Founder Focus: Cassandra Stavrou of PROPERCORN
While the MD of Plant Designs had 30 years of experience under his belt, Cassandra Stavrou, Co-Founder of PROPERCORN, launched the business from her kitchen in Barnet fuelled by ‘incredibly powerful’ naivety and courage.
We caught up with Cassandra to find out how she went from mixing popcorn in a cement mixer to running a multi-million pound business…
WHAT WAS YOUR EUREKA MOMENT?
I had several! I’d always had a bit of an entrepreneurial itch and PROPERCORN certainly wasn’t my first business idea. The ubiquitous light bulb moment happened when I was working in advertising, almost 10 years ago now. Every day, people would go and buy snacks for the 3pm slump – either a chocolate bar that left them feeling guilty or a rice cake that left them feeling dissatisfied.
The opportunity for a great-tasting, healthier snack seemed obvious and popcorn a perfect solution. I went home, told my mum of my idea and she reminded me that the last present my father bought me before he passed away was a popcorn machine. It was this little bit of serendipity that gave me the courage to quit my job and give PROPERCORN a shot.
HOW DID YOU TEST YOUR IDEA?
I gave my popcorn to anyone who’d try it. Family, friends and mountains to my long-suffering mum who allowed me to start the business from her kitchen in Barnet. I actually made my first batches of popcorn in a cement mixer. I needed to find a way to season the popcorn properly without covering it in oil and flavourings. The cement mixer was perfect for tumbling the corn with spices and ingredients and I used a car spraying kit for the oil.
DID YOU HAVE A MENTOR?
Both I and my business partner Ryan regularly mentor other businesses. We’re actually relaunching an initiative called Pop In this month where we invite budding business owners to get support and desk space at PROPERCORN.
Starting your own thing can be incredibly lonely, so during Global Entrepreneurship week, we want to get four budding business owners off their kitchen tables and into our office to workshop their idea and get inspired. The winners from last year have gone from strength to strength in the last 12 months and we can’t wait to see who we’ll have joining us at HQ this year.
WHAT IS THE MOST WORTHWHILE INVESTMENT YOU’VE MADE?
Investing time, money and energy in your team is worth every penny. Anyone building a business should be uncompromising in seeking out brilliant people. People who are passionate and fully share your vision. Nothing makes me prouder than the PROPERCORN team and their energy and creativity has unquestionably been the
key to our success.
WHAT ONE FAILURE ARE YOU GLAD YOU EXPERIENCED?
You have to be prepared to fail. Brands should be more vocal about the times they tried and for whatever reason, it just didn’t quite work. Our team has never been afraid of taking risks; PROPERCORN wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t taken a massive one seven years ago.
Our product, Crunch Corn, was another such leap of faith. Despite some incredible support, we stopped making it at the end of 2017. Thankfully, though there have been more successes than failures over the years! You’ve got to dust yourself off and keep innovating in order to create the best product possible- try, test, experiment. A great idea can come from anywhere and anyone in the team.
WHAT COMMON INDUSTRY ADVICE DO YOU DISAGREE WITH?
I’m not sure if it’s advice as such, but I find it disheartening to still hear people being referred to as “successful business women” in our industry. The days of the exclusively all male, suit and tie boardroom are gladly behind us but it’s still a struggle to be recognized as a successful person, rather than a successful woman. Talent, not gender, is the real arbiter of success: remember this and go for the big win.
WHAT IS THE BOOK YOU RECOMMEND THAT EVERYONE READS?
Winnie the Pooh. Tells you everything you to need to know about relationships and perseverance!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMETHING THINKING OF STARTING THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
My number one piece of advice is, just start. We live in a world where we’ve got incredible access to blogs, forums, videos, but it can be as much of a blessing as it is a curse when you find yourself drowning in the theory. We’re all armchair entrepreneurs to a certain degree but you have to be bold and start – that’s often the
only difference between those who make it those who don’t. It’s 10% idea, 90% execution.
Don’t be afraid of not knowing everything from the get-go. This naivety can be incredibly powerful and enable you to make some big and brave decisions – right at the start of the PROPERCORN journey, it gave me the courage to ditch the initial packaging designs I’d spent most of my money on. They just didn’t feel right, so I listened to my gut and picked up a pen and paper and designed them with a friend instead. It’s harder to listen to your gut further down the line.
WHAT’S YOUR PLAN B?
There isn’t one! I am more excited now than I have ever been. I genuinely still feel like we’re at the starting line with so much more to go after. The big challenge now is to protect our amazing team and culture as we grow. Working out how we maintain our attention to detail, agility and level of care for each other and the brand. It’s the thing that keeps me awake most at night.