Julianne Ponan is a 28 year-old entrepreneur from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, who is the head of Creative Nature, a company whose products include high protein snack bars and allergen free muffin and brownie mixes.
Before Julianne bought the company at the age of 22, Creative Nature was a brand that was struggling and sinking with heavy losses of £56,000. Struggling with its brand identity, the company was selling a wide range of products that weren’t synonymous with its current healthy food image.
Darren Wood spoke with Julianne as she described why she took a risk on the brand, how hard it was to turn the company’s fortunes around and her vision for the future.
Tell us about you and your business
I carried out a management buyout of Creative Nature at the age of 22-years-old.
At the time the business was involved in lots of different areas such as candles, so I re-structured it to focus on free-from products as I spotted a gap in the market for this.
When I took over the company it was turning over minus £56,000 but it is now stocked in Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury.
Did you have much experience in business before you took the company over?
I was working in banking, so it was finance but not exactly business related. It was difficult but I always focused on the question of how do I grow the company? I was literally on my own at the start, and this was challenging.
What impact has the role of marketing and PR played in the business?
We had very little resources for marketing at the beginning and were completely self funded. This meant we had to find the best way to get our product out there and that was by using platforms across social media. We did this by putting good content out there, such as recipe posts, blogs and then we also visited a lot of the consumer shows.
What other challenges and difficulties have you faced?
Every small business is challenged by cash flow issues whilst you are trying to grow. You obviously want to get these big clients but you have the issue of manufacturing and working out how you are going to buy, pay for and store your products.
This is especially acute if you are a food business and your products have a shelf life. So that’s been a challenge.
How did you turn the company into a profitable business?
This was achieved through cutting back and having a look at the books. Luckily I came from a finance background so I was able to assess what the business was spending money on and what we could cut back on.
I also put money into marketing that worked and we learned from the mistakes we made early on.
You mentioned the company stood at minus £56,000 when you came in, what was the turnover of the company last year?
That was just shy of £900,000. It’s been a journey from coming into the company to where we are now. Last year we grew the company 68%, so we have been growing very quickly and hopefully it will be at 90% at the end of this year.
We’re investing heavily online; a lot of which is going into social media influencers to support the brand and alongside that we’ve confirmed to launch our products with an airline as well, but I cannot say which one at this time.
You recently appeared on BBC’s Dragons’ Den where Deborah Meaden made an offer to invest £75,000 in return for 25% equity in Creative Nature. How was that experience?
We were looking for smart money and I think it’s important for entrepreneurs to understand the differences between just getting money and getting backing from someone who can potentially open doors for you.
Dragons’ Den was a great experience for us and it helped me grow as an entrepreneur. It’s quite difficult being in that situation in front of the Dragons’ and at the time I felt it was a good deal, but during filming things changed and then the valuation was different to the offer that we received, so we turned it down.
What do you believe is the ultimate goal for yourself and Creative Nature?
We want to become a household brand. Our mission is to help allergen sufferers and make it easy and affordable for them to access products to help them on a daily basis. We’ve got some amazing new products on the horizon.