Business management

High growth focus: how Olly’s became one of the UK’s top healthy snack brands

Entrepreneur Olly Hiscocks started his food business in his parents’ kitchen, marinating olives before selling them at London markets. 

Key takeaways

  • make sure your early hires will help your business grow

  • diversifying your product portfolio is one way to scale up quickly

  • don’t be afraid to exchange some equity for the right investment

  • be thick-skinned and ready for rejection

  • develop your company culture and live by it

  • identify the easiest way to prove that your product or concept works

  • find investors who can bring in expertise as well as capital

What kind of strategy is helping you scale the business?

People and team have always been a key thing for Olly’s. Sam, my brother, was essentially our first hire in 2017 when we launched and he’s now taken over the whole marketing side of the business, while I look after sales. We had another friend helping with operations at the start and we just built it up from there. Also, diversifying our product portfolio helped us to scale up quickly. People talk about specialising in doing one thing really well, and I’d stand by that, but we’ve grown the size of the one thing we do really well. Before, we were delivering just really good-quality olives, and now we’re delivering a whole range of quality, healthy snacks, so our product offering has increased. We also took on some external funding initially, and that was very helpful to accelerate growth. 

What have been the barriers to growth, and how have you overcome them?

Holding on to too many aspects of the business for too long was a barrier. Essentially, I tried to do too much myself. Bringing other people on board who had the same drive and desires that I did overcame that to a degree. So, while we’ve grown really quickly, we could probably have accelerated that by hiring quality people sooner, allowing me to delegate tasks earlier on in our development.

Has financing been an issue for you?

In the beginning, we took a small chunk of investment from a group called the Start-up Funding Club, and they’ve been incredibly supportive. They’ve followed on in every single financing round that we’ve done to date. Having them there has meant we’ve always had access to a little bit of funding, which has obviously grown with the size of each round. I think the idea of offering equity at the early stage of a business is always going to be difficult and maybe even risky. But the equity route is amazing because you can get a significant amount of money, and also bring in people with expertise who will support you. That’s the main reason I’d recommend it.

Diversifying our product portfolio helped us to scale up. People talk about specialising in doing one thing really well, and I’d stand by that, but we’ve grown the size of the one thing we do really well

Olly Hiscocks
Founder, Olly’s

As a successful entrepreneur, how would you describe your mindset?

I’m a cold, hard salesman at heart, and I just love chasing the win. I enjoy the whole process of trying to open up a new account, and that’s basically what gets me up in the morning. At the same time, I would say to anyone going down this road that you’ve got to be thick-skinned. You get so many nos, and so many unread emails and so many non-responses. It’s just part of it. So having resilience to see you through that is very important.

How do you combine purpose and passion in business?

We really believe in a healthy workplace, and we try to live by our ‘feed your feel good’ mantra every day. It’s so important to have a positive culture in place. We want to make sure everyone within the business is feeling good about the company, and about themselves as well, and that projects itself on to our brand and products.

What lessons have you learned about how to grow a business?

Find your minimum viable product, or MVP. In other words, identify the cheapest and easiest way to prove your concept works. You don’t need to invest a lot of cash to achieve that. For me, it was making olives at home, sticking labels around the pots, then taking them to market, or trialling them with friends. You need to understand what people think about the business. As soon as you’ve got validation from the market that people actually want your product, that’s when you look to scale things up.

Also, what nobody really talks about when you’re a sole founder is the loneliness that you have throughout the journey. The NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator actually helped me with that. That was our first introduction to an arena of other start-ups, and it’s when I suddenly realised that everyone was going through the same thing I was.

What have you learned about accessing finance?

There’s a lot of money out there, and there’s a lot of people that you can talk to at the early stages. It’s really important to try to find a group or an individual who really does back your business, because in the early stages, you don’t really have revenue, you’re not going to make profit, and you’re small. Finding someone who’s invested in your success and can offer some skills and some help is absolutely key. You might have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince, though, so you just need to spread yourself far and wide.

What’s your proudest achievement to date?

We launched a snack box called the In The House Mix. I saw that students were struggling to access good-quality food because they were shut away in their rooms during lockdown, and I thought, why don’t we create this little care package from Olly’s and other manufacturers, and we’ll send them free snacks? That was great, but then we thought, well, there’s probably tons of people around the whole of the UK that are in the same situation, so we offered the packs to anyone who wanted one. In the end, we delivered free snack packages to more than 4,000 households around the UK. The feedback we had from people after that was really quite warming. It reiterated that we do have the power to make a difference and improve lives.

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