According to a 2020 UENI report, one in three UK small business owners are women. The survey showed that female founders represent 32.37% of UK SMEs. While this number is still lower than it needs to be, it’s a major leap from four years ago – when it was just 17%.
There are now more women than ever making a name for themselves in the food industry. But the challenges of starting – and running – a successful business as a female founder are still significant.
Addition clients Daniela and Natalia navigated these challenges – and more. They left their home country of Colombia to study in the UK, before successfully bootstrapping their plantain crisps company Loro Crisps.
We asked Daniela to share her entrepreneurial journey in our latest feature of When It All Adds Up.
What challenges did you face starting a business in a foreign country?
We didn’t take it as a challenge, but an opportunity! We have something others don’t. Obviously, there are things you need to learn as you go – for example, the tax and banking systems. We had no idea about this as it’s not our native country. But when you reach out and find people who are experts – such as Addition – it makes a difference.
We took advantage of being a bit different and sounding a bit different. We would go to a meeting and have an accent, and often they would remember us more than others. Also, our network circle is much wider. We know people in Colombia who can authentically create our product, and people here in the UK who will buy it. So it’s been a question of using our differences to our advantage – and so far, it’s been a success!
What or who has been your greatest inspiration?
I remember a long time ago someone asked me this very same question, and I immediately thought of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Richard Branson – all white men .You rarely think of women of colour – or even just women – revolutionizing your chosen industry. Everything in the media is just men. We forget that there are women doing amazing things.
Being a woman in business is tough. We are afraid of shouting out about what we do. We need to be louder about our accomplishments. So lately I’ve been trying to read more and listen to more podcasts by women in business to understand their journey. I’m a huge fan of Grace Beverley – CEO and founder of TALA. She has been changing the notion that ‘bosses are men’. I also love Cassandra, founder of Proper. On a personal level, I’m inspired by Ellie, who founded Caleno. She is a solopreneur and has made non-drinking fun. I find it inspirational how women can create these amazing companies!
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
There are three that really stand out to me. So at first, we took a very lean approach to our business. We didn’t physically make our product until we secured sales. This meant we went to buyers to show them the concept before we produced it. Natalia and I were the only ones out of 300+ tables with no product.
Suddenly, we were surrounded by paparazzi, and a man (who we realised afterwards was the president of the Bank of China) approached us speaking excitedly in Mandarin – which of course we didn’t understand! The next morning, we saw ourselves on the local news and realised that the president of the Bank had been praising our packaging. It was very surreal!
The second big moment was when my business partner went to Dubai on a trade mission. She had a meeting with a buyer from Spinneys. Long story short, we received an order from the supermarket- and we didn’t even have the product yet! Having people believe in us and our concept without even sampling the product was an incredible experience.
The last moment was when we received our first physical product order in the UK. I went to the Post Office to collect the samples. We had told the graphic designers that we wanted colourful, exotic packaging, with different parrots for every flavour. Holding that in our hands and seeing our dreams come true was an amazing moment.
How did you fundraise for your venture?
We think if you have a really good concept, you take it to the world first. And if people are willing to buy it, the money will come. For that reason, we started without any funding at all.
We just picked up any available grants – for example, university pitch competitions. We’d win £100 here and £1000 there and before we knew it, we had enough money for the first container. We both combined our savings and took advantage of all grants available, including the recent Covid Bounce-back loans. But we haven’t crowdfunded or taken any investments. There was a potential investor at the beginning of the business – but we didn’t want to give up equity if we were able to fund ourselves. And we did!
If you had the chance to start over again, what would you do differently?
I would read more. When I was younger, I didn’t understand the benefits of non-fiction books. Lately with my business, I’ve realised people pour a lifetimes’ worth of experience and wisdom into a book you can consume within a week. There’s so much knowledge there. Sometimes we can feel pressured to ‘know it all’, but it’s impossible to know it all at once. I didn’t know anything about imports and exports when I started out – I had to learn. Having that student mentality and being hungry for knowledge is vital for business growth.
What are your top book recommendations?
1. Promise of a Pencil – Adam Braun
For life in general, I love ‘Promise of a Pencil’. It’s about a US charity building schools around the world, created by Adam Braun. He was surrounded by incredible wealth, and yet changed the perspective of his life to have a better sense of purpose.
2. 4-Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss
For business, I love Tim Ferriss’ ‘4 Hour Work Week’. It’s a great read and speaks for itself, really.
3. The Multi-Hyphen Method – Emma Gannon
I’ve realised there is no single way to describe who I am. Yes, I direct Loro Crisps, but I’m more than that. There’s nothing wrong with having multiple ventures. I’m a director and product developer, but I also help other companies with various projects. Being a multi-hyphen is a new concept in this world.
4. Working Hard or Hardly Working – Grace Beverley
As a business owner, you are expected to work 24 hours a day with no rest and that’s just not true – or even healthy! If you look at the most productive countries in the world, they don’t work as many hours as you think. I love how this focuses on taking breaks, working with purpose and valuing progress over presenteeism!
Daniela Orrego is co-founder of Loro Crisps and an Addition client.