Co-founders of Jack and Amelie – ‘grown up food for kids’ – tell us how a battered old van helped get their business venture off the ground.
Hello! We are Jack and Amelie co-founders Soph (mum to Jack) and Abi (mum to Amelie).
Jack and Amelie were born eight days apart. As friends and new mums on maternity leave, we navigated our way through the first year together. We love good food, and enjoyed weaning Jack and Amelie in the same way through a baby-led approach. As life is all about balance, we also bought convenient snacks and pouches to make trips out and about easier.
When we went back to work, with limited time available, we found it difficult to cook in the same way. We were surprised at the lack of quality prepared foods available that reflected the way we liked our children to eat. We started to wonder if other parents felt the same way and asked our friends, who all agreed that choices for kids could be much better.
Jack and Amelie were the inspiration to develop and launch our range of Grown Up Food For Kids. But this makes it sound so easy! Building our business has been such a rollercoaster, with many challenges – and undoubtedly many more to come.
Our enthusiasm for the Jack and Amelie concept continued as they got older, and we went on to have second children. By the time we returned to work after maternity leave takes two, we could see the market opportunity even more clearly. We committed to some local Farmers’ Markets at the weekends, batched up some of our favourite family recipes and started testing the market. Our initial business model was going to be a subscription service, delivering a monthly package of frozen meals to customers. One of our first challenges was deciding how we would keep our product frozen, and deliver it to our customers. One evening (after a few glasses of wine), Abi suggested an ice cream van. Initially, we laughed – but quickly realised it wasn’t such a crazy idea…
Looking back, this was one of our first tests. Standing in someone’s yard, on a freezing February night, with a car full of crying children, we were under pressure to make a snap decision between a newer, more reliable model, or a 45-year-old van (that happened to be gorgeous). We went with our instincts, and ‘Winnie’ joined the Jack and Amelie family. Her aesthetic appeal was a winner in being booked for events, helping us to generate vital revenue to fund the pre-launch phase, and her personality has added to our brand story. And despite the odds, she’s never let us down!
At this stage, we were fully committed to making Jack and Amelie a success. In 2017 we both left employment to focus on the business full-time. Soph took voluntary redundancy from her development role in the arts industry, and Abi left her category and national account management position. This leap of faith required buy-in and support from our husbands; financially until we were generating revenue, physically with the kids while we were working at weekends, and emotionally; did we mention starting a business is a rollercoaster?!
In 2018, we joined the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator Programme, and quickly started to realise the power of network. Other start-ups and more established businesses had so much experience to share. We began to build our own network of industry professionals and mentors, learning the language of pitching and investment – a whole new world to us. Joining the programme allowed us to broaden our horizons and start to adopt a more entrepreneurial growth mindset.
Our very first vision of Jack and Amelie had been of a retail product, shelf-ready to help busy families across the UK. The investment needed for this business model had originally seemed overwhelming, leading us to the subscription-based model we were developing. A chance conversation with an industry mentor challenged us to revisit our vision and develop the right product for our market. This pivot was significant for our business, but we instinctively knew we were now heading in the right direction.
Feel the fear – and do it anyway
Learning to trust our instincts and commit to our decisions has been a real learning curve on this journey. Self-doubt can so easily clip your wings, and is one of the biggest obstacles for founders. We absolutely haven't conquered fear - it's constantly lurking in the background; but we are definitely learning to feel the fear and do it anyway! We often find ourselves saying 'if it makes us feel uncomfortable, we should probably be doing it'.
We worked at pace to identify an experienced and supportive contract manufacturer and develop our first range of products. We encountered plenty of obstacles; including needing to redevelop the entire range two weeks before our soft launch at Taste Wales in March 2019. We have continued to take opportunities when they arise, sometimes before we were really ready for them. Launching at a high-profile event, meeting buyers, pitching to investors – you need to spot opportunities and go for them as they arise. We actually love the pressure of a tight deadline!
Our biggest strength
Our key to success to date lies in the strength of our partnership - we have so much respect for start ups with a single founder! At Jack and Amelie, nothing is someone else’s problem, and that collaborative spirit will remain fundamental to our business as we grow.
We aren’t short on ideas for the future development of Jack and Amelie. We will become the go-to brand for today's busy parents, who need quick meals for their children that reflect their own food values. Following our launch range of five dishes, we will continue on our mission to improve the choice available in this category – and others – with new products. Our vision and mission is clear, along with the values we hold as intrinsic to our brand.
It’s About Time is an initiative developed by NatWest Cymru in conjunction with Darwin Gray Solicitors, the University of South Wales (USW), Bizmums, and the Federation of Small Businesses. Research carried out by USW showed that women in business mentioned ‘time’ as a major factor in their lives – whether literally never having enough of it, or finding the right time to launch a business, and the right time to grow a business.
The It’s About Time series of blogs and articles is designed to inspire, inform and educate through the stories of women (and men) who are finding their own routes to professional and personal success. It is put together by Gemma Collins, NatWest Cymru’s business growth enabler for Cardiff.