Name: Tom Cannon
Course: BA History and Politics, MA Modern British History
Roughway Farm Online is an online farm shop and digital space for Roughway Farm. The shop sells a range of delicious farm fresh produce including the highly prized Kent Cobnut, a unique and cultivated variety of hazelnut that has an excellent nutritional profile. When green they have a milky fresh taste and are high in protein so are great for gym goers and those who enjoy natural produce.
Roughway farm was previously run by my grandfather John Cannon who is now semi-retired, and is now managed by my uncle, Giles Cannon. The farm has a rich history and has an original oats house that was an essential part of Kentish beer production. The farm has also featured on BBC Country File and we also had a recent visit from Gleaners. Roughway Farm Online now fits into this story as a separate entity that provides a new and previously untapped sales outlet for the family farm.
What inspired you to set up this business?
I set up the business for a number of reasons; firstly, there is a huge opportunity to let younger people know about Kent Cobnuts which have been declining as a crop. Indeed, Nut Platts (Fields) are a very precious commodity in Kent and are an essential part of the landscape. Only with knowledge and future customers will these fields survive.
I also set up the business because of commercial opportunity. The current market for Kent Cobnuts is buoyant and developing a shop that can connect one of the largest UK growers directly with consumers appeared to be incredibly logical. I also think there is a real prospect to develop bespoke products out of the farm's wide ranging produce. For instance, we could begin developing Raspberry Cider, Apple Juice, Cobnut Brownies and many other delicious treats.
So far the business has had an enormous amount of interest and really healthy sales – I certainly hope that the business will continue to grow. It may be time consuming but I do love every minute!
How did UEA Student Enterprise help you?
UEA Student Enterprise was really helpful, providing both advice and funding. I first approached the team during the last few months of my MA in Modern British History. The initial meeting with Finbarr really helped to focus my mind on what I wanted the business to achieve and he helped me to think about the business and its wider application.
The funding has really helped to establish the business. Various essential website plugins were purchased using the funding and the money has enabled the development of packaging that adds value, develops identity and improves the customer experience. The funds have also helped with digital advertising, which has been priceless due to our initial low ranking on Google for key search terms.
If you have a business idea I can thoroughly recommend approaching the enterprise team. The funding awards are so helpful in the initial stages and really make it possible to turn an idea into an operational business with minimal risk.
What worries did you have while setting up your business, and how did you overcome them?
My main concerns centred on my lack of technical expertise when it came to constructing the site and my evaluation of the market.
In terms of the website I was really focussed on making an effective modern looking website. I wanted to make a visual site that would get people to ask themselves 'is this really a farm website'?
Fortunately, Jake, one of my best mates, was able to build the site and this was essential in turning my idea into reality. We do still need to develop some of the sites pages but I was really pleased with the end result. In hindsight I don’t think I would have got to the current stage without this assistance. Originally, I had planned to build the site myself but it would have been a far slower process and the end result probably would have been quite basic. However, by having help and developing the site together I have learnt so much more. Looking for support is not a bad thing at all and I would recommend to anyone thinking of setting up a business to ask around and develop your own personal network.
My second worry was my evaluation of the market. All the evidence pointed to the fact that there was a high market demand for Kent Cobnuts but until I started making sales there was always a part of me that felt perhaps online is not the place. After all a number of other farms in the Kent Cobnut Association were already selling Kent Cobnuts.
However, thankfully the sales began to come in and although it is still early days the business appears to be going from strength to strength. We are now launching Cobnut gift bags for Christmas and they have already featured on a Taste of Kent stall at a very significant producer’s event.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Having only just started out this is a hard question to answer. However, I would suggest that willpower, attention to detail and a willingness to take risks are all important.
My business is currently quite time consuming, it involves preparing, packaging and processing customer orders to a high standard with a delivery timeframe in mind. This has to be balanced with business marketing and my full time job which means working at weekends and evenings. It is therefore necessary to keep things organised and it does require willpower to dedicate the necessary time to the business. Therefore, willpower really is essential if you want to be a successful entrepreneur.
I also feel that good customer experience is vital in the modern economy and you need the right attention to detail to actually make your business standout. So I would suggest that an entrepreneur should always be looking at the detail of their day to day business operations and think about how to keep innovating and improving. I think attention to detail can also help to avoid costly mistakes.
Finally, a willingness to take risks is so important. Risk doesn't have to be scary; it can be educated and it really drives innovation. Arguably, to be an entrepreneur you have to be willing to take the first risk of launching a business but don’t let this be your last.
What motivates you?
I am motivated by lots of things. The idea of running a business has always appealed and I like having projects to work on. I guess, although clichéd, I am keen to make a difference and I think entrepreneurialism is a good way of achieving this goal.
How do you define success?
To be successful is to be able to remove limitations. For me it is that simple. It may be obvious but to remove limits means you can do more and make the most of life.
Where did your funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? Was UEA Student Enterprise part of this?
My start-up funding came from UEA's Try It Award, which I applied for while studying. The process was fairly simple and the Student Enterprise department were very positive and happy to discuss my idea. My business was totally reliant on the UEA start-up funding and it gave me the initial security to launch the enterprise.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
So far, obtaining my first repeat customer has been my most satisfying business moment, because it is in many ways the ultimate review. It demonstrates the quality and appeal of our products and it is an acknowledgment of all the efforts I have put into the business. Winning customers is one thing, however getting them to return requires dedication and attention to customer service.
What piece of advice would you give to university students who want to become entrepreneurs?
I would say just give it a go! If you have ideas write them down, talk about them and then try them. University is the perfect time to think and it is a safe environment for turning business ideas into reality. The support is there and funding like the Try It Award really makes it so much easier to turn your idea into a reality.