Moma: Tom Mercer and Amy Farren

Tom Mercer and Amy Farren reveal why the early morning starts are worth it for running their successful breakfast company

Oxbridge graduates Tom Mercer and Amy Farren both gave up promising consultancy careers for ridiculously early morning starts, running their own breakfast stalls. They reveal how they’ve achieved a turnover of £250,000 in their first year.

Company name: MOMA / www.momafoods.co.uk Founders: Tom Mercer and Amy Farren Age: 28 and 26 respectively Based: London Staff Numbers: 14 Date started: February 24, 2006

Tell us what your business does?MOMA provides healthy and filling ‘grab and go’ breakfasts. We sell directly to London commuters on their way to work and through office restaurants.

Where did the idea for your business come from? We struggled to find a good breakfast ourselves so knew there was a gap for a quick and healthy alternative to pastries and coffee. We’re all about making people’s mornings. Options for lunch are way ahead of the current breakfast offer.

What were you doing before starting up? Tom graduated from Cambridge in 2001 and spent four years at a management consultancy before deciding to start MOMA. Amy, an Oxford graduate, also worked for a consultancy.

Have you always wanted to run your own business? Tom: I had thought about starting my own business for a while when I found myself at a cross-road where I could have either pushed for a promotion or leave to be my own boss. Despite the 1.45am starts and long hours, the latter was more appealing because it’s something I’m completely passionate about.

Amy: I have always wanted to run my own business. I set my first business up aged 16. I took out the lease on a shop in Devon during peak holiday season and sold gifts and jewellery. Now the opportunity costs are higher! Leaving a secure job isn’t a decision you can ever take lightly, but if you genuinely believe in what you are doing it’s not that hard.

What planning did you do before you started up?Tom: I spent six months before the launch doing research and developing the business plan. This involved market research, online surveys, taste tests, consumer groups and counting passing commuters at train stations.

How did you raise the money? We both had some savings when starting out which helped during the earlier stages. We also very intentionally wanted to start something with low set up costs. Now, as we look to expand, we will have to consider taking on debt or raising some finance.

How did you find suppliers? We try to purchase locally where possible. The tricky part is finding people who can supply in the quantities you are after. As you grow, you find you have to change suppliers.

What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them? Tom: One of the toughest challenges is the change in lifestyle. Initially we were getting up each morning at 2.00am to produce the breakfasts, ready to start selling by 6.00am, which meant we were often working 70 hours a week.

Amy: We put a lot of effort into finding brilliant people to work on our stalls, as they are the face of the business. As well as being reliable and efficient, they have to be cheerful in the mornings, which isn’t always easy.

Where is your business based?We have four stalls in Vauxhall, Canary Wharf, London Bridge and Waterloo East train stations. We have an ‘office’ in Tom’s garage – and we just got carpet 11 months in! We both work from home a lot – there’s no real getting away from it at this stage. Home and work life tend to blur, but it’s kind of inevitable.

How have you promoted your business? Our sites are in prominent positions around London so we’ve been lucky and haven’t really needed to do much additional promotion.

What has your growth been like? Growth has been strong. Our initial target was a turnover of £250,000 in our first year, and we reached it. Sadly none of it is profit at this stage! Our plans have changed quite considerably since our initial business plan, so we’re in the process of redrafting it.

What was your first big breakthrough?Winning our contract with Network Rail was a big breakthrough – it involved lots of groundwork to convince them, but eventually the persistence paid off.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time? We plan to grow the wholesale side of the business significantly and roll out our retail sites across London. We have no exit plans at present.

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