I admire people who start their own business – especially when they’re young, still at university, or with limited resources to count on. My admiration has led me to start a series of posts dedicated to entrepreneurs and their new ventures; interviewing friends, family, and interesting people with new ideas, projects and businesses underway. To start off let’s get to the stomach of the matter with a fresh new foodie company which is providing London the best flavored nut butters I have ever tried: Wanderlust Gourmet Nut Butter.

I interviewed the founder and lead chef behind Wanderlust a midst the din of chatter of her university’s welcome fair. Winnie Maganjo is a Kenyan native living and studying in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). But her adventurous spirit left her craving more than just an already stimulating undergrad experience… So she started her own company, from scratch – just like the gourmet nut butters she sells at foodie markets and in stores very soon:
AWP: Tell us a bit about your product and the culture behind your brand, Wanderlust.

WM: Well, it’s really interesting because that has actually changed a lot since we began, because when we started we wanted to be a social enterprise, employing refugee women. But what happened was, along the way I realized I am not at a point in my life where I am able to manage people to this scale.
So for now our core value is to make all-natural nut butters that don’t have any additives, preservatives or added oils; really simple ingredients. And we’re also a very transparent company in everything we do, for example, sourcing most of our ingredients as ethically as possible.

AWP: What made you decide to start this business, especially given the limited resources?

WM: I used to spend a lot of time looking at food blogs; and most of them were American food bloggers who always had these flavored nut butters that they would use in their recipes. But when I moved to the UK, I couldn’t find any… And I remember I’d see many British people commenting on these blogs “Oh, I wish we had these [nut butters] back in the UK” or “when I come to the US I’m going to stock up at Trader Joe’s”, so I knew if I did it, people would actually want it.

AWP: So why the name ‘Wanderlust’?
WM: (laughs) Oh, well the name’s probably changing. But, initially, [it was my friend] who came up with it, and because it was all a bit of an adventure, that’s where the name Wanderlust came in.

AWP: Being a full-time student, how do you manage running a business at the same time?
WM: I started [the business] in January, and at the beginning it was evolving sporadically. But this year is going to be different and it’s going to involve a lot of time management. Obviously my degree comes first and the plan is to treat my degree like a 9:00 to 5:00 job where, during this time, regardless of what happens, I’m focused on my degree. That way I know I have the evenings reserved to schedule meetings with the food buyers or to do sampling in stores… Also, I have an amazing team of volunteers. You know you have a good product when you have a group of people volunteering for absolutely nothing just because they really love and believe in your product.

AWP: So where do you find all the resources and funding you need to begin with?
WM: SOAS has been amazing because they actually gave us some initial funding. But let’s be honest, I’ve been broke for a long time (laughs) because it’s mostly been my personal funding going in. At the beginning it’s very important to learn how to negotiate, and learning how to negotiate is about humbling yourself, asking people for what you need, especially because there is very little or nothing that you can give them back in return. There was this one time where I had an emergency and I needed a bunch of labels on good printing paper in a very short amount of time, and I couldn’t order them online because this would take forever. So I literally walked into my local stationary shop and just negotiated with him and walked out with free labels – I think about 120 or so labels. And that was the first time I realized, wow, you can actually get a lot and people really do want to help you, especially if you’re young and a student, and starting a business, people want to help you. But it’s always good to find a way to say thank you.

AWP: What would be your #1 tip to anyone thinking of, or just, starting a business?
WM: Sort your cash flow out, that’s the most important. I mean, obviously it’s good to have good ideas, but many good ideas have failed because of cash flow. I’m not saying this because I have mine figured out, I’m saying this because it’s something I’m struggling with now, and it’s something I wish I had concentrated on at the very beginning. Another thing I have learnt is to “lean-start” from early on. Literally, if you don’t need it, don’t get it. Like business cards, you think: “business cards – that’s the first thing I need as a new business!” I see people printing out God knows what, and spending so much money on it – really, you don’t need them right now! Start with what you have, and you’ll get the business cards later on. It’s all about prioritizing what’s important.

AWP: Where do you see, or where would you like to see, Wanderlust in the next year or two?
WM: What I’d really love is to see our product in stores all over the nation, and hopefully start to export. We decided to start out with really good quality, independent grocery stores which have a good name, and go from there on to the larger food delis. Because if you call up Waitrose or Whole Foods after you’ve gotten a deal with Selfridges, it’s so much easier to get in.

  • Akshara Vivekananthan

    Well, now I’d like to say I want to see Wanderlust in the US! What an inspiring story, and kudos to Winnie for chasing a dream of hers. The cinnamon peanut butter is calling my name :)

    Simply Akshara