Helen Boyle & Claire Ollard – The Dip Society
We interviewed Helen Boyle and Claire Ollard, who started The Dip Society together after meeting at a wedding in 2010.
Would you mind giving us a brief explanation of what your business is and when you launched it?
C: We manufacture fresh dips that are healthier and quirkier than others you can find on the dips shelves. We launched in October 2011 and got our first retail listing in May 2012.
H: The aim of The Dip Society is to be the number one dip brand in the UK and to promote healthy snacking. We started by offering our range of dip flavours at the farmers markets to see if they would sell. They did …. thank goodness!
What made you want to start this particular business?
C: My passion in life is feeding people, I‘m a feeder! I love to be creative in the kitchen and I love having a kitchen full of people scoffing and laughing. I always wanted to have my own business and when I met Helen I thought her idea for a fresh dips business was great and I just knew it was for me. It was gut instinct really.
H: I was working long hours in TV during my 20’s and was time poor, but conscious of what I was eating. I struggled to find a healthy yet indulgent snack – in particular a dip without any nasties in that I could eat myself or put on the table when friends came around for drinks. I also began thinking that I wanted a business of my own – a new challenge that I was responsible for. A dip brand was a rather quirky idea, especially as my background is in fashion styling, but I could 100% visualize it. However, I knew I didn’t have the skillsets to do it singlehandedly and when I met Claire and learnt that she was up for a challenge, was equally foodie and had the skillsets that I didn’t possess, it was a no brainer.
What do you think it takes to succeed in business?
C: To never think that you have made it. To always be looking for ways to improve and grow, no one is ever 100% successful – but that’s a good thing. Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others.
H: 100% belief that your business will work. Being realistic that you will have ups and downs, but recognizing that what you learn from both is so important. Being pro-active, a self-starter and good at motivating yourself. Not getting caught up in what other people are doing. Of course, read, watch and learn, but as soon as you start trying to make decisions based on what others are doing, you dilute your strength. Stick to your core values – write them down and revisit them regularly. Ask for help when you need it. Don’t be scared to ask. Be a good decision maker and leader.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt so far?
C: To stick to your guns. If you believe you can do it, and you have a product that sells, you need to be bold and creative and always look for the positives.
H: That anything and everything is possible. So many times, we’ve thought “how on earth are we going to do that?”. We had no experience of selling dips to the marketplace or setting up a fully-functioning SALSA approved kitchen. But once you break it down, ask for some advice if needs be and use your gut instinct, then it is never as bad as first thought.
What do you think it is about you that enabled you to turn an idea into a business?
C: Hard work, and being relentless, Helen and I both have very strong work ethics. We love to work, we love to create and grow an idea.
H: Claire summed it up well. And, if at first we don’t succeed, we try again. We believe in what we are doing and we are able to visualize what we want to offer.
If you were starting all over again tomorrow, what are the top 3 rules you would follow?
C: 1 – Don’t try and be perfect. 2 – Do everything to the best of your ability. 3 – Move on. Don’t waste time on the unimportant stuff.
H: 1 – Have a more defined structure to the business. We just ‘got on and did it’ and we’ve had to learn how to run a business along the way. 2 – Make sure you are being realistic about what you are taking on. A hobby is very different to running your own business. 3 – Follow your intuition. The best ideas are usually the ones that 9/10 people would say are mad. We have taken on a challenging food category but we don’t focus on that, as we truly believe in what we are doing.
What difficulties did you experience setting up your business and what has got you through the tough times?
C: My family and my friends have got me through the tough times. You cannot underestimate the kindness of your nearest and dearest, who will always make a bad day go away. I have had so many cups of tea and chats with my friends who have made me feel so much better. Tea is highly recommended!
H: Haha – many, but they all make you a stronger person. I found Claire having kids so early on in our new business hard. It was an extra dimension to challenge us. But she has 2 beautiful baby boys and it brings another perspective to life. I hope to have kids in the future and I know that Claire will 100% support me. I also think setting up a business makes you address who you really are. I walked away from getting married very early on in the business, because it was obvious that I wasn’t being supported. A few years on, I am now a better person, engaged to someone who fully supports and backs what I do and visa versa. We are a team and I feel so lucky.
Looking back now, would you have done anything differently?
C: I probably wouldn’t have launched a business and had a baby at the same time, but I’m here on the other side and have survived! I am definitely guilty of biting off more than I can chew. However, that’s me and sometimes there is nothing that you can do about timing, you just have to get on with it and do the best that you can.
What have been the ups and downs of creating a business with a friend, and what advice would you give to someone who is going into business with someone else?
H: Claire and I weren’t friends before we became business partners. We have become friends and are 100% there for each other. We know everything about each other’s lives and each other’s moods, characteristics and quirks. A business partnership is going to be tricky at times. You need to put some basic elements in place for it to work – give and take, trust and respect. Addressing and moving on from issues that have come up is important. One thing Claire and I have had to learn is that, although we always come to the same conclusions, we often take different routes to get there. We communicate very differently so we have had to learn how best to communicate with each other. We get that now and it just works which is brilliant. We’ve also had some cracking times too and those aren’t to be forgotten when you are bogged down in the daily stresses and strains of running a business. Make sure you make time for those fun times too.
As a mum Claire, do you have any tips for dealing with the struggles of balancing work and family life?
C: Get help! You need a good child-minder / nursery / au pair / grandparent / auntie / friend / cleaner, all of the above and more!!! You cannot run a business and a family single handedly, so don’t even attempt it. Children and business are both unpredictable and sometimes it’s really frustrating when you’re trying your hardest but it all unravels – whether it’s chicken pox or a supplier that doesn’t deliver your goods. The best thing about having children and running a business is that they give you a perspective on what’s important. I also find having children very motivating, as I want to succeed as much for them as for myself.
Do you have (or did you have) a mentor and when you need advice, who do you talk to?
C: I talk to my husband and my friends. Sometimes it’s nice to have a more emotional chat about business, rather than a formal business meeting. I don’t have a mentor but I think that if I did I would like to find someone organically, so that it would be a natural relationship rather than seeking a specific person.
H: I have quite a few. I am never scared to ask for advice and learn from others. I love networking and I use any opportunity I can to meet and speak with other people in business. I speak to a number of individuals in the business and food arena, and share the achievements and challenges of running a food business. My Dad has run his own business for 40 years and Mum worked there for 30 of those years, so they are great to chat too! Neither Claire nor I had business backgrounds, so we have had to learn a lot very quickly.
What are your plans for the future?
C: To create the most exciting and innovative dip brand that people love to put on their table and get stuck in!
H: And to look at other areas around healthy snacking and entertaining ideas that we can capitalize on, based on the success around our dips.
Do you have any specific tips for anyone wanting to start a similar business?
C: Start small. Do your research. Do the market stalls and get feedback. Do all of this before spending any money on your business. Your time is your money to start with. If you get the foundations right the money will follow. Always think “could I do this myself?”- if the answer is yes, then do it yourself. When you are starting up you have a 360 role, but that’s great because you will get to know everything about your business.
H: Having that idea and the belief in it is key. Visualizing it and then having the guts to go and do it, is also key. Do your research to work out if your idea is a viable business. Have a look online for any business support organisations or grants. It’s amazing what is out there. We have had help with business development and a grant to help us extend the shelf life of our products. The food industry is a huge and tricky market. It takes time to get new products to volume but there is much more support for smaller producers nowadays, especially with the re-emergence of shopping locally and both retailers and customers being more conscious about what is in their food. And lastly, have clear aims and aspirations about what you are creating. Of course, this is subject to change but always be asking yourself some key questions. Why do you want to make your idea a business? What do you want to achieve? What are the timeframes and ideal outcomes?
FACTS ABOUT DIPS
The Oxford English Dictionary added the term “dip” in print, in 1960. American food show presenter Alton Brown suggests that a dip is defined based on its ability to “maintain contact with its transport mechanism over three feet of white carpet”. In the 1980s, Waitrose was the first British supermarket to stock hummus, with others following in the 1990s. Nowadays, Britain is the hummus capital of Europe. We spread, dip and dollop our way through 12,000 tonnes of it a year and 41% of us have a pot of hummus in the fridge. In fact we get through £60m worth of the stuff every year! May 13th is International Hummus Day!
RESOURCES FOR STARTING A FOOD BUSINESS
See The Food Standards Agency’s Guide to Starting A Food Business here. The FSA regularly issues guidance to food businesses, food industry representatives and others on a range of topics, often as a result of new regulations coming into force. Keep up to date with their guidance notes here. There are a number of Safer Food, Better Business packs available that are designed to meet the specific needs of different food businesses, which can be downloaded here.