To hell and back many times over but wouldn’t change it for the world: This has been the experience of Cecily Mills, owner of Coconuts Organic, who admits being inspired by a tale about Julius Caesar, when the great Roman leader decided to do away with his army’s only escape route.
There is no such thing as an easy ride in business. Being an entrepreneur is like living life on a rollercoaster, swaying this side, then the other and, at times, flying by the seat of your pants.
It’s been like that from day one and now, around five years later, it’s no different.
I’ve thrown everything into setting up Coconuts
Organic and probably the most important decision I have ever made was not to have a Plan B.
This approach probably doesn’t work for everyone but, for me, it is the only method I know and trust.
It concentrates my mind 100% on the business, rather than hatching some escape route if things don’t work out.
To have a Plan B is to compromise, and this means not being completely focussed on the future.
This reminds me of a story I read about Julius Caesar when he and his army landed in England with the sole purpose of conquering this new discovered territory for the Romans – over two thousand years ago.
When JC arrived on our shores it didn’t take him long to discover his Roman army was severely outnumbered by the Celts.
An immediate defeat seemed a real possibility. He realised the only way his men would find the spirit to go into battle, rather than retreat, was if they had no choice but to stand and fight. So he quickly burned all of their boats, leaving them no option but to face the Celts head on. That is where my history lesson ends.
However, if there is one lesson this segment of history has taught me, it is that even on the darkest of days, it is important to stick out your chin and face the problem head-on.
JC and his men had no Plan B to confuse and contradict their minds – once their boats has been destroyed – so I told myself I had to think of nothing else but making my business a success. No second chance.
I can assure you there have been plenty of miserable days to ponder during recent years but never have I ever thought of bailing out. And never did I regret not having a Plan B. It never crossed my mind.
This has pretty much been my life’s motto these last five years. I have heard of stories of people starting up businesses as secondary ventures, building them up slowly to the point where it becomes full-time.
But this wouldn’t work for me. I have discovered, many times over, that the arrival of a simple email has the power to change my mood from optimistic to bleak, in just a handful of seconds.
The continual rejection, cash flow nightmares, and lack of positive responses, are part and parcel of an entrepreneur’s life.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been many good days too. Receiving an email from a customer who has taken the trouble to say they love our ice cream, can actually make my day, as does the news that your company has been nominated for an award – and then winning it. These are some of the numerous high spots of the last few years.
I can only think of two moments of extreme dejection, when my spirit came mighty close to ebbing out of me.
The first was when our manufacturer abandoned us two weeks before our national launch with Tesco. We had worked for about 15 months to get this listing live.
We had rebranded, developed two new exclusive flavours. It was February of this year and, all that remained now, was the production of the ice cream and sending it to Tesco’s distribution centres.
On the second morning of production I spoke to the manufacturer and felt ecstatic when they explained ‘the first day went really well, the product is excellent, you’ll be really pleased.’
At this point I bounded off to the nearby seal sanctuary with my two daughters, feeling as though I could glide through the air.
But after receiving another message later that day, notifying me of an unforeseen problem, my plans, hopes and dreams came crashing down the following morning as I received an email informing me that production had ceased with immediate effect.
That was a crushing blow which left me feeling battered but it never crossed my mind to throw in the towel.
The other occasion, when my spirit was seemingly on the basement floor in tatters, came on the eve of the re-scheduled launch.
I was informed the allergen testing had failed, meaning milk had been traced in our dairy-free product.
As it transpired, the lab had actually read the results wrongly. It seemed like a bad joke at the time.
Most days, even the good ones, can be unpredictable – but you just have to smile and get on with it.
My inbox is forever going crazy, there is always the school run to eat into your time, there are frequent trips to the supermarket to keep the grocery cupboard topped-up and, finally, there is plenty of work to do online. There is rarely enough hours in the day to finish everything that needs doing, ticking them off as you go.
It’s been all-consuming since that fateful, but no less inspiring, day in 2014 when I left my career to move house, so I could start Coconuts Organic.
Back then it was nothing more than an idea and some dodgy experiments in the freezer. But I love what I do, I love our ice cream, I love our company and love our team.
But to make certain I was capable of being completely single-minded on our business plan, going forward, I decided I had no choice but to burn the boats.
Thankfully, the Celts have been kinder to me than to the men of Julius Caesar.