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Finding success in a crowded market is a tall order. Sahar Hashemi – the co-founder of the hugely successful chain Coffee Republic as well as her own venture, Skinny Candy – has done so twice. Having developed Coffee Republic into a major high street brand with a GBP 30 million turnover, Sahar established Skinny Candy in 2005 to fill a gap in the British confectionery market, with the brand making only low-sugar and low-fat sweets and chocolates.
Between launching and building businesses, Sahar has written bestselling books on entrepreneurship, been named as one of Director magazine's Top 10 Original Thinkers and been honored with an OBE from the Queen of England.
1. Where did the idea for your business come from?
First and foremost from myself as a customer – I missed the skinny lattes I had gotten used to on a recent New York trip and couldn't believe that we didn't have NYC style coffee bars in London. I think starting as your own first customer can be the best place to come from. Also my idea for SKINNY CANDY came because I wanted to have guilt-free sweets.
2. Can you describe a typical working day?
I get up around 7.15, have a cleansing hot water lemon then one shot of espresso and I head out to Hyde park for a 50 minute walk with my 2 Jack Russells – because I work from home. Its what is called a "faux commute" – it is necessary to get out and then re-enter to start the day! I travel about twice a week so I love my days at my home office.
3. How do you unwind and relax when you are not working?
Exercise is great. Nowadays you can go to classes like spinning or barre – I find the group activity takes pressure off motivating yourself and there is no temptation to look at your emails half way! And I always end a working day with a hot bath – so there is a cut off point. A lovely dinner with a few glasses of wine also great!
4. What's the secret ingredient for success as an entrepreneur?
Loving what you do – seeing it as a hobby almost – so it doesn't even feel like working even if you're doing it 24/7. And obsession with EVERY single little detail at the beginning – there is no detail too small – your business or your brand is the sum total of a million and one details.
5. What drove you crazy as you were building your business?
Things take time – it took us months to find the right site – and I hate waiting – I wish you could just push a button and it would all be instant, and also other people can drive you crazy – they always try to discourage you and put doubts in your mind.
6. What motivates you to keep going?
My need for a skinny latte as a customer motivated me but I think once you start the process of building a business it gets some momentum – day by day that momentum increases the more you put into it and that energy I think keeps you going. Also in my case I never wanted to go back to being a lawyer, so that was a pretty big motivation!
7. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would never sell a business I started. You built something you love, why would you ever want to leave it and then start all over again?
8. Do you have any habits or routines, which help you in your working life?
I live by a to-do list (I use a great app called Wunderlist). I see a to-do list as the steps you need between an idea and making it happen. I follow my passions – I know that what I enjoy, I will be good at, and vice versa. Also look after yourself – eat well and exercise – you are your business.
9. What book are you reading, or writing now?
I love reading business books – and keep novels only for restricted holiday time – BOLD by Diamantis & Kotler is brilliant, I'm halfway through.
10. Tell us a secret...
I have a huge longing to start another business – I didn't want to before but the desire has suddenly come up.
11. Any final advice for the budding entrepreneur?
If you have an idea up your sleeve, go with it and leap – my motto is LEAP AND THE NET WILL APPEAR