Popcorn has rapidly become the go-to snack of the moment, and at the forefront of the popcorn revolution is Propercorn, with options a far cry away from the sugar-coated stuff you eat at the cinema. Stocked in retailers nationwide, their flavours range from the traditional to the eclectic, with six flavours now on offer. And behind it all is founder Cassandra Stavrou. Here's her story of making it as an entrepreneur.
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to run my own business. As a child, it was entrepreneur or artist - maybe both, if I was lucky. I certainly didn't have lofty popcorn ambitions! But, as with many entrepreneurs, it was nothing more than a serendipitous little lightbulb moment that put me on the path to Propercorn.
Having reluctantly studied law at university, I moved into advertising straight after. Whilst working for an agency in Soho aged 25, I was struck by how difficult it was to find a satisfying snack for the afternoon slump. The choice was something uber-healthy, which left you wanting more, or sugary and overindulgent, which left you feeling guilty. In a world of so much food choice, it seemed totally illogical that there was this compromise when it came to snacking.
I’d grown up enjoying incredible Cypriot cooking from my mum and grandma but had also grown up making popcorn with my father - he was slightly less capable in the kitchen! It seemed to be the perfect snack to plug this gap. Everyone understands popcorn, and it’s got a wonderful nostalgia about it. I just wanted to make it properly, give it a new lease of life.
That same day, I went straight home and told my mum about my idea. She reminded me that the last present my father bought me before he passed away was a vintage popcorn machine. It was this amazing bit of serendipity that gave me the confidence to quit my job and make Propercorn happen. So many of us are armchair entrepreneurs and often you need that impetus - emotional or otherwise - to kick you into action.
The year that followed the initial excitement was undoubtedly the hardest. I was a young girl moving into a fiercely male industry and spent months traipsing up and down the country trying to convince a manufacturer to take me seriously. I found the experience deflating, patronising and lonely, quickly realising how important resilience is in these early stages. Expect to be knocked back, but if you’re passionate and focussed enough on what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll win over the sceptics.
I wavered when I was told to go and ask for my old job back, but eventually found someone who believed in my idea. The next challenge was to find a way to season the popcorn in the way I wanted. This meant repurposing a cement mixer to tumble and season it, using a car sprayer to mist on the oil! Resourcefulness is often a by-product of resilience and is one of the most important things when starting your own business. If you’re lacking in experience and funds, it can be your greatest weapon.
One year later, one of my good friends, Ryan, came on board as my business partner. This was a real turning point for Propercorn I suddenly had someone to share in the stresses and successes, two things you’ll have in spades in the early days. We spent endless nights packing boxes and cold-calling from his flat before we secured our first stockist, Google, in 2011.
Flash forward five years, and we’ve got an amazing team of 40 based in London and we’re stocked in 14 countries across Europe. Selling some 3 million packs of our popcorn every month, we’ve come a long way from the days of the cement mixer, but we’ve still managed to retain a really exciting and dynamic, start-up culture. All our recipes start in the Propercorn kitchen, and all creative is produced in-house. Retain that nimble, entrepreneurial attitude as long as you can and uncompromisingly seek out brilliant people who will help keep it alive. If you find people who are passionate and fully share your vision - be this people you work with or people you sell to - make them a part of the family and hold on tight.
Resilience, resourcefulness and relationships - there’s no one recipe for start-up success, but these will keep you on the straight and narrow.