Business Leader Insights: Helena Hills

We recently interviewed the ultra-successful Helena Hills as the first in our new feature of business leader insights. We asked Helena how she is approaching the transition from start-up to scale-up, how her awards successes have impacted the business and what it’s like working with your husband. We can also testify first hand to how great the TRUESTART products are.

What advice would you give to anyone going through the scale-up process?

I’m not sure if I’m in a position to advise on how to scale-up successfully as we’re only just starting, but I can tell you what we’ve decided to do! We figured we have two options. One: grow slowly and carefully into a sports-focused coffee brand that has fantastic potential as a lifestyle business. Two: go all-in on a ballsy, rebellious strategy and brand that exists to disrupt coffee as we know it. The latter is more ambitious and carries a higher risk – it will either work or it won’t – but TRUESTART wouldn’t exist if Simon and I were into staying within our comfort zone and we want to do what truly excites us. TRUESTART was not born to be a lifestyle business, that feels boring to us. We’re here to have a big impact with a challenger brand that makes waves. I want to prove that you can create change if you want to, so we’ve gone big on our gut instinct and our scale-up plan means some big changes for the brand. I can’t wait!

You’ve won or been shortlisted for countless awards, what benefits has that brought to your business?

Awards are a great pat on the back for entrepreneurs, because it’s not often that you give yourself one and trust me, sometimes you need the mental boost! But they’re also great for PR and brand awareness. Start-up brands have one massive challenge: shouting as loud as the big boys with vastly smaller budgets. Awards give you momentum and something to talk about. They help you get your name out there. One important note though – not all awards are created equal! Some mean a lot, others are just money-spinning scams (I’m being blunt here!) and if you ask around, they don’t have good reputations.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of entering awards?

Go for awards that are going to bring the awareness and recognition that you’re looking for. Want to be recognized for innovation? Go for an innovation award rather than a more general start-up award, for example. Want to be recognized for your amazing team, ethical manufacturing practices or marketing prowess? Select awards and categories that reflect your achievements and strengths. I’m particularly proud to have won Brand of the Future, a national award that recognizes a young brand with significant potential to disrupt an established category. This is exactly what matters to us. Another question is what matters more to your business: recognition on a local, national or global scale. There are awards for all three.

Is it easier or harder working with your husband?

Haha, good question! There are massive pros, and cons too. Simon and I started TRUESTART together because we want to build something together. If it wasn’t this, it would be something else. We have very different skills sets, which means we make a good team and crucially – it creates less conflict than a couple who are both great at similar things. Simon and I are fairly intense so we’re happiest like this, but it’s definitely not for everyone. If you love your personal space, living and working with the same person might not be ideal! Also, we have to be careful to take quality time together as husband and wife. We both love TRUESTART and have huge ambitions for it, so it’s easy to get totally absorbed by it and not switch off because neither of us really want to! That’s a sure-fire way to stress yourself out and fry your brain and we’ve burnt out a couple of times, but we’re getting better at forcing ourselves to chill out.

Would he say the same of you?

He’s in the same room as me so I’ve just asked him whether it’s easier or harder working with your wife! He says, “Both. We have good times and we have bad times but they’re always together, which is the point”.

You ran a business before TRUESTART, what lessons did that teach you?

It taught Simon and I that we could work together! It also taught us about managing business finances (on a small scale) and the basics of how to build a brand that people connect with.

How has the way you manage your business accounts changed throughout your journey?

I am big on customer service, and our business accounts are our customers just as much as the people who buy TRUESTART in a shop or online. I feel genuinely dreadful if someone has a bad experience due to negligence on our side, maybe this stems from my background in sales and account management. I want to make people feel good and no matter how small, I will always make time for our customers, they are our partners.

That said, I have a finite amount of time and it has become impossible to closely manage every account, let alone every customer! My strategy is to be as accessible as possible. We’re the opposite of a faceless company and it’s very easy to contact us on live chat on our website, via social media, via email or me personally on my mobile too. Whilst I often can’t respond instantly, I always respond. We also have a very honest yet positive approach to business, hold our hands up when we make mistakes and proactively ask for feedback. We partner with people who have a similar attitude and have built some great relationships as a result. Regardless of how much time you have, you can always be respectful.

You’re based at Entrepreneurial Spark in Bristol, how has that helped you grow?

Entrepreneurial Spark is a brilliant business accelerator that we joined in September 2015 when we were brand new. We graduated in June 2017 so we’re no longer based there, but E-Spark gave us a support network that has been crucial to our sanity to be honest! Being amongst likeminded entrepreneurs who are all trying to change the world in their own way was a big confidence boost. You don’t feel so lonely, which is a big drawback to entrepreneurship generally.

Shameless plug time, who is TRUESTART for?

People who want to get the most out of every day. It’s coffee that makes you feel great with no crash or jitters, so you feel ready to smash whatever it is you’re doing! It’s nature’s energy boost. Whether you’re in the office, at the gym or going for a bike ride, TRUESTART has got your back!

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