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with Harriet Hastings, Founder & CEO, Biscuiteers

Disruption Diaries

with Harriet Hastings, Founder & CEO, Biscuiteers

The startup journey is ruthless, with almost 60% of small businesses in the UK failing within three years. Why do start-ups sink or swim? What are the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur?

In this new series, Jo Dalton Founder of JD & Co, chats with founders who are defying the odds and leading the way in their industry, hoping to inspire the next generation of trailblazing entrepreneurs in the process.

Harriet Hastings founded Biscuiteers in 2007 - a quintessentially British brand, offering a unique gifting experience. This pioneering e-commerce brand, famed for their personalised biscuit-delivery service, has gone on to open two boutiques in London's Notting Hill and Belgravia, and in 2019 unveiled the Ministry of Biscuits: a purpose-built production space and HQ in Wimbledon, operating with a staff of more than 200.

We sat down with Harriet to talk about her entrepreneurial journey; from navigating a competitive market, to scaling manufacturing and hiring a passionate team, plus her sage advice for new founders.

The origin story

With the food gifting industry poised for big growth in 2007, Harriet identified a niche for customisable and stylish gifts, and seized the opportunity. And so, Biscuiteers was born. As a disruptor in the personalised gifting space, the brand was founded under the banner, “why send flowers when you can send Biscuiteers?”.

“The ambition was to effectively create a whole new sector in the personalised gifting market. The biscuit is the vehicle for the idea – biscuits are the perfect canvas on which we can create beautiful, bespoke designs.”

The company you keep

In addition to Biscuiteers’ extensive direct-to-consumer e-commerce business, their beautiful products are available to purchase in key luxury retail brands including Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, and Selfridges, amongst others. Harriet has also built a hugely successful corporate business which works with major fashion brands like Cartier, Mulberry, Gucci, and Chanel.

“When we launched the business, we decided that we would employ artists in the widest possible sense.”

Biscuiteers has also partnered with Vogue, creating a biscuit collection of iconic covers for the Vogue 100 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, and last Christmas worked with Christian Dior on 20,000 bespoke biscuit designs, sold exclusively at Harrods. More recently they have collaborated with Nespresso on their Après-Ski Christmas range, creating a bespoke biscuit collection and in-store gingerbread installations.

Don’t just be the first – be the best

“If you want to create a sector, you want to have lots of other people coming into it. So then our challenge is to remain the best. The aspirational brand that is hard to replicate.”

Harriet is no stranger to navigating a saturated market and staying competitive, and credits the company’s manufacturing ability - which reaches far beyond their competitors - as the unique formula behind Biscuiteers' success. Their HQ in Wimbledon already handles 3 million biscuits a year and there are plans in action to build double that capacity.

“We set out on a mission to demonstrate that you can take a product that is essentially artisanal and made by hand, and you can scale it – and then people will value it for the effort that's gone into it. Our customers really understand the amount of time and love that goes into making our biscuits.”

This understanding of what drives their consumer is at the heart of everything Biscuiteers does. Gifting is seen as a 360 degree experience.

“We’re trying to get this right with every touchpoint: from buying our product on the website, to the experience of gifting it, to the talkability and shareability around it.”

A hire power

When it comes to company leadership and hiring your closest colleagues, the Biscuiteers approach is one of passion over profession.

“What I'm really hiring for is a passion to work for this business. I'm not interested in a long CV, because skills can be acquired. But passion... I can’t give someone that.”

Running a high growth business requires a specific hiring mindset. At Biscuiteers, the best candidates are problem-solvers who enjoy the top-to-bottom culture, but Harriet is frank about the nature of the startup landscape.

“While everybody thinks working in startup situations is what they want to do, in practice it's not for everybody. In businesses like this, you're always looking for people who are not afraid to really get down in the weeds.”

By her own recognition, startup culture can be full on but it also presents opportunities to do things differently, learn from failures, and build something even better.

“What I'm really looking for now is for people to challenge me. I think you need to actively look for people who aren't the same as you. Otherwise at some point, the business just stands still.”

Finding your why

Most successful founders are driven by a commitment to their mission, a vision that serves as a North Star through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. So what is Harriet's own ‘why’?

“At the end of the day, I'm proud of the business that my husband and I have created. I'm proud that it's a manufacturing business. And now that we’ve brought it to this point, I want to see it have a real, incredible future as a brand, ideally beyond the UK. And to feel that we have genuinely created disruption in the personalised gifting market and added a new dimension to it.”

Harriet's wise words for aspiring entrepreneurs:
  • Doing the doing “The important thing is to get on with it. If you knew everything that you needed to know at the beginning, you'd probably never do it.”

  • The importance of self-awareness “Have a level of self-awareness about what you're good at and what you're not. A lot of businesses don't get where they should because marketing becomes a bolt-on at the end that nobody's thought about. Particularly for consumer businesses, it’s the DNA. Everything you do is a marketing exercise, whether it's hiring staff or raising money.”

  • Prioritise discoverability “Really think about whether or not you've worked out how to make your product discoverable. Then you need to bring people in to support you with the skills that you don't have, because none of us have all the skills. And those are the kind of people that you need around you.”

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