Serial entrepreneur Jerry Brand lives by his own rules, which include taking the road less travelled and measuring success through human experience rather than the bottom line. He may be most popular for Russell & Brand, but the serial entrepreneur has had a tumultuous career so far, and has no plans to slow down. He speaks to GrowthBusiness about his journey, and life at the helm of a registered entrepreneurs’ charity, The Brand Foundation.
I began my startup journey back in 1988 and in that time I have sold three businesses, launched a further two businesses that are still operational and started a registered charity in 2016 to help entrepreneurs to succeed regardless of circumstances. This year, I am also about to kick-off a ten-year plan with my latest venture Zupa Group, which is going to push the boundaries in all things ‘tech’.
What does your business do?
>I have a business that is hospitality-driven with offshoots into technology related products/services aimed at the hospitality sector called Zupa Caternet. I am using this as a platform for moving into main business purchasing, world solutions and B2C apps with the launch of my umbrella company Zupa Group. My registered charity, The Brand Foundation was set up to help entrepreneurs to succeed and provides a free business modeling tool called BizKit to help anyone with a business idea to road test it prior to launching.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I launched Russell & Brand in 1988 six years after working my way up the contract catering sector and decided that I could deliver a better client service and value for money product. I created (still) the fastest ever organically grown independent contract caterer in the industry and sold it to US based Marriott in 1996 before going into the restaurant sector and launching a chain of restaurants with celebrity chef Brian Turner, which I later sold on to ASK plc. From my experiences in hospitality I knew there was a market need for more modern technology and so I started Uniware Systems in 1993 for cashless card/epos payments, as well as Caternet in 2004 which has built a modern eProcurement system as well as a hospitality MIS.
For the charity venture, I have always believed that entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the economy and owing to my own success launching several businesses I have always wanted and intended to give something back. So this not for profit initiative is one way that I can do that. The charity is also supported by a Board of Trustees that provide support in a number of different areas and sectors. The idea for the business-modelling tool (Bizkit) came from a desire to deal with the 90% startup failure rate. I believe that because startups often move too quickly, they don’t see the risks. So the idea is that anyone can test out their business idea free of charge – so that they properly understand the risks and rewards before they start spending any cash.
How did you know there was a market for it?
For the hospitality business, it came from experience pure and simple – six years of working in the contract catering sector, seeing other companies trying to make the service and purchasing process easier and realising there was a better way. For the technology businesses, in the early 1990’s there was a pretty immature technology offering available, and it was a no-brainer to get involved, using our own business as a ‘muse’.
For the charity, we all understand the value of entrepreneurialism today. Brexit is a great opportunity for startups in this country to help the economy as we leave the EU club but more investment is needed in supporting entrepreneurs in the UK as I have seen many startups fail over the years. Knowing that I could help to do something about that gave me the motivation to put my knowledge and experience on launching and growing successful businesses into a tech based tool that anyone could use to help them become more successful. I also believe that more people would launch startup businesses if they could understand the risks and rewards involved upfront. With the demand for greater flexibility and work life balance, not to mention the ongoing demand for innovation there is a big appetite and opportunities for going it alone.
How did you raise funding, and why?
In those days for Russell & Brand (1988), I extended my mortgage and my wife was working as I couldn’t pay myself for six months while I went out and persuaded clients that their catering services were better served with my personal experience poured into my own business. It is amazing how much easier it is to sell yourself when your back is up against the wall. Then I used my cash flow as the sector was used to suppliers getting paid up to 90 days after delivery and we were taking cash over the service counters. I was then able to personally fund all my future businesses.
Describe your business model in brief
Russell and Brand was contract catering to offices and executive dining, schools/universities, care homes and hospitals. Zupa Caternet is a one-stop shop web portal that delivers cutting edge eProcurement technology to the pub & bar, restaurant, food & beverage and hospitality sectors. With an extensive range of diverse products and services, Zupa Caternet helps businesses to save time and money by modernising purchasing, reporting and financial systems as well as stock management and catering related solutions such as recipes, allergens and nutritional analysis.
ZupaTech is going to be the operating technology arm of Zupa Group. We will initially focus on business eProcurement with ZupaMarket.com, building in a range of fully integrated technical solutions to maximize potential business efficiencies. That’s just the start.
The Brand Foundation is providing a free to use, secure online app, to give all budding entrepreneurs help to succeed with their great business idea, regardless of personal circumstances. Members can register online and model their business idea/s for free using BizKit, a specialist tool that will allow them to forecast their first three years’ trading figures (P&L, balance sheet and cashflow with their funding needs) with no future commitment. The Foundation aims to help individuals avoid the common mistakes that so often lead to start up failure.
Your lowest point was…
During my years in the catering business, we once had to provide a temporary service whilst we refurbished a client’s restaurant. The third party supplier of the ready-made sandwiches had a problem with their mayonnaise and several people were unwell. At the time we thought we would be in big trouble, but thankfully we were cleared of any blame by the Environmental Health Officer.
Your highest point was…
Selling my first business to US based Marriott. At the time we were the biggest independent contract caterer in the UK and the previous year we had been placed by 3i as the second fastest growing private company in the UK. Selling your first business is always the highest point!
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Never give up – if you are successful, then you will have the ‘CLICK’; Creativity, Leadership, Impact, Confidence and Knowledge. That ‘CLICK’ will see you through to launching a successful startup. Another piece of advice would be to keep a tight grip on your cash because if that dries up you have no business. You absolutely must control your cash. You also have to monitor and achieve your cost of sales. Estimate sensible sales forecasts and make sure you save on, and delay costs by bootstrapping at every opportunity, at least until you start to generate positive cash.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
My target is to help entrepreneurs succeed through The Brand Foundation and seeing my ‘Zupa Group’ business successfully operational. That means helping businesses to be more cost efficient, building technology for world solutions and making people’s lives better with innovative apps.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…
If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?
Not really. I think I am very lucky to have lived my teenage years in the 1970’s as we were able to test out our freedoms and ideas without too much self-control. I went to an independent school in Catford where we had to wear boaters in the summer term and so we were target practice for the local lads! This helped me build an invaluable ability to speak on a one to one basis to anyone from any walk of life. I started and built my first business 100 per cent on instinct. I did an MBA in 2001 just to see if I could learn anything new from what I had already experienced – one thing I did learn was to listen more!
Finally, I have made as many friends as enemies in business; the friends did well and the enemies strangely didn’t. Reason? Because when you are an entrepreneur, there is no-one else looking out for you, so you can’t carry passengers or those who you know won’t cut the mustard. You are being more humane (although people won’t like you) by not putting them through the pain of failure.
What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?
Business and life is one and the same thing – plus I am VERY lucky that I have a wife and family who also understand that!