An entrepreneur from a young age, James Abbott always dreamt of setting up his own company. As a child he would sell juice to his neighbours from a stall on his driveway, unaware that this boyhood business enthusiasm would eventually lead to shaking up cocktails for big name brands such as Sky, Mini, Adidas and Thomas Cook.
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He picked up from where he left off with his neighbours when he was at university and his studies required him to come up with a new company. “At the time I was working in a fantastic cocktail bar which provided some of the best training in the industry,’ he explained. “So, I researched to see if I could hire those skills out for events.”
He later discovered that the business he was creating for his Business Studies course at Leeds Beckett University had legs and could provide him with a career path. “During my market research I found there was a real gap in the market for providing a premium bar service outside of the city centre. This was in my last semester, so as soon as I finished university I looked to start Mix & Twist.”
It quickly became apparent that a few barriers stood between him and his company. Firstly, he needed sales experience. So, while creating a business plan and securing finance, he worked as a salesman. He also lacked marketing knowledge. “This is absolutely key in business and must be learnt,” says James. “I signed up to a marketing course and went to conferences and read as many books on the subject as possible.”
As for some many other budding entrepreneurs, however, funding proved to be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. Leeds-based James approached the banks but they required him to put in half of the capital required, money he simply didn’t have having just finished several years of education. So, he turned to a government-backed Start Up Loan.
In 2017 start-ups in the accommodation and food sector were lent a whopping £7,265,362 to help make their business dreams a reality, with food and drinks business among the most common companies given a leg up. Yorkshire and the Humber region received the most out of any UK region for pubs and bars, more than London, the East of England and Wales combined. There’s clearly something in the water.
James explains how important this is to a new company: “The start up loan was an amazing opportunity as it was an affordable rate.” He continues: “Money is the life blood of business and it’s vital you spend your income on things that are going to grow your business, making those decisions on what money should be spent on was a learning curve.”
This is where he found mentors and business advisors a great source of information and support. From a pocket money boosting idea to an academic project and now, thanks to funding, a real world business, James’ dream has now gone from strength to strength.
“I started with a small team of around five freelancers for events and ran the business by myself for the first two and a half years. We now have a team of 50 freelance staff and an employed team of four.”
Mix & Twist now delivers more than 350 events a year nationwide. Its mission: ‘to provide a premium mobile cocktail bar experience with entertaining bartenders for private and corporate events, focusing on our clients and their guests having a fun and stress-free experience’.
Like most business, Mix & Twist has had obstacles to overcome: “One time at an event, it was a 21st birthday, and right at the start, I ripped my pants carrying the bar. It was all the way up the back, my boxers were fully on show and I had to do the 4-hour event trying not to turn around”. While it might be an amusing anecdote, James’ funny tale aptly demonstrates a determination to meet any challenge life throws at him and probably goes a long way to explaining his success. Turnover has doubled year-on-year since launch in 2012 and Mix & Twist earned the ‘Independent Business of the Year’ crown at the Yorkshire Choice Awards in April.
How could the next generation of entrepreneurs channel their in-built understanding of what makes a good business? James advised: “Learn as much as you can about business, many people are great at something or have a great idea and start a business around it but business is more than that, it takes so many different disciplines but these can be researched, learnt and implemented.”