Last month, Start-up Stories stars Bestowed Kitchen launched their first pop-up café in Walthamstow, East London, receiving such strong praise from the local public that they were offered the chance to extend the two-week venture for every weekend until late May. As the run ends, co-founder Jeremy Wood once again joins Aldermore to share what he has learnt over the past month with the small business community.
“The first two weeks were a very positive experience and this has been the balance to that because it’s been quite up and down,” he states. “There have definitely been some positives from this new run; we still get really good feedback from customers and people asking us what we’re doing next, but on balance it has been more challenging than expected. It’s all good learning really as it helps to give us more realism about what it would be like full time.”
While Wood believes fluctuating footfall is natural for new businesses, he admits that the last-minute opportunity to extend the pop-up’s run may have played a role in this change, leaving the entrepreneurs with little time to promote the additional dates.
“It’s not always clear what the reasons are,” he begins, “We can speculate but I don’t always know why things work and others don’t or why the café is quiet. The initial eleven days went really well because we hammered home the marketing and the message that we were only there for a limited time. Then when we extended the pop-up, not everyone knew about that. I think that’s caused us problems because there has been confusion around when we’re actually open.”
The young entrepreneur explains that the longer time-scale for the café has also highlighted a number of challenges Bestowed Kitchen would have to address if they were to pursue a more permanent venture.
“One of the big learning points is how essential a good staff team is. You run out of friends to ask for help and it’s difficult to find people to do one shift that you can trust. That has meant for a few shifts it has just been Sabrina and I, and even on semi-busy days that’s too much as it’s more than two people’s worth of work. When we’ve had friends with previous experience in that kind of environment, they’ve been really good: it’s always a relief and the burden is lifted when they’re there to help you.”
In fact, the extended run has underlined how intense life as an entrepreneur can be:
“I’ve had about one day off in the last month and a half and given that my day job is pretty intense as well, doing two projects at once is quite a struggle,” shares Wood. “It has given us some food for thought about the realities of what running a business full-time would be like; you really have to put the rest of your life on hold and it is a big sacrifice.”
Similarly, the experience has shown how important it is for new businesses to have funding to fall back on while they establish a regular customer base:
“It would be good to have some reserves to be able to sustain you through the initial six months until the business gets embedded. Businesses always fail because of cash-flow, so being prepared for that and building it into your financial planning is one of the most important things.”
The pair of young business owners are understandably looking forward to taking the time to relax with the project at an end, but they are nevertheless aware of the key questions that must be answered in the near future.
“We’ve got to do lots of hard thinking about what happens next,” Wood comments, “But that was the whole purpose of doing this pop-up: to test the water in terms of whether there is demand in the local area and what the uptake and reaction to that would be. Overall it has been positive, definitely, but it’s also about testing the water for us personally to see whether we could do this full-time and run it the way we’d want it to be run.”