A little tension in the home life can be a great spur to entrepreneurship, according to Jennifer Irvine.
She founded The Pure Package, an upmarket home delivery service of ready-made dietary meals, after her investment banker husband complained that she was not pulling her weight as a housewife.
The London-based business was started without recourse to a bank loan and has been cash flow positive from day one because Ms Irvine hit upon the idea to make customers pay at least 10 days in advance. But even this plan was cooked up to maintain a quiet life at home, Ms Irvine admits.
“I had confidence in what I was doing but I didn’t want [my husband] to knock me back and say, ‘honey, I told you it wouldn’t work’, or to complain that I’d wasted all his money.”
Ms Irvine also blames a thinly veiled divorce threat from her other half for her decision to move from her kitchen to its current home at New Covent Garden market, where the company hand-picks produce from the UK’s largest single source of fresh foods every morning.
“One of my best decisions was moving the business out of the house quite early on, but I did it primarily be-cause my husband told me that if the business didn’t go, he would.”
She adds that he probably had a point given that she had just installed a six foot square cold room in their garden.
Ms Irvine continues to keep a tight rein on spending in areas such as marketing, where the business has grown through word-of-mouth recommendations and judicious lobbying of food journalists. The resulting press coverage paid dividends, with celebrities such as Ruby Wax and Patsy Kensit becoming early converts.
The corridor to the company’s toilet is a gallery of celebrity portraits, installed to remind the staff who they are cooking for.
Many of The Pure Package’s well-heeled clients continue to pay months in advance for their three balanced meals a day, enabling the business to expand quickly while maintaining high standards in food quality and the delivery service.
In a little over two years of trading, the business has produced over 170,000 meals and failed to deliver only three.
Only now is Ms Irvine considering her first advertising campaign, using London buses to promote her service to London mums on the school run. Her main concern is that the campaign will prove too successful and overstretch her small team of packers and delivery staff.
“The way I grow my business is by attracting opinion leaders. I would rather charge people more for our service than compromise the quality of the service by overstretching ourselves.”
Ms Irvine continues to believe that her greatest challenge is to maintain a happy domestic life while running a fast growing business.
“When I was working at home, I would make sure everything was back in place by six o’clock when my husband got home. If I had anything really pressing I would sneak out of bed in the middle of the night and sort it out so it wasn’t a big deal.”
Even as the business has expanded, Ms Irvine has retained the policy of refusing to allow staff to work beyond six o’clock.
She also shuts the office on Sundays and during the week between Christmas and New Year, but insists that this causes no problems for customers or the smooth operation of The Pure Package.
“Our clients are busy professional people. A lot of them go to the country for the weekend, so they are glad to have all their food for the two days delivered on Saturday morning.”
As if this was not enough of a constraint on a fledgling enterprise, Ms Irvine gave birth to her first child, Lily, three months ago.
The young mother has cut her office time down to two days, but insists that she can maintain control of the business growth, largely by writing up extensive plans for a range of potential pitfalls.
“I hate stress. So whenever I imagine a stressful situation I think the whole thing through and the stress goes away.”
To prove her point, Ms Irvine grabs a folder from the shelf containing chapters such as “office burns down” and “fridge breaks”.
She also flashes a notebook, filled with solutions to such problems. “Ideas come to me in the bath or the middle of the night when I have nothing else to think about, so it is important to keep a notebook beside the bed.”
The business has already weathered several potential disasters, including a break-in when thieves managed to steal all of the PCs. In this case, Ms Irvine had backed up all the company’s data to a computer in her home so operations continued as normal.
Ms Irvine’s ultimate aim is to export The Pure Package service to other bug cities, such as Tokyo and New York, and extend the brand into other areas such as holidays and personal training services.
She has already been flown out to Lisbon and Moscow by people keen to acquire a franchise and has spent a large amount of money trademarking her product across Europe.
Ms Irvine describes her big visions for the business, but adds that she does not want to rush abroad if it means compromising the quality of her London service.