How We Started
a Superfood Snacks Business
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
We’re Laura and Sean, founders of PULSÍTOS. We’re husband and wife, passionate about the outdoors and eating well. We always had the burning desire to set up our own business…so we’ve combined it altogether and given it a go.
We make plant-based snacks with a Mediterranean twist – roasted fava bean superfood snacks, wrapped in plastic-free packs! We’re a business born from passion and a deep desire to do some good and leave a positive mark.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
Sean: I spent a long time doing a job I didn’t really enjoy (or was very good at! [I worked in finance in the City]) so when my wife was offered a job in Barcelona we jumped at the chance to leave London and explore somewhere new. I struggled to find a new opportunity in Barcelona, so I created my own.
We threw ourselves into the Mediterranean diet – eating everything from anchovies to tortilla (and everything in between!) – but couldn’t get over the fact that so much of this amazing food comes wrapped in plastic. Shockingly, despite it is often clear blue waters, the Mediterranean Sea is one of the most polluted in the world. 200,000 tonnes of plastic is dumped in it every year and whilst the people of the Mediterranean are some of the healthiest, the planet where they call home isn’t.
The moment was after we’d decided we’d like to follow our passion and set up a food business (essentially giving a rather boring Mediterranean superfood snack a makeover), we made the decision to go plastic free.
There was one incident I really recall – we’d just munched on a packet of crisps (a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine) whilst sat on the beach and then headed into the water for a snorkel. Within a few minutes I saw the exact same pack floating around in the water (not ours I hasten to add!). It was then that we knew we needed to do something different.
Although it can often seem like an unassailable problem (plastic pollution), we knew as a startup that we have a real chance to do something different and our customers have responded really well. It’s a long journey but nature is too important to just focus on short-term profit.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Setting up a business is full of challenges – from making sure you’ve done your research at the very early stage to then finding partners to help bring your dream to life. With a food business, there’s then the added complication of having to manage shelf life (which can differ amongst ingredients), packaging, logistics etc…
We also have to “sell” to two different groups of people: our end consumer, who want to see one set of product characteristics, then the buyers at retailers who often want to see a completely different set. Sometimes these cross over but often it’s a qualitative marketing story vs a very quantitative one with “how does this benefit me?”. It took a while to realise this and whilst I spent a fair few months at the beginning talking about our product characteristics to the buyers, it was only once I changed the dialogue to talking more about the benefits of stocking PULSÍTOS – namely financial – that we started to gain traction.
Financing is always tough but there are options out there. From accelerator programmes to startup loans, putting a solid business case together (which all of that research) is invaluable and can pay real dividends. I take a really positive view of competition. It gives you a line of sight as to what works and what doesn’t work.
I think being the industry leader must be very tough but at our stage, being able to observe what others are doing gives us a real opportunity to differentiate. That’s why we’re so behind our mantra of “Healthy People. Healthy Planet” – no other snack brand has positioned themselves in this way and that gives us a real advantage. As time goes on, this will only get stronger and we’re looking forward to the rest of the industry improving their standards and getting rid of plastic packaging.
Who is your target market?
We’ve created two avatars of our target customer:
Female, 25 – 35: Young Professional.
• Urban, foodie, attends street food markets, likes nice drinks at the weekend, knows good restaurants and spends c.30% of disposable income on “going out”. She goes to the gym but isn’t obsessed, engaged in politics and environment and feels guilty taking out recycling but doesn’t take big actions.
• Goes out for Grab & Go lunches and eats at the desk during the week (time poor).
• Food shopping is done on the day, flavour and taste are highly important. Is adventurous and likes to try new things, especially if it’s been recommended.
• Less likely to do an online shop.
• Content: Educational/recommendations/image driven.
Female, 30 – 40: Stay-At-Home mum.
· Lives in London suburbs, 2 young kids, drinks wine and gin and is more eco-friendly.
· Spends more time cooking from scratch, following recipes and pushing her experience to improve and give her kids a mixed diet.
· Cares a lot about nutrition and buys healthy snacks for herself and her kids – likes snacks that they can both eat.
· Enticed by small businesses with great stories.
· Content: Blogs, image driven (but reads comments too) and recipes
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
We’ve tried some paid advertising and are still gathering results to see if it works for us.
As a founder the best way to get your story out there is to talk! I may be at risk of boring my friends and family senseless but it’s only through repetition that our message sticks. I’ve still got friends who have either forgotten or just didn’t know that our packaging is completely plastic free, can be recycled with newspapers (and any other paper for that matter) and is also completely compostable meaning an empty pack can go in the food bin with your banana skin to simply decompose into nothing more than soil!
It can get quite tiresome saying the same thing over and over but for every one person that hears, there’s 1000s more still to hear! There’s probably never been a better time to get your voice heard (there are so many platforms out there) but it’s important to stay consistent and remember that people absorb information in different ways. We’re working hard to get as much coverage on all social media channels as possible but it’s worth coming up with a strategy first so that you’re neither wasting time or missing your audience.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
It’s only me (full-time) and my wife, Laura, part-time so I guess our culture is us! Fortunately we get on pretty well and communicate about what we’re doing and how we do it. As the company grows though this is something we’re really looking forward to developing.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We use a lot of different applications to keep on top of things:
Wave is great for accounting – it’s pretty user friendly and gives a good snapshot of the main figures.
Trello is great for to-do lists and managing the constant demands on my time. The thing I really like about Trello is that it allows you to write a “Done” list which really helps flip things around in my mind and lets me remember all of things I have achieved…not just what’s still outstanding – which can often feel exhausting and overwhelming!
For CRM we’ve started using Hubspot – I find it ok but it isn’t compatible with my version of Outlook which is really annoying. Fortunately, I set up a Gmail account to essentially mirror my account so everything that goes into there is logged on Hubspot.
Canva is worth its software weight in gold. I use it for EVERYTHING…editing photos, presentations, pitches, social media and wouldeither be pretty lost without it or an expert at Photoshop (but probably would have lost weeks/months getting frustrated with the magnetic lasso tool!).
I think the age we live in, you can’t avoid using software and tech. Fortunately it’s getting better and better and means that we can really keep up-to-date with what’s going on.
Of course, pen and paper still have a very special place but having everything online means it’s really easy to share between the two of us as well as various partners we work with. However, the big disclaimer is that it’s only as good as what you feed into it. Crap input = crap output. It can take some time to get used to all of these different programmes but it’s definitely worth it.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
Without a doubt patience. Invariably it’s a trait that probably doesn’t come that naturally to those with an entrepreneurial mindset – we like to have things done our way yesterday. But I’d rather like to think about it as a skill. It’s about knowing when to use it and when to not. Pushing when things need to be pushed and taking stock when things are out of your control.
I’ve realised that the journey I’m on – to create an impact enterprise that has a bigger and much further reach than a pure just-for-profit business – takes time. Sometimes that can be really hard to admit but being at peace with that means that I’m able to make better decisions and direct my business from the front rather than playing catch up all the time.
Everything was unclear before starting but what’s wonderful is that there is so much help available. There’s a real ecosystem that I was completely unaware of before taking the plunge and it’s made that transition from blue-chip corporate life so much smoother. It can be really difficult being an entrepreneur but with organisations like Virgin Startup, RedBull and Impact Central out there it makes it much less daunting.
To be honest there isn’t much I’d change – to change something would suggest I have regrets and that’s certainly not the case. Yes some things could have gone more smoothly (like, it would have been nice to avoid the threat of legal action from one of our suppliers because of a disagreement over what they supplied mismatching what we order) but these are all part and parcel of running a business. If it was all smooth all of the time, I would only have learned half of what I have learned!
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Being able to create. I love to create things. Whether that be Lego when I was a kid or doing a carpentry course as an adult. I think creating is the most valuable thing we can do. The result might not be great but it’s the journey, the ability to change part way through, the concept of lifting something from your mind and either making something 3D or something 2D that I think is really special and something that really sets humans apart. I’m really envious of people that are very good at musical instruments or even those who write music, as I am of those that create beautiful drawings or paintings.
Being an entrepreneur has definitely helped to both harness and improve my creativity and that’s something that I’m really grateful for.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Not having a boss to give me a list of things to do on a Monday morning and pay me – however well I do them – at the end of each month.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I don’t actually listen or read many business-focused podcasts or books, I find them a bit panic-inducing. I like to read a variety of different types of things as that allows me to escape and really think about things from a different point of view.
I was lucky enough to attend the RedBull Amaphiko academy last year and met some amazing social entrepreneurs doing incredible things. Without doubt, speaking to them, sharing stories and asking questions was WAY more powerful and helpful than reading a book. We’re human and the nature of humans is to be sociable. I much prefer talking and listening to people physically than listening to them via a podcast. I think it’s only once you see the whites of someones eyes do you truly get an understanding for who they are.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I’d really like to be listed with a major supermarket – only then do I think we can have a really positive change as we’ll be able to reach so many more people and have our plastic free packaging in so many more homes. A listing of that size will also supercharge our charitable giving – every pack we sell goes towards planting a new tree with our charity partners Trees for Cities.
It’s shocking to think that between 3.5 and 7 billion trees are chopped down every year with very little attempt to replenish them. We’re trying to do our best to replace the resources we use as quickly as we can but everything requires money – trees aren’t free and charities have running costs – so the more we can sell the more healthy profit we can make to benefit healthy cities.