What I Wish I Knew – Daniel Derry, co-founder of CopperNose
Brothers Liam and Daniel Derry founded CopperNose with a mission to set a new standard in craft jerky. They launched at a time when the meat snack industry was experiencing a boom and, after some success with the UK Grand Idea Competition while Liam was in his final year of university, they applied for a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp and have grown the brand from there.
Now, seven years on, CopperNose is about to launch the UK’s best probiotic vegan jerky. And it’s making sure that it’s not just good for your gut – CopperNose will be donating the proceeds from sales of the vegan jerky to Bowel Cancer UK after Daniel was diagnosed with cancer during the coronavirus pandemic.
In the last seven years, the brothers have learnt a lot about business and we caught up with Daniel to find out more about the things he wishes he’d known from day one…
I think the biggest thing I'd change if I could do it again – and this is something that our Virgin StartUp mentor said to us too – would be to outsource. At the time there wasn't really anyone we could outsource to. You see it from most snacking brands, they all outsource it to these big companies because you just can't manufacture the units at the cost you need to be competitive in this day and age by doing it yourself, unless you have the money to set up your own factory.
We were working out of the kitchen, hand doing everything overnight and we really pushed the small-batch, handmade, family business thing. We really did that up until the lockdown. The outsourcing came around at a good time because I think lockdown would have been the end of Coppernose had we not outsourced it before. But we outsourced it because I was diagnosed with cancer and we realised that we couldn’t keep going as we were.
Understand who you’re selling to
We were always told that people love the whole family business story, which they do to some extent. But really, in order to be competitive, you have to make some changes. Supermarkets only really care about unit cost, they don't care about the rest of it.
It's been a slow learning curve, we really pushed the fact that it was homemade and that we were the real deal, but ultimately they just didn't care. They're looking for reliability and whether you can cope with scaling the business.
Last year I had one supermarket come to me and ask if we could price match to another supplier, which was a multi-billion dollar US company, so of course we couldn't do that. I told them the price we could do it at, while also supporting British farming and putting our proceeds towards charities, but ultimately they were just looking for the best price and we couldn't compete with that.
It's hard to know the truth about what businesses actually want. Supermarkets can claim to be supporting British farmers and interested in small businesses, but that's not the reality that we've experienced. We were advised to ditch the small-batch messaging because it was only going to concern potential customers that we couldn't cope with the kind of volume they'd be looking for. I think you saw it everywhere a few years ago, everyone was pushing the small-batch thing, but a lot of people have moved on from that now.
Invest in marketing
Having outsourced the production so that we could have all the stock we wanted at a great unit cost, we would have put more money into marketing. You see it all the time, start-ups that have really got the marketing spot-on. If I had all the money again, outsourcing and marketing are what I would have pumped into.
We’ve made so many marketing mistakes over the years. I've had marketing companies promise the world to me sometimes, but we've lost money on it so I've been trying to learn it myself so that we can do some of this stuff in-house. I think social media and collaboration have been the biggest successes for us really – we've been working with Cotswolds Distillery for a while now and it's been really beneficial. It’s really about knowing where to put your money and what works for your business.
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