Having the wrong business partner and supplier is a real challenge for many startup founders. We spoke to Tim Hardwick of Project Big Life – a health food, supplement and fitness startup – and found out the importance of doing your due diligence and choosing a partner that shares your business philosophy.

About us

Big Life is a health and wellness company with a mission to improve the human condition, focusing on four pillars:

  • Nutrition & Diet
  • Fitness & Strength
  • Mindset & Performance
  • Health & Wellbeing

I set up Big Life Nutrition as a brand within my company in order to formulate and manufacture nutritional supplements backed by scientific research. We carefully formulated these supplements based on several years of research, thereby creating nutritional synergies that are simply not present in the typical western diet or generally available as supplements elsewhere. The ethos of Big Life Nutrition is to develop supplements that are of the highest quality and purity with zero additives.

When I started out on this venture, I had to approach a number of manufacturing companies in the UK in order to request quotes. I did some research on the smaller manufacturing companies in the UK and created a shortlist. Many didn’t respond because my company was a startup and they were looking for bigger orders. This narrowed the field considerably! There was only a few that were willing to help and, out of these, we found one company that was particularly helpful.

Initial problems

We had lots of discussions about what I was looking to achieve with my range of nutritional supplements. We discussed minimum order quantities, pricing, sourcing, quality, testing, labeling, product specs, NDA and many more processes that go with the territory in this heavily regulated business. It was a huge learning curve for me, but everything I was being told seemed to make sense. Therefore, I placed my orders and started to work on the artwork for the labels.

The first indication I had that things weren’t going in the right direction was on the day I had to submit the artwork for the labels. There was a problem with one of the ingredients and I was told that we would need to source an alternative product from another supplier. This introduced several weeks’ worth of delays due to changes in product specification and also resulted in having to make changes to the artwork.  

This in itself wasn’t a showstopper and we were able to work around it, putting it down to experience. However, this wasn’t the end of it! When the various ingredients were being mixed and encapsulated, we found out that some of the ingredients wouldn’t mix correctly. Once again, new ingredients from other suppliers needed to be sourced and tested. This led to more delays. It went on for several months like this until, in the end, it turned out that they couldn’t deliver on the required product specification. I was over three months behind schedule now, so I had to make a decision about my next steps. I decided to find a new manufacturing operation.

Finding a new business partner

I had to go back to the drawing board and do more research. This time I did more due diligence and made sure that the manufacturing partner I chose had a similar ethos and could deliver on the product specification. I had documented all of the issues that I’d experienced to date on the development of the supplement formula and manufacturing. For this project, I created a risk register to document all of the potential pitfalls moving forward.

I was open and honest with the new manufacturing operation and explained the situation. 

They were very knowledgeable and ran everything past their quality manager to ensure they could actually make what I had requested, which was very reassuring. The risk register helped me to really focus in on my due diligence and ask the right questions this time around.

‘Tuition fees’

This has had a major impact on the business and in my approach to developing nutritional formulas. The result of this change, even though it has cost us many months of delay in the process, has had a very positive outcome. We now have a manufacturing partner that shares our ethos and can deliver on our specification to a very high standard. It has been very frustrating at times, but I believe the costs of these delays can be viewed as ‘tuition fees’ that have helped us to gain priceless experience on product development and manufacturing that we wouldn’t have got otherwise.

Lessons learned

There were quite a few lessons that I learned from this journey. First, do your due diligence when selecting business partners. It sounds obvious, but sometimes we can choose a business partner for the wrong reasons. It’s a good idea to document what your objectives are, what you want from the partnership and what you are bringing to the table for them. The relationship has to be reciprocal in order for both parties gain something.

It’s also wise to choose a business partner that has an ethos and values that are compatible with your own. When these are more aligned, you’ve got a head start and are more likely to negotiate a good deal that works for both parties and build trust. However, even with the best intentions and the most thorough due diligence, there will be unexpected issues that creep out of the woodwork. It pays to expect the unexpected!

I now keep a log in which I track all of the issues in a project and get a heads-up on any patterns that are developing. I can analyse this data so that, with regards to future projects, I’ve got a good idea of the risks that could derail my schedule. Of course, there are no guarantees, but I think of it as putting the odds more in my favour so that I’m better able to keep projects and the business on track.

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