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EXTREME TIMES. EXPLOSIVE INSIGHTS

Jun 3, 2020

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We created HUB CP Live Lounge – our interactive Q&A series – to bring awesome entrepreneurs together to inspire and learn from each other.

Now, ‘awesome’ gets thrown around a lot. But when it comes to our second Live Lounge guest, we’re not even sure it does her justice.

Juliet Barratt founded the sports nutrition brand Grenade with her husband Alan in 2009, right at the heart of the recession. So, she knows all too well the challenges and opportunities of running and growing a business in turbulent times.

Fast-forward to 2020, Grenade has been in the Fast Track 100 for 6 years straight. They sell over a million Carb Killa protein bars a week in 80 countries. And they’ve sent shockwaves through the UK chocolate bar market, outselling every brand out there, except Kinder Bueno.

Explosive impact. Fitting for an explosive business. And so much of that is down to Juliet’s leadership.

You can watch the full video back here, but if you’ve only got a few minutes to spare, we’ve picked out the juicy bits below.

“I don’t like to lose”

That’s what Juliet told us about the time she played tennis with Richard Branson. It’s a hallmark of the entrepreneurial spirit. And you’ll find that ethos and drive behind all of Juliet’s successes – racket in hand, or otherwise.

Starting Grenade during the recession was no doubt one of Juliet’s greatest feats. It’s got to be the toughest time to launch a business, but how did Juliet and Alan do it so well?

“We had a background in sports nutrition. We used to supply a number of gyms in Birmingham and various football clubs and sports teams with supplements, so we always knew what would – and wouldn’t – sell.

“When it came to weight loss, which was where we started, products had very scientific names and people forgot what they were called. We knew early on that people wanted a brand that was distinctive and memorable. And after seeing trends from the US, we knew people were wanting more protein on the go. They were getting more invested in what they looked like. Health and fitness were becoming really popular. And they wanted convenient snacks.

“So, we invested heavily in our marketing at the beginning. And actually, I think the recession helped us at the start because people didn’t necessarily have the money to go out and spend on other things. So, the one thing our customers were doing when we launched was working on what they looked like. They were training every day, looking good, making themselves feel better. And it was a good way to spend their time while saving their money.

“The one thing you can’t control as an entrepreneur is timing. And I think you need an element of luck and the right wind behind you.”

Luck’s one thing. Tireless determination is another

“When I started Grenade, it was 24/7. We didn’t have a day off for 4 years. We didn’t take a salary for 4 years. Everything went into the business.

“We never did anything half-arsed. We had to be 100% happy with everything we were doing. Every product we launched was a great product, with great macros, that we all used ourselves.

“We were, and still are, a very genuine brand. And that’s why I think Grenade was so successful. Because we had a relationship with consumers. They trusted us, we brought out great products, we spent lots on advertising and marketing and built a team of ambassadors that talked about the products for us. And I think that’s what got us to where we are.

“Hindsight has taught me things that I should have done. We didn’t have that work-life balance. We didn’t have children, so we didn’t have that home life – it was all just work.

“It’s really cheesy, but one thing I should have done was work more on the business, than in the business. Because it’s your business, you’re so surrounded by it, and you don’t see what other people are seeing from the outside. And then sometimes you don’t get time to sit back and think about the new product we should be developing, or a strategy for marketing in Germany, for example, because you’re too busy.

“As you get a better team of people around you that can do the day-to-day, you never want to lose touch with it, but you do need that headspace to be more strategic.”

Juliet stepped away from the Grenade day-to-day in 2018, and now, she works with a long list of SMEs in either non-exec director or chairperson roles, helping them to grow and navigate the challenges of scaling up.

That’s why you’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s got more to teach entrepreneurs right now. Because whatever stage your business is at, and however well it’s doing, Juliet’s been there. Right in the thick of it. With her own business, and plenty of others, too.

Great businesses. Great leaders. What’s the secret?

“The businesses I’m working with are all at that exciting stage where they’re building their brand and seeing where they go. I think the most successful businesses are the ones where people have started them because they’re genuinely passionate about what they do.

“I think you can always tell a business that’s been started by a founder that just wants to make money, versus a business that’s been started by a founder that has a genuine passion or interest in that area.”

Honesty. Always

“When you’re running a business, you have days when everything goes really well and you’re euphoric. But you have days when it feels like the end of the world and you think you can’t do it anymore. I remember being in the Grenade office once thinking ‘I can’t believe it’ because someone asked if we sold in the UK. We’d been trading for about 4 years then and I obviously hadn’t done a very good job if people didn’t know we were a UK brand!

“But one thing about me is I’m really honest, and I think honest with myself. I have really, really low days, but I think everyone has those, and it’s just about being honest with yourself and doing what you want to do at that moment.

“Your people deserve that honesty too. And I think in troubled times like these, honesty is going to get you through it. You need to be honest with your people about the pressures. You need to be tactful, transparent and respectful with them, because they’re your family and your biggest asset.”

Hiring for mindset, not skillset

“I think cultural fit is the most important thing in the business. We always said when we employed people, you can spot a 9 or a 10 with the skillset easily, but you can’t change someone’s culture.

“So, if they’re not on brand, if they don’t get the brand, if they don’t get how you work, what you want to achieve, it’s very difficult to change that.

“At the beginning we used to bring people in that didn’t necessarily have the right skillset but were the right cultural fit. And actually, a lot of those people are still with the business now, ten years later. They’re the right people, we get on with them as friends.

“There’s pressure on you as the business grows to recruit quicker, so you almost feel like you have to take people on who have the right skills. But if they’ve come from a big corporate, for example, maybe they’re not the right people.

“A lot of small businesses do run really, really lean. You think you can do everything yourself. And yes, you can, but you should free yourself up to do the things that you’re really good at by bringing in the right people to support you. We probably didn’t bring in staff soon enough, and actually a good team around you can create lots more opportunities and give you a lot more time to develop new products.”

Give your people purpose

“You need to be really honest with your team about what you’re trying to achieve to keep them on board. We were pretty good at Grenade. We used to spend a lot of time with new starters where we’d give them background into the brand and a Q&A with myself and Alan, so they actually knew about us and where we were trying to go from and to.

“That’s really important, because in a lot of businesses you assume your people know what the business wants to achieve, and actually they don’t. So, it’s just about engaging with your people, having regular catch-ups and making everyone feel really valued and part of it. And you’ve got to be accessible. If people think you’re like them and they can relate to you, that’s key. If you think you’re above everyone else, that never works.”

Marketing during lockdown

Grenade are renowned for their outrageous marketing campaigns, and driving a 55-ton branded tank through Marble Arch is just one example of business as usual for one of the most memorable, recognisable brands in recent times.

But lockdown isn’t business as usual. And of course, Juliet knows that. So, what does she think about marketing right now?

“Obviously the times are different now. This is the new normal. And there’s a sensitivity that we need to consider when we do any activity. It might look a bit flippant if you did a marketing campaign for outdoor clothing that said, ‘sod this, we’re going out’. But I do think people are looking for good news. They’re looking for something other than the negative news at the moment. They are looking for strong marketing campaigns that they can relate to.

“I think a lot of companies will stop spending, and that’s dangerous. I think you need to push forward. You need to make sure whatever you’re marketing, you know what you’re spending, and you’ve got eyes on what the ROI’s going to be. You need to manage expectations, because otherwise, I think you’re going to be bitterly disappointed.

Juliet works with a vegan chocolate brand, and recently, they’ve tailored all their marketing to staying at home; watching Netflix, barbecues in the garden, recipes with ingredients you’ll have in your cupboard, sending your friend a parcel to let them know you’re thinking of them.

And then, there’s Grenade. Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, they’ve been shipping out thousands of freebies to frontline NHS staff, fuelling and thanking them for everything they’re doing. The response on social media from the workers and their families has been incredible. And it’s shone a spotlight on the brand for all the right reasons once more.

Should you launch your business now?

“I can only speak from my experience, but for me it would be yes. I guess it’s like having kids, is there ever a right time? Obviously not for me because I’ve never had any, but I don’t think you can plan the time.

“You can wait 6 months, but we might still be in this situation. I think it’s just about being realistic and making sure you manage your marketing messages and be sensitive. And at the moment, there’s a lot of really, really talented people that have been furloughed, potentially until the end of October, that are allowed to work, but not for their company.

“You’ve got a whole pool of talent there, whether it be web designers, graphic designers, digital agencies, that can actually still work and might want a month’s contract or work for 6 weeks.

“You’ve got students from university at home. Their exams are going to be finished in a few weeks’ time, they’re going to be bored, so how can you tap into those guys? Could they look at your social media for you? Is there any work they can do on an intern basis? Can they help do some market research for you?

“I think they could be really useful for entrepreneurial businesses that might not be able to afford someone full time.”

But have clear expectations

It’s the first question Juliet asks the businesses she works with, “What do you want to get out of this business? What are your expectations?”

“If an SME said to me ‘we want to sell in 5 years’ time’, that’s great, because then we’d know exactly what to do in the next 2-3 years to get you ready for sale. If someone said they want their kids to grow and work with the business, again, that’s great, because there are things you can do to help you achieve that.

“One of the biggest challenges is being strategic. Have a road map of where you want the business to go, what the lower hanging fruit is, where the easy wins are and work towards those. And if any opportunities come up, you need to think about whether you have the resources to do it and how it will affect your business.

“I think your overall goal should be the same, but it’s how you’re going to get there that will differ. And I think that’s what makes entrepreneurial businesses so special. You can have a goal of where you want to be, but the journey to get there is actually the interesting bit.”

Explosive insights. From an explosive guest

Who’s up next in the HUB CP Live Lounge? Check out all our upcoming events here.

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