Learning through Struggle

It’s coming up to a full month of building Nom Nom Not Dairy and I’ve learnt a lot. In the second week, I struggled with micromanaging. After that, I suffered a crisis of confidence in the business. This week I’ve struggled with a lack of direction. It’s a lot to get through in a month, but I consider myself very fortunate to have gone through it all.

I’ve grown through each of the struggles that I experienced in the past month, only because I’ve been lucky enough to have my co-founder and partner at my side through all of it, acting as a sounding board and giving candid feedback. I feel grateful because I know that if I made the same mistakes while working for someone else, it’s unlikely that the feedback loops would have been as tight meaning I wouldn’t have learnt so quickly.

The learning that I am doing now will hopefully let me offer more value to the people I work with, and for, in the future. From setting up a business, learning accounting and finance, learning how to build Excel macros, to writing business plans and working on a marketing strategy, I’ve learnt a lot. But this learning isn’t just something for the early stage of my career. As well as a being dedicated to Learning in Public, I am also dedicated to continuous learning. I hope to look forward to a lifetime of learning. And now for a couple of things that I have learnt recently.

How not to Micromanage

My partner and I found a couple of collaborative sessions difficult in the second week. Most of the sessions were about social media content we were posting. Both of us are pretty perfectionist, and we had slightly different visions for what we wanted to post, and what kind of content we wanted to create. Social media falls within Laura’s domain of expertise, so we had agreed that she would be responsible for posting regularly. But obviously I also had my own vision of what the company’s public image would be. Disagreement followed. Laura would propose a post, I would try to change the idea slightly, she would make a change to the content, I would suggest some other small changes, she would make them, and I’d find another fault. I was micromanaging my partner.

By the end of the week it was clear that something in our communication process wasn’t working clearly. If we had been able to go home and complain about our colleagues to our families, the discussion about micromanaging might never have happened, or the issues might have taken a lot longer to come to the surface. Fortunately we were able to have a candid conversation with each-other about our communication styles. To solve the problem we put a 2-step check-in-and-OK process in place, and clarified the ownership of different peices of work.

The 2-step process consists of a first step where the project owner checks in with others and discusses the idea in light of our Pillar Values to make sure it aligns with company goals, and a second step where the content is OKed by others, to check for small errors or minor changes. Any suggestions in the second stage are framed as questions, rather than instructions. Because the project owner takes full ownership of the project, they have the final say on whether to make a change or not, and can decide not to take suggestions on-board if it doesn’t align with their vision/purpose.

Erasing Self-doubt

Last week my father asked me if we had a business plan with market research. We didn’t. I began to size the market and estimate its size. I started to have a crisis of confidence. What if the market for vegan baking mix wasn’t big enough? What if there were large barriers to entry? I’d spent the last two weeks explaining the business to other people, and everyone said that it was a good idea, but what if we were all wrong? I decided to go about convincing myself the same way I’d go about convincing an investor. I ran the numbers. I calculated the size of the vegan baking mix market in the UK and the size of the cafe-food market. In the end, capturing 1% of the vegan baking market, 0.5% of the overall baking mix market, and 1% of cafe sweet treats sold, then we’d have a turnover in the hundreds of thousands. Things were starting to look good.

I then wrote up our budget from now until December. We chose to run our budget on this time period because we know that for December we’ll focus on holiday based promotion, and for January we’ll be focusing on Veganuary. I wrote up separate budgets for selling to consumers and cafes. Selling to consumers uniquely isn’t very profitable unless you start to achieve economies of scale. Selling to cafes however, because they can sell to consumers at such a high price, is more profitable. In the end, I was convinced. This company can make money. Our offering has value, and not only am I convinced, but I can now convince other people too.

Setting your Compass

It’s been 4 weeks, we’ve sold 10 packs, and shipped nothing. At this point I’m feeling restless and directionless. I’m not sure how to prioritize tasks, and what problems we need to solve. I think the best metaphor here is of a car. If you aren’t moving anywhere then turning the wheel does nothing.

Over this weekend we are heading to the UK and next week we will start shipping products to people who have preordered on our website. We’ll start iterating through our sales process to cafes, trying to solve their problems and add value to their business.

I’m really excited to see how big we can get Nom Nom Not Dairy in the next couple of months. Let me know if you want to get involved or have any ideas about how to grow the business. Thanks for reading, and have a nice weekend.