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I was attracted to read Super Business: How I started SuperJam from my Gran’s Kitchen by Fraser Doherty for a number of reasons.  First the author is a young, and I mean young, successful entrepreneur, who started his business at just 14.  Second he’s from Edinburgh, my home town and third, he, like many women within Company of Women,  started a food business from his home kitchen.  I was curious how he’d achieved such rapid success.

Today, he’s 22 and his product – SuperJam – is sold across the UK and branching out into other countries.  He’s written a cookbook and is a frequent guest on television, sharing his success story with others.

So how did he do it?  The original recipe was his grandmother’s and he learned how to make jam in her kitchen. When he started, he mainly sold the jam in the community, selling it to neighbours and friends.  At sixteen, his jam business was doing well and so he dropped out of school so he could focus on growing it.

Clearly he must be very persuasive and persistent, because after numerous meetings held across several years, he managed to get his jam stocked by Waitrose, a large grocery chain in the UK.  It  is now in Walmart and other prominent stores.

But he had to meet Waitrose’s standards – in terms of branding, production and price – all with little money, apart from a grant from the Prince’s Trust, to invest.

As someone who works with entrepreneurs in the start-up phase, there were no real surprises at the beginning of the book, but as you read on, you realize this young man is an intuitive entrepreneur, and we can learn from his story.

Here are just some tips that are relevant to all of us:

  1. He worked with a leading advertising agency to help with his brand and advocated that he stick to one message – in his case – the jam is made with 100% fruit and no sugar.
  2. Persistence pays.  There were times when he thought he had it covered, only to be told to come back with more changes.  As he observes unless you have the passion for what you are doing, it would be easy to give up.
  3. He worked hard to build a loyal customer base and even involved them in contributing financially to the growth and development of his business. He recognized that it was important to get to know your customers.
  4. He also wanted to foster the creativity of his staff and uses Google Calendar which lists all the projects to be done, and staff just sign up for what interests them. There’s no real job descriptions, he doesn’t dictate hours and expects people to manage themselves.  Needless to say, his staff are all young and love this flexibility and for him, and maybe for now, it works, I am not so sure I could be that casual about the work to be done.
  5. Giving  back was important to him and given that the recipe came from his grandmother, he thought it was a good fit to organize SuperJam Tea Parties for the elderly, helping to reduce their isolation.  He held a Knitathon, with the squares knitted, joined together to make blankets for disabled orphans in India and held knitted tea cosy contests.
  6. He has diversified the range of products sold, to include aprons, kitchenware, which would dovetail with the jam but cautions there is a risk of pulling your resources off track and you need to retain your focus on your main goal.
  7. In terms of manufacturing, he gives sound advice about visiting the factory you plan to use, of checking their human resource policies, and sampling other products they make to ensure the quality meets your standards and the company is run in an ethical way.

This was an easy read. He keeps the story going and you cannot but be impressed at his business acumen, passion for his product and wisdom beyond his years.  If you are wanting to go into the food industry or have a product you want to bring to market, you will learn a lot from this small, but mighty book.