Tuesday, 21 February 2017

We love what we do – Entrepreneurs who inspire

Recently we had two entrepreneurs at the Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship at Cranfield on Wednesday Business.  The first talk was by Angus Thirwell- co-founder of Hotel Choclat. (www.hotelchoclat.com) and the second was Jon Thornes who founded Cool Milk (www.coolmilk.com)
So what do we learn from a chocolatier and a milk man!?
They are both in for the long haul. It is not about the classical raise money, build a business and flog it. Nor are they family businesses that are building something as a legacy. Both entrepreneurs have invested in their imagination, knowledge, time and energy to build two highly successful businesses.
In their respective journeys they also attended the Business Growth Programme at Cranfield and  had a major re-think about their businesses and what next.
But here are some of the ley lessons that is value to us in a short blog.
1.    They both love what they do. They love their products and the customers who buy from them
2.    In very crowded markets with demanding customers they have found ways to compete and set standards of product delivery and customer service that keep them head and shoulders above the others.
Hotel Chocolat has been truly innovative with creating a Club – now with 17,000 members who subscribe to them and as a result of which they get to taste chocolates ahead of the market. Customers also get to vote on what they like and this is used as a crowd voting mechanism for product lines.
They decided to buy a cocoa estate on St Lucia, so that they can get their own beans. They obsess about quality. More recently they have opened a restaurant, created a new Gin, developed a boutique hotel on St Lucia and taken first international steps in Denmark to better understand how to service retail outlets far away.
You only need to look at their website to see the aesthetics in the business and visit one of their shops to see how their staff love their products. It reminded me of the early days of the Body Shop – enthusiasm for the product by the retail staff.
There are lots of internal processes, systems ands standards – frankly – none of it is rocket science. What sets them apart is the founders – Angus and Peter – who love what they do and bring the spirit of entrepreneurship to the company.  They are businessmen too and recently floated on AIM (http://www.hotelchocolat.com/uk/investor-relations-shares.html).  By holding onto the majority of shares they are not yet subject to ruthless capitalism. Long may it continue!
Cool Milk is a Lincolnshire based business that provides milk through local dairies to about 1 million school children. The magic is in the business model. Although Jon started out in the dairy industry and knows everything you need to know about cows, milking, chilling and distribution, he has created a business that supports the schools to deliver their promise to children. Schools have to order milk, store it, distribute and collect money from the parents or local authorities. It is this set of problems that Cool Milk has chosen to solve leaving the actual dairying to dairies! 
The lesson is to figure out whose problem you really want to solve and what that problem is. Jon obsesses about this question and supports over 100 entrepreneurs through investments in them. But his key question always is what are you doing for your customers.
This in itself is not a new message, but is refreshing is to see someone actually practise it to such an extent that he has built a wonderful business. And his positive energy comes over as he talks about it.
I had asked him to talk about exits – to provoke a statement. He just dodged that bullet by saying he has no intention of an exit from this. But then he has hired a CEO and a Chairman to his company and now is shareholder and general trouble maker with a big smile!
The imagination in Cool Milk is in setting out streamlined systems and continuously improving them so that schools and parents can find it easier and easier to provide milk to children.

As with Hotel Chocolat – there is no rocket science in the operational aspects of the business – both the founders find that mundane and solvable. What they bring is motivation, enthusiasm and spirit to the business. They are happy in their pursuit.

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