The Entrepreneur: Ross Mendham, Bare Naked Foods

Having used investment from Dragons' Den to build a million-pound brand, Mendham discusses why realistic goals are key to business success...

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Founder: Ross Mendham
Company: Bare Naked Foods
Description in one line: Innovative manufacturer of healthy, gluten-free, pasta, rice and ready meals   
Turnover: £1m
12-month target: £2m

Business growth 

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • Bare Naked Foods specialises in low-carbohydrate, gluten-free noodles, pastas, rice and ready meals.
  • We’re stocked in leading supermarkets and retailers including Tesco, Morrisons and Holland & Barrett.
  • We’ve scaled rapidly since appearing on BBC show Dragons’ Den back in 2011 when Peter Jones invested £60,000.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Breaking into the multiple grocery market. Our first listing in the UK was in Morrisons.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

Our cash flow, and most importantly, stock. We need to balance shelf life with projected sales to make sure we have enough stock at different periods of the year as our products take five weeks to arrive in the UK from manufacture.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We currently sell in Dubai. We are looking for distributors in the USA, Canada, and Europe. The world is our oyster. I always said after Dragons’ Den that I wanted to take on the world!

Describe your growth funding path:

I had the idea for a low-carbohydrate pasta and rice in 2010. I didn’t have the guts to start the business because I was scared of failing.

It was my girlfriend (now wife) that gave me the confidence and courage to construct a business plan and seek investment to start Bare Naked Foods. I can remember the pep talk! She told me to stop moaning about my current job and either carry on doing it, or write a business plan and go and start-up the low-carb pasta business I kept talking about.

From my business plan, I received £4,500 funding from my future father-in-law.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

£5m turnover with £1m net profit and to have become the UK’s leading gluten-free, healthy food brand, with a range of ready meals and products.

Growth challenges 

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Appearing on BBC2 Dragons’ Den seeking investment after my wife’s third miscarriage. It was terribly emotional but I needed to seek investment to help grow my business.

What was your biggest business mistake?

I don’t have ANY regrets. Any decision I make I stand by. Even if I was wrong, I learn by it and it makes me a better businessman.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Entrepreneurs are so eager to succeed that they sometimes have unrealistic expectations. I ALWAYS see entrepreneurs overvalue their business. It happens in the Den all the time!  You must also be willing to listen to advice.

How will your market look in three years?

It’s expanding year on year. Consumers are always looking at healthy alternatives. In the future, there will be a healthy gluten-free alternative for every product.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Set realistic goals and work hard to achieve each one.  You are not a success because you have a great idea; even the best ideas fail because a founder has made a wrong decision. Be willing to learn, work hard and never give up.

It’s one of the hardest roads you can ever go down but the rewards are amazing and I’m not talking just financially – one year after I appeared on Dragons’ Den, my son Oliver-Jude was born.

Personal growth 

Biggest luxury:

New house 

Executive education or learn it on the job?

I learnt everything as I went. I was willing to learn off veterans in the industry and of course, Peter Jones.

What would make you a better leader?

Having more confidence in my abilities. Sometimes even managing directors have bad days!

What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?

How hard and competitive the food industry is and how difficult it is to create a recognised food brand. I still would have done it though! The tougher something is, the more I want it!

Business book:

It’s not a book but the TV series Dragons’ Den: How to Win in the Den is useful for budding entrepreneurs.

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