Charlie Francis set up a unique mobile liquid nitrogen ice cream parlour in 2011 and is set to grow his turnover from £60,000 currently to £140,000 in his next year of trading. Lick Me I’m Delicious
How did it begin?
I had been working in the advertising industry but it had got a bit boring for me so I decided to set up on my own. My parents have been making ice cream in Wales for 30 years and it made sense to go into something where I could draw on that experience.
How did you finance it?
I entered a competition with Barclays bank, the (now defunct) Take One Small Step competition. It was like the X Factor for businesses, entrants got given a text number and a website address and had to get as many votes as possible from a panel of judges and members of the public. I spent a lot of time giving out free samples of ice cream and ended up winning £50,000 from that. I also put in another £20,000 of my own savings.
How did you research your business?
My aim was to create a machine of some sort that could make any flavour of ice cream. At the time a chef friend of mine said he had started using liquid nitrogen to freeze his ice cream and the process made for a silky smooth texture of dessert.
I built my first contraption, a portable flat pack ice cream parlour, with a lot of trial and error. Like any entrepreneur when you set up in business you can’t know everything and I spent a year speaking to people in the cryogenics industry to some eccentric professors, people who were willing to share their knowledge. You can get so much expertise for free if you look for it. I spent a year learning, and then six months or so working with different suppliers to build the contraption.
How did you spread the word?
Much of my business comes from events where your image can be quite prominent. My first sales came through PR though. If I had put my marketing budget into magazine [advertising] I wouldn’t have got very much interest but if you create interesting stories and make your business exciting to others you can get a lot of noise in the press.
I ended up getting on BBC News, into the nationals and various other outlets. For us, our target market is quite disparate, anyone from corporates to wealthy individuals. Once I got some PR exposure I started working with events companies and grew through word of mouth, and more PR.
What have been some challenges?
The biggest challenge has been a strategic one: what is the business direction I should take? I originally was going to open a [static] ice cream shop but it’s a very risky venture and a slow growing business requiring a huge amount of start-up capital. I could easily have ended up opening a shop because people had expected me to do that, but going down the mobile parlour route there are more opportunities for me I think.
I am planning to take on more staff, I’ ve got a new product i can’t talk about currently but when it comes out i will be expanding the business.