If you live life in your comfort zone don’t even consider starting a new business. This is the message from Cecily Mills, owner of Coconuts Organic, which has gone from strength to strength during the four years of its existence.
There are two things I’ve learned in setting up a new business. Firstly, don’t even think about searching for a comfort zone and, secondly, do not seek perfection – especially during the first few years.
If, at times, you experience moments of blind panic, then fine. It’s par for the course and probably means your company is going places.
But let’s start at the very beginning. It was late summer 2014 and I had spent the last few months shut away in the depths of Cornwall, studying the science of ice cream having decided a few months earlier that I should quit my retail career and start a vegan ice cream company.
My days seemed to be a combination of buying ingredients and recording all my experiments on a giant Excel spreadsheet.
I had this crystal clear vision of what I wanted to create. Namely a thick, creamy, smooth vegan ice cream, which tasted amazing and would eventually become a well-known brand.
However, despite these honourable dreams and ambitions, every batch I produced was almost perfection – but not quite.
I became exasperated and had no idea what I needed to do to make it 100% infallible. In response to these frustrations, I just continued trying different ingredients, and rearranging the portion sizes.
It was July, then August, and soon September. Summer was all but over and I was about to have my first child.
At this critical moment in my life I realised I had to get my product out there, in the big wide world.
What I was really doing, in this pursuit of perfection, was conveniently avoiding the thing I was scared of most – rejection. I had to get out there and sell my product – or at least attempt to.
It’s all very well to dream of success, fame and money, but nothing ever happens through inactivity.
Telling myself the product needed to be perfect was my way of avoiding the hard truth. Would anyone like it and want to buy it?
There was nothing else for it: I bought some pots and blank labels, and started my covert trips to the library to print them.
I will never forget my very first sales call and I cringe when I recall that first sampling session. The ice cream was so hard and solid, it could have knocked you out cold.
It was crunchy, icey, and not at all what I wanted my ice cream to be. But they loved it, and I sold 12 pots. I was ecstatic!
The next day I got to work putting together my first order but instead of being a joyful experience it was a nightmare.
It took me approximately four hours to make three pots on the Cuisinart I had just bought at John Lewis. My first reaction was to wonder how on earth I would ever manage to make enough ice cream to bank any satisfactory money?
It was probably fair to say I was flying by the seat of my pants – excuse the expression.
That was about four years ago. Last month we shipped out two lorries full of ice cream to Tesco. I look back on the last four years and they have been the most enormous learning curve.
But I realise that being an entrepreneur, running a start-up, is basically choosing to live life permanently outside your comfort zone.
I realise there are companies out there who spend years covertly developing their products, and launch with polish and finesse. But these are usually businesses with a large pot of money earmarked for product development. I didn’t have that luxury.
But I would do it all over again, in the knowledge that the pursuit of perfection is elusive, and all too likely to paralyse you into inaction.
I am very pleased to say that today our ice cream is thick, creamy and smooth. Perfect, you might say. And it’s been nothing short of an obsession to get to this point.
But I always remind myself that my customers loved the product long before it became ‘perfect’. Nothing can replace the feeling of power that a passionate entrepreneur will experience when showing potential clients their products. Perfection comes and goes, and the goalposts move. In the world of start-up, action trumps perfection every time – remember.