How we frame things as founders can shape the actions we take. First-time founder, James Talbot, recently found himself in a challenging position. How he tackled that period can help future founders navigate the uncertainty and precarity that comes with starting up on a new road.
“Unemployment, redundancy, they’re all terms that are hugely negative if you focus on the language. So, instead, the way I tried to look at it was like this: each step is a tiny problem.
“Focus on the little things, try and tick the boxes and, eventually, the big picture will come to life. And if you’re feeling negative, it’s okay - you’re completely entitled and justified to feel the way you feel.”
At the start of the first lockdown in March, James’ partner, Jake Jones, was made redundant. “On a personal note, for me, at the start of March I was in a terrible, terrible place,” James says.
With nowhere to turn in a struggling hospitality industry and suffering jobs market, the two budding founders started Pobi Bakery, something Jake had wanted to do for years - but, equally, something that was always an ‘end goal’ for decades down the line. The COVID-19 crisis gave them the push they needed to start up.
Months later, Pobi Bakery is a flourishing startup in their Oxfordshire hometown, delighting everyone from locals to the press, with newspapers and BBC radio covering their story.
It sounds like ‘good news story’ fodder - a one-off; impossible for any other would-be founder to repeat amongst the challenges of 2020. But, James is adamant that there has never been a better time to start up than right now, something that has been echoed in recent research Virgin StartUp carried out.
“I think, weirdly enough, now is the one of the prime times to start for multiple reasons. New businesses are really supported at the moment, whereas in the past, high streets were dominated by the big names,” James says.
“Everybody is switching to ‘support local’, everybody wants to see your face and your business and your ideas, and people go to the high street for a completely different reason now. Bigger brands are closing down, but those that are thriving lean into smaller units, are local and provide a service that is slightly different to what you’ve already seen.”
So, how did a redundancy turn into a thriving startup launched in lockdown? “I’ve been working in sales for about three years, and during that time Jake was in and out of hospitality roles. He was a coffee roaster, and he was baking at a vegan cafe before that - and his intention was always to have a shop, eventually. It built to a point where we decided we’d do it, eventually, and it got put on the backburner.
“Then, a couple of weeks into [the first] lockdown, he was made redundant, and overnight we sat down and I said, ‘right, we need to get you started’. We launched the website, we applied for all the relevant licenses to bake from home, and literally the next day we were baking, the business had been set up and we were going.
“From my aspect, we couldn’t sit and wait any longer. The longer we were sitting and waiting, the more likely it was that he was going to get a job that he didn’t like again - and the more likely it was that we were just going to stay in the same cycle. Thanks to the people that have supported us, Pobi’s become a flourishing bakery! It’s spiralling out of control, but in the best way, and we’re really happy.”
What started as a hobby for Jake, and a keen interest in business from James’ sales background, became a thriving bakery. James believes this side hustle, hobby-fuelled passion they shared is the thing that got them to where they are today with the business.
“For about six years, I always thought if I didn’t have an idea that I thought would make me millions of pounds, it wasn’t a good idea. But, if you have something you love and that you share with other people, such as Jake’s love of baking, it makes it so much easier to develop a business from that.
“For us, with baking, I was in the shop the other day and your passion leads you to come up with new ideas. I had 10 minutes, so I developed a rye bread! I think that’s the amazing thing about running your own business and having your own hobby: no one is going to tell you that you can’t do it.”
Neither co-founders had experience running a business before Pobi Bakery. We all have to start somewhere, and budding founders shouldn't be put off if they're starting up for the first time.
“Neither of us have had experience being solely responsible for a business, neither of us have been a Director or even started a Limited Company. We’ve never applied for council licenses, bins - silly things you’d never consider and that no one tells you about!
“But, actually, you do all of the things necessary to run a business in your day job, usually. You email people, talk to people, call people, you have meetings, you book things in, you organise council tax for your home... It’s not as hard or as overwhelming as you first think.”
So, for would-be founders looking to start up, what are James’ top tips, as someone who’s been there and done that in the midst of a pandemic? “Plan really well. It’s really, really daunting to have to write a business plan, and to have to physically scribe exactly what you’re going to do on a piece of paper. But, remember, that plan is likely to change over the course of a week, two weeks, six months, a year. It has for us - our business plan has shifted completely since we got the initial Loan!
“And that’s okay. Be okay with the changes - just float with it. Ask yourselves what will make you happy, but ultimately, ask your customers what they’re looking for and listen to them.”
James says the support himself and Jake received from Virgin StartUp ensured their business could get off the ground and become more than a home-baking service. Not just from a funding perspective, but it provided the couple with vital business advice.
“We wouldn’t be doing this without Virgin StartUp. Virgin were extremely supportive: they gave us templates for business plans, they gave us templates for finances, and they want to see you succeed. It’s not like an angry loan company or a bank, whereby they don’t care if they loan you the money or not, Virgin StartUp actually do - and they provide the support.”
With local and national press releasing their lockdown success story, James is serious about sharing both the positives - and negatives - of starting up. All too often, we hear about the business successes, and the horrific failures - but we don’t hear about the everyday.
There are some uncertainties to starting up in a recession, James says, but the positives largely outweigh the negatives.
“For a few years, financially, it’s going to be a rollercoaster. Even with the best planning in the world, you just need to roll with it. That, for me, is the biggest negative: nothing is certain and it’s dependent on how much you commit to the business.
“But, on the flipside, this is also a huge positive, because in no other employment, if you put in a 1000% effort, are you going to see your finances or your idea develop - you’re just doing it for someone else. Whereas when you’re the founder, anything you want to do is possible. And it’s wonderful to see how many people appreciate you and your work.”
Thinking of starting up? Find out how a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp could support your business today.