Do graduates make the best entrepreneurs? Fresh out of university, where long hours in the library and a nocturnal lifestyle are a given, many graduates find themselves stuck in the never ending job hunt. Sure, you've got a degree, but you lack the magic experience every employer looks for. With nothing but time to lose, is this the best time to follow your dreams and start that business you've been thinking up for three years?
Graduates are ready to learn and fully aware that they won't make it over night. With a number of business start-up courses out there to provide the skills they didn't learn in their degree, perhaps running a business gives you the best experience of all. To put this to the test, we spoke to Henry Dunmore, a recent Loughborough graduate who decided to give up his job hunt and launch LunchBoxabc - giving Londoners convenient, healthy meal options delivered to their door. We caught up with Henry from his LunchBox headquarters, a year after his graduation, to find out a little more about life as a graduate entrepreneur.
So Henry, can you tell us a little bit more about your educational background...was business something you studied at university or learnt firsthand?
Business is always something I have been interested in since I was selling Heineken Rugby World Cup balls in the playground at school. I then studied Business Studies at GCSE and Economics at A Level before going onto read Politics at Loughborough University. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career so did a degree in a subject I was interested in rather than something I thought would look good on my CV.
As I did not study business I have signed up to some extra courses and also did a master class in marketing to improve my all round understanding of the different areas of running a business. I am also fortunate in that I have a family who work within their own businesses who are always on hand to give me advice, or to run ideas by.
Where was LunchBoxabc born? How did you come up with the idea for the business?
In truth, this was not the business idea I wanted to pursue after leaving university. I had another idea in mind and wrote a business plan but the funding needed was just too vast. Hopefully I’ll get to resurrect it one day as I think it has great potential and would love to get it off the ground before someone else does.
LunchBoxabc came about on the back of my experience both from a love of food and working various jobs and internships throughout university. As we all know, life can get pretty hectic and I constantly struggled to find somewhere to eat healthy food that wasn’t the same day in, day out. It can also get pretty dull prepping food each evening after finishing work and so I came up with the idea for LunchBoxabc. LunchBox’s core objective is to make healthy eating enjoyable and convenient, not a chore, hence we are constantly updating and evolving our menu.
Once you had the plan, what did you do next? How did things develop?
Things developed incredibly quickly for the business and me. I went from being a graduate looking through various jobsites applying for anything and everything, to running my own business in the space of two weeks. I remember thinking when I ordered my delivery bike and fridge ‘this is what I do now’ which was an apprehensive but also momentous moment for me. I was set up and trading within four weeks of coming up with the initial idea, so things went incredibly quickly. I was soon having to meet packaging suppliers, potential sites and customers and going through tasting menus with my chefs – although an afternoon tasting fantastic food is certainly a perk.
That’s so quick! How easy did you find it to get your business up and running – what were the difficulties you faced along the way?
I had some money saved up which I invested into the business. That helped to get off the ground with things like getting my logo designed and having a website created. I used a number of contacts I had met or worked with during various jobs and internships which helped speed things up – I quickly learnt how valuable communicating and keeping in touch with people can be. People want to do business and if you show some passion for your product or work, people will want to help and reciprocate your drive.
Difficulties come with the territory. My biggest one to date was during my launch week at my first site, The Third Space in Soho; the fridge broke and couldn’t keep temperature. We had to close for a day and a half which was a big issue when trying to build up customer trust in these early days. There have obviously been other difficulties but that one really stands out for me as my biggest challenge – mentally more than anything.
Obviously money is an important factor when people decide to start up their own business, did you receive any additional funding?
I invested my savings into the business but this was only about a third of what I needed so I sought the investment from a ‘Business Angel’.
That’s really interesting, how did you go about finding your ‘angel’?
I was rather fortunate actually – I had to do a full proposal and presentation which luckily they liked, as they invested the required amount and are on course to be repaid in time.
What have been the benefits and disadvantages of entering the business world as a graduate entrepreneur?
Being young is itself an advantage and disadvantage. It is an advantage in that it gives you the opportunity to take a risk. If it doesn’t work out, it wouldn’t have as great an impact on my life as it would in say ten or twenty years time. I am young enough not to have a great deal of responsibilities – I’ve not got a mortgage to pay or mouths to feed for example. This is a great advantage as it does not put an overbearing amount of pressure on the business to succeed immediately and has allowed me to spend more time focusing on making the product as good as it could be.
However, it has also been to my disadvantage. I believe that LunchBox have missed out on a couple of really good contracts and opportunities purely because of my age. People love the product and the idea but I believe that my age has been a hindrance and held some companies back from signing up.
What drives you to keep going?
Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone, it involves very long hours and definitely affects your social life but I just keep thinking of the big picture and keep working hard until LunchBox is a real success story.
In your opinion, what are the most important skills you need to start your own business?
Confidence in both yourself and your product – if you don’t believe in it how can you expect anyone else to? The ability to answer all opportunities that come your way with a ‘yes’ and work out the logistics later. You never know if you’ll get opportunities again, so you’ve just got to take them and work out the difficult bits later. Being able to communicate is also a necessity. For me making and keeping connections with former colleagues and employers really helped my business to get off the ground and expand at a faster rate than it would otherwise. Communicating with my customers has also allowed me to keep a loyal customer base that aren’t too shy to speak to me about what they enjoy, but also what improvements I can make. I also think having a really supportive group of friends and family is important, who understand that you might not be able to make dinner because you’re working or that you might not move out any time soon!
What’s in the pipeline for LunchBox in 2014?
2014 is an exciting year for the business and me. I have started doing office deliveries and I am looking to do a pop-up shop at some point by the end of the year. The product range has expanded to include healthy snacks and products people can’t get when they’re on the go. I am also developing a protein bar that I hope to be selling shortly along with getting my Protein Pancakes into some other retailers. I also hope to product a LunchBox recipe book by the end of the year so watch this space!
Finally, what advice would you give yourself this time a year ago?
Stop applying for jobs that you don’t want and go and do something you enjoy and have a passion for.
If you want to find out more about Henry’s business, or even try a protein pancake of your own (we know we do), visit LunchBoxabc, send him a tweet or even take a look at his healthy options on the LunchBoxabc Instagram. If you are a graduate looking to follow in Henry’s footsteps, a business start up course is a great way to learn the skills needed to make your dream a success. Good luck!