Out of the frying pan


A successful venture begins with an idea that inspires you and an impulse to pursue it. But you also need focus, the humility to learn from your mistakes – and plenty of tenacity.

Entrepreneurship is like writing a poem: it’s about following a feeling. My immersion in the world of food began 20 years ago, when I worked part-time co-ordinating events at a shop called Books for Cooks in west London. It was a place to discuss ingredients, tastes and food. Inspired by that time, I compiled Midnight Feasts: An Anthology of Late-Night Munchies and donated the proceeds to a dyslexia charity called Springboard. I tried to involve French cookware giant Le Creuset, which had brought out a range of items in midnight blue; though it never responded, the experience inspired my company, Crane, and its first prototype for a milk pan. We crowd-funded its creation and selected an old foundry in France to start production.

What I’ll say to people who want to start something similar is that the cookware market is hard to crack and is full of established players. I remember talking to staff at our induction day (no pun intended) at Harrods about why they should sell our four pans in a room crowded with pieces by Staub and Le Creuset. We sent pans to cooks and chefs around London and Crane’s sales grew by word of mouth. Monocle even gave us our first press feature. It was all very serendipitous and organic, despite our lack of a proper marketing budget. At the time we didn’t even have packaging materials, such as printed boxes in which to send out the pans – just stickers. In the past eight years I have learned a lot and, like all entrepreneurs, made some mistakes. We were behind the curve of direct-to-consumer cookware brands coming up in the US; at the time we were wholesaling to shops and were too slow to adapt. This year we encountered supply-chain issues with our stainless steel pans. We have had to deal with factories closing and long delays. I’m the only person in the office responding to emails, sometimes slowly, and people can get angry. It’s hard not to take it personally but we’re so used to immediate shopping, click-and-collect options and next-day delivery that the idea of a four-month delay now seems unreasonable.

Starting a business means coming up against boundaries, such as money. But if you believe in something, there’s always a way through. Stay focused, intuitive and tenacious: the rest will fall into place. Sometimes I have to tell myself to switch off because there’s always something to solve or do. It can be hard to take weekends off but you need your own life and spending time away allows you to come back with a clearer head. It’s easy to assume that other people should be as passionate about your product as you are but it’s important to understand how your customer thinks too. You need to communicate because otherwise it’s a monologue rather than a conversation.

I’m now working on another project called Larder. It’s a response to the collapse of farm jobs and aims to give a voice to producers. We want people to understand how food gets to their table, rather than just seeing packaged items. It’s also about teaching people to feel confident in the kitchen using basic ingredients instead of relying on meal kits or recipe cards. What can you cook when you come home from work and all you have are some tomatoes, pulses or fish? What can you make that isn’t expensive or time-consuming?

There are simpler paths to follow but I love being an entrepreneur: following the feeling and writing the next line.

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