From Spreadsheets to Healthy Drinks

“When you make such a big change, things are always going to go wrong. That's just part of it.”

Image of Andy Sugden

From Spreadsheets to Healthy Drinks

Andy Sugden quit his corporate job to turn an innovative side-project into a business. Here's how he enlisted the help of others, overcame tight finances, and created a career he's proud of.

What work were you doing previously?

A desk job for a large professional services firm.

Basically I dealt with lots of numbers and lots of spreadsheets!

What are you doing now?

I'm a Worker Bee / Co-founder at Just Bee Drinks.

Why did you change?

Just Bee started as a fun evenings-and-weekends project with a friend (Joe).

We developed healthy drinks using honey instead of added sugar or artificial sweeteners. Joe's dad is a beekeeper in Lancashire and with sugary soft drinks being featured in the news quite a lot, we thought making healthy drinks using honey would be a great idea.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?

Joe and I had taken the idea as far as we could in evenings and weekends.

We'd developed all the recipes, designed the packaging and website. The only thing we didn't have was customers, so we realised that if we were really going to make Just Bee into a proper business, we'd need to focus on it full time and that meant leaving our old day jobs.

Are you happy with the change?

Yes!

The twelve months since we left our jobs and launched Just Bee have been really exciting and lots of fun. We've had some great success with the drinks getting listed in Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason.

What do you miss and what don't you miss?

I miss working as part of a large team of people.

On the other hand I don't miss the slow decision making of a big organisation. Joe and I can chat through things and make decisions very quickly which means we can then focus on getting whatever we decide done.

How did you go about making the shift?

I was very fortunate that my old boss was extremely supportive of my career change plans. He saw it as an opportunity for me to learn and develop, even if the venture didn't work out as we were hoping.

He was able to arrange for me to take three months' unpaid leave from my job so that I could see what it was like. I had been really nervous about telling him about Just Bee because I wasn't sure how he was going to react but it turned out to be a great decision because he was so supportive. In truth, I think he expected that I'd be back after three months.

What didn't go well? What 'wrong turns' did you take?

We took plenty of wrong turns, some of them very big.

Like missing our first packaging print deadline by three hours and therefore having to wait an extra month before we could even get the drinks made.

But I think when you make such a big change into a new role or industry, things are always going to go wrong. That's just part of it and a great way of learning quickly!

How did you handle your finances to make your change possible?

Joe and I both had to tighten our belts and watch our finances very closely because in the early stages of the business we obviously didn't have an income.

However, in some ways, because we were setting up a new business that was a bit easier. For example, working from home every day I could make my own lunch, which was a lot cheaper than when I'd been working in my old office job and used to buy from an expensive sandwich shop every day!

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

Moving from a job which was relatively comfortable and where I knew exactly what I was doing, to a role and industry where I knew pretty much nothing.

That was quite scary, and also at times very frustrating, but overall that challenge was also exactly what made it really exciting.

What help did you get?

Speaking to as many people as possible that had done the same thing.

Either people who had left their jobs to start their own businesses or people who had lots of experience in the food and drinks industry.

What resources would you recommend to others?

Look for local entrepreneur or small business start-up clubs.

They're a great way to meet similar people doing similar things and for everybody to share information and experiences.

What have you learnt in the process?

I've learnt that while it's important to speak to as many people as possible, everybody has different tips and opinions and ultimately decisions have to be my own.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

So far, nothing.

There have been plenty of mistakes made along the way but I wouldn't go back and change anything because that's all part of building a business.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Ask lots of questions, be prepared to make mistakes, and always see mistakes as learning experiences.

To find out more about Andy's business, visit www.justbeedrinks.co.uk

What lessons could you take from Andy's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at hello@careershifters.org.