If you’re thinking of starting a business in a field you know nothing about, intend to fake it until you succeed, said Jamie Laing, a television entrepreneur specializing in sweets production. Made in Chelsea, assuming you’re doing absolutely the right thing.

“A lot of young entrepreneurs don’t realize that innocence is your biggest weapon,” reports the 33-year-old founder of candy brand Candy Kittens with sales of £8m.

“When you’re naive, you make all these mistakes and get through it with no shame because you don’t know what’s different.”

He admits that Laing and his co-founder, Ed Williams, started by “Googling ‘how to make sweets. Search results showed they flew to ISM Cologne, a major German sweets trade fair, to find the contact.

“We discovered this huge place, three seven-story buildings filled with every sweets company ever – including Haribo, Rowntrees, Maynard’s. We went to all the different companies and said, “Hey, guys, we have a great idea for a vegan sweet that we really want to make!”

Industry tycoons are less than impressed. “Now I realize it’s like going to a Tesla and saying, ‘can you build an electric car that we came up with?’ Now know what I know, I have never done so. But naively, we only have one go. And it usually goes that way. ”

Laing will be at SME XPO, Evening Standard’s free two-day conference for entrepreneurs on May 25 and 26 in Olympia. He will share his experience over the past decade to build Candy Kittens into the second fastest-growing sugary confectionery brand in the UK, with sales skyrocketing 35% last year, according to Nielsen.

Made at Chelsea, the reality show Laing was on in 2011, that helped fuel his start-up success: “When I agreed to do the show, I thought ‘I have to come up with something. doesn’t mean I’m just an actual star’. So I said, ‘I’m starting this sweet company. And since I started talking about it on TV, I had to start doing something about it’. “

An incidental liaison on another popular TV show, First Dates for Stand Up To Cancer, was also present.

“My day [on the show] is a Swiss girl named Sophie. At midnight, we stopped talking. When I started talking about sweets, she told me that her best friend’s dad runs a sweets company.”

It turned out to be German giant Katjes, the maker of the M&S hit Percy Pigs. Laing’s televised day set up a meeting and the company became the maker of Candy Kittens’, later becoming a major shareholder of the company in 2019.

Candy Kittens’ vegan sweets line, which also claims to be carbon neutral and palm oil free, is today sold at Waitrose, Ocado, Sainsbury’s and Selfridges.

While Laing professed ignorance at the start of his sweet career, sugar was in his blood and one of the reasons he was chosen as Made in Chelsea: Alexander Grant, founder of a cake empire Quy McVitie’s, was Laing’s great-grandfather.

“There is an assumption that [consequently] I have trillions and billions in my bank account,” said Laing, who spoke so quickly, I wondered if he was at a constant high.

“Made in Chelsea has created the personality that I am a billionaire, but that is not true. We have a third generation curse – grandfather created it, father lost it, son had to rebuild it. My generation has to rebuild whatever money we want. We were in the same situation as anyone else.”

That’s not entirely true – Laing says Candy Kittens raised £200,000 in its early days “thanks to family and friends”, something the Average Joe may have struggled with. However, he remains adamant “there are a lot of people out there who have money and are willing to invest – it’s just about finding a way to get your business out of their pocket.”

“Being on a show about luxury people” isn’t always helpful, Laing adds: “People assume that being on a TV show will take you a giant leap forward. [starting a business]. That means you can have a meeting with a producer. But it also gets in the way of you getting into the supermarket, because they think he’s coming from a reality show, there’s no longevity there. So it really gave us a really small ceiling that we had to get over. ”

What is Laing’s top advice for beginner non-celebrity entrepreneurs? “To anyone building a brand, I’d say: ‘Never follow logic. Look for areas where people don’t. If no one makes vegan sweets, make vegan sweets. Go against the ‘. “

And think big, as he does: “We’re on our way to defeating Haribo,” grinned Laing.

Jamie Laing will speak at the Evening Standard SME XPO, taking place May 25 & 26 at Olympia London. Find out more at smexpo.co.uk.


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