VIDEO: Jim Cregan of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee on turning over £3.1m last year

At the recent Unbound event in London, I interviewed seven startup founders to find out more about the highs and lows of creating a successful business in the UK. While not running a tech company like the other six founders I interviewed, Jim Cregan nonetheless created a successful startup, Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, from the ground up.

ES: Jim, tell us what your company’s all about.

JC: I run a company called Jimmy’s Iced Coffee with my sister. We’re a range of awesome, ready-to-drink iced coffees that come in a 330ml carton you can pick up in supermarkets. We’re based in Bournemouth with a team of 11 and we’re having lots of fun, which is great.

Where did the idea for setting up this company come from?

I graduated from Bournemouth University doing Events and I spent every summer from my graduation working at music festivals, which was really fun. Then during the winters I had to go back to Bournemouth and work as a labourer moving bricks around and not having any fun at all. So summers were great, winters were rubbish.

Then I just hit rock bottom one day thinking I don’t want to be working in festivals any more and I don’t want to be a labourer any more. I went to Oz of all places to have a bit of a breather. It was there that I discovered ready-to-drink iced coffee in a petrol station. It was the coolest thing I’d ever had in my life.

I returned to the UK hoping to find something similar and couldn’t, so I thought I can make my own version of that. I got in touch with my sister and said “can you be my business partner please” and she said yes, so we borrowed some money off mum and dad, got busy and here we are today.

What year was that?

We actually formed Jimmy’s Ltd in November 2010 and then it took five months to get our branding, packaging and ingredients all sorted. We pitched to Selfridges on Oxford Street, just gave them a call and said: “Hi, can we sell our stuff in your store?” And she really loved the product. We launched there on 7th April 2011, so it took those five months to get everything together.

How did you know how to go about doing all of that?

I had absolutely no idea whatsoever. I wasn’t coming from a background where I had a decent job and BUPA healthcare and a company car and all these things. I just had to do a leap of some sort and I thought this iced coffee thing could be my one chance to have a stab at running a company, which it’s turned out to be so far.

Did you have any kind of mentorship along the way when you were setting up?

I rang a few people who I admired who weren’t in the same competitive outset as us. You just call up a company and ask to speak to the MD or head of operations, say you really like what they do and want to have a chat about some stuff. Chances are they get back to you and they help you along the way.

When we first started we were on rung zero of the ladder and there are a few people on rung two, three, four and five who you can call depending on what kind of help you need. Now we’re on rung two or three, so we have people calling up saying: “Dude can you help me, I really don’t know how this works.” It’s nice to pay it back when someone could use some help.

You’re now stocked in most of the major supermarkets, how do you go about making that happen?

That’s a really good question and one that we get asked a lot from small companies. If you’re trying to get into Tesco for example, you’ve got to find the buyer. You can stalk them on LinkedIn, you can hang outside their head office, you can guess their name, you can call the reception and go: “Hi I need to speak to the milk buyer, is it still Sally Cheeseman?” and they say “No it’s not, it’s David Thornton”. So you try and guess the email address and if you get a reply that’s handy. It’s basically by any means.

So finding creative ways to get in touch with the right people.

Yeah, and most times if you do end up sending an email it’s just a boring email. But if you’re happy to stand outside HQ dressed in a giant carton suit, which I did once at the UK soft drinks conference. You get their attention and if they see you’re really passionate and you’ve gone the extra mile to get their attention, chances are they’ll get you a bit more time.

What would you say were the major challenges in setting up your company?

There are so many, just running a company is a massive challenge in the first place. I’m not an intelligent guy, I’ve got a bit of common sense and that’s about it. I’ve had to learn so much along the way, which is the best thing because you learn from mistakes. The only way you can learn is by doing stuff by yourself, you can’t just be told things.

I found it hard trying to deal with things like cash flow and staffing. It’s actually really hard to find people who are super passionate about what you do. It’s even a challenge learning things like how to sign up your car for London’s congestion charge and not get charged £120 when you go through when you should just sign up online and do it. There are challenges every single minute of the day.

Despite these challenges, I read an interview with you last year that you were on track to turn over £3.5m. Is that correct?

We did £3.1m, which is really cool. We were doing about 450 cartons every hour, on the hour, 24 hours a day, which is a nice way of understanding how much we get through. For me, if I was thinking about that six and a half years ago, I would think that’s a pretty cool place to get to.

We want to try to get to about £5m this year. We’ve just brought on a really rad new sales director, who’s just awesome. She comes from an amazing background of work through her career and we went to a Co-Op meeting with her yesterday and she’s just on the ball, way better than me, which is great.

We discussed off-stage that you’re hiring someone to manage your marketing now as well.

Yes. I currently do all our marketing on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook – we don’t do Snapchat because I don’t understand it. This lovely lady called Steph is going to come on board, but I’m still going to be running all the social media because we need to hire a social media person too.

It just gets so busy – you can check-in, there are reviews, messages, rants, ratings, YouTube comments, replying on double comments, there’s so much. When people say “I’ve tried to get in contact with you”, I’m like “By which means?” It’s not just letter or email, it’s actually letter, email, check-in response, reviews, etc.

You still get letters?

Yeah we got a letter the other day. A complaint, actually. I can’t remember what we did. I think we replied by letter as well saying, “Sorry, here’s a voucher” or something like that.

What would you say have been the major highlights for you?

I think the fact that we’re still here today. If you go to a supermarket shelf and see us in say, Tesco Express, we’re part of their meal deal and we’re next to the likes of Coke, Fanta, Starbucks, some of the biggest companies in the entire world. There’s a team of 11 idiots from Bournemouth who love the beach and have a really fun time and still get to play in their space. It’s a really cool achievement, I think.

Personally for me, my biggest achievement was just being able to get a mortgage. I’ve been renting for my entire life and of the last three flats that I’ve been renting, the first didn’t have a fire in it, the second had an electric fire, the third had a gas fire. I said to my wife that the next house we get we’re going to buy it and put a wood burner in there. We did just that and it was a massive personal milestone for me, so that was cool.

If you had any advice for entrepreneurs out there looking to set up their own companies, what would it be?

I think you have to be just a tiny bit crazy, because if you’re not you’ll just think normally and accept that everything is going to be a no. You have to have that little twinkle in your eye to go: “This is definitely going to work.”

And I guess to manage the expectation that it’s not always going to go your way, so you need to think around problems.

Yeah, we’ve had so many no’s in all these different scenarios. You’ve just got to figure out ways of either binning them and get someone else to say yes, or just make them say yes eventually – bring back better data or come back with something else.

I think fundamentally the idea you have in your head has to not let you go to sleep and when you do go to sleep and wake up it’s the first thing on your brain. If you wake up and you’re not thinking about what your passion or desire is then chances are you’ll just scratch your bum, get back into bed and not really worry about what you want to do.

With the iced coffee thing it was this unrelenting itch in my brain that just didn’t go away, hasn’t gone away and won’t go away until I don’t know when.