Learning from the best at Entrepreneur Country – part 3

Alas, our final instalment from our trip to the Entrepreneur Country Forum this week.  We have been sharing a few snippets and learnings from some of the speakers that stood out for us, read where it started here.
Part 3. Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s Kitchen and dad of Ella
This one is particularly close to my heart, since back in mid 2010 I saw Paul speak for the first time, making him one of the many inspirations, and contributing factors, to the development of The Nurture Network.
The Ella’s Kitchen success story has become quite a well quoted one, both in the consumer and business world – which Paul intriguingly puts down to it not being unique. In saying this, he is not playing down how much Ella’s Kitchen revolutionised the baby food market, nor how unique their brand is. Instead, he is referencing how their start-up journey is one that we can all resonate with, and learn from.
If you are not familiar with the Ella’s Kitchen brand then, in brief, they make kids want to eat healthy food. Single-handedly improving the lives of new mums and dads around the UK (now world) by appealing to kids and making eating good food fun. If this doesn’t resonate, perhaps the numbers will: in six years they have doubled revenue every year to an outstanding £31million. I’ve worked on brands worth a tenth of this which are 30+ years old and owned by global FMCG companies. I know how hard it is to build a brand in food and drink… and this was a start-up with little funding. Hence my admiration.
Firstly, Paul shared his thoughts on creating the strongest foundations for a start-up idea:

  1. Have a USP – for Ella’s this was about being kid focused not parent focused, as every other food brand was.
  2. Be Disruptive – at Ella’s this manifested itself in hand-sized, squidgy, screw-cap packaging that kids could feed to themselves. A first for the category.
  3. Build a story in your brand – it has to be real, like that of the Lindley family, but if you can create a real story that is at the root of your brand it injects genuineness and can prove a powerful PR asset.

Paul then moved his focus on to what I see as the factors that have made Ella’s Kitchen a success as a running business:

  1. Endless focus on the consumer – I know this business well enough to say that they really do have the consumer at the heart of the business. Endlessly spending time with kids – observing families at home, at school, at bedtime, anytime – so long as it enables them to understand kids’ lives better to enable them to do more for them.  As a demonstration of what truly consumer-centric is, look to the product names of the original Ella’s Kitchen products. They are called the Red One and the Yellow One because that was what a four year old asked for when looking at them.
  2. Constant innovation – Starting out with just 2 products they now have around 70. Their constant focus on the consumer has enabled them to see opportunities for new products to grow the business.
  3. Having a clear and simple mission – Paul received quite a chuckle from the audience when he put up “200 million tiny tummy touchpoints by 2012″ as their mission. But ultimately this is 100% rooted in the consumer (it’s the number of servings). Furthermore, the management team is clear that this IS the measurement for the business, creating clarity of vision and direction for everyone who works there, resulting in one team pulling on one direction.
  4. Lots of hard work
  5. Lots of passion – It is what makes your team great.
  6. A fair slice of luck… Pragmatically Paul said “You’ll get your fair share” – make the most of your good luck and get back up and brush yourself off you don’t fare so well.
  7. Keeping your belief in gut feel… Business plans are vital, but every entrepreneur will make decisions in part based on gut feel. When you get bigger Paul recognised the temptation to turn your back on gut feel, in the face of endless data, but guards against this.
  8. Always acting like a toddler  – have no fear and tell no lies.

And finally, Paul had a succinct view on what he wished he’d know at the start…

  1. Cash is king – the P&L matters, but cash can wipe you out
  2. Reputation is undervalued and is based on perception, not always fact – protect yours like your life depends on it
  3. Protect your business and your brand
  4. Value creativity, passion and tenacity in people as these are the entrepreneurial traits you really need in your team
  5. Consumer. Consumer. Consumer. Enough said.