Five things we’ve learnt during our first year of starting up: Yucoco

Sophie Frost and Tom Travers of Yucoco were among the first ever Virgin startup loan recipients, receiving £10,000 to start their customised handmade chocolate business (the bars have over a billion different combinations!). Since then they've gone from strength to strength, even heading over to 10 Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister himself. Here they share five things that their first year in business has taught them.

Pursue every opportunity

"We’ve been really fortunate this year to have met some amazing people, attended some great events and been involved in some really interesting projects. However, for every one of the opportunities that have lead to something good there have been dozens of things that haven’t quite happened and promises that haven’t quite materialised. The key here is pushing every opportunity as much as you can and accepting that some will work out and others won’t. Try and make the most of every opportunity that comes your way - you genuinely never know where it could lead to.

Everyone out there is in the same boat (well... a similar boat)

A really great thing we’ve learnt this year is how amazing the startup / small business community is in the UK. Everyone from investors and hugely successful entrepreneurs to people just starting out share this amazing enthusiasm and interest in business, how things are working, and what opportunities there are to make things better. You perhaps expect people at different stages to act differently - yet they don’t. More than anything, those people who have achieved success with their businesses have a genuine appreciation of the challenges and difficulties in starting a business, and so they tend to be genuinely interested in sharing what they’ve learnt and offering their support and advice. Which leads me to my next point…

Test everything

The one thing we’ve never been short of is advice - plenty of people offering to help, giving suggestions and guidance based on their knowledge and experience. It really has been invaluable. However remember that in reality, no one really knows what the right thing to do is, what the real results will be and what impact it will have. Advice is essentially just an opinion - not fact. So make sure you take it all on board, but be prepared to test and learn from it, rather than follow it blindly. We’ve learnt an awful lot simply from testing things - put a little bit of money aside, and see if it works. If it does, great - put a bit more money behind it. If it doesn’t, try and understand why and adjust accordingly. But ultimately, make your own mind up.

Expect the unexpected

It is a bit of a cliché, but if you’re prepared mentally to accept that everything that could go wrong is likely to go wrong, than it will help you deal with problems when they arise - as they inevitably will! We had a particularly challenging period leading up to Christmas, where we were featured and recommended as a great Christmas gift by a well known video blogger. This was obviously great news - the flip side was that we had such an influx of website traffic and sales, we came uncomfortably close to completely running out of packaging at the most important time of the year! A few frantic phone calls, last minute print runs and plenty of crossed toes and fingers meant we avoided a potential disaster and just about managed to retain our sense of humour.

Don’t expect people to find you

Looking back to when we launched we were undoubtedly a bit naive about how difficult it is to build awareness and drive website visitors. We were so excited by the simple fact you could create and personalise your own chocolate bar, we knew the chocolate was delicious and the packaging was great so we sort of secretly hoped that everyone would just shout about it - surely a few press releases and a bit of social media would do the trick? Unfortunately not - well, not immediately. You soon appreciate the scale of the task. It’s not just about making your friends and family aware of the company. You need to make sure thousands, tens of thousands of people find out about you - for as little money as possible.

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To find out more about Yucoco check out their website, or connect on Twitter and Facebook.