Since cutting her entrepreneurial teeth in the Dragons’ Den as a contestant in 2010, Kirsty Henshaw has established her very own business empire.
Under the brand name “Kirsty’s”, Henshaw has a ready meal range of naturally gluten and dairy-free options that has achieved more than £4m in turnover in less than five years, appearing on supermarket shelves in all corners of the UK.
The startup founder spoke to Business Advice about the importance of her company re-brand in 2012, and why she’s found “uniqueness” to be the key to business success.
(1) Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Kirsty Henshaw, and I am the founder of Kirsty’s – the naturally free from ready meal range.
(2) How long have you been around for?
I first started my entrepreneurial journey when I pitched my dairy-free Worthenshaws Ice cream to Dragon’s Den in 2010. I received backing from Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne, after turning down one Dragon’s offer.
Worthenshaws was an instant success as was stocked in major supermarkets across the length and breadth of the country.
After carrying out extensive market research on the range, I discovered more gaps in the free from market and that’s when I rebranded to Kirsty’s and launched the free from ready meal range in 2015.
(3) Where did the idea for your business come from?
My parents own health food shops, so food has always played a major role in my life. I strongly believe that you are what you eat so, when I discovered that my son, Jacob, had dairy and nut allergies, I did everything I could to make meal times as safe and exciting as possible.
I began to develop foods for Jacob that he was able to enjoy despite his allergies. After much experimenting, I came up with a dairy, gluten and nut-free products that tasted fantastic but could be enjoyed by a growing group of allergy sufferers like my son, or avoiders like myself.
I also wanted to make a product that was suitable for people with busy lives, but who still want a nutritious meal, and that’s where the idea for naturally healthy, free from ready meals came from.
(4) What was key in terms of getting started?
Financing – it’s a vital but tricky aspect for any new venture. With the right backing I was able to build the Kirsty’s brand under licence, and gain a strong foothold in UK supermarkets. Just recently, we’ve started to move the business in-house, which has been completely self-funded.
(5) Any major setbacks along the way?
I would say the financing again, when I started up at the very beginning, I used my student loan to help fund my business idea and get it off the ground, while also working full-time as a waitress too.
That’s when I decided to take my business idea and pitch it to the Dragons, and the rest is history!
(6) How do you make social media work for your business?
We are very active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and we share recipes, food and lifestyle posts, as well as some more personal posts too.
Kirsty’s customers like to keep up to date with everything, from company news to personal announcements from myself. I think it’s important to share personal news now and again because it is more relatable to the customer if they get to know the face behind the brand.
We also work really hard on our visual content, using GIFs and graphics with every post, as we believe that keeping the graphics and recipes fresh and exciting is key to keeping our audience engaged.
Also, we regularly share and ‘regram’ posts from people who inspire us as a company – I think it’s very important to support others and share their work on social media, particularly on visual sites like Instagram.
(7) What’s been the key in pitching to buyers?
Sincerity in the execution. The buyer must believe in what you are selling. Know your numbers, margins and size of the opportunity.
(8) What one tip would you give to new brands starting out?
Find a unique and exciting point of difference. Brands really need this to ensure they stand out from the crowd.
(9) In five years’ time, I will be…?
Looking for new and exciting opportunities, after having just sold my company.
(10) Who do you admire in business and why?
Jo Malone is a huge inspiration of mine, she is not only an excellent innovator and a strong female role model, she also started from nothing, and is entirely self-made.
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