The Entrepreneur-spiration Series: Going nuts for Pip & Nut
Our aim was to learn more about how this new and rather exciting range of high protein, all natural nut butters that has taken the grocery and health food market by storm, and to hear more about Pip’s startup story as a female founder.
Not only naturally nutritious, this super tasty and award winning range of spreads are made simply from roasted nuts and a sprinkling of sea salt - and that is it, no palm oil, nothing artificial, just nuts - so they’re incredibly fresh, deliciously pure and bursting with wholesome nutty goodness.
The Pip & Nut range contains Almond Butter, Honey Cinnamon Cashew Butter, Coconut and Almond Butter (my favourite), and the classic Peanut Butter. This brand will revolutionise how you eat the stuff as their social media fans prove - by adding it to smoothies, porridge, breakfast, toast, crumpets, even cheesecakes and cocktails and snapping it all most beautifully for Instagram, where Pip & Nut boast over 25k followers. People are going nuts for nut butter and Pip & Nut are leading the charge.
So how did Pip make the transition from working at the Science Museum and selling jars at Maltby Street Market at the weekend to winning a Virgin StartUp 2015 Foodpreneur Award, and getting listed in over 2,300 stores across the UK, including Selfridges, Wholefoods & Sainsburys?
Let’s start at the beginning
Pip smiles as she reminisces, “it all feels like quite a long time now but the last year and a half has flown by.”
“I never thought that I would ever have my own company, I am not one of those people that ever wanted to, or ran lemonade stands when they were little or anything like that! When I had the idea it was very much about the product rather than thinking about building a brand or a business.”
“I am a runner. I’m always training and running races or marathons and so I try and eat healthily, and my post running treat was always peanut butter on toast. Then one day I started to notice that the peanut butter brands on the market always had added sugars, palm oils and stuff like that added to them, and I remember thinking “I don’t understand what these things are or why they need to be there!”.”
This sparked a thought, a little seed of an idea, and so Pip widened her search for a healthier, more natural version of peanut butter.
“I kept looking for alternatives and just found that most health store brands that were kind of healthier - so just nuts essentially - were always positioned as something quite dull and quite boring. I got a bit fed up that the healthier versions always seemed that you were sacrificing something and they just weren’t exciting in any way.
“I didn’t understand why being healthy had to be boring!”
“I saw this little gap in the nut butter market and that was the start of things. I remember looking at other categories and other brands that were doing healthy yet exciting things - Bear Nibbles for example - they’ve transformed the way that kids can eat fruit, and it’s not boring, its really bright and colourful, and really engaging. So I thought “why can’t I do that with nut butter” and make what is a really tasty and natural product, and just celebrate it by making it a little bit fun and playful.”
“That was about 3.5 years ago” she laughs; “and then it took me about 18 months to develop the products.”
Time to develop
“Genuinely it is quite funny, because if I look back at my first business plan it says in 6 months time from having the initial idea I’m going to be stocked in Waitrose - so totally unrealistic because of all the time you need to spend developing a quality product.
“I’ve never worked in food and drink, and to be honest, I not sure if before Pip & Nut I really fully understood what brands were and what they do - I mean I was a consumer of them, but most of the time you’re quite passive to it.”
“But the nut butter idea really got under my skin, and after a point I just thought that if I don’t do this, someone 100% will. It’s a growing category, commercially it made sense, so I just focused on getting the right things in place to get it to market, like developing the products and flavours, finding factories and all that stuff.”
“I spent a few months in the dipping your toe in the water phase before I literally jumped in at the deep end. I bought a blender for £1,000 - a fancy one like you see in restaurants, and I used this commercial kitchen in North London - and I got blending. I’d make 100 jars of each recipe or batch, I would play around with flavours and recipes and then I’d pack them up, label them and take them to Maltby Street Market in Bermondsey to sell at the weekend.”
“And it honestly nearly killed me” - as she throws her head back laughing.
“It’s the worst thing - packing nut butter into jars - its actually really physically challgening! I remember I was working full time at the time, and just being exhausted trying to do this at the weekends and sell these products and get a feel for it as a business idea. But it was really useful to have this three month window of just trialling it - I could just sell it, make tweaks, get consumer feedback, people bought them and then came back and bought more, and that was such a confidence boost - especially for someone who had never run a business before, never worked in food and drink, and it gave me space to form and evolve the idea as I was going.”
But after 3 months working full time, and running the growing business part time and at weekends was starting to take it’s toll.
“I thought I’m sick of this, I can’t do this any more. I originally thought I could continue to sell jars on the market as I was and find a factory and scale it all naturally, but that was totally unrealistic! It was at this point I literally stopped everything and thought right lets do it properly. Let’s find a factory, let’s develop the brand with a proper design agency and give it all a proper shot - and that’s when in my head I properly started this adventure.”
All of this was back in November 2013. But it took Pip another 6 months to finally quit her job a at the Science Museum, as a producer in theatre putting on large shows that toured the country and embark on the Pip & Nut venture full time, so what drove that decision?
The tipping point
“It was actually a bit of a whim … and it makes a funny story…. I basically entered a competition called Escape to the Shed, which is run by Escape the City. It was in May 2014, I had made all the products, had a factory lined up, was working with an agency to design the brand, but I hadn’t enough money to quit my job at the time and I still needed to pay my rent in London.”
“I’d always set a rule that I was never going to move out of London for Pip & Nut, I would sacrifice loads of other stuff, but for me London is a lot about who I am. So I decided to apply for this competition which was essentially giving one startup an opportunity to live and work in their shed for 3 months in garden of their office. It was like a mini incubator that Escape the City were running, and I won.”
“I remember getting a call from the co-founder of Escape the City and he said “you’ve won Pip” and I was really excited, totally over the moon - but then there was the slow dawning realisation and I thought “Wow, I’m going to have to live in a shed for 3 months!!” It’s totally ridiculous, but was exactly what I needed to be able to make the leap.
“So I quit my job an hour later which was an amazing feeling and moved into the shed the next month. It was such an amazing experience, a bit strange at times, but sometimes just cutting the cord is what you need to really commit yourself properly, but also to give yourself the headspace to be like “this is what I am doing now” rather than thinking about it as a side project.”
Saying “I quit” out loud
“When I first told my parents that I was making nut butter I think they thought I was doing a bit of stuff for the women’s institute, like a little project making jams and preserves - which my mum does, so she was full of praise. But they have really backed and supported me. They thought it was more of a pet project than a company idea, but to be fair I roped them in all the time, helping at markets etc and they are our biggest supporters.”
“I think as a startup you have so much to prove when you are just getting out the door, and people often don’t really understand what you are actually doing until you are able to start showing them - once you can say ’I’m in Sainsburys” that’s when they start to actually see what you are doing. But before that it is really abstract, so I don’t really mind the fact that people probably thought I was absolutely mental! It is quite satisfying now looking back and thinking that I’m not that weird and that nut butter is actually a thing!”
It was during this 3 month window was when the business side started getting serious and Pip realised after producing the recipes for the range and lining up a factory, that she needed money to be able to push the button on her first production run. As with many startups, the capital needed to turn an idea into a reality is a daunting step, and can be a challenging one. Pip chose to use Crowdcube to raise the funds and has nothing but compliments for the crowd funding site.
“I’m a big, big fan of Crowdcube or crowdfunding generally. I was pre-revenue when I raised the money, so no trading history, and also I had no business experience, as in I’d never run a business before. I had done a bit of pitching to Angels privately for investment but had found that most people weren’t willing to take the risk, I guess, on me, which is fair enough. A few though were willing to give me portions of the money, so I decided to go on Crowdcube purely to pull all these people into one place.”
“Crowdcube is good because it applies a time pressure to it, so essentially you are selling shares, and when you go live you have 2 months to raise the money, which forces people to put their money where their mouth is. You have to do a video pitch (all very cringey), you have to do your commercial projections, but Crowdcube really do their due diligence. They say for every 100 people that apply to use it, they get it down to 10 and up to 3 of them fund, so it’s not like everyone is on there. It’s very slick, and they do all the back end for you - so the sorting out of all the money etc. But I do think for someone who doesn’t have a huge amount of trading history, I think you can get really good valuations on the site, and for me I don’t know that I would have ever have got all that money in one go without it.”
“The key thing with Crowdcube is that they make sure that you are actually ready to bring on finance, so you need to show you are ready to push the button rather than just spend the money doing more research etc. You get a real mix of people on there - bankers looking to invest in companies, people who want to dabble or support small businesses. What’s nice is that now we have 80 investors who have invested anywhere between £10 and up to £20,000 and they are quite hands off, which means you feel as if you very much still own your company, which I like.”
So with £120k raised, Pip pushed the production button and they were off.
The Pip & Nut brand has since secured listings in Selfridges, Wholefoods and a whole other host of health food stores, and a big boost came from Sainsburys who have supported the brand with national distribution and are a big fan, helping them on their way to becoming a mainstream brand and household staple.
Pip & Nut are now stocked across retailers in over 2,300 stores and building distribution and growing listings and space is a big priority for the rest of the year. The team aim to continue establish themselves across the UK and expand their customer base. But what else do they have up their sleeves?
The next chapter
“We are pretty punchy as a business”, says Pip.
“My vision is for Pip & Nut to be one of the nations favourite health food brands. We really want to change the way that people perceive health foods, and that can help us stretch into other categories, so long as there are nuts in there in some form, we believe we can move where we want. The equity that we have in the brand is strong and growing, we have an established range of flavours in jars, and have recently launched the squeeze packs, but we are also developing an innovation pipeline that we will get out into stores in the next 6 months. ”
“We are also looking to start exporting over the next year as well. So even though we are still at the moment a small team (there are now 6 of us), we are trying to push things and do a lot. It’s really nice that the team is growing, as for so long it was just 2 of us trying to do everything, but now there are more hands, and it means we can grab all these opportunities that are opening up to us and run with them.”
Marketing the Pip & Nut way
At We Mean Business, London - our view is that as an entrepreneur you are so much part of the brand that you are creating, you are a huge part of its story, and so it feels only right that Pip is an integral part of the Pip & Nut brand. I was keen to understand more about how Pip developed the Pip & Nut branding.
Pip explains that she came up with the name herself - Pip & Nut - and after a day spent in a naming workshop testing out a whole host of brand names, they ended up reverting back to the original name, because it just felt right.
“When you have a product that is going to sit on a shelf, you have to pay so much attention to what that product is and everything about it, the name, the packaging, the logo, the design, and you know the branding has got to be amazing to stand out and have such an impact.”
“We used B&B Studio for our branding, they do design and branding work for BEAR and Fevertree and they are really talented guys who we still work with now - they are part of our story.”
“What I find amazing is when you are talking to a customer or potential customer in store about the product, you’ll ask “do you use nut butter?”, and they will say “yes I use this other brand, of umm, yeah what’s it called now..." This is a brand that they have bought for the past 10 years, and they still can’t remember the name of it!”
“So if you are a smaller brand, you’ve got less budget to get in front of consumers with, your actual product has got to really shout at them. That for me is so important, make the brand as memorable as possible, and that means everything about it needs to be great - the name, the logo, the packaging, the design.”
“I have a firm belief that if you do it really well once, then you don’t need to do a huge amount to it later down the line. I invested heavily in the branding, packaging and developing the highest quality product because you have only got one real shot and after that you are no longer new, so you have got to make sure it has that wow factor - both from a product and packaging perspective.”
With impactful and eye catching packaging, and a product that is second to none, how do they tell their consumers about it? When it comes to marketing, I wanted to understand what is Pip and the approach and how are they using it to engage and connect consumers with the Pip & Nut range?
“We have quite small marketing budgets so that means that we are constrained in some ways, but also means we are focused as well. One of the main ways we using marketing is social media - we have quite a big following - over 25k followers on just Instagram and it grows by about 2k per month which has just really happened organically. Naturally our product gets put into loads of different things - anything from porridge to smoothies, so people are taking pics and tagging us all the time saying how good it tastes. It’s that word of mouth and ripple effect that has been amazing for us, and over the past year we have been looking at how we capitalise on that more and more. People will trust a friend more than they will trust a brand, so if we can get one person recommending us to their friends, it’s worth loads.”
“Basically, our marketing revolves around getting as many people as possible to eat or try our products and that’s through sampling. One of my favourite things we do is our Toast Bar. We have all these Smeg toasters and beautiful sour dough bread, and people can choose from the range their nut butter choice, and then there is a range of other toppings they can add. What I love is that people get to choose how they want to eat it, but they are also eating it in the best way possible, its the best experience of the product and they are experiencing it in a really lovely way.”
“We did it for Nike for ‘We Run London' and we have just continued it since then. But say you are doing an event for a thousand people and you are feeding them breakfast, you have a thousand people queuing and that you are able to have a conversation with rather than just a really functional exchange which is so often what sampling becomes. You can speak with them, get them excited about the product, and it is also a really Instagram-able plate of food. So we are doing more and more of those, and inspiring people how to use the products, and encouraging them to tell their friends about it through social media. We do events and office breakfasts now as well, as the challenge with having a product in a jar is that it’s not like a snack bar or something you can just eat, you need to think of interesting ways for people to experience it there and then.”
“Whilst we do have national distribution, we are still very young and still quite a London centric brand. So we just recognise that if we are focused and try and spend our money in narrower fields that are a bit more niche, but hopefully we are having a bigger impact by doing it.”
So after 3.5 years of running her own company and having achieved a huge amount of success as a startup, does Pip view herself as an entrepreneur and who does she look to in business for inspiration?
“I never really think of myself as an entrepreneur in any way, although I guess technically I am. The word I can’t stand is “foodpreneur” it is just too much!”
“You naturally stalk people within your industry and there are a few people who have been amazing inspiration. One of those people is Giles Brook, CEO of Vita Coco EMEA, what he's managed to achieve by essentially creating a category for coconut water with Vita Coco in the space of 6 years is seriously impressive! He's given me loads of advice and support on my business, and I probably annoy him a lot in terms of how much I ask of him, but it's been totally invaluable and he's a key person in the company.”
“I also admire Ella’s Kitchen, the 100% organic baby food brand, because not only have they managed to bring a brilliant product to the market, but also changed how children eat when weaning, and how they respond to healthy food. The really positive stuff they have done is amazing, and they are still very authentic as a brand. I’ve met Paul Lindley who is the founder a few times, and he is just a very generous person in terms of his time and the way he talks, and how he advises and helps other start ups.”
“I hope that as I grow and as the business grows I will get to that point where I can actually give my advice to other people, as I’d love to give that back. The people that spend the time giving you a nudge in the right direction and supporting you when you are in the really early stages of starting up, people who give you a bit of confidence by listening to you and believing in you, is invaluable , particularly in entrepreneurship and particularly in entrepreneurship with women. It’s definitely an area that needs to be developed more, and I’d like to support more women in setting up their own business and share what I’ve learnt.”
“Female led businesses are so inspiring, look at Jo Malone, Cath Kidson, Not on the High Street, these amazing, commercially savvy women with brilliant businesses, who have managed to break that barrier and break the mould. Because it is difficult being a woman in business and difficult to get taken seriously, particularly with manufacturers who are often all men and in an established industry like food and drink. You have to sit there as a young female and say you are going to make a £x m in 5 years, and make sure that these guys take you seriously.”
How have you found the experience as a female founder?
“It’s been a good way to learn and I’ve got more confident in the way that I do things, but I think thats because we’ve managed to have a few things go quite well so you become more confident in the business and in yourself.”
“My advice would be to have and show confidence - even in how you write an email or how you talk to people, and how you present your business to other people, basically at all times - be really confident - and don’t use words like “maybe”, “just” or “we will try”.
“You should be confident because there is no reason why male led business should achieve any more than yours. It’s an idea that you are going to execute really well, and it is no different.”
“I’ve learnt over the last 3 years that life is a bit of a pitch and every conversation you are having you are selling your dream, and if you don’t believe it enough then people will see that. If you want to be a £20m business in 3 years time, you absolutely can be- just say it, and believe it, and don’t be apologetic for wanting it. Be really confident, have a big dream, make it really punchy because other people will believe in it if you do. Have the confidence to back yourself and don’t feel silly if you have a big dream, there is nothing wrong with saying your are aiming for something outrageous - because why not!”
“Also, don’t get overwhelmed with the complexity of something, break it down and focus on delivering it and executing it well, as nobody really knows what they are doing, its just about how well you are able to cover up the fact that you have an idea and are just following it.”
Sharing the startup love
Pip is an inspiration. During our interview I was struck by what a natural business woman and marketer I was speaking with. Whether she realises yet, she is a strong role model and business woman who is lovely, approachable, and exactly herself. A lot of leaders could learn a lot from the quiet confidence and capability that she exudes. I asked Pip to share some of her biggest bits of advice for people looking to start their own businesses…
“I think the first thing I’ve learnt is that it is such a competitive world - I didn’t really realise before. You need to be really commercially savvy and pay attention to your numbers, the detail is in the numbers - make sure you don’t become that statistic - 1 in 3 businesses fail in the first 3 years. There is so much you need to pay attention to and you absolutely have to make sure it all stacks up and that you have the right structure in place for your business. If you lay the ground work well for your company, it will really help you on the longer journey and you will get to that 3 year mark and look back proudly.”
“No. 2 - always ask for advice. You need good people around you particularly if you haven’t done it before.”
“No. 3 would be that buyers are just people in their own right and they like having conversations. As the founder you can go in and see them and be real, and show your passion for the product and vs. other companies who are sending in a sales or marketing person. Having you there is something that stands out and is probably quite nice for them - and they are not as scary as you think. My first experience was at Selfridges and I was so scared, with sweaty palms the whole time, and actually they were lovely and we had a really nice chat and it was no way was scary as I’d imagined - they are not like dragons den, they are just people trying to grow their business too.”
“No. 4 would be to just start doing something towards your dream that makes it real - as it is great having ideas, but even if its going to sell something at a market - that makes it so much more real than just an idea, and that spurs you on, especially when you succeed.”
“I remember being embarrassed about going and selling the range at markets, thinking this isn’t the brand I want to have. But it is just so important and its okay to do it in phases, just get started somewhere and do something so it’s not so abstract, and you will learn something.”
“Finally, No. 5 - don’t worry about being yourself. I used to worry that I needed to be more suited and booted, but be yourself and build the brand as you want because essentially that’s why you quit your job in the first place - to build your company with the values that you think are important.”
“Don’t think there is only one way to do things, or compare yourself to others as there are loads of different ways to do things, and you will have yours. Just get your head down and avoid the noise and focus on building your business.”
And finally… I asked Pip if she were to meet her 10 year old self and give them some advice for the future, what would she say? After a long pause, Pip breaks into a smile.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself and worry about getting everything right, because you will get there in the end. And even if you don’t, that will make you all the more determined to succeed! Chill out, have fun and enjoy yourself, it’s all going to be ok!”
A huge thank you to Pip for taking the time to be part of the Entrepreneur-spiration series, and for sharing her story and the Pip & Nut journey to date. We will watch with interest - and a mild addiction to the Coconut & Almond Butter - as this brand continues to take the market by storm and change the way people not only view, but eat peanut butter! You can find out more about Pip & Nut at www.pipandnut.com