Business Growth Lessons from a UK SME

There are an extremely diverse range of challenges businesses face at every stage of their early life. From the difficulties of securing funding as a startup to successfully scaling up, there are plenty of potential stumbling blocks for businesses that threaten to derail their development.

One of the best sources of advice for entrepreneurs facing these important hurdles is undoubtedly those who have been there and done it before. With that in mind, we spoke to Vasco de Castro, the co-founder of the workplace fruit supplier Fruitful Office. His business has grown from a two-man band to one that now operates in five countries around the world, so we wanted to find out more about the challenges he has overcome.

In the beginning…

As is the case with most new businesses, Fruitful Office started life after Vasco de Castro and his then flatmate Daniel Ernst spotted a gap in the market they thought they could fill. Both de Castro and Ernst worked for employers who had baskets of fruit delivered to their offices. However, the quality of the fruit both received was inconsistent and, with the government’s 5-a-day campaign in overdrive, they felt this was something they could improve on.

The early challenges

There were many familiar challenges faced by the duo in their first few months of business. Deciding when to quit their day jobs was certainly one the most difficult decisions they had to make in the early days. Initially, the duo sent out emails to business contacts, friends and family introducing their service and uptake, thankfully, was good. Those first 25 emails led to five regular customers, a success rate many businesses would be envious of. That allowed the duo to make the switch to becoming full-time entrepreneurs.

Scaling up

Once the duo decided to dedicate all their time to their venture, the business started to grow quickly. Word of mouth recommendations and some search engine optimisation started to reap rewards. However, the speed of growth was difficult to keep up with.

At this stage, the duo had no employees or any assets. One of their first investments was to buy an old van to transport their fruit from market to workplace, but in trying to keep costs down, they bought a van that was cheap and kept on breaking down.

They also made a series of mistakes when trying to find trustworthy employees to work the unsocial 4.30am to 8.30am fruit packing shift. However, after a number of failed hires, they quickly learnt what type of attributes to look for. Here are a few more typical challenges business owners face when scaling a business.

On the road to success

The hurdles kept coming as the business grew. Another difficult shift to make was for de Castro and Ernst to realise they had to trust others to do important work. For example, while once they had personally inspected every basket of fruit themselves, they soon learned that this was simply not feasible. They knew that to overcome this challenge they had to surround themselves with a team who shared their vision and cared about delivering the highest quality product.

Another difficulty came in trying to stick to the business’s local roots without hindering its growth. To do this, they hired local workers in each city and sourced fruit from wholesale markets in every area they operated in. With such a perishable product, this was key to reducing the time from purchase to delivery and maintain the quality and freshness of the fruit.

What’s next?

It’s been a steep learning curve for de Castro and Ernst, but after 10 years, they now make weekly deliveries to over 5000 offices in five countries across Europe. They have also embarked on an ambitious tree planting campaign in Malawi. Next on the successful duo’s list is to keep expanding and continue to support reforestation projects.

What lessons have you learnt while scaling a business? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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