Fraser Doherty started selling jams to his neighbours aged 14. Ten years on, he’s one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. His company SuperJam now supplies Waitrose, Tesco and ASDA and he is the first non-American to win the Global Student Entrepreneur of the Year award. As part of our new series on Future Leaders, I met with Fraser in London for a chat about leadership, social purpose and jam.
What motivated you to set up SuperJam?
For me, starting a business isn’t about trying to get personally wealthy. But thankfully SuperJam is profitable, which gives me a lot of freedom in how I chose to live my life and run my business! We’ve sold many millions of jars of SuperJam around the world and that has given me funds to develop new products. It’s also allowed me to invest in other young entrepreneurs’ companies, giving me a chance to share what I’ve learned with other people trying to get their ideas off the ground.
What’s your plan for the near future?
We are launching new flavours of SuperJam! We’re also exploring new international markets and creating new products, such as peanut butter, honey and chocolate, with great stories behind them.
As my business started to make money, a number of years ago I decided to register a charity so that I could run projects that would give something back to the community. When my grandmother originally made jam, she would make jam and scones and visit all of the elderly people in local care homes. I figured that it would be fitting to do something like that, but on a big scale. We’ve since hosted hundreds of free tea parties for elderly people in care homes, community centres and hospitals across six or seven countries.
Have the SuperJam Tea Parties had any impact on your business?
Although I don’t run the tea parties with any commercial expectations, I have found that the business has benefited from media coverage and also generally from people buying our products because they believe in what we stand for.
What qualities does a business need in order to grow in a changing world?
I think it’s really important to know what your message is – why should anyone want to buy your product? The world is so noisy and, frankly speaking, nobody cares about you or your idea. So, you’re going to have to be very clear about what your message is and put all your energy into trying to get that one simple message across to people. Maybe they’ll get it – and maybe if they get it they’ll buy your product.
What qualities do you think a business leader needs in order to deliver positive impact on the world?
It’s really important to define your ‘holy cows’. What are the things that, ethically, you would never do. What are the things that you are choosing to make a stand on? If you try to fight every battle, you end up with a little organic health food store with handwritten signs and no customers. It might be ethically ‘pure’, but it doesn’t make an impact.
Given the opportunity, would you change the strategy for SuperJam’s growth at all?
I’ve got plenty of things wrong over the past ten years! Thankfully I’ve learned enough so that when I help other people or start new things myself, it’s a lot easier than it was first time around. When I do it all again, I’ll chose to be braver and more extreme in what I’m standing for.
How do you balance social impact and growth?
It’s really important to define your ‘holy cows’. What are the things that, ethically, you would never do? What are the things you are willing to compromise on? And what are the things you’re choosing to make a stand on? If you try to fight every battle, you end up with a little organic health food store with handwritten signs and no customers – it might be ethically ‘pure’ but it doesn’t make an impact.
How do you see your career developing?
I’m currently sitting on a couple of advisory boards, and would love to continue to help businesses by sharing my experience with them.
How would you sum up your approach to leadership?
I think it’s been important for me to accept that there is no perfect model – for life or for business – you can just try to stand up for some of the things you believe in. By giving it your best shot, you can hopefully make some kind of difference, and you shouldn’t underestimate how important that might be for someone, but you can’t expect to change everything.