Blue butterflies

There are more food startups in London than ever before. I am basing this claim on the increasing number of people asking me for advice. So it must be true. Not that truth is a thing any more. The advice they’re looking for is varied, from how to get the word out, through pricing to the value of organic, but there are a couple of themes running through.

First, a very strong sense that there’s a right answer, whatever the question. I think this is a direct result of our education system, where there is always the A* answer, and someone is there to award it to you (I’m always available to rant about education). In real life, it’s more like baking, in that you only know whether what you’ve created is ‘right’ when you get it out of the oven and eat it. And crucially, if it isn’t, you get to make another one, as long as you haven’t used all the eggs. The analogy is wearing thin, but I think the point is clear. You could follow a case study to the letter but the result is likely to be totally different. Even if, for example, you do everything Ella’s Kitchen did, you are doing it at a different time, to consumers with different ideas, in a different market. If you’re thinking I’m saying this because I haven’t got an MBA and don’t know anything about business, you have a point. But look where it’s got me and Rude Health. Living proof of the value of winging it and learning quickly. I’d have got an A* in both those subjects. Take that, economics (C).

The other challenge for the start-uppers is finding their way. It’s reasonably straightforward to help someone with writing a press release or explaining the particular joys of dealing with pallets, but often the questions I’m asked are more along the lines of “should I make my food organic?” or “should I sell to cafés or shops?”. These are business decisions based on customer demand. The best person to make these decisions is the founder, who knows who they are making the food for. I could offer random answers based on my own personal opinions - what I call the ‘presidential approach’ - but the only useful thing I can do is to point people to their customers, to find out what they want.

If there’s a conclusion here, it’s that we should be very clear who we’re looking to for answers. Certainty does not equal knowledge. Or, dare I say it, expertise.

Camilla Barnard is co-founder and brand director of Rude Health