After a hard time trying to get hold of Donnie, we were finally able to get him on YHP. Don’t ask me how we did, but we did. We got talking and managed to cover everything from his background to him starting his business, Eat Balanced.
Hi Donnie, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
No problem, sorry it’s taken a while for you to get hold of me! I’m doing well thanks – very busy. Exciting times for Eat Balanced at the moment.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’m from Glasgow, went to University of Strathclyde Business School and studied Economics and Marketing. I then spent three years in London, doing a graduate programme with Marsh, the world’s largest insurance brokerage. It was great, but I realised that my entrepreneurial flair wasn’t really appreciated in such a big company, so I made sure that I added value in small businesses, until I felt ready to start my own.
Tell me about how you got into business?
It seems like I’ve always been in business. My grandfather, Bert, was an entrepreneur and it rubbed off on my Mum. My Dad started his own business in his mid twenties and did very well. My parents have been in business partnership for 30 years. For as long as I can remember, my parents have been talking about business, so I’m been immersed in business for ever.
How did the idea for Eat Balanced come about?
It wasn’t really a light bulb moment; it was more of an evolution. I had been trying to sort out my own diet to improve my sports performance (triathlons) and applied a bit of analytical skills to help me ensure that I was getting a properly balanced diet. This led me to identify a few opportunities of how I could develop that into a business. I tapped into several experts in that space (Professors and Doctors of nutrition) and a few of the ideas were shot down in flames. I got on well with one of the Professors and we threw a few ideas around. I suggested trying to make a pizza a complete balanced meal, and he liked it, so we investigated it further and struck it lucky!
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Although I’ve been working on this for almost 2 years, it still is the early days for Eat Balanced, as we are not due to launch until the end of September. It’s been a hard slog to get the business to this stage, with a lot of 14-16 hour days, no weekends off and sleepless nights, but it seems to be going in the right direction now. I’m lucky compared to some entrepreneurs in that I don’t have a wife and kids, so I’ve been able to be fully dedicated with my time. Best of all, I actually work with my partner now. She’s brilliant at her job and we both love the business, so it’s a pleasure to spend so much time with it, and with each other!
The hardest part has probably been the bureaucracy around funding, but I’ve gritted my teeth and got through it. Subsequently, I’ve been able to drive a fair bit value into the business from public sector grants. It’s possible, if you have the tenacity!
How have you been able to fund it?
None of your business! Only joking. I’ve put everything into this – Re-mortgaged the flat to release equity, sold my car (borrowed one for a while) and even sold my bike. My parents have also taken an equity stake in the business, so that cash injection was a huge lifeline. Recently, I’ve been able to demonstrate to the bank that I am a worthwhile risk, so I’ve been given an overdraft, which is a great safety net to have, as cash flow is king.
What are you trying to solve with Eat Balanced?
As the name implies, it’s about achieving a balanced diet. Everyone knows they you should eating a “balanced” diet, but it’s not all that easy to make sure you are getting the right levels of everything you need (fats, protein, carbs, sugar, fibre, vitamins etc). Eat Balanced have made that easier. We make pizzas that are complete nutritionally balanced meals. We’ve achieved this by using all-natural ingredients, and they taste great too! See www.bit.ly/eatbalanced-taste
Most people like, pizza, right? It’s been chastised as “junk food”, so I liked the challenge of bringing it back from the dark side. I also wanted our balanced meal solution to be as convenient as possible – quick, easy and tasty.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Taking ACTION. Great ideas are useless… unless you take action and actually carry it out. I’m part of a fantastic business accelerator called Entrepreneurial Spark (www.entrepreneurial-spark.com). The Founder of Espark, Jim Duffy, has coined a hashtag #GoDo. It’s simple and crucial to any new-start business. You can’t expect anyone else to do the work for you – Just get on with it!
Could you give us an example of a setback you had in the early stages of the business, how you overcame it and what you learnt from it?
In the early days, Eat Balanced was going to be an online resource that would help people to figure out a balanced diet for themselves using our tools. I had put in a lot of work to build the software and figure out how I was going to do that business. When it was shot down in flames by several nutrition experts, due to the fact that online nutrition advice is a minefield, I had to change tack quickly. My background in sales meant that I had a thicker skin and didn’t take that knock too hard. The business changed significantly since then, but definitely in a much more positive direction.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Closing the first deal with one of the “big four” supermarkets has been a huge highlight, but that will be surpassed shortly when I see it on the shelves in that chain.
I’d say that the media coverage (http://www.eatbalanced.com/news/eat-balanced-goes-global!.aspx) that we’ve achieve has also been amazing so far. I hope to keep that going now that we’ve brought in a PR agency to do that for us.
What should be expecting from yourself and Eat Balanced for the rest of the year?
I’m hoping to be in two of the “big four” supermarkets before the end of the year.
I’m also investigating co-branding opportunities with well-known brands and a few international opportunities.
We’ll have some videos and media coming out soon, which is being created at the moment – huge amounts of fun!
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Go Do! Don’t over analyse situations. De-risk by thinking of the main issues, then just get on and do it.
1. Build a great team. You don’t have to be an employer of many people in the early days, but you should be able to get everyone who is working with you excited by your business and what you’re aiming for. If someone doesn’t “get it”, don’t be afraid to let them go (diplomatically!). You won’t have time to massage egos.
2. Do the scary things first – If you’ve got a to-do list as long as your desk, it’s easy to push the tasks that you don’t like (e.g. awkward phone calls) down the list, but they’ll ware on your mind. Just muster up the “balls” to do it there and then. After that, the other tasks will be accomplished in a better frame of mind.