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Hashemi regrets selling her first start-up Coffee Republic
maintain the passion and enthusiasm for their brand many big businesses forget to nurture. Tehran-born Hashemi, who moved to the UK with her late parents after the Iranian revolution of 1979, admits she regrets selling Coffee Republic and it was partly the invasion of a big business mentality as the company grew that left her disenchanted: “No one had time to go and have a cup of coffee. Those 10 minutes would have been so rich, full of seeing what was wrong with what we were giving customers and yet no one had time.” The old guard, she says, believed in setting up an enterprise then quickly selling it. Her businesses suffered from listening to the wrong people about how to progress, she adds. “I thought being a start-up was a phase you grew out of and that you should get the suits in. I now see we were wrong. We thought the professionals could take care of it.” She says the entrepreneurial spirit and passion for the product is essential to keeping a company going and surviving in a competitive market—something Coffee Republic struggled to do after the Hashemis’ departure as Starbucks, Caffe Nero and Costa expanded exponentially. “I think the founder has a special attachment to the company and by leaving, you take a lot of DNA out of the company.” In Switched On, she condensed the lessons she had learned into eight crucial habits to maintain an entrepreneurial mindset, even as a company expands. They include the notion that entrepreneurial behaviour is for big organisations at every level, not just start-ups, stepping into customers’ shoes, getting out of
the office to inspire creativity and what she calls “the importance of being clueless”—being wary of getting so set in your ways, you miss new opportunities. And she and Bobby, now aged 50, were clueless when they started Coffee Republic, shortly after their father’s death made them rethink their lives. Both turned their backs on a career in the rat race—Hashemi was a lawyer, her brother an investment banker—and the idea was born because Hashemi was opining the lack of skinny cappuccinos and fat-free muffins in the UK capital. Similarly, Skinny Candy was conceived because she was looking for low-calories sweets and chocolates and could not find anything to suit. It made the brother and sister the perfect pairing for their joint venture: she was the ideal customer and Bobby, who went on to found the London pizza chain Pizza Union, was the business brain. “You immerse yourself as if it was a swimming pool, dig in for three months and learn everything,” says Hashemi. “Quite quickly you become an expert.” Philanthropy plays its part in their ventures. A portion of royalties from Anyone Can Do It went to the Prince’s Trust, Prince Charles’s charity supporting young disadvantaged people in business, while Hashemi became a patron of Child Bereavement UK after her mother died seven years ago. She also fronted a Skills for Business government campaign in 2004. She hopes her next book will herald the qualities women contribute to business: “We are not shouting about it enough. There are certainly qualities innate in the female brain which lend particularly well to entrepreneurship.”
“There are certainly qualities innate in the female brain which lend particularly well to entrepreneurship”
2016 MAY / JUNE
Published on May 1, 2016
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