Earlier this year, you sold Grenade to Mondelez for £200 million. Can you sum up how you felt when that deal went through?
That’s a really difficult one to sum up as when we sold, I wasn’t actually in the business. I had moved away from the day to day in January 2019, and I actually found that harder than the final sale.
The actual sale felt a bit like Christmas; you’re really excited on Christmas Eve then by Boxing Day it’s almost a bit of an anti-climax. In the week leading up to the sale, there are so many emotions going on, is it going through, isn’t it going through, could this be the end of Grenade as I know it? And there was that uncertainty of real closure which is really tough because it’s now someone else’s baby.
Ultimately, I was happy Grenade was sold to Mondelez as Al and I had originally discussed wanting to sell to Cadbury, so selling to Cadbury’s owners was even more of an achievement. It’s gone to a good home.
Why do you think Mondelez was so keen to purchase Grenade?
It takes a lot of time, money and R&D (research and development) spend for big corporates like Mondelez to look at relateively niche areas like protein. Over the last ten years, Grenade has built up a phenomenal amount of credibility in the protein bars space and consumers trust the brand. We set up Grenade to make great products that people actually like and use, we had great NPD (new product development), a huge amount of shelf space in supermarkets and international sales. I think it’s very difficult for a player who is not already in that space to actually come in and build such trust and loyalty overnight.
Grenade was the obvious option for a big chocolate brand to buy out as it fits into an existing portfolio and was still privately owned.
Can you pin point why Grenade was so successful?
It’s a really difficult one but I don’t think success is selling for 200 million. I think success is making sure that you have the right work ethic, that you’re doing your best job, people knowing about you, loving you, trusting you and buying in to the brand. There’s also an element of luck and timing and, something a lot of people overlook, an actual market for the product!
When we first launched Grenade, we did everything. We did the magazines, trade shows and we supported all the distributors. We had a great idea, we paid attention to detail, we focused on the branding, we had knock backs but always learned from them, we built an amazing team, and we didn’t take a holiday for four years.
All these factors add up to what success means and why Grenade was such a great business.
What did you get right that so many other entrepreneurs/business owners get wrong?
For me, it is your reason for setting up a business. We never set Grenade up to make money and if you do, you might get a short-term win, but you won’t get that consumer buy in which we did so well.
We were also 100% focused – we had sold our previous business and put all our money in to Grenade so there was no room for failure.
Timing was also key as protein was becoming more popular, people were in to healthy lifestyles and as there hadn’t really been anything new in chocolate for a long time, it was time to disrupt! Grenade was one of the first protein bar brands where the bar tasted like chocolate and consumers were ready for that.
Throughout the Grenade journey we stayed true to the brand. We had investors that had ideas as well and we took all those on board, but we had a clear direction and wanted to make sure consumers knew exactly what we stood for
We truly believed in what we were doing; it was very genuine, and I think that is key when starting a business.
Did you feel you knew what you were doing or were there times when you were out of your depth during the rapid growth of the business?
God yeah, I sometimes don’t know how we got to where we did because neither of us had any business training. I had a very traditional background and left university to teach, and Al* worked in gyms and had a distribution business.
*Co-Founder and business partner
We just got stuck in, learned from our mistakes and educated ourselves. I remember having to Google how to put a barcode on the back of a box! We regularly felt out of our depth but we both loved the challenge and feeling a bit out of our comfort zone.
We always had genuine belief in what we were doing, we didn’t know what each day would bring but that motivated us.
Did you have a business mentor?
No. The mentoring structure wasn’t as good as it is now. We were involved with a lot of great networks. We were in the Virgin Fast Track for 5 years and surrounded ourselves with good people. We were lucky to go to Necker and Ulasaba with Virgin Unite and meet Richard Branson. You learn from inspiring and successful people like him.
We didn’t have a financial director until we had the GrowthPoint investment in 2014 and then we appointed Tom Murphy. He was probably one of the best hires in the business and is still there now. We were great at selling and marketing, Tom was great at numbers and the team started to really grow. Bringing on good , like-minded people who free you up to do what you are really good at, selling and marketing the brand.
Would you do it all again?
Difficult question – a lot of people have started businesses in similar fields and not done as well, which would be hard.
In terms of me doing my own brand again, I’ve got a few ideas, but I don’t want to do something just for the sake of it. But yeah, it isn’t off the cards…. No one wants a second Album. I work with several FMCg brands in NED / Chairperson roles and its exciting to be part of other Founders’ journeys.
What advice do you have for wannabe entrepreneurs who want to achieve the kind of success you have?
Make sure there is a need for your business. Talk to people who will be honest about your idea. Just because you think it’s a good idea doesn’t mean it will fly.
It also worries me that business seems to be about borrowing money as opposed to making money or funding your own business. I’ve always been brought up to save money to buy something, not borrow,
Timing is key. There’s never a right time start business but if you’ve just had a baby or just bought a house, then it might not be the right because you’ve got other pressures and while pressure can motivate, it will also add to the stress of starting a new venture. Grenade was launched in a recession and we always get asked why! Why not! When people are watching money they may not go out but do invest in looking good and gym memberships are a good way to get fit, meet people and have that social life.
Stay true to your brand. Have clear vision of what you want to do. If you have a business partner, make sure you’re both aligned. You need to be able to communicate from the outset and know what your expectations are to avoid difficult conversations down the line.
Enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it then it’s probably not for you and it’s time to think about what to do next.
So now what? What have you been doing since you sold up?
As I moved away from the day to day at Grenade in 2019, I was away from the business two years before it sold in March 2021, so pre-pandemic, I had some phenomenal holidays. I didn’t really have any time off in the 10 years I was working on Grenade, so I travelled the world and spent time with my family.
I currently work with some growing food brands; LoveRaw, a vegan chocolate brand and Mister Freed, a vegan tortilla snacking brand. I work with a drinks brand and am looking at a couple of other opportunity’s because I genuinely love working with brands.
I’m chairing some boards as a non-exec director and I’ve got quite a large commercial property portfolio, but that’s obviously a passive investment.
I still haven’t really learned how to relax and have that work life balance.
Have you had some time out to reflect on what you have achieved and the money you have made?
For me, the money thing just isn’t important and has never really been my motivating factor. When the Mondelez deal was finalised, the lawyers had to ask me to check the money had gone in to my bank!
I’m very grounded and down to earth. I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle. I’m happiest when I’m walking my dog or getting a coffee, spending time with friends and family and travelling – although don’t get me wrong I have a couple of expensive hobbies….
I’m a practical person and I like to keep busy so honestly, I haven’t really had time to reflect on what we’ve achieved and now I am just excited to be able to get stuck in and help other brands on their growth journey.
And the age-old question – can money buy you happiness??
Definitely not. I genuinely think it can bring problems. One thing it does do is give you choices and options.
I’m grateful I no longer have to worry about putting the heating on when it’s cold or how much food costs (but I still reel at some of the prices – especially tubs of a certain ice cream brand that I love) but what gives me the most satisfaction is being able to help my family, which is so important to me.
I was able to buy my sister a house and my 70-year-old mum no longer has to jump start her S reg car every morning as I have been able to buy her a new one. Her only input was that she didn’t want a rude registration plate!
Once we are allowed to socialise safely, I want to have a party as I haven’t seen some of my friends and family for 18 months-2 years and I miss them. I want to thank them for being there through my journey.
Through the whole Grenade journey I never really thought about the end and now, for me, this is the end. I’ll always be the Co- Founder of Grenade but it’s exciting to think about the ‘what next’