Jonathan Shimmin, Co-Founder Of Spoon Cereals On: Working With A Business Mentor

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Launched in 2013, Spoon Cereals started out by serving fresh cereal-based breakfasts at food fairs, railway stations and music festivals across the UK.

Securing £50,000 in investment from Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden, following an appearance on British TV show Dragons Den, co-founders Annie Morris and Jonny Shimmin subsequently launched their cereals onto retail shelves in late 2015. Their success on the program pushed them to develop the brand’s popular range of premium granola products, and later, launch a cookbook featuring a collection of nourishing breakfast bowl recipes.

Now stocked in Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Ocado throughout the UK, as well as top independent retailers including Whole Foods Market, Selfridges, Harrods and Harvey Nichols, thanks to Morris and Shimmin’s hard work and dedication, Spoon Cereals has grown into a flourishing business.

But aside from the initial investment, the duo’s participation on Dragon’s Den has helped to shape their business on a much deeper level.

With Jones and Meaden supporting and nurturing the growth of the business, the success has been a collaborative effort, and one Shimmin and Morris have learnt a lot from.

Understanding the importance of having both of the investors on board, Shimmin says that their involvement has played a huge role in the brand’s rapid growth. From expert help and valuable contacts to extra marketing knowledge, having the backing of two mentors has been invaluable.

For any entrepreneur, finding the right business mentor can help to build long-term business success, but establishing an effective and collaborative relationship isn’t without its challenges.

To shine a light on the process, here Shammin recalls his personal journey, and why it’s one he hopes to continue both personally and professionally……

The importance of mentors

When I started working with my business partner Annie we had more of a mentor/mentee dynamic.

At the time, I was living in Amsterdam and I had first discussed the prospect of launching a business over a family barbecue in London.

Following our initial conversation, Annie asked me to talk her through some ‘business basics’ and mentor her through the initial stages of starting a business from scratch – most importantly the key areas to think about.

Judging by our early conversations I felt that our complementary skills and willingness to listen to one another would work well together, and soon we entered a  business partnership.

One of the most important things I learnt early on, having been on both sides of a mentor/mentee relationship, is that being prepared to admit when your knowledge or skills are lacking is of utmost importance. Listening carefully to the advice of others is also paramount to the success of any business.

This is especially applicable if you do not have experience in that particular industry, which was the case for both me and Annie.

There’s a fine line between backing your own instincts and asking for guidance, but it is always important to be open to differences of opinion, especially when working with a mentor.

Spoon Cereals On Working With A Mentor

Image: Spoon Cereals

Finding A mentor

With neither Annie of I having prior experience of the food industry, we spent all of our time in the initial stage of launching Spoon, either making our cereals or selling them. So, it was clear that we could benefit from some type of external influence to help us shape the future strategic direction of the business.

For us, the search for mentors came in the form of our appearance on Dragons Den.

We went into the ‘Den’ after little sleep and not enough practice of our pitch, but we did have a clear idea of what we wanted from the experience. We wanted investment, yes, but more importantly we wanted someone who had ‘been there and done that’ (and who knew plenty of others who had too) to help us develop our business.

We also had a clear idea that out of all the ‘dragons’ Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden would have the best contacts and experience in the food industry, and we couldn’t have envisaged a better scenario than the two of them getting involved together.

It is impossible to overestimate the support that they have given us as mentors. From Deborah introducing us initially to very experienced food professionals such as Jane Milton to having access to the connections that Peter has nurtured from his development of the Reggae Reggae sauce business over the last decade. All of the advice, marketing support and introductions helped us take our business from market stall to supermarket shelf in a matter of months.

Working effectively with mentors

The way we work with Peter and Deborah has changed over the three years we have been involved with them.

At first the introductions and support helped us to get the right meetings in place to establish the business as a wholesale venture, which was vital. And, as the need for introductions receded, based on the development of our own connections and network, their support manifested itself in other ways.

Financially they helped support our launch into retail, but more importantly it was their outward show of support that really helped to boost our business. Other support in the form of event appearances, social media conversations, invitations to events and the provision of office space have all helped in their own way over time.

Due to the proximity of our offices we now work with Peter’s team on an almost daily basis but we are generally left to our own devices; formally meeting several times a year to discuss all aspects of the business in person.

What I’ve learnt from our relationships with our mentors is that every relationship is a personal one and should be allowed to develop in a natural and organic way. After close to three years we work very independently from Peter and Deborah and their teams, but we still feel very closely nurtured by them.

In the end, the success of our will be down to a solid collaborative effort, and one we hope to continue to be a part of very much.

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