Could your boss mentor you while you’re building a business?

Mentoring
iStock/EmirMemedovski
Christian Annesley
Staff writer
BusinessZone
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What’s the dream ticket for someone thinking of starting a business? How about being able to create that business while working their day job with the blessing and support of their manager?

It might sound far-fetched but it happens more than you might think.

Take Chris Holland, who founded his waste management business Waste Source in 2010 with help from the founders of the business he was working for at the time, pies-and-restaurants business Pieminister.

A chance worth taking

So how did it all come together – and what role did his mentors play?

“Prior to taking a procurement role at Pieminister I had toyed with setting up a business, but I had a child on the way and thought better of it. There was too much risk,” begins Holland.

One of the first spending lines Holland looked at once he got his feet under the desk at Pieminister was waste.

“I was shocked at the costs attached and could immediately see that the right kind of waste brokerage could really support a growing SME like Pieminister. It could keep a lid on costs and help the business to better understand the opportunities around this compliance obligation and efficiency opportunity.”

Holland followed through quickly, as he found out more about what was at stake.

“I soon pitched to Tristan Hogg, one of the founders of Pieminister. I said: ‘I have this idea and it could save you a third on your waste costs for starters. Do you mind if I set it up independently?’ Tristan said yes straightaway, on the basis it wouldn’t interfere with the day job.”

So that’s how Waste Source started. Not with a chuck-it-all-in-and-work-for-yourself moment, but as a side project with added benefits.

“Everything for Waste Source was on my time, and Tristan was onside, but the opportunity was so much bigger because my day job with Pieminister also opened doors to new opportunities and enabled fast-track learning,” says Holland.

Step by step

Waste Source has a network of 200-plus waste companies today, but it started with just two suppliers.  

“Yet the savings were there to be seen from the start. Pieminister was putting food waste into general waste when I joined, so just changing that practice delivered a good saving.

“And all the meetings I was having with fruit and vegetable suppliers and similar opened up new conversations with organisations that also had room for improvement and room to make savings,” adds Holland.

Mentor magic

What about the mentoring dimension? How did it work as things took off?

“There are a few aspects to this,” begins Holland. “One thing Tristan did for me was to grow my network, by introducing me to businesses that in time became clients, like the Thali Cafe chain of Indian restaurants in Bristol. Needless to say, that kind of introduction is invaluable, even if you still have to demonstrate the value your business can deliver.”

Hogg also helped with the business basics, particularly the art of negotiation and relationship-building with new clients.

“Procurement in many contexts is often about trying to get the best-priced deal, but there is more to business than that.

“There are ways of exploring spend strategies with clients where you aren’t just talking about price in some sort of race to the bottom, but are creating value while passing on insights and knowledge, and putting a price on that value. It’s a productive way of doing business – and everyone wins,” he says.

It’s the relationship, stupid

The point Holland is making also has to do with valuing relationships, and Waste Source’s strategy of seeking out businesses that share an ethos and that buy into the opportunity they are presenting.

“As a business Waste Source values sustainable sourcing and long-term relationships. That is where we have come from as a business. We have never been about beating up clients or our providers on the price. There is a bigger picture – and we want relationships. The industry we entered in 2010 was one where waste brokers had a bad reputation. I think that’s changing now, but it’s what we inherited and where our opportunity came from.”

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