Starting a Business during a Pandemic

Starting a Business during a Pandemic - Russell and Atwell

I think we’ve all run out of superlatives to describe the unprecedented events of recent months. COVID-19 has caused incredible suffering mentally, physically and financially for millions and, while I think I’ve had a mild form of the virus, I and most of my family and friends have kept mostly healthy and happy and I am incredibly thankful for this.

Now, to the reality of starting a business in a pandemic. Well, firstly, we didn’t set out to do this. Our business idea was hatched towards the end of 2019 when everything felt ‘normal’ and COVID-19 was a small event in Wuhan. In many ways, not much changed for us: we had always planned to launch in the autumn of 2020 and start selling directly to consumers.

However, we had our fair share of problems and adjustments to make…

During product development in March, we had to shift from face-to-face consumer groups to ‘Zoom’ groups, dropping product samples off in little bags onto doorsteps for our four lead tasters.

In fact, in the middle of the March 'Zoom' chocolate tasting session, I put my pen-down and stopped writing, having quite suddenly lost all sense of taste and smell (pretty critical when designing new products!). Beyond that I felt tired for a few days, but was otherwise largely unaffected. Writing this in September, I feel fine, but taste & smell are only partially recovered. 

We were further hit when our artisanal manufacturer had to close in April, costing us about 6 weeks in development.

And while Steve was wrestling with living on his own in Birmingham, I had the challenge of four people at home fighting for broadband, two kids home-schooling and shopping for shielding parents.

There were positive moments too.

It felt hugely uplifting to be dropping/posting pouches of chocolates for mass-testing to friends and family locally. 

Our friend Carl with his impressive 'Lockdown' locks, receiving a pouch of chocolate

(Our friend Carl with his impressive 'lockdown locks' receiving a pouch of chocolate to test and feedback.)

Emails and texts titled 'free chocolate tasting' had replies as rapid as the smiles were broad when we delivered.

Life during lockdown became much more local and connected, and Steve and I felt real support for our nascent business. Businesses helped each other too. When the courier let us down (again) the wonderful Lewis, one of the Wainwright's beekeepers, saved the day by driving from Anglesey to Birmingham for 7am to hand-deliver honey for our May trial (see photo with his van).  

And now?

We're here, not really on the other side, but making progress and finally launching our dream chocolate products to what I hope will be a positive response.

In the meantime, and regardless of whether you buy our chocolates, I hope everyone who reads this is staying healthy, happy and safe.

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