How to launch a new business

Nick Croft-Simon talks us through his approach to launching a new venture  

The process of launching White Rabbit Pizza has taught co-founder Nick Croft-Simon some valuable business lessons. 

Build an idea 

We were working in The White Rabbit pub in Oxford and Matteo [Ferrari – co-founder] tweaked the existing menu based on his family recipes. The pub developed a real reputation for the quality of its pizzas (which it still serves!) and we were getting a lot of requests for gluten-free and vegan variants. We started talking about bringing the product to the retail sector, noticing a distinct lack of innovation compared to other categories.  

Refine your proposition 

We spent a whole year before launch developing the recipe in a tiny kitchen upstairs in the pub, going to trade shows and designing the packaging. You learn it all on the fly: no one teaches you how to create a barcode, complete a new line form or fill in nutritional information. But you speak to people, make mistakes, learn from them and keep going. People are always happy to give you advice and you need to take advantage of that from the outset – it will come full circle in the end.  

Develop your brand 

We toyed with the name for months. Eventually, we realised that the answer was staring us in the face: the pub where it all began. We didn’t want the name to be too product-specific because I think your brand should always transcend any single range. We knew we were passionate about amazing pizza and we knew we had an authentic origin story: White Rabbit Pizza encapsulates all of that perfectly.  

Work with the best  

Any good investor will look at the founders before anything else in a fledgling business. Matteo and I are well-matched as we have completely different skill sets; I look after the commercial side of the business, while he runs the operations. For the first three years it was just us, really, and I was working from home with only my cat for company (and he’s miserable). We’re now building a team, and watching them flourish is without a doubt the most fulfilling experience of the business to date. I’m not sure it’ll ever be topped. 

Deal with drama 

Starting this business is the best and worst thing I’ve ever done. A ‘favourite’ moment was the time when an HMRC debt collector came to the bakery and told us we’d been filing our PAYEs wrong, so we owed her thousands of pounds (precisely double what we had in the business account at that time) and we’d need to pay her that day before she left. Luckily, we convinced her to accept a deferral and raised the money just in time, but I still see her face in my nightmares.  

Plan for a flexible future 

We want to challenge mainstream supermarket pizza and breathe some new life into what is conventionally a big-player-dominated category. The key to our success is to stay agile, innovative and consumer-led, while continuing to make the best quality pizzas we possibly can. We know what we stand for and where we want to end up, but beyond that we never look more than nine to 12 months into the future, as we’d lose part of what makes our brand special. The intricacies of the overarching plan are constantly adapting and evolving for the better, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.  

Nick Croft-Simon is co-founder of White Rabbit Pizza 

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