How it began and how it went wrong
My partner Jo and I set up a lassi-making business back in 2013. For those unfamiliar with the lassi, it is essentially a yoghurt mixed with various ingredients, such as fruit, salt or spices. We first tasted a lassi during our travels around India and decided that on returning home to England we would rather set up a business than go back to our day job, which was teaching.
We began making lassis in the kitchen of our farm house. We came up with a name, Lashbrook Farm Lassis, Jo designed all the branding and we started selling them at local farmers’ markets.
At this point, everything seemed to be going great. We had a unique product, a great story and a good branding, and we felt the reaction of customers, both in person and online, justified us developing the business further. However, there were some major issues. Firstly, it was unfeasible for us to continue manufacturing our lassis at home. From a marketing point of view it sounded great, though commercially, it just wasn’t suitable for large scale production. The second problem was that our lassis were all made with fresh ingredients and so only had a short shelf life; meaning we couldn’t sell our lassis in any shops as they went off so quickly.
These issues took years (literally!) to resolve. We couldn’t find anywhere suitable to manufacture our drinks. We explored various possibilities but nothing was quite right for different reasons. Eventually though, we did find somewhere that was perfect and we thought that everything was going to be fine. Yet as anyone who's started their own business will know, solving one problem often means just uncovering another.
Specifically, we still had the issue of a short shelf life. We had managed to extend it to 14 days by using processed ingredients, yet even this wasn’t long enough for the larger retailers. Our manufacturers suggested with use a preservative, which we deliberated over for quite some time as it seemed to go against our values and the image we were trying to present. Yet the reality of the situation kicked in and we relented.
At this point I should say that what took us years to figure out, an individual or company who knew what they were doing would have sorted in a matter of months, if not weeks!
Despite this, we finally had a product that we could manufacture on a commercial scale and had a reasonable shelf life. It’s here that I would say how truly naïve we were, the fact is we were never going to succeed. Or at least, we were never going to succeed with the resources we had.
Ultimately the margins were so tight, that for us to have made money, we needed to have been selling a shed-load from the get-go. We couldn’t afford to hold any stock, because it would go off, and we couldn’t sell in small quantities because we’d lose money.
So we had to try and go big or go home; though none of the big buyers wanted to purchase 10,000 lassis because we had no track record of sales. We could have overcome this if we’d had a large marketing budget to tell buyers about, but we didn’t.
As a result, in spite of our best efforts to swim against the tide we finally bit the bullet and walked away from it all.
It was of course hugely disappointing but there was a sense of relief as well. We could finally let go after holding on so tight for so long. And it was at this point I decided to write it all down and explore the myth of the start-up business.