack business, Duke of Delhi. He says it is valuable to bounce ideas off his colleagues and also to use the department’s equipment (with the blessing of his boss) – for example the laser cutter to make wooden gift boxes for multiple tins of mixes.

Walli gets home to Surrey at 7pm, and makes and packages the mixes and biscuits in his kitchen until midnight. If he’s not in his kitchen on a Saturday he will spend his weekend selling at a food market. A stall costs about £70 per day and he just about breaks even at the end of it, not including his time. ‘There are sacrifices if you want to run your own business,’ he says. ‘Going to the markets is about getting my product out there, meeting customers and getting feedback.’

It was thanks to a customer that the mixes are now stocked in Fortnum & Mason. Someone called the store asking for Duke of Delhi products and, intrigued, Fortnum’s set up a meeting with Walli, and began stocking his mixes at the beginning of December – they have sold out three times, 750 tins in total. Each tin costs Walli £2 to make; it sells for £5 in Fortnum’s, and he makes about £1 profit (seven per cent of which he donates to the Indian charity Elephant Family).

So far he has invested £15,000 in his business, which has paid for a website designer, a graphic designer and a KitchenAid food mixer. The business is not yet profitable, but Walli hopes it will be in the next year as more stockists register their interest. His aim is eventually to leave his job (‘I can’t physically work any faster in the evenings’) and concentrate on his own business full-time. ‘It’s hard work, but I love the feeling that I’ve created this business out of thin air.’