Paul Lindley: making money by doing good

Paul Lindley remortgaged his house to set up his company, Ella's kitchen, to produce healthy baby food that appealed to toddler’s senses. Within eight years, it was turning over £50m a year.


Paul Lindley of Ella's Kitchen

Is it possible to make money and change the world for the better at the same time? Paul Lindley, 49, thinks so. He spent 15 years at Nickelodeon, the children's TV channel, rising to the position of general manager. This kept him on top of trends affecting young children, most particularly the obesity crisis. During this time, Lindley's daughter, Ella, was born. While weaning her, Lindley realised that if he could come up with healthy food that appealed to toddler's senses, he could transform baby food, make it healthier, and fill a gap in the market. So in 2004, he handed in his notice in order to set up Ella's Kitchen.

Lindley had already come up with recipes and was ready to fund a first round of testing from the small amount of savings that he had been able to accumulate. However, when Sainsbury's placed an order with him, he realised that he would have to take a bigger financial risk if he wanted to see his product on the shelves. So he remortgaged his house in order to fund the £200,000 cost of buying stock and turning it into baby food.

Within a year, Lindley had another major retailer requesting supplies. This may sound like a dream come true for an entrepreneur, but for someone still running a business out of his child's playroom, it created a whole new set of problems. Indeed, Lindley admits that it took all his accountancy skills and his experience of managing a large company to deal with the cash-flow demands that such rapid expansion involved. He believes that while many businesses fail because their core idea is bad in which case they never get off the ground many others come a cropper when the conceptturns out to be strong, but they are unable to manage the pace of growth and consequently implode.

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Despite these challenges, rapid success had its rewards. To this day, Lindley's most vivid memory is not the breakthrough deals with the retailers, but the pride he felt when he first saw a used Ella's Kitchen pouch lying in the street. He had a similar reaction when he overheard two strangers on a train praising his firm's range. Indeed, he thinks positive word of mouth has been key to his company's rapid growth. He also believes that Ella's Kitchen successfully created an emotional connection with its customers, rather than simply satisfying an immediate need.

By the time Lindley sold his shares in 2013, to American food group Hain Celestial, Ella's Kitchen had a turnover of £50m. Since then it has grown to have sales of more than $100m and its products are available in more than 40 countries around the world. Lindley remains involved with the company as chairman, but he is also involved in new ventures.

Last year he launched Paddy's Bathroom, named after his son, which offersnatural toiletry products that don't damage the skin of young children. He's especially proud of the fact that it donates a proportion of revenue towards clean-water products in Rwanda, which chimes with his belief that businesses should be able to do good as well as make money. He is also in demand as a speaker, and is due to appear at the upcoming International Festival for Business.

Lindley believes that entrepreneurs need three key attributes if their venture is to succeed where other start-ups fail. They need a genuine passion for the business and a reason to pursue it that extends beyond making money or filling a gap in the market. They also need enough creativity to do something that other businesses haven't done before. The final piece in the puzzle is tenacity. As Lindley says, "you should be prepared to deal with rejection from investors, customers and suppliers, yet still remain tenacious and not give up".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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