Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Starting from nothing

In August 2006 my sister Abigail and I started the porridge company Grasshopper. When I say that we started from nothing it is true.

To clarify: WE KNEW NOTHING.
To further clarify: We had no experience or knowledge of any of the following areas:

1. Business (in any form)
2. Selling anything (other than stick insects at The Tremlett’s garage sale in 1979)
3. Manufacturing anything (apart from what we knew about how to make chocolate when the kid goes to the Cadburys factory on Jim’ll Fix It)
4. The food industry

If ‘starting from nothing’ sounds like the beginning of a self-help book or a seminar by Tom Cruise in Magnolia please know that I write it not to be boastful or indeed motivational but to tell you that we had NOTHING.

In the summer of 2006 I got sacked and in a ‘I am never going to work for anyone ever again’ huff I threw my CV and all my references off London Bridge into The Thames. Soon I was paying the rent by playing poker and living off instant noodles from the newsagent and free samples from Borough market. Abi was working in a marketing department, marketing stuff. I’m not sure exactly what she was marketing but I know that she was [AE: it was marine stuff Fleur]. Although I was living in London I was spending more and more time on the South coast with my family swimming and sailing and sometimes surfing at the Witterings beach with Abi.

The Witterings is to Abi what Mecca is to The Nation of Islam. To other people it is just a big old pebbly windy British beach but to her it is much more. Water-sports in the UK have their downsides of course. The main one being the climate: If you are over 30 you will know that in the 1970s it was summer for the entire decade and that we only now get 2 weeks of warm weather each year to make up for it.

Undeterred by this climactic detail Abi goes to the beach in all conditions from sun to sleet and snow. As a committed porridge-head I experimented with ways of making a portable porridge mix that we could take to the beach and eat straight away to warm up [AE: Up until this point I had relied on the humble Snicker bar which will always hold a fond place in my heart]. The recipe came to us quite early on and seemed to work every time. She poured the water in straight away and by the time she had got dry it was ready to eat. I loved our invention and thought about it a lot. As an OCD sufferer I then sought to deal with my sense of dissolution at having no career prospects or income by obsessively producing hundreds of identical portions of our instant porridge and storing them on shelving systems that I bought in flat packs from Ikea and spent hours constructing. We started giving it to Abi’s friends at the beach [AE: I took a rucksack down there when I was on crutches with a broken foot that had been pinned back together and dished it out] and to my friends in London. We noticed the first of many surprising things almost simultaneously: Everyone we gave a pot to, EVERY SINGLE ONE, loved it and asked for more.


Rick said...

Having seen you play poker Fleur I can only assume that times were dire indeed if you were using it to "make a living"!

Fleur said...

I did indeed pay the rent by grinding away on back-to-back $50 sit'n'gos on Empire.
Disparage my poker ability all you like Rick, I know I have the skillz.

Prick Your Finger said...

I love the way you ended up filling pots and arranging them on shelves. Make sure you document that, it must be such a lovely image....all repetition, I love that.
Make a business out of what you have to do.... and before you know it you're selling to waitrose! Hooray! Well done!

R x