From the top · 11 May 2017

Unusual startup advice from Ella’s Kitchen founder – Think like toddlers

Paul Lindley 2
Paul Lindley launched Ella’s Kitchen in 2006

Paul Lindley founded Ella’s Kitchen more than a decade ago, and his company has now surpassed the likes of Cow & Gate and Heinz to become one of the biggest names in baby food. The entrepreneur spoke exclusively to Business Advice on the eve of the launch of his first business book.

In 2006, Paul Lindley had a brainwave. He realised there was a gap for a different type of baby food – one that hailed the nutritional value and responsible sourcing of the product just as highly as the taste.

He’d become a father for the first time a few years before and was shocked at how few baby foods on the market then seemed to offer kids proper, natural nutrition.

He named Ella’s Kitchen after his daughter, Ella – now a teenager – and today the brand boasts a 30 per cent UK market share and sells hundreds of products in more than 40 countries. His idea managed to revolutionise the baby food sector, something Lindley confessed has all been the result of good branding.

“I spent a long time working out what Ella’s Kitchen stood for, and worked that into what the product looked like,” said Lindley. “I landed on a mission statement – to improve children’s lives by helping them develop healthier relationships with food, and knew the only way to do that was to create products that appealed to children.”

Striking a different tone, Ella’s Kitchen goes for bright, primary colouring and packaging designs to catch the eye of even the youngest customers. Meanwhile, rival brands typically make products with unassuming packaging and “safe” colours, like browns or pastels.

Ella's Kitchen
Ella’s Kitchen uses brightly coloured packaging to appeal to kids

“If the brand had failed back then I knew I would have felt better than if I hadn’t tried,” Lindley admitted. “I was certain that eventually, someone would have launched children’s food products that were more ‘fun’, so why shouldn’t I do it?”

Guaranteeing your products stand out from the crowd to such a degree may seem like too great a risk for many entrepreneurs, especially those in the highly competitive food industry, but for Lindley, there was no other option. He’d already realised that to build a successful kid’s brand, being “childlike in attitude” would have to be central to his business model.

Lindley’s philosophy came from career experience. Prior to launching Ella’s Kitchen, the entrepreneur had built a career at kids’ TV network Nickelodeon, rising through the ranks to become its deputy managing director in the UK.

He’d therefore sat in hundreds of focus groups, hearing the views of thousands of children, about their likes and their dislikes, before going it alone with his own business. “It really helped me to understand children and how to build a brand around them,” the entrepreneur said of his Nickelodeon days.

The power of toddler thinking

For Lindley, maintaining a child-like mentality has enabled him to grow Ella’s Kitchen into the brand it is today, and the founder believes that all business leaders can learn a thing or two from kids about how to overcome the roadblocks to success as adults. It’s the subject of his book Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler which, according to Lindley, is less about being childish and more about “being our best selves”.

Paul Lindley 1
Lindley: “Forget growing up and start growing down”

“When you’re a toddler, you trust your gut feeling about everything and regularly show your emotions,” he said. “Of course, we all need to grow up, but we shouldn’t be afraid to revert to a time in our lives when we were more instinctive and arguably, more imaginative.”

In his book, Lindley explains his corporate mantra of “growing down”, as opposed to growing up, identifying nine pillars of early learning he believes would help improve communication within organisations and help business leaders understand their staff better, getting more out of them.

“The nine pillars centre around a crucial 18 months in a toddler’s development, when they learn to walk, talk and play,” he added. “During this period, toddlers become confident on their own, learn how to create and express themselves, and rapidly improve their communication skills.

“What we learn as toddlers is attributable to our lives as adults too, and even reflects itself into cultures and attitudes in business. By thinking like a toddler, we’re more open to understanding new and different ways of doing things, and more likely to see the benefits of collaborating.”

One of the most famous advocates of “toddler thinking” is Richard Branson. The Virgin Group boss wrote the forward to Little Wins and Lindley cites the entrepreneur as a personal business hero.

“He epitomises thinking like a toddler,” Lindley went on to say. “He seems to operate with very little fear of failure and his track record suggests he’d still be a toddler if he could.”

In Branson, Lindley has identified a business leader with self-confidence – a trait which he sees as the vital ingredient to building a successful brand from nothing.

He added: “If you’ve got your business idea started, that’s a major first step. Too many startups fall at the first hurdle because their owners don’t have the confidence or support to see it through. Making a decision, whatever it is, is far better than making no decision. And, once you’ve made that decision, have the self-confidence to back it.”

Missed our exclusive interview with Brompton Bikes CEO Will Butler-Adams? Catch up here.  

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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