Talking about my journey as a career shifter, going from banking to confectionery, I certainly learned a lot of different lessons.
Here are some of the most frequent questions that I get asked about my change of career; my experience of starting Lavolio, going from “just” someone who loves sweets to an entrepreneur, and a few lessons that I have learned along the way about the Italian luxury confectionery business…
Q: You were in an investment banker before launching Lavolio; did that experience help you when you launched your own business?
A: Absolutely, it is a completely different field but there are many skills that are transferable. Going from banking to confectionery may seem like a big leap and it did take a lot of guts to make the first step into reinventing myself from being an employee to learning how to become an entrepreneur. However I learnt a lot in investment banking and had the privilege to be working with some of the brightest people I know! For example I learnt to be very organised, to communicate well with the team, to be diligent, to pay attention to detail and to take decisions under a lot of pressure. When asked about what experience you need to become an entrepreneur, I feel that there is not a definite answer, as a lot of decisions ultimately are down to intuition, but there are learnable skills that can help on the rollercoaster ride!
Q: What made you want to launch a confectionery brand?
A: I got a bit bored of eating chocolate and I started looking for something sweet that was not a cheap, mass-produced sugar fix with little nutritional value. I started researching using nuts and pieces of fruit in confectionery rather than just cheap ingredients. My next challenge was to create a really indulgent treat that would surprise you, rather than just another nut-bar; I wanted to create something that would be as satisfactory and as gourmet as chocolate but with carefully picked ingredients. I love all things sweets, I always have: I am a keen cook and my specialty is desserts/any kind of sweet concoctions! In particular I love to match different flavours together and always experiment new daring combinations. After my career in finance, the first thing I did was to go to cookery school and to train as a chef. I loved it, but it made me realise that I would prefer to keep my passion for cooking as a hobby rather than as a career. I knew that I wanted to create something in food, so I started researching the different trends in confectionery. I guess I was naturally drawn to confectionery because I love it so much!
Q: What steps did you take to get your business off the ground?
A: First I did my research, mainly in two ways: by using Google and by reaching out to people. Both methods are basically free. There is just so much information available online, it really makes a huge difference. Also I was positively surprised about the amount of honest, wholehearted support I got from reaching out to experienced professionals in the industry. Knocking on the right doors is making a great difference in the way our business is growing. I researched the competitive landscape but also practical things such as logistics/distribution, how to get the right certificates in place and learning about the value chain from ingredients to packaged goods ready to be bought on the shelves. Then we started selling our confectionery at food markets and at every other event where we had the opportunity to meet firsthand with our customers and gather the most important thing: their feedback on tasting our treats! We get huge satisfaction from making an emotional connection with our clients and initiating their relationship with the Lavolio brand.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in launching your business?
A: I had this pretty clear vision of what I wanted Lavolio to be, but then it was quite difficult to make it happen. There are so many unexpected things (or learning opportunities), which I find very exciting, but being a very practical person it can be frustrating and I believe the key is to stay organised. You also need to be clear about working with people, setting deadlines and following up to ensure that things move forward. My main initial challenge was prioritizing the next urgent thing, as an entrepreneur with a small business you have to wear a lot of different hats. One good piece of advice I got early-on is: “How do you eat an Elephant? You cut it up in small pieces!” This is so true when you are faced with a lot of decisions and need to be constantly discerning which is the next most important thing. I learned that getting a product on the shelves is not easy, but it is hugely satisfactory when it gets done and it’s sitting there, looking back at you from the shelves!
Q: Did you receive any outside funding? If so how much did you receive? Where did you get it from and how did you spend it?
A: The initial capital investment was out of my savings, and it was spent into creating the product (which took about 6 months (and I gained 3 kilos!)) and buying the initial packaging supplies. We had to be a lean-startup because of our limited resources and at the beginning almost everything was done out of my own kitchen table! I was facing a difficult decision: to give up my banking job and financial stability and to put money into the unknown. I had committed a lot into my career in banking and suddenly I had to face redundancy. I decided to consider external funding at a later stage, and I am still not at that stage (which I am happy to admit). We have been reinvesting everything into the growth of the company and we are so proud of becoming cash-flow positive after less than 12 months of trading.
Q: Did you use an agency to help you develop the brand image and packaging design?
A: We did not use a big brand agency because, quite simply, we could not afford it. The look and feel of Lavolio Boutique Confectionery is very personal to me, it had to match my vision of elegance, femininity and sophistication. The process of concept creation and design was done with the help of my then housemate’s best friend, who is an extremely talented designer and has helped massively into putting my ideas into real life. I still have a notebook full of sketches that I used to send to him using WhatsApp images! I was inspired by my favourite fashion designers, but also by researching other brands’ packagings, such as beauty products’. The concept of using the metal tins and the paper wrap still feels like an Eureka-moment, coming from someone with very little branding/packaging experience.
Q: How do you promote Lavolio?
A: Our preferred way to share a new innovative product such as Lavolio is to get more people to taste it. We have such a unique and memorable flavour combination and we love to surprise people’s taste buds. In this competitive market a lot of bigger brands have substantial advertising budgets to promote their products. I don’t like adverts per se, I strongly believe that the best promotion is done by our very own products: getting our customers to try Lavolios and then to share them, maybe by gifting them or by talking about them. This is why we love to get in front of our clients.
Q: What top tips would you give to someone looking to launch their own business?
A: Before you even think about becoming an entrepreneur find something that you are truly passionate about, then don’t be scared to ask for help. And keep smiling!