Starting your own business is never easy. Alongside a great idea, the know-how to make it work and the drive to make it a success, it takes guts just to get started in the first place.

That’s why AXA created the AXA Startup Angel competition – to give two worthy businesses the funding and support they need to get the best possible start in their new business ventures.

And when you’re first starting out, you need advice from those who’ve been there before. That’s why alongside £25,000 funding to get their business off the ground and business insurance in their first year from AXA, the two winners will receive mentoring from the AXA Startup Angels: Holly Tucker MBE of Not on the High Street; Raphael Sofoluke of the UK Black Business Show; and Ian Theasby and Henry Firth, co-founders of BOSH!.

Here, we get to know Ian and Henry, the background of BOSH! and their business journey to date, and get a sneak peek at what they’re looking for in a winning Startup Angel submission.

 

Hi guys! Can you start by giving us a quick intro to who you are and what BOSH! is all about?

[HENRY] So BOSH! is Henry and Ian. We’re a plant-based vegan cooking channel where we create a place where people can find out how to cook delicious vegan food that isn’t boring, isn’t rabbit food, or isn’t going to make them unhealthy. It’s for everybody. We like to think that our channel is really accessible and that the food is also affordable, so that everyone is able to cook plant-based food.

 

Can you describe what led to the creation of BOSH!? How did the idea first come about?

[IAN] Both Henry and I both watched a documentary called Cowspiracy, and it led us to becoming vegan. And after about nine months to a year of being vegan we got really, really passionate about it. We’d made lots and lots of learnings along the way, about how to cook vegan food well and make vegan food you’d really want to eat. And when we gathered all those learnings together we decided that we wanted to share those learnings with the world and we decided the best way to do that was via video on social media. A couple of other channels had kicked off this idea of doing top down recipe videos, but we’d seen that there wasn’t anyone doing that for vegan food. So we thought there was an angle there for us to share our learnings with the world. So we set up a Facebook page and we contacted a whole bunch of animal charities and said ‘if we were to make these videos, would you be kind enough to share them on your channels?’ And they said yes. And because of a bit of sharing plus good quality recipes, the popularity of them went from zero to 100,000, in terms of likes on the page, over the course of about a month and a half. So it was pretty explosive from the get go.

 

Was there a moment when you thought ‘we can make a success of this’?

[H] I think we started out thinking it would be a success from the beginning, really. We came from a startup background, and so we knew roughly how to build a business. And in fact we knew how to build a business by not repeating the same mistakes we had made in our previous business. So we had already baked those learnings in with BOSH!

There was probably three different things that gave us confidence that this was the right thing to do. One is that is was something we believed in, with our hearts. It was a purpose-driven move and it was a change that we wanted to see in the world. That was the strongest driver and that still drives us today.

Second, we had seen the growth of the video format on Facebook. It was basically a hands-in-pans style of video, where channels like Buzzfeed’s Tasty had exploded to millions of likes on Facebook. Facebook was really prioritising video and we knew we could make videos, because of our background and previous experience. So we had real confidence that we could build a vegan cooking channel and build a brand around that.

And I think the third thing that gave us confidence was the data. Seeing the graph of the number of searches on the word ‘vegan’ on Google. You could see there was exponential growth for people searching for the word ‘vegan’ over the last five or six years, so it felt like a real uptrend and a change in the psychology of humanity and something we could contribute to and be a part of. So those were the three things that made us convinced that we could make a success of it and that it would be really big.

And the last thing I suppose was coming up with the name BOSH!! Which just really seemed to work.

 

Can you talk a bit about the importance of branding and having an identity or a unique voice for your business?

[I] I think it is important for a company to have a strong identity. To have a punchy name and good branding in order to woo people right from the get go. But you shouldn’t just rely completely on the way that you brand yourself. Ultimately it needs to be built on things that are true and real. You need to have a good product and a good offering and you need to be solving a problem. So yes, it is important to have good branding, but it isn’t the be all and end all.

[H] And also those things can evolve as you go. People can spend months and months deliberating over a name and spending loads of money on design assets and logos, but it’s probably better to approach it with the mindset of ‘whatever we come up with first we’ll probably throw away six months down the line’. And that gives you the freedom to move forward with a working title, a working brand, one that you evolve as you go. BOSH! didn’t start out named BOSH! The logo has evolved twice, it’ll evolve again. So it’s good to think about your brand in that mindset.

 

You guys run BOSH! together. Can you talk a bit about how you work together, how do you collaborate?

[H] We talk about everything. There are no aspects of the business that are not discussed by us. We also have respect for each other’s decisions and opinions. Communicating in a way that is constructive and respectful is important between the two of us, because we both bring different things to the table. We both have different things that we excel at and things we’re not so good at, and we both have good days and bad days.

And we have gratitude for each other, as people who are both motivated in our lives to build something together. And when there are conflicts, which has happened a couple of times, it’s a challenge. But a nice way of talking about it is that it’s the two of you against the problem, rather than the two of you against each other. And that’s something we try to focus on.

 

As entrepreneurs yourselves, who do you turn to for advice or support when it comes to your careers?

[I] Over the last five years we’ve build a marvellous extended team around us. So with our books we’re with Harper Collins and we work with amazing editors and we can get good things done with those guys. We also have a fantastic Managing Director who alleviates a lot of the potential stress from us, allows us to be creative and she’s an enabler for that creativity. We’ve got our small tight knit team that we can bounce ideas off of and rely upon for really high-quality work.

But we’re also keen learners and keen listeners, so we read a lot, listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, and we’re always hungry to find out information. Even if it’s got nothing to do with vegan food or nothing to do with video production. Sometimes you just come across someone on a podcast who’s speaking your language. Even if it’s not specific to your business, you can take elements of what they’re saying.

[H] I often find that there’s the right book at the right time. As an entrepreneur you have to have the humility to take on board the advice that is good, the self-conviction to ignore the advice that is bad and the wisdom to tell the difference. You can’t just act on every single thing everyone tells you, because then you’ll be in this ‘analysis paralysis’ phase and you’ll never make a decision for yourself.

 

What are you looking for in the entries to the Startup Angel competition? What would stand out for you in a submission?

[H] I’m keen to see some problems being solved. We’ve spoken to people who’ve got an idea for a thing that could maybe exist, but it’s not really solving a problem for a specific person. So we’re really keen to see ideas that have a clearly defined problem that a specific group of people are facing, and this business is presenting a solution to that. That’s what we did with our business. People needed vegan recipes so we set about solving that problem.

We also want to see people with real passion and drive and a purpose they believe in. We’re much more excited by someone who maybe hasn’t quite nailed the business idea, but have absolute drive to solve a problem. They’re altruistic and they’re trying to change the world for the better. That’s the thing we really want to see and that’s the person we really want to help.

[I] It will be really nice to see enthusiasm. To see the people applying who are brimming with enthusiasm and really passionate about the things they’re into. We want to be really sold on their abilities and impressed by their level of planning. You’d hope that the plan they’ve made, the figures they’ve worked out and their vision for their own futures and their vision is something that you get excited about yourself. I want to come away buzzing with energy because of the excitement they’ve projected in their pitch. I’m really looking forward to it.

 

When it comes to mentoring, what type of mentor will you be? What do you want people to come away with after a mentoring session with you?

[H] We want to help guide these people to success. We want to do that by listening more than we talk and to help people find their way to the right answer themselves, rather than just talking at them. We’ll listen first, talk second.

When people come away from a mentoring session with us we want them to come away enthused. We want them to feel they’ve been understood and like we’ve helped them find their own way to get to the next stage in their business.

[I] They can expect a good degree of drilling down to understand the questions they’re asking of us and the business they want to build. They can expect a good amount of honesty. We don’t want to lead people down something we don’t truly believe in. Our advice will be well considered, we’ll be extremely enthusiastic, and we’ll be quite fun. They’ll have a good time with us, we aren’t going to be too stern or telling them ‘you need to do this or that’. But they’ll find fun, creative angles in working with us.

 

AXA brings you Startup Angel in partnership with Heart. Hear from the other AXA Startup Angels here: