Ella’s Kitchen founder Paul Lindley: Why start-ups need to aim high
In an extract from his new book Little Wins, the popular food entrepreneur outlines a need for businesses to embrace toddler-like ambitions....
Paul Lindley is the founder of Ella’s Kitchen, the organic children’s food brand on a mission to reduce childhood obesity and diabetes. Below is an extract from his new book Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler, which explores the unique business lessons we can learn from our inner kid. Published this month by Penguin, Little Wins is available to buy here.
“Most businesses start out with a clear goal and purpose in mind. You know the destination; it’s the route that is uncertain and liable to change as you hit dead-ends and traffic jams.
“With Ella’s Kitchen, the guiding ambition is very much the same today as it was when I first started thinking about the business in 2004. From before I had registered a company, I knew what I wanted it to achieve.
“Setting goals is one thing. Achieving them will often mean confronting situations you are worried about or even a bit afraid of. When I was starting out with Ella’s Kitchen, my monster under the bed was sales. I’d never previously been responsible for pitching products. Nor was it something I had much confidence that I could do well; retail buyers were a totally new audience for me, and I knew they were on the receiving end of hundreds of similar pitches every week.
“In that context, you might think it would have been wise to start small. My ambition was the opposite: to take my product straight to the major retailers and punt for a supermarket listing. I never took our products to a farmer’s market or tried to get us listed in organic stores, even though being an organic product was one of our main selling points. Instead, my first sales conversations were with buyers from Tesco, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Boots. And, after months of trying, hundreds of unreturned calls and emails, and some very helpful nudges along the way, we finally got our first listing in Sainsbury’s.
“I can still remember picking up the voicemail from the buyer. ‘We’ve decided we’re going to take a flyer and we’d like to list you.’ That was September 2005, a full eighteen months after I’d left Nickelodeon and given myself the two year window to make something of my idea. We were on the shelves by January 2006 and by the end of that year, we were in Tesco and Waitrose as well, and had broken through £1m in turnover.
Read more: An interview with Paul Lindley
“That first sale was far from a quick win but I still see the early sales approach as a great example of diving right in. Not because I rushed at it – in fact, it was almost a year of brand and product development before I even tried to speak to a buyer, and several months more before I was eventually able to. But the sales strategy, though carefully planned, was toddler-like in its ambition.
“By rights, I should have had no business speaking to major retail buyers at that stage: pitching an untested product, in unfamiliar packaging and with a personal track record which was non-existent when it came to both retail and the food industry. Yet I knew I had to aim high if the brand was ever going to get anywhere.
“[The lesson?] You can’t have a big goal if you’re not prepared to back it up with a strategy that gives you the chance to win big.”
NB: Text has been edited down.