Tom Callard set up Love Da Popcorn with two other friends in 2010 as a way to go to cool events and meet girls. You may remember them from Dragons’ Den, as Peter Jones made Callard and his partners an offer they rightfully didn’t refuse, of £70,000 to launch the brand. Tom works day to day at an advertising agency, allowing him to pay his colleague Martin to run the company full time, while his other partner Christian also works a daily grind to provide a bit of cashflow.
How do you balance the two jobs?
I tend to be crap at one of them all the time – so balance is possibly the wrong description. It’s very hard to focus your energy on two jobs simultaneously, so I tend to just build up credit on one, then ruin it by being tired and absent, then repeat. Love Da Popcorn is mostly done in the evenings and weekends and could be anything from business planning to Operation Awesome – our new project to reward people who tweet about us with a awesome act. Last week I glued free bags of popcorn all over Shoreditch for lucky passers by.
Do your colleagues in your regular job know about your side project?
They do and they tend to ask me for popcorn a lot. My old agency was very supportive and helped us out a lot.
What’s the hardest part of having two jobs?
Being tired all the time. A relaxing evening in is a distant memory. If you are not working in one job, you should be thinking about the other one. I feel constantly guilty if I’m not doing something. But it is all a sacrifice you’re happy to make because you’re building something great.
How long did it take to get the ball properly rolling and how has it grown since?
Our first big deal was Secret Cinema, which was a huge boost to us. We still get people who remember the popcorn from there. Our next big break was Dragons Den. We applied drunk one night and before we knew it we were on TV in front of 7 million people, bluffing our way through a grilling. But Peter Jones sensed an opportunity and it has been all go since then. Our goal is £3 million turnover this year which is ambitious, but we have a lot of new business opportunities which make it very do-able.
What was the hardest part, business-wise, in the early stages?
The hardest part was and is, cash flow. Boring as it sounds, everything is about balancing money coming in and out, whether those amounts are tiny or massive (we currently mainly handle tiny amounts). It’s a struggle every small business knows well.
Have the skills you gained in advertising helped with the popcorn business?
I think advertising teaches you a lot. It teaches you the power of an idea, the importance of creativity in everything you do, and a mean back-hand in ping pong.
How was it funded?
It is part funded by ourselves, but of course Uncle Peter, our big Dragon, is a key investor who offers not just funds but expertise. The response has been amazing. We get people sending us pictures of their bags with their kids, their cats, their co-workers. We love our fans and they are constantly amazing us.
Do you have other people helping out now?
It really is just the three of us. We have companies who help distribute, we no longer make it in our bedroom, and we have help designing and accounting, but no real employees.
Where will Love Da Popcorn ideally be in ten years time?
Love Da Popcorn will just be one little element in the Love Da empire. We are currently working on some exciting new products, so who knows what the future holds. Love Da airlines could be just around the corner.
What’s the company’s greatest achievement to date?
Still being here three years on. Not many companies can say that, and we are planning a huge 2013. Hold onto your hats, socks and everything else. It’s going to be big.
What top tips do you have for readers who want to set up their own bit on the side?
Do it. There is no better way to learn about business, and yourself, than starting a company. It’s incredibly tiring, hard, draining, but also rewarding, fun and exciting. And let us know if you do! We have failed a lot, and have plenty of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs so you may be able to avoid some of the mistakes. But then again, failing is the important thing – it’s how you learn.