We caught up with Jason, a food entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Bread & Jam, a festival to shake up the way the food and drink industry works and celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit. Every year, 16,000 food and drink brands emerge into the UK market but only 10 per cent make it past their first year of trading. Jason takes us on a journey of how his hunger brought him to where he is today.
1. What's the biggest lesson you've learnt in business?
I’ve learnt that the pain points in our food and drink community are common. Even though each of us is on their own unique journey we all face many of the same issues. When you’re setting up a business it feels like you’re on a lonely road, making mistake after mistake. But we are all going through the same thing and we can learn so much from one another, and help avoid these common mistakes.
Some food founders say that all you need to do is work hard and be passionate and you will succeed, but I find this advice misleading because lots of other things need to be in place to succeed. There’s too much rose-tinting. For our Bread & Jam events we encourage speakers to give their warts and all stories. We need to bust the myths and show that the odd failure isn’t bad.
2. What's the one piece of business advice you wish you'd been given?
When I was in the throes of building my first food startup, Nudo Olive Oil (which has since been sold), I wish I’d been told to keep myself more detached from the business. It was part of me; its bank account was my money and I was inextricably tied to every detail of its being and motion. I wasn’t able to make objective decisions. I could have benefited from taking more of a step back to get a broader view of the business than getting bogged down on the detail.
3. Was there ever a point when you wanted to give up?
*Laughs*. God yeah. With Nudo, during the 10 years I spent building it up and there were numerous occasions when I’d had enough. It wore me down because it was so much a part of me. The idea of closing it down was blown out of proportion. I have since learnt to take a step back. So with Bread & Jam I haven’t felt like that. I am currently doing a course in sustainability and looking at entrepreneurial opportunities in this area. I am about to take over a fish and chip shop with a local chef in Hammersmith to turn it into a sustainable one. It’s a risk, but I have learnt to take risks and this is part of my journey of never giving up.
4. What's been the biggest milestone for Bread & Jam so far?
It’s seeing people’s businesses change. When we launched last year we didn’t know if people would even turn up. But they did, and our event changes people’s lives. So there were very obvious milestones like getting businesses stocked in Whole Foods, to the less obvious ones where people have been on the edge of quitting but their visit to Bread & Jam brought them renewed enthusiasm or gave them confidence to take the leap in setting up their business.
5. Who is your inspiration?
I am addicted to the How I Built It podcast, for talks with people who founded influential businesses. I listened to an interview with Ethan Brown of Beyond Meat, which replaces meat burgers with vegetable protein. He’s an insanely inspiring person and he’ll go down in history as someone who changed the way we eat. I’ve been a veggie for nearly 40 years but I always like a bit of protein so I got one of his burgers couriered from New York via DHL. It blew my mind. It was like eating a meat patty and it had red (beetroot juice) oozing out of it when cut. Incredible.
6. What keeps you motivated?
The feeling of being not quite good enough! I have an innate sense of having to achieve. I guess it boils down to having highly demanding parents. It’s both a curse and a beautiful thing. I’m never happy to rest on my laurels. My interest in sustainability stems from wanting to do something positive. I am an entrepreneur by nature and I want to do something that has good at the heart of its mission. I guess Bread & Jam is an articulation of this. It has evolved from what began as The Food Hub - a foodie community - into an annual industry event. It all stemmed from being lonely on my business journey and wishing there had been more opportunities to meet people in the same boat and network.
7. If you weren't doing this, you would be....
Maybe a diving instructor. I did that a lot as a young person as I studied marine biology at school and often thought about doing it as a career. Either that or a dolphin researcher.