Coffee entrepreneur reveals why start-up businesses are destined to fail without passion
It’s easy to have a good idea. Good ideas are ten a penny.
The difference between a good idea and a successful business is passion, ambition, a certain fearlessness, a lot of soul searching and a little insanity, according to Helena Hills, the founder and CEO of TrueStart coffee.
The innovative Bristol-based coffee company, which sells performance enhancing coffee that provides a natural pre-workout caffeine boost, has made headlines around the world since it was launched in 2014 by Helena and her husband Simon; growing beyond its creators’ wildest dreams.
But, like all success stories, it hasn’t been easy.
Helena, who will be sharing her insights at a “How to start and grow your own business” seminar at the University of Hull Business School on Thursday, 23 March, admits the couple have faced a steep learning curve.
I think Simon and I have always had that entrepreneurial nature,” says Helena, a former software saleswoman and endurance sport enthusiast. Simon’s pre-start-up life was as a project manager for a national construction company.
“Before TrueStart we would go to car boot sales on a Sunday morning,” she continues. “We’d each have a £10 budget and see what we could buy and then sell on Gumtree for the most profit.
“We did have a business before TrueStart. Simon once built a cat tree for our Bengal cat, Kooga, because we couldn’t find one we liked online. When people started saying, ‘ooh, we like that, where did you get it from’ the little light went on saying ‘we might be on to something here’
"We started selling them online at www.koogatree.com and it just took off. It paid for our house in Bristol, but it was never something we were prepared to give up our jobs and throw ourselves lock, stock and barrel into. It wasn’t that one thing we were passionate about.
That one life-changing idea came two years later when Helena realised her pre-run coffees each morning weren’t giving her the pick me up she was craving.
From that one flash of inspiration came TrueStart, a performance coffee brand that is taking off internationally and has landed Helena a shelf-load of inspirational women awards.
“I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t had a good idea,” says the effervescent entrepreneur. “Good ideas are ten a penny. Everyone has had at least one fantastic idea but turning it into something real is something else entirely.
“I think you need courage to take that next step and I think you need that network around you – and I know this sounds cheesy – that will support you to follow your dreams.
“If the people around you don’t want you to go against the grain and take any risks then you’re never going to achieve anything.
“My first bit of advice is to cut the negative people out of your life and surround yourself with positive people who will push you forward and encourage you to make the hard decisions.”
Since launching two years ago, TrueStart’s revenues have increased exponentially. When we speak Helena is en route from one business meeting in Birmingham to another in Manchester.
Earlier this week, the company beat its previous record month revenue in one day. Between Monday and Wednesday, TrueStart did the same revenue as it did in the whole of last year.
The world is obviously waking up to the TrueStart’s caffeine hits.
Along the way the company has sponsored a host of adrenaline pumping international cyclists, tri-athletes and armed forces extreme sports teams – all competitors who share what Helena’ describes as her “core values”.
But what are her tips for any fledgling businesses out there in Hull and East Yorkshire, what has she learned from her rapid rise and what are the pitfalls to avoid?
“One thing you’ve got to understand early on is the consequences of not doing something. You have got to understand how you will feel if you don’t act, the prospect of not feeling fulfilled and constantly thinking ‘what if?’
“The second thing is asking ‘what is the worst thing that could happen if I fail?’ is it really that bad? We have a great example in TrueStart. I was trying to work out when I should leave my job. Simon had already left his to fundraise and we were living with his parents in Birmingham, I was commuting to a job in London, we were trying to move to a house in Surrey into a house that wasn’t ready in Bristol.
“But when we sat down and thought ‘what is the worst thing that could happen?’ it was the business could fail, we could lose our house and we could end up living with our parents while we got back on our feet again. Well, we were already doing that, so the realisation grew that the worst thing that could happen was the situation we were already in. So why not go for it?"
Other start-up tips that Helena is keen to dispense include road testing everything on a small scale first. Both KoogaTree and TrueStart were launched with basic, one-page, websites that tested whether there was a demand for their products before any major investment was funnelled in.
“A great idea isn’t a great idea until someone is willing to put their hand in their pockets and pay for it,” says Helena.
“One of the most important aspects of launching any new business is making sure you know what your core values are. Everything springs from that, from staff hires to building a company culture and a loyal customer base.
“We have a really intense culture and we want people who absolutely buy into that,” says Helena. “I read once that ‘sane people quit’. I think you have to be a little insane and obsessed with what you do to make it happen. It can’t be about the money. It’s got to be because you love what you do.”
Don’t be scared to reach out to mentors for advice, she says, established entrepreneurs are often more than willing to give a hand-up to fellow strivers.
Finally, always trust in your gut. If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t, says Helena.
“You shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes,” she says. “We’ve been on a massive learning curve. I don’t have regrets but I never stop learning. I think that’s the best way to do it.”
For more details about TrueStart visit truestartcoffee.com To reserve a space at the How To Start And Grow Your Own Business seminar at the University of Hull Business School on Thursday, 23 March, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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