Olly Hiscocks fought long and hard for his place in med school, having come from a background in Neuroscience and Psychology. Yet it was his enormous passion for olives that made him give it all up and start an olive retail business, which is now going from strength to strength. We spoke to him to get the story behind his venture, Olly’s Olives.

Tell us about you and your business, well,, olives 🙂

Sure I am a born and bred West Londoner and that is also where the olives reside. We rustle up completely natural and incredibly tasty snack pots of olives. We use fresh ingredients, unique marinades and juicy olives which will blow your olive-loving socks off!

As we all know there are so many olive brands on the market, what is so unique about your offering compared to other olive retailers?

I believe the current olive market does not do these tasty gems justice. All of the current products are housed in the same old packaging, bland branding and far-from tantalising flavours. We want to change this. Olly’s Olives adds colour, character and flavoursome innovation to the olive market. We have introduced 4 brand new flavours and given 2 of the old faithfuls a fresh update. We have also wrapped them in some funky packaging because we don’t want them to just taste good, we want them to look good too.

Pasteurising is also a big no for us and we are one of the only snack olives out there that doesn’t use it. Pasteurisation (and we are not talking about the conversion of an olive into a holy olive) blasts the olives at high temperatures for a short period of time to increase their shelf life. However, this destroys their taste and texture as well as their incredible nutritional value… so why would we do that? We look after our olives so they can look after you, it is pretty much olive pampering!

So who are your typical olive customers?

It is incredible to see how diverse the olive-loving community is. After spending time selling at Duck Pond Market in Richmond, it was clear that the olives were something that all ages were looking to enjoy at all times of the day. That is why I created snack pots of olives that kids can tuck into with their lunch box, the worker can enjoy with their sandwich and your grandma can host olive parties with (well that’s what mine does!)

Where did the olive business idea come from? Any particular event sparkled you?

Very simply, I adore olives and I want to help them reach their full flavoursome potential. After seeing what has happened to the popcorn market, I believe I can do the exact same thing with olives – snack packs with colour, character and innovative flavours! The little rush or tingling hunch that I felt when the idea first came to me was enough to get me up in the morning and start marinading!

Olly Olives_startup_olives

How long have you been working on your own olives brand, and what stage has it reached to date?

The Olly’s Olives Project began in 2014 when, to my parents’ dismay, I transformed my family home into one big olive mixing station. My friends were my guinea pigs and after a number of tasting sessions, the chosen 6 were revealed – The Bandit, The Captain, The Connoisseur, The Explorer, The Hippie and The Veteran. I started selling at a market stall and then soon after built my own website.  As the demand for the olives grew, I decided to turn down my place at Medical School and pursue my olive dream.

Since making that decision back in September, Olly’s Olives has progressed from pots made around the kitchen table with a sticker slapped on, to a shelf-ready product produced in my own olive kitchen. I am stocked in a number of delis, pubs and restaurants and I am looking forward to getting the goods on Ocado in September to continue spreading the olive love far and wide!

How have you funded this idea? Do you have any interesting investment stories?

Up until March this year, I self-funded the olives with a job I juggled at the same time. However, in March I entered the Grocery Accelerator – a competition to find the 6 most innovative food and drink brands in the UK. After 3 rounds of whittling down the original 350 entrants to 12 through taste testing and face-to-face interviews with the founders Rob, Paddy and Simon, I was chosen as a finalist! I couldn’t believe it!

The Finals Day consisted of us meeting and then pitching Dragon’s Den-style to a room of 15 foodies, entrepreneurs and investors. It was nerve-wracking and probably the toughest thing I have ever done but it was all worth because I, along with my trusty 6 olives, won! Thanks to that competition, I will be receiving a £60,000 investment that will give these olives a financial boost to take it to the next level.

Tell us about your working background and how you came to eventually running your own business?

My background is quite a patchwork but mainly revolved around healthcare. I studied Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology at Manchester. I then got a job as a healthcare assistant at an Ealing Park Health Centre whilst also working on a building site to earn some extra cash. This was when the idea came to me. Since then, I have travelled and even took a job in the financial world.

All the people I have worked with and met along the way have helped me create what Olly’s Olives is today. It may be my name on the product but it has been the support from a wide range of people to get it there.

Olly Olives_startup_food market

What about your family background? Any entrepreneurial role model in the family who inspired you?

I have always been encouraged by my family to pursue what I wanted to do and what I believed in. Whether it was completing the building of a matchstick boat when I was 6 or this olive venture, I know I have always got a helping hand from my family and the people around me.

A particular mention to my grandpa who always lived by the saying “To thine own self be true”. With a name like Oliver, the only option for me to really be is an olive! This one’s for you Gramps!

And do you have any interests outside of your passion for olives?

I love travelling and recently got back from a trip to Nepal, India and Sri Lanka with my girlfriend. It was amazing to trek up in the Himalayas and see how people from that part of the world live. It was also incredible in India to meet so many entrepreneurs! Everyone seems to be starting their own business over there and we had endless conversations over their weird and wonderful ideas!

Do you have a role model or a mentor who inspires you?

I ended my employment at a financial services company this month to pursue the olives full-time. I had an unbelievable boss there named Frank Mukahanana. From day one, he always pushed me to improve myself as an individual and was so supportive of the olives – he answered any questions I had about setting up a business and helped me prepare for pitches.

Most bosses, I am told, wouldn’t even dream of helping you on your own venture! He is a truly inspirational guy with eternal optimism, and taught me to keep calm and collected in all situations and most importantly, pursue what you believe in!

Do you have a business partner?

Whilst I do not have a business partner as such, I have an incredible team of people around me. A particular mention to those at Millennium Foods who have helped me perfect the production process and guide me through the exciting world of olives!

Tell us about the most exciting, and the toughest, moments to date since you started the olives adventure?

The most exciting moment has to be winning the Grocery Accelerator competition. The moment when I opened that email to read that the olives and I had been chosen as one of the six winners…pure elation!

It was a really tough call to turn down my place at medical school. I had spent the last two years preparing, pursuing and winning that place. To turn to everyone that had helped me secure that place and say I wasn’t going to take it was tough. However, I have not looked back and I couldn’t be happier with the choice I made.

Have you made any bad decisions along the way? What lessons did you take from this?

It wasn’t exactly a bad decision but it was quite a scary moment!

I was making up my first batches to sell and suddenly thought, “I hope I am making these up correctly and not breaking any food safety rules”. Some say it was stupid, I think it was logical, but I called the biggest olive supplier in the UK and was somehow transferred to their CEO. The conversation started something like this – “Hi, my name is Olly and I am just making up some olives at home, can I ask you a few questions?”. The CEO was clearly baffled as to how I had got through to him and then went on to warn me about the risks of botulism.

Definitely double-checked what I was doing after that. Thank you Mr. CEO!

Was there ever a strange moment where you felt that you were destined to do this?

There actually was! Whilst on a train from Goa, my girlfriend had fallen asleep and I had got engrossed in a conversation with the Indian guy opposite me. I had told him that we had stayed on Morjim Beach near Goa and then later got onto the story about my olives. The sheer excitement in the mans’ eyes when he saw the tattoo of a turtle that I have on my right ankle – “Mister – did you know that Morjim Beach is the nesting ground of the Olive Ridley Turtles? It is fated!”

Absolutely mental!

Tell us about your plans for the company for the next few years

I name my plan the ‘Olivelution’ – the goal is to add some colour, character and innovation to the olive world as well as giving the people of the UK the best looking and tasting olives.

If in 3 years Olly’s Olives becomes the go-to brand for the olive community (which I know it can), I will be a very happy man.

Olly Olives_body_branding

Any advice you can offer to those of our readers who are thinking of starting something on their own?

I am not a start-up expert, I am not a food expert and I am not an olive expert (yet!). I am a guy who had an idea that I thought was cool. The hardest part is putting it out there and hoping that everyone else thinks it’s cool too.

If you have an idea that you truly believe in, do it because more often than not, everyone else will believe in it too. Follow the dream and don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way!