For fresh entrepreneurs, starting up your own business is a pursuit of pastures completely new. As well as breaking free from the shackles of having a boss, you’re awarded the chance to go out on your own and try something different: something often completely removed from the type of business you’re leaving. But with this leap comes the inescapable question: how on earth can I start a business in an industry I’ve never worked in before?
For Tom Horigan, founder of Horigan pies, the shift from marketing consultancy to making fresh pies seemed an obvious one, despite having no previous experience in the food industry. The Formations Company had a chat with Tom about the difficulties in starting a new business, what it means to change career, and why it’s worth the risk.
Tell us a little bit about your business. When did you start trading, and how did you get started?
In Australia, where I come from, every town and local high street would have some sort of bakery selling pies. Some were better than others but in general, they were all pretty good. After I moved over here I missed the quality of pies we had back home, so decided to make my own.
We starting trading in 2013, and first traded monthly at a local farmers market (Berkhamsted). We were selling out most weeks, which was brilliant. I’d say 60% of our clients were regulars, which made us really happy.
What were you doing before you decided to start your pie business?
Running a marketing consultancy company, specialising in helping professional service firms grow and retain clients.
Why did you decide to make a change?
Initially, it sounded like some creative fun and became one of those things you talk about so much that you just need to get on and do it. I love beautifully tasting food and using fantastic ingredients, and pies really lend themselves to that way of thinking. You take a cheap cut of meat, cook it down until tender for several hours and end up with something tender, tasty, and really, really satisfying.
What was it about pies, and the food industry, that appealed to you?
We love a good pie and couldn’t find any we liked, so thought we would make our own. We simply wanted to make great food using free-range British ingredients, which were local where possible. What was really inspiring were the people that bought our pies – they understood that by paying a little more than what you would get from a supermarket, you get something far superior.
What was the biggest difficulty in starting up your new business?
Learning to make pies – they were bloody terrible, to begin with. Also finding good suppliers who can supply free range British ingredients.
How did you handle your finances to make the change possible?
Kept things simple. Did a lot by hand to save on buying expensive catering equipment, and I didn’t borrow any money.
If you could go back in time and give your previous self a piece of advice before starting the business, what would it be?
Research the market a bit more thoroughly. We spent ages trying to find a pie warmer that we could use outdoors on gas (LPG) and in hindsight, this wasn’t necessary. Not only did we have to find a pie warmer, but research health and safety with respect to using the gas.
What sorts of things do you think stop people from starting their own company?
Fear of the unknown, but probably a greater factor is fear of a change in lifestyle. If you are on a good income, with a pension, and possibly have a mortgage and kids, it can be a big sea change. It’s quite the risk.
Which resources were the most helpful in starting a new business, and which would you recommend?
Looking at the competition is key: it’s not always about being the first, it’s about doing something better than someone else. There are lots of great support services around supporting entrepreneurs. You can find some great information and advice online for start-ups. The British Library’s Business and IP centre is the most amazing place as well, and well worth a visit.
What advice would you give to people looking to start their own business, particularly in a completely new industry?
Just start. You will make a lot of mistakes along the way but the rewards are amazing, and not just the financial ones. Look at the competition and be true to your values: if possible, do it your way, and then ask for advice if you get stuck. After all, that’s the reason why you started: to do it your way. If you ask for advice too early, you may lose trust in your instincts. For instance, nobody thought the idea of a pig’s cheek, Toulouse sausage, and chorizo in Cider pie was a good idea but it became our signature pie, and our best seller.