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At the start of the first lockdown in March, James Talbot was in a “terrible, terrible place.” His partner, Jake Jones, an on-off baker and coffee roaster, was made redundant because of the pandemic. With nowhere to turn in a struggling hospitality industry and suffering jobs market, the two budding founders started Pobi Bakery Link opens in a new window, something Jake had wanted to do for years - but, equally, something that was always an ‘end goal’ for decades down the line. The Covid-19 crisis gave them the push they needed to start up.

“Overnight we sat down and I said, ‘Right, we need to get you started’,” says James, whose sales background would inform the business side of things. “We launched our website, we applied for all the relevant licences to bake from home, and literally the next day we were baking, the business had been set up and we were going. I’d always thought if I didn’t have an idea that I thought would make me millions of pounds, it wasn’t a good idea. But, if you have something you love and that you share with other people, such as Jake’s love of baking, it makes it so much easier to develop a business from that.”

Months later, Pobi Bakery is a flourishing start-up in their Oxfordshire hometown, delighting everyone from locals to the press, with newspapers and BBC radio covering their story. James is adamant that there has never been a better time to start up than right now. “I think, weirdly enough, now is the one of the prime times to start for multiple reasons. New businesses are really supported at the moment, whereas in the past, high streets were dominated by the big names,” James says.

“Everybody is switching to ‘support local’, everybody wants to see your face and your business and your ideas, and people go to the high street for a completely different reason now. Bigger brands are closing down, but those that are thriving lean into smaller units, are local and provide a service that is slightly different to what you’ve already seen. Your passion leads you to come up with new ideas. I had 10 minutes the other day, so I developed a rye bread! I think that’s the amazing thing about running your own business and having your own hobby: no one is going to tell you that you can’t do it.”

Neither co-founders had experience running a business before Pobi Bakery. “Neither of us have had experience being solely responsible for a business, neither of us have been a Director or even started a Limited Company. We’ve never applied for council licences, bins – silly things you’d never consider and that no one tells you about! But, actually, you do all of the things necessary to run a business in your day job usually. You email people, talk to people, call people, you have meetings, you book things in, you organise council tax for your home...It’s not as hard or as overwhelming as you first think.”

James says the support he and Jake received from Virgin StartUp Link opens in a new window, a Virgin company set up to help start-up businesses accelerate, fund and scale their growth, ensured their business could get off the ground and become more than a home baking service. Not just from a funding perspective, but it provided the couple with vital business advice. “Virgin were extremely supportive: they gave us templates for business plans, they gave us templates for finances, and they want to see you succeed.”

Been there, won that: James’s tips for starting a business in a pandemic

  1. Unemployment, redundancy, they’re all terms that are hugely negative if you focus on the language. So, instead, the way I tried to look at it was like this: each step is a tiny problem.”
  2. “Focus on the little things, try and tick the boxes and, eventually, the big picture will come to life. And if you’re feeling negative, it’s okay - you’re completely entitled and justified to feel the way you feel.”
  3. “Plan well. It’s really, really daunting to have to write a business plan, and to have to physically scribe exactly what you’re going to do on a piece of paper. But, remember, that plan is likely to change over the course of a week, two weeks, six months, a year. It has for us - our business plan has shifted completely since we got the initial loan!”
  4. “Be okay when things change - just float with it. Ask yourselves what will make you happy, but ultimately, ask your customers what they’re looking for and listen to them.”

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Rachel Sullivan
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