How I Started an
Award Winning Date Butter Brand
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Danai and I started D8 Made in March of 2018. D8 Made makes an award-winning range of premium date butters made using Californian medjool dates. We have 5 flavours which are Original, Sour Cherry, Black Pepper, Toasted Cacao and Cinnamon.
People often ask ‘What is date butter and what do you do with it?’
Our date butter is made from expertly blending Medjool dates, adding high-quality ingredients to achieve the flavours in our product range. Date butter is incredibly versatile and can be used in place of traditional sweeteners as a substitute for jams without the added sugar content, or as a topping for porridge or ice cream. It can be served on toast, in a smoothie or used as a binder. Date butter can also be used in place of chutneys and fruit sauces like cranberry and applesauce, for your cold cuts and cheeses.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been through a bit of a food journey over the last 15 years or so. I grew up in a home where my mother was a phenomenal cook; always baking, cooking, basting, cracking, blanching. She made everything from scratch. I often made it with her, falling in love with good food from an early age. Into my university years, I often found myself opting to what was firstly, cheapest, secondly, quickest, and finally, easiest.
Moving into my late 20s and early 30s, like most people, I woke up to my food choices. I woke up to the companies I was funding with my spending. How much plastic I was buying, how much palm oil I was supporting and how many additives I was consuming. As someone who rediscovered my love for cooking, I was always on the lookout for versatile products to use in a variety of sweet and savoury dishes. My focus was on products that were nutritious and natural. This quest led me to starting my company.
I had been making my own date butters because I wanted a sweet option that wasn’t refined sugar or syrup. Date butter contains all the natural sweetness and fibre from the dates. It is silky without the need for oils or dairy. As someone who regularly ate date butter with my breakfast, I realised that there were no makers of these products as off the shelf options anywhere in Europe, which led to the creation of D8 Butter.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Creating a brand new product in a brand new category came with immense pressures. We are (for the time being) the only providers of date butters anywhere in Europe and don’t have any direct competitors. This means educating people on what it is, how they can use it, and why it’s such a good alternative. The challenge we face is how to attract customers away from their established brand relationships.
Financing for any new business, unless you have financial backing, is a tremendous strain. As someone who has a financial imperative to work, with no financial support from friends or family, no inheritance or generational wealth – all the money spent on the brand has come from cutting back elsewhere in life.
There are so many opportunities for advertising. Events, roadshows, editorials and so much more that we have had to pass up because we haven’t had the funds. Being on top of your finances and budgeting, as well as being realistic about what you can do helps. It just isn’t possible to be absolutely everywhere at once.
Who is your target market?
Our target market is those making a conscious food choice. Suitable for all ages, all of our products are allergen-free. Our products also suit those with food sensitivities. They are all made without milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame seeds, fish, crustaceans, mustard, sulphites, lupin or molluscs.
Manufactured without additives, colourants or artificial flavours, D8 Butter is vegan and paleo-friendly. It suits people who have a plant-based or health-conscious diet.
Owned and operated by a minority woman, we are a small, artisan brand. Our target customer is someone in Europe who values good food and small, artisanal businesses dedicated to reducing plastic and waste.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
Marketing! This has been an enormous challenge for us. We have found that the best way for us to market our business is direct to our customers online. We use sponsored posts on Facebook and Instagram and have some incredible social media partners who are phenomenally talented home chefs. They use food and their social media accounts as a way to be expressive and creative.
Running competitions and giveaways is a great way to hear directly from our customers about the sort of content they want to see. It also helps us to gauge the type of media they engage with most, which then feeds into our ongoing strategy.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
The uniqueness of our products has definitely helped us to retain customers. We are the only makers of ‘off the shelf’ date butters, which helps, because if our customers want more, they have to come back! We also offer a discount specifically for our returning customers to show our appreciation.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
As a micro company with only two employees, maintaining a positive culture is easy. What I have learned is that communication is vital. You can’t be in business with someone who won’t text you back. You have to keep in constant contact about what you’re doing, what you’re working on, what the next steps are. This is very important. I have worked in finance for most of my career and I have seen every form that bad management can take. As we grow, I’m hoping to draw upon these experiences to avoid those pitfalls!
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
Our business runs on Ecwid. It is an incredibly simple and incredibly powerful tool and drives us forward. We are also on Amazon which is a technological powerhouse and gives us metrics and reporting on our products and performance.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I could fill a book answering this! The most important lesson for me is just how important it is to keep your business separate from your friendships and your personal life. When you have something that you are incredibly passionate about and you bring in a friend or a family member to do it with you, your levels of passion may not be the same.
You might love your business and want to think about it, talk about it, work on it, all day every day but if that same level of passion is not matched, it can lead to fractures in relationships which may never heal. I would do this completely differently if I could go back. You gain a business but lose relationships.
Something else this journey has taught me is the importance of discipline. As a founding entrepreneur, you are Head of Marketing, Head of Sales, Head of Product Development and Compliance and Finance and on and on. You are carrying a huge amount of responsibility.
In the beginning, I did the stuff that I liked/enjoyed and ignored the stuff that I didn’t. It is so important when you are small, that you know how to run your entire business. Later down the line, you will need people to be experts in one thing or another but you have to know every single aspect of your business from day 1 until you can safely hand over the reins. I cannot stress this enough.
I would go back and get involved in every part from the beginning because it feels awful to have to carry the load on your own and realise that there are things about your business that you don’t understand. Don’t let anybody know anything about your business that you don’t.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
There are many good things about being an entrepreneur. It gives you the freedom to be creative and gives you an opportunity to learn your limits. Being an entrepreneur also gives you an immense sense of accomplishment. It is such a moment of pride to hold a product in your hands that you have made, branding that you have designed and for a business that you own.
But without a doubt, the best thing about being an entrepreneur is the feedback from customers. When you are creating something and pouring over the tiny details of the font on the packaging, the design of the website, it comes from being passion led. It comes from wanting to create a range that your customers will enjoy. When you have worked so incredibly hard for over 2 years, getting positive feedback makes every turn in the journey worth it.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The hardest thing about being an entrepreneur is that there is no blueprint to success. It takes everything you’ve got to be successful; all of your creativity, all of your problem solving abilities, all of our patience, all of your resolve, strength, time, sleep, money! It takes absolutely everything you’ve got and you need to give it everything every day. This aspect, and I cannot overstate this, is incredibly hard.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
About three years ago I started listening to the podcast How I Built This and it revolutionised my thinking. I think the reason people don’t think about starting a business is because they look at the whole journey and think that it all needs to be done in a day.
Having listened to those founders’ stories, I realised that the super power that they all possessed was that they just didn’t give up. The story that spoke to me the most was hearing that James Dyson was tinkering in his garden shed with not a lot of money for years and there were so many that were so similar.
So many businesses started with very little money, that almost fell apart, that had no buyers, no backers and on and on but it was the singularity of the founders’ vision that brought them through.
At the end of every episode of ‘How I Built This’, is a segment called ‘How You Built That’ and this showcases ordinary people with an idea and talks about who they are, what they do and how they got started. So many of them sounded like me. People with a day job but with an idea that they could not stop thinking about. It makes you think ‘Let me just try. Let me try.’
Since discovering ‘How I Built This’, I have also listened to Without Fail. Hearing that other people sometimes get tired and frustrated and fail and also have painful co-founder stories makes you feel like you are not alone when you live through these things too.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
In 2 – 3 years I would love to see the business expand and stocked countrywide. We already have in place some brand expansion plans including more date butter varieties but also a range of other chilled and pantry products. I hope to have a team of talented people around me supporting my business and vision; people who are experts in their fields and who can advise me and bring their knowledge to what I hope will be one of the most exciting food companies on the scene.