Posted: Thu 10th Sep 2020
Stuart Macdonald is the founder of peanut butter brand ManiLife, a business stocked by retailers including Sainsbury's and Waitrose. To grow his company, Stuart crowdfunded over £260,000 in just two days and went on to secure almost £300,000. He shares his story.
Stuart is one of several successful food and drink entrepreneurs speaking at the Food Exchange on 11 September. You'll also hear from a Sainsbury's buyer. Sign up here.
How did you come up the idea for your business?
Interesting question! The narrative that comes with hindsight is a lot clearer and more full of purpose than what I really think happened.
In reality, I had a job that I knew I wouldn't like. I was exposed to a few small businesses (that kind of got rid of the fear of doing it somewhat) and met some amazing people that I knew I'd have fun working with (First the farm where we source all our peanuts, then the amazing friends that helped make the first 4000 jars, then the man who manages our peanut roastery...the list goes on).
It wasn't a eureka moment. I was just very fortunate to meet some great people who overlapped with a category that was under developed. Great peanut butter isn't an idea, it's just doing something better than what was done a bit crap before!
What start-up challenges did you face?
Too many to tell and there are a few interesting stories behind these. Thankfully they were quite a while ago now!
I ran out of money, twice.
We made around nine tons of imperfect product that we pulled from the market and donated to Calais.
We had three of our suppliers all move in the same week, resulting in a total melt down, one week after we closed a fundraise (the week after we ran out of money) and two weeks after our ops director handed in her notice.
There was a 12-month period where stress (which seems laughable in hindsight) was so severe that I'd wake up screaming in the middle of the night (about bloody peanut butter!!?)
No doubt more will come to me on the day at the Food Exchange!
Why did you decide to crowdfund and why do you think you were so successful?
I needed a time limit.
I knew there were lots of people who wanted to invest but didn't have heaps of money.
It meant I didn't have to manage any admin.
My friend worked at Seedrs.
I think it went well because we prepped well and somehow cultivated a fear of missing out. I think people genuinely love the brand and the product and told all their mates about it.
How did you get stocked big retailers and what tips would you offer other entrepreneurs?
Sell lots elsewhere, build many case studies, be charming, be human and understand very clearly why stocking your product will benefit them in their language.
Which other food entrepreneurs inspire you?
Cliched but the Innocent boys. They had a relentless focus that created an absolute mega brand that has stood the test of time whose alumni have infiltrated almost every corner of FMCG.
The Graze boys - pre-private equity because they tore up the rule book that existed at the time (in house manufacturer, in house logistics, direct to consumer, concept to launch in 24 hours) and reaped the reward.
Sally Preston, founder of Kiddylicious, for her absurd amount of determination. She spent 5+ years on a business called Babylicious that went bust. A year later she rose from the ashes to launch Kiddylicious, a brand she built over 7+ years and eventually sold to Lotus for a decent sum of money that she is deservedly enjoying at the moment!
Nike co-founder Phil Knight (I used to chew my Nike watch when I got anxious as a wee boy so somewhat food) because he just kept going and going, knowing that his product was superior from a $32/year kick off selling Tiger Shoes to $16bn+ mega business, with about as clear a goal as you can get - to win!
Why do you think businesses should attend The Food Exchange?
You'll learn a lot (fellow speakers Rebecca from Sainsbury's and Kelly from White Bear Studio are fantastic).
You'll meet like minded people - better to suffer together than alone.
It will hopefully be quite entertaining!
And you'll hopefully see that if I can build what a few consider to be a successful business then you can too, if you just keep going.
Get tips for building your food or drink business at the Food Exchange on 11 September. Sign up here.