The deals that made our start-ups a success

Winning a contract with a big business can be a real turning point for a startup, leading to more exposure, more customers, and – crucially – increased stability and cashflow. In this blog Virgin StartUp talk to two entrepreneurs who managed to get their products stocked in huge supermarkets about how they managed to secure the deals, and the impact it had on their business.

PACK’D

Combining frozen fruit, veg and superfoods, PACK’D kits ensure you can create powered-up versions of the humble smoothie from the comfort of your own home. Founder Luke Johnstone used a Start Up Loan of £25,000  from Virgin StartUp to help launch the business. 

Winning major deals didn’t happen overnight for us. In fact we had spent two years building our business up from a market stall when we finally launched into Spar EAT 17 (opposite our market pitch) and Whole Foods - our very first stockists. Sales were flying, and within six months we were stocked on the shelves in Sainsbury's, Tesco Express and Costco nationwide. 

These big contracts rocketed us into 2016 and took PACK'D nationwide. Without them we would have had to spend at least another six months living and working from a shed at the end of my family’s house, and the delay may have allowed a bigger company to launch similar smoothie kits first. Thankfully, the big stockists showed faith in us and we launched in 2016 as nutritious frozen smoothie kit pioneers. 

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Be prepared to put the effort in and be persistent. All three contracts required approaches from many angles at once. We emailed the relevant buyers, met their colleagues by chance at trade shows, sent samples, pitched our hearts out, and found a way to make the terms work for everyone involved. 

Pitching for the first time was very scary and it definitely showed, as I had to keep stopping because I had forgotten to breathe! I spent two weeks preparing a six-page presentation deck and as much research as I could possibly do on the companies and their needs. I focussed on what we could do for them, and brought it to life with the best design I could. I think nerves are natural, and ultimately the strength of product and knowledge of the market is what matters. 

All the preparation and hard work was worth it when we heard the news that we had won a major contract. I was working at my girlfriends’ house and my business partner Alex called me very excitedly, playing celebratory music in the background. It felt like all the hard work had started to pay off, and my mind was racing to think about all the next steps and our plans for the future.

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Winning these contracts has taken us from living in a shed without a salary for two years to a team of six, working in an actual office and with huge ambitions for the future. Our days are packed full in a way that I didn't think possible before. Before we were trying to create opportunities, and now we have to decide which ones to follow. It's a rollercoaster of a journey, and the big contacts are propelling us forwards. 

Minor Figures

Mixing cold-brew with organic milk, Minor Figures combine speciality coffee with convenience in an exciting twist on the traditional chilled coffee drink. We spoke to co-founder Jonathan Chiu about their journey. The three cofounders in total used a Start Up Loan of £40,000 from Virgin StartUp, shared between them, to help launch their business.

Minor Figures was an early stage business when we were listed with Sainsbury’s. Over the previous two years we had developed our range, distribution and brand so that Minor Figures was ready to supply major supermarkets. Then we contacted the buyer, James Curtis, who had the foresight to already be interested in adding a cold brew coffee to the range – a perfect opportunity for us. Minor Figures presented an opportunity to evolve the iced coffee category from high sugar, coffee-flavoured milkshakes to café-quality iced coffee using the cold brew method.

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James kindly agreed to (my co-founder) Stuart’s suggestion to meet at Prufrock (one of London's original specialty coffee shops, around the corner from Sainsbury’s HQ), where he and Stuart could discuss Minor Figures, the category and Sainsbury’s in a place that encapsulates the specialty coffee experience. The main focus of our preparation pre-pitch was on exploring and confirming that there was a significant Sainsbury’s consumer segment that would love and buy our cold brew coffees.

Things came together for us, but persistence is key. If we had not gained the listing we would have requested valuable feedback from James, fed the feedback into our plans, and asked for a follow-up meeting during the next range review.

Now we have the opportunity through Sainsbury’s to move closer to fulfilling our goal of getting iced coffee consumers drinking superior quality and healthier iced coffees, and aligning the iced coffee category more closely with the rapidly-growing speciality coffee market.

If you’re interested in learning how to win contracts with big corporates or getting your product stocked in supermarket chains then check out the Virgin StartUp Doing Business With Big Business event – taking place in London on January 25th.

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