The two schoolfriends both had corporate jobs but yearned to set up a business they were excited about. Armed with £11,000 and a passion for superfoods, they created chocolate brand Doisy & Dam. Here’s their growth story…
Edward Smith We’ve been friends since the age of five, as we went to school together. For a long time we’d both wanted to work on our own business and promised each other we would. I was in marketing in New York and Richard was in the City when we both came to a point in our careers where we had the chance to go and do something more creative, something we had more passion for.
Richard Wilkinson We were looking for new ways to improve our health and diet when we came across superfoods [foods with apparent health benefits]. We saw that superfoods were found in all these virtuous foods which didn’t always taste very nice, and we wanted to incorporate superfoods into food that tasted great.
Edward Smith We started off with all sorts of products including ice creams and brownies and ended up making this delicious chocolate, so we decided to go with that.
Richard Wilkinson We quickly realised how little money we had when we put our savings together and it came to £11,000. We started mixing chocolate in our kitchen, buying all sorts of weird ingredients and coming up with the basis for a product. Once we felt we had interesting flavours we found a chocolatier in Norfolk who could help turn our products into reality.
Edward Smith We didn’t have enough money to hang around so once we got our first run of bars we got on our bikes and cycled around London and tried to get it into as many little independent shops as we could to see how we’d go. The feedback from consumers at these shops guided our development of the product. We managed to last about a year on that £11,000, then we raised about £20,000 in family funding, and last April we did a larger round of investment [the company received £150,000 of private investment from a single investor in return for 15 per cent of the business].
Richard Wilkinson It’s been an incredible learning curve for us as we’ve had to learn how to do all the different aspects of the business ourselves including the finance, the graphic design, the marketing and sales – because we couldn’t afford to pay someone else to do the job.
Edward Smith The biggest challenge has been funding because it’s so expensive to fund growth. It’s something that I don’t think we really understood before we started the business. The faster you grow, the more money you spend, even if you’re not hiring people.
Richard Wilkinson When we have people who don’t pay us for 90 days, that really kills our cashflow so it’s working out how to deal with that and get past it – especially if we’re looking to go into larger contracts, it’s really important that we find a happy medium. That’s definitely the biggest problem that we’re constantly trying to manage.
Edward Smith When it came to getting the bars into Whole Foods and Ocado, persistence was the key. If you know that your product is the right fit for the company you are approaching then persistence is all you need. You have got to be emailing and calling the entire time and doing what you can to get in front of them.
Richard Wilkinson We have different but complementary skills, so there’s not a lot of crossover in the amount of work we do. I cover finance operations and production, whereas Ed handles all the sales and marketing, and we both know that we are good at what we do but we are not so good at what the other person does. It makes having arguments a lot easier!
Edward Smith One of the most valuable things that we did was to approach a mixture of people who we knew and didn’t know, who had been through this kind of thing before and took them for a coffee to ask for advice. It proved to be extremely valuable to us and we still do it now. It’s amazing how responsive people will be if you just call or email them and ask them for a little bit of advice as long as you’re clear that’s what you’re asking for.
Richard Wilkinson I think that people are often really precious about their idea and are scared of being upfront about what they want to do. Whereas the reality is that unless it’s something that’s so unbelievably unique, people aren’t going to be interested in stealing the idea. I would say don’t be precious about who you speak to and who you share your information with because the more advice the better.
Edward Smith We would love to one day have a multi-category brand. On the supermarket shelves, where you find the opportunity to eat something indulgent, we would like our products to be there as well. And it would be the logical choice – because it’s clean and better for you.
Doisy & Dam Vital stats
Sector Food and manufacturing
Staff 10 – six in London, four in Norfolk
Turnover £250k in 2015, £600k predicted for 2016
Inspiration Edward Doisy and Henrik Dam were scientists who won a Nobel Prize in 1943 for the discovery of vitamin K. “That discovery led to a lot of work into health and nutrition and we thought there’s two of them and there’s two of us,” says Edward Smith. “They did a lot of work in the field that we were trying to work in so it was appropriate to name the business after them.”
To find out more about the company, visit doisyanddam.com