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‘If you have something you’re passionate about and see a gap in the market, go for it’

Charlie Bigham and Rochelle Humes have both found success launching in uncertain times (ES Composite)
Charlie Bigham and Rochelle Humes have both found success launching in uncertain times (ES Composite)

When anyone asks me the best time to start a business,” says Charlie Bigham, “I have one answer — and it’s been the same answer for my past 27 years as an entrepreneur. The best time to start a business is right now. Otherwise, you’ll always find an excuse.”

Bigham should know: having launched his eponymous upmarket ready meals business back in 1995 with a Caribbean lamb dish whipped up in his home kitchen, he now sells £150 million worth of meals every year from his Park Royal headquarters.

Today, Bigham is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs — and that’s why he’ll be joining 50 business tycoons and investors in sharing their knowledge at SME XPO, the Evening Standard’s upcoming event for ambitious founders and decision-makers.

The event, which takes place on April 23 and 24 at ExCeL London, will unite more than 5,000 entrepreneurs and senior business leaders, offering unprecedented opportunities to network and hear from some of Britain’s most exciting speakers. Retail tycoon Theo Paphitis, My Little Coco founder and TV star Rochelle Humes, Wetherspoon’s founder Tim Martin, and Coffee Republic’s creator Sahar Hashemi are just some of the speakers joining Bigham. Experts will tackle topics stretching from AI to exports, turning a planet-friendly profit to writing a pitchdeck.

 (SME XPO)
(SME XPO)

It’s not an easy time to be starting or growing a business in London, thanks to inflation, the cost-of-living crisis, unpredictable energy bills, soaring employment costs and the added upheaval of an election year. But Bigham urges would-be entrepreneurs to persevere. “Evidence,” he says, “suggests that one of the best times to start a business is during times of economic uncertainty. It’s counterintuitive but when there’s change, opportunities emerge.”

Rochelle Humes, whose My Little Coco is one of Britain’s fastest-growing children’s brands, agrees. “If you have something you’re passionate about and see a gap in the market, go for it. If you sit and think about it too much, you might never do it.”

She should know, having rejected scores of “don’t do it!” warnings from beauty industry experts. “Some of the biggest companies told me My Little Coco would never work, but I knew in my heart of hearts that I was creating something that people were going to love,” Humes adds.

She has just launched a new business, matcha tea brand Cloudcha — and concedes economic conditions made her think twice. “All of these factors can have a significant impact on launching a business — I’ve found this to be the case with Cloudcha over the past few months. Even with the best team, planning and structure, teething problems arise one way or another. Ultimately, it comes down to having the ability to react and adapt quickly. We considered the challenges but knew we had a good product so it was a risk worth taking.”

With Charlie Bigham’s thriving at almost three decades old, it’s easy to forget how tough it was to get started, Bigham admits: “Lenders didn’t want to lend anyone money when I was trying to get it off the ground… I’d hit a difficult moment in the economy. But if you’re passionate and focused, you keep on going. It’s easy to follow a fashionable zeitgeist, but the most important thing is to find a sector that you love and are interested in. That will sustain you over the long term: if you try to just follow what’s fashionable today, you’ll get bored. I’m still fascinated by food and learning something new about it every week.”

Humes’s final piece of advice for entrepreneurs is “try not to take things personally”. There will, she adds, “be setbacks in the business — there always are. Brush it off, work out the next best solution and go with it.”

Visit Evening Standard’s SME XPO, the UK’s leading event dedicated to ambitious founders and decision-makers who are looking to scale. Network, listen, learn and grow your business. FREE tickets at smexpo.co.uk