How I wrote my business plan: Jealous Sweets
Imran Merza is the founder of Jealous Sweets, a business creating gelatin-free jelly sweets. But these aren't your penny sweets from the corner shop - Jealous Sweets have a distinctly sophisticated feel, sold in outlets such as Selfridges and bringing a touch of grown-up class to a childhood favourite. Founder Imran Merza is a Virgin StartUp mentor - here he talks to us about how he wrote his first business plan.
The idea for Jealous Sweets started off as my quest to woo a young lady I was dating a few years ago, after I found out her love for sweets. The big catch was the fact that she was vegetarian - literally all of the sweets that she used to like she could not eat any more. I was kind of miffed as to why all of the sweets contained gelatin, which is all of the left over parts of animals such at pigs, cows and sheep that we don't normally eat.
Trying to impress my then-girlfriend at the start of our relationship, I started to look online and everywhere possible to see if I could find sweets vegetarian sweets that I could give to her. I randomly came across a report from the British Library on the Confectionery Market which got me super intrigued, as I realized that the market was worth billions globally and it was dominated by big corporations that made sweets aimed, branded and marketed towards children.
This was the light bulb moment. I thought if I could make a premium brand of sweets taking out the gunk and junk packaged, branded and marketed to grownups, sold in the places where sweets are not currently sold, then I could be onto something interesting. At this point I quit my job working in the city as a banker, along with Taz, my old university friend, and embarked on building a Jealous Life.
Once I stumbled across the British Library report I spent as much of my free time as possible in the library at Kings Cross, because they had an abundance of reports on the confectionery market which were all free to access, and would have cost tens of thousands of pounds to access otherwise. This helped me massively immerse myself into the world of confectionery and candy. I learned everything that I could about the sector. I got a real understanding of the world I was about to embark on, and I then started to spend my free time looking at the current offerings of our competitors and how we could build differentiate and build real USPs that would help us build a brand. We stalked Selfridges, Harrods, Harvey Nichols and John Lewis for about a year getting to know anything and everything that we needed to know about retail and what would be required to create a kick-ass brand.
Manufacturing the product
This was super difficult and very challenging. Once we'd accumulated all of our competitors' products from around the world we started to take the best bits and work backwards to reverse engineer confectionery and packaging. We spent a couple of years travelling and looking for manufacturers of confectionery and packaging from all over the world. Then we worked with food technicians, packaging engineers, and branding and design to develop our product.There are constant iterations even four years into the journey because the journey and the product is never finished - things can always be improved and made better.
We've always worked from the back of Taz's house, which has been converted into an office to seat around five. This is has been super convenient and amazing for cash flow purposes, because renting office space can be very difficult. Working from home is always the best option to begin with until you have the funding to get professional office space.
Our general business plan came from a combination of reading books, buying books on how to create business plans, and also Taz's background as a chartered accountant helped with building our financials for keeping on top of cashflow. Reading business books from the great entrepreneurs, including Branson’s various books, and talking to other successful entrepreneurs such a Adam Balon from Innocent, Will King from King of Shaves and Paul Lindley from Ella’s kitchen, have proven to be invaluable on this journey from idea to startup business.
Networking and making friends with other startup entrepreneurs and those a couple of years ahead in the journey have kept us sane, and it also makes you realize that everyone has the same struggles and challenges along the way. As they say, if it was easy then everyone would do it - and I think the industry does give off that impression at times that everyone should jump on the bandwagon.
Knowing what you want from the business and where you would like to take the business is vital because it gives you a track to run on, and that's why going through the process of writing a business plan is invaluable. It makes you think, and then think some more, about what you're doing. It ensures it actually makes sense and that you can execute the plan. They say cash is king, and I'd say that execution is the ace in the pack, because without excellent execution you'll just have pages and pages of - well, not much actually.