MY BEST ...
was choosing the right business partner. Tristan Hogg (pictured right) is my wife's brother. When I first left university, I ran a bar in London. Tristan was a chef, and wanted to move down from Chester, so he came and worked for me.
The great thing about Tristan is his skills are complementary to mine. That's one of the reasons I didn't get on particularly well with my last business partner - we had similar skills, so we were treading on each other's toes a lot. But Tristan's a chef. I know a bit about business and design, so I deal with marketing, branding, that kind of thing - and he deals with making pies.
Another good idea was to get a stall in Borough market. I knew the market very well, as I used to live nearby. You go through a fairly rigorous selection process to get in, but we were the first pie producer they had seen that they liked - we had the right free-range credentials. It was great for our reputation: not only were a lot of people going down there to source products, but we could tell delis and buyers we were at Borough Market. So it put us on the map.
MY WORST ...
was when we tried to franchise our model early on. It was stupid because not only did it take ages to finalise exactly what we were franchising, but the franchisees we chose weren't necessarily right for the brand. There were a lot of big, national caterers involved. The other problem was we didn't know what our model was, so we were stumbling along without it being finalised. It was all a bit premature: you can't franchise something you don't understand. It wasted loads of time and even more resources over a couple of years.
Another thing I'd change is that I would have had steak and ale pie from the start. It's our most popular pie now, but for the first four years, people constantly asked us whether we had steak and ale. Our reply was always the same: 'Nope - we're not the normal pie company. We do other stuff, like lamb and mint or steak and chorizo' - anything, in fact, but the biggest seller in the country. Obviously, that was a lesson to us. We had been so keen to be different, but you can't be too different.