Standing on the shoulder of… ordinary folk

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Standing on the shoulder of… ordinary folk

There is the cult of the founder that is taking over our bookshelves and the best-seller book lists. The Jeff Bezos, Elon Musks, Mark Zuckerbergs, the Steve Jobs etc. Modern heroes of our time, bringing the future to our doorstep.

I am in no shape or form comparing myself to these tycoons. I just want to make a point about my experience which is: you never ever ever make it on your own. The people that surround you and the element of luck are undeniable to any success story.

I made about 700 bars several months ago. Everything that could go wrong before I started went wrong. My landlords asked me to move out for a month because they were hosting their niece. I was homeless and more importantly kitchenless.

This is where the protective umbrella of your peers gently open above you to protect you from the deluge of s*** that’s pouring down.

-       My friend who was working with me at the time had a place we could “cook” in.

-       His housemate hadn’t moved in yet so we could store 30kg of ingredients in his room and when making slabs of bars, leave them to cool down at night in the shade of his unused shelves.

-       My mentors immediately opened their doors to me and let me invade their 3rd floor for a month. I love you dearly second family.

-       We failed our first batch of 100 bars (Murphy’s law is an inevitable b****) so we were late in finishing up. It would have cost about £200-£300 in postage to have our bars arrive in time for the 3TC team’s departure for the Tour de France…

-       Another angel arrived amongst our mists: a friend lent us his car to drive that day down to our athletes and home deliver their bars.

It’s just a very small example of the amazing amount of luck I have had when heading towards the wall. People, whether friends or strangers, have stepped up again and again to catch me tripping. It’s almost been a year in the making of Azure. Even if we don’t get further, this type of humbling experiences definitely made it worth it.

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MVP Catastrophe

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MVP Catastrophe

We all read The Lean Startup... I read I was warned again and again and again that starting your business meant I would not have time to myself, I’d be chained to my start-up and I could say goodbye to my weekends.

Well…

This was true of last week. I definitely felt their words burn under my skin!

We started Sunday with 90 bars and wrecked every single one. Why you may ask? Because “conditions of experimentation” changed! We decided to make bars for a GB triathlete competing the following week in the European Triathlon Championships on… the hottest day of the year! It was painful. Our first batch turned not into bars but… into soup. Literally liquefied pinole goo. I felt I was liquefied. Turns out, to our surprise, that cacao butter melts both in the sun and in heat. Who’d a thunk it?!? We’re only 2 Doctors from Oxford, one in Engineering and the other having researched pinole for 4 years.

NB: Neither I, not Azure, would have ever survived had Ian, our partner in crime, been a true trooper throughout. Thank you Ian. 

So we made another 90 that kind-of held together and with our blessing, were sent them off North to our triathlete extraordinaire who, I quote, extolled that the bar “Smells nice, looks nice at tastes lush - wow I think you're on to something here - I really like them!” Thanks Darren!!!

Sunday: 180 bars made. 90 success. 90 fed me for a week. I am now 1/3rd pinole.

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Back to the grind Thursday, the solstice where I worked for what felt like 10 years. Wait no, hours, but it felt like years, straight. Non-stop. We made over 500 bars. The next day, we finished off and had 720 bars. We learned a boat load.

You need to press bars right after blending ingredients but wait till they solidify before cutting. But not too long or they are rock solid. We had a beautiful press designed by engineer extraordinaire Ian and made for us by Hugo Lamdin Furniture from Oxford but… because of the hottest week of the year, the wood expanded and we ended up spending an afternoon getting the press back and forth to the carpenters for readjustments.

We sweat, cried and bled for these bars! – literally, I cut myself. Ian cut himself. We lost crumbles of our souls in our bars.

Total:

·      3 days of making bars, 10 hours a day.

·      30 hours for 900 bars

·      30 bars per hour.

Not exactly sustainable… But that’s what happens when you’re bootstrapping it and you’re trying out your MVP! Plenty of room for improvement, more efficient processes and tasks division... in a Ford style!

We then set off in a friend’s car to Kent to drop off lovingly packaged bars to the 3TC group. Who, it turns out, could have picked up our bars on their way to their Tour de France! 3TC are an incredible team of 5 doing the unbelievable feat of the 3 grand tours of Europe, back to back, to raise millions for cancer research. It was a real opportunity to give our bars to ultra-endurance athletes, one of whom is gluten-free, the other a vegan. We are looking forward to their feedback and thrilled to be part of such an exceptional project!

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My fling with MBAs

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My fling with MBAs

I had an incredibly lucky week las November. I successfully pitched at Oxford’s Humanities Challenge Award (see previous post) and to MBAs in a one minute video that competed with over a 100 other start-ups and companies for the attention and time of a group of 5 MBAs for a term.

I was lucky. 12 got in touch. In the end, a group of 5 MBAs formed to help strategies Azure’s DNA. They came from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities. So this all seemed great because I thought: I’m at the head of a group of 5 great bright and aggressive minds… They’ll shape us Azure in no time. I might have miscalculated so here are some lessons I’ve learned by having the team around:

-       Don’t be late… like ever

-       Know what direction you are going in, even if it’s to have it challenged and altered

-       Don’t underestimate how important group cohesion is

-       Listen to those who know best but…

-       You’re ultimately the one who decides

-       Stop apologising in communication when you ask for questions or things to be done

-       Incentivise those who work with you because good will only takes you so far

-       Makes lists of things to do divided into 3 categories:

o   ultimate goals

o   steps to get there

o   shit is about to hit the fan unless you do this today!

-       Set clear deadlines for clear targets

-       Follow-up

-       Be clear in communication, always

-       Don’t flood people’s inboxes with crap

-       Hold people accountable

-       Do it yourself if someone isn’t doing it right

-       It all depends on having the dollar sign at the end of your forecast sheet!!!

It was a learning curve to hang out with my EP.244 group. I loved the weekly meetings and the companionship. I loved the approach and efficiency and professionalism I saw in them. I’m not a good leader so that’s something I can work on. In the end, the team was instrumental in applying for a BTI, forging an essential contact with the Jesuit university of Ibero in Mexico, understanding that pinole sold as pinole has little appeal to the “LatAm” and that the way I set up Azure is… not profitable :S

Most importantly, I understood that I had managed to get them fired up to join Azure for a term because my pitch was great but I failed to get them interested because I don’t have a good enough handle of how Azure will turn out and be profitable as a business. So back to the drawing board with numbers and forecasts and P&L sheets.

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Pitch perfect

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Pitch perfect

Last night was the first time Azure got validation from a third party. I entered into a competition organised by the Humanities at Oxford University. The finals boiled down to 5 participants. We were invited to practice our pitch… 

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From PHD to start-up

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From PHD to start-up

It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment I decided to start Azure. I tell people that I fleshed out the idea for the business with my father over two years ago, after returning from my 2nd trip to Mexico doing research. 

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