Can pop-ups kick start your start-up?

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Pop-ups have become quite commonplace in London. More and more start-ups are using them to create the necessary momentum needed to kick start their start-ups. Pop-up restaurants are by far the most popular as that industry in particular has quite a high incidence of closure within the first couple of years of trading. Apart from testing the waters with your concept, pop-ups can be used to build a fan base, save towards a permanent site and to get your start-up off the ground.

I’ve put together a few case studies of how pop-ups have helped entrepreneurs get their start-ups going.

Case Study #1 - Tiger Dram

Tiger Dram is the latest brainchild of Cornish Tiger proprietor and award-winning film writer and producer Zia Trench. Cornish Tiger itself has picked up plaudits for giving Londoners the chance to dine on sophisticated, ethically sourced cuisine with first-class service in a relaxed setting. Tiger Dram brings together a tapas style approach to traditional Indian cuisine and Zia’s love for whiskey under one roof.

I spoke to Zia who went down the pop-up route to “road test” her idea without fully investing thousands for a permanent site.

“The London's restaurant scene is fiercely competitive and having fantastic food and an original concept alone doesn't mean you'll get noticed let alone make it.”

Zia lists the benefits of having a pop-up as being able to test her concept and being able to respond better to the current marketplace by testing out whether or not her food will be well received especially as it faces such tough competition from well-funded rivals.

Case Study # 2The Pizza Pilgrims

Thom and James Elliot are two pizza loving brothers who knew nothing about pizza apart from that they wanted to make it for a living. They embarked on a pilgrimage to Italy to find out everything they needed to know about the much loved dish so that they could produce the finest pies in London.

When I spoke to Thom and James, they told me that the reason they decided to go down the pop-up route was simple because they hadn’t had enough money to rent a proper venue straight off the bat. Having a pop-up however seemed to be a risk free way to make pizza.

“As it turns out - there were so many benefits to doing a pop up. You get to test your concept for a limited time, it has a great promotional angle as people are always attracted to things that will not be there forever and you can prove to yourself whether it was something you want to do long term.”

Being novice entrepreneurs, the due learnt many lessons the hard way however they now run 5 successful pizzerias in the City and have recently partnered with Samsung to launch the new limited edition Galaxy TabPro S. The device features a top tips and insights package for budding entrepreneurs.

Their top tip for making sure your pop-up doesn’t run into trouble: “Make sure you have a lease, or a proper agreement, for the full proposed length of your pop-up. We built our first on a roof in Brick Lane (carrying every brick of a pizza oven up 7 flights of stairs with no lift) and then were told we had to move after one week!”

Case Study #3 – Som Saa

Andy Oliver, Mark Dobbie & Tom George met in London in 2009 at the Michelin starred Nahm restaurant under the tutelage of David Thompson. When they decided to set up their own restaurant the young team were looking for a pop-up that would allow them to look and feel like a proper restaurant – the site they found at in Climpson’s Arch meant that they were able to do around 120 covers per night – so larger than the average pop-up. They had an open ended agreement for a minimum of 3 months and in the end they stayed for 7 months before looking for a permanent site and carrying out the fundraising via Crowdcube to do so. They set a target of £550,000 in order to take their pop-up permanent and managed to raise a total of £700,000!

The restaurant has been a huge success and has had rave reviews.

Tom explained that the main benefit of setting up a pop-up for him was being able to prove the concept of Som Saa at a fraction of the cost of huge capital outlay of setting up a permanent restaurant. In the end they spent around £10,000 to get their restaurant going. The success of the pop-up meant that they were able to raise funds via Crowdcube from existing customers and dedicated fans rather than have to find the capital themselves for a more permanent site. He reckons that as a young restaurant entrepreneur in London, you need a minimum of £700,000 to just start an independent restaurant; independents are very popular with diners, but in reality very few make it because of the prohibitive cost of setting one up and the risk you take to do so.

So there you have it, pop-ups are a proven success in one of the toughest start-up industries to conquer. They are a cost-effective way to test your concept, build your fan base and really are a great way to get your idea off the ground.


Melina HarrisComment