Adam Bacon and Elina Naydenova
Fairfull makes and sells natural and healthy snacks that originate from different cultures around the world. A large proportion of the profits go to support communities in the regions that the food comes from. Fairfull’s first product was a baked samosa; the profits allow the company to work with partners in India to fund community health projects for pregnant women in the slums.
The company was founded by Adam Bacon (who now looks after the food side of the business) and his partner Elina Naydenova (who takes care of the impact side). The inspiration came from Elina, who was doing a DPhil in biomedical engineering at the University of Oxford and working on a project to help women in Indian slums with nutrition and healthcare.
Adam said, ‘I was working as a strategy consultant in the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) sector and slowly got drawn into the discussions that Elina was having about developing a sustainable business model for her project to develop healthcare tools in India’s slums. I started building financial models and pitch decks; and before I knew it I found I was taking annual leave from work in order to go to pitch competitions. Eventually I decided that I really wanted to make the idea work, so left my job to go full-time. That is when I really started the journey to become an entrepreneur.’
Elina’s membership of the University meant that Adam could work in The Launchpad at Saïd Business School [the forerunner to The Foundry] and apply to join the VIEW programmes. These helped them test the viability of their idea and work out how to turn it into a business venture.
Fairfull started in April 2016 with one customer – University College, Oxford, where Elina was doing her DPhil – and by the end of the summer had six regular customers. The first 2000 samosas they made themselves in the kitchen of Dean Court Community Centre in Botley. ‘We would work in the kitchen from 8pm to 1am every Saturday and Sunday,’ said Adam, ‘Then on Monday morning I would get up early, fill a car full of coolboxes and icepacks, and deliver to our customers.’
Now they work with a family-owned and family-run bakery in Derbyshire, that provides a level of food safety that will allow them to supply to large distributors when the time comes, but will not cripple them financially in the meantime. Thanks to a grant from Innovate UK, they worked with a sustainability communications agency, Futerra, to develop branding and a visual identity. And they have benefited from support from Prime Advocates, Weil, the Oxford Hub, and the EY Foundation.
‘For a relatively simple idea, there is an absolute minefield of regulations,’ said Adam. ‘When we were making them ourselves, I had to create a whole food safety management system – we had a 5* rating – and we needed help with non-disclosure agreements when negotiating with suppliers, as a recipe cannot be protected in the same way as intellectual property.’
Now on the brink of real growth, Adam is negotiating with a large catering company with hundreds of contracts across the country and also developing the next product, which is a recipe from Syria. Profits will go towards programmes to help refugees and victims of the crisis in Syria.
He said that the biggest challenge in becoming an entrepreneur was learning how to operate outside a corporate structure. ‘When you work for a large organisation you always have a line manager who protects you from making bad decisions, and can help deal with the fallout if a mistake is made. I had to unlearn the habit of looking to someone else to check my decisions.’
In fact, Adam claims that he spent the first three or four months crippled by choice and indecision. ‘The lack of bureaucracy is refreshing, but when the responsibility is yours and yours alone it can be uncomfortable and paralysing. I had to learn to embrace the act of just rolling up my sleeves and doing something without a formal process and without having to ask permission.’
What got him over this barrier was a strong belief in the purpose of Fairfull. ‘Possibly similar to other millennials, I had hit the 18-month to 2-year barrier in a couple of jobs where I started asking myself, why am I doing this? Am I just here to make more money for rich people? With Fairfull I am definitely not doing that: every samosa we sell contributes directly to purposeful work improving the nutrition of pregnant women in India’s slums, which will trickle through into improving nutrition and health for generations to come.’
Working with Oxford Saïd has been invaluable, he said, both in terms of making connections but also in shaping the business – and not always in an obvious way. ‘We applied for one of the Skoll Venture Awards. We weren’t successful but found that the application process forced us to look very carefully at the business and really hone what we were trying to do.’ Additionally, by working for Skoll on projects such as the Social Innovation in Health Initiative (SIHI), Elina was able to meet other entrepreneurs and social innovators in India: ‘These experiences taught us more about how to set up a successful enterprise and broadened our network.’
Adam’s advice for budding entrepreneurs
Take advantage of co-working spaces Since I’ve been back at Oxford Saïd doing the VIEW summer intensive programme I’ve been working in the Launchpad. I’ve realised how much less distracted I get in a co-working space compared to working at home!
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes We’ve made a few mistakes but I’ve learnt from them and it has helped strengthen the business. Sometimes if you enjoy success without having failed first, you don’t always realise why something worked. Perhaps you just fluked it and it could therefore break at any time.
For example, the very first batch of products we’d made with a new supplier was a disaster. They had made about 600 and every single one of them split open. This turned out to be because I was a day late with the packaging, and they had frozen the raw product overnight – which we didn’t know would not work. We do now.
Don’t take it to heart Everything takes longer than you think it’s going to take and things fail – but learn to shrug it off. My comfort to any other entrepreneur would be that all of us have been in the same situation and thought the same things. That doesn’t mean that you’re not going to succeed.