How this Bristol mum found success after a Google boss ate one of her healthy snacks
Kate Percy is all smiles as she invites me into her crooked little attic office on Orchard Street in Bristol.
Sunlight streams through the small window and she apologises for the sloping floor of the old building which, she says, often makes people feel like they’re on a boat.
Boxes of Go Bites – her popular energy ball snacks – are piled up on the end of the desk in the centre of the room and a kettle whistles in the corner.
A cheery face appears in the doorway – Kate’s husband and company co-founder and managing director Mark Bolton-Jones – who works in the office opposite.
“People say ‘how do you work with him?’ but it works well,” said Kate after he disappears.
“We have three children and the youngest left home recently so we can really focus and it’s good.
“I have strict rules where we try not to talk about work at home but it doesn’t work at all; it is our life.”
The duo are the co-founders of Go Faster Foods – a healthy food business that includes a series of books written by Kate, energy snacks and a school education programme.
The company, which incorporated in 2016, is set to turn over half a million by December, Go Bites are now being stocked in Holland and Barrett stores across the UK, and Kate was recently named one of 100 UK game-changing entrepreneurs.
But the road to success has not been a fast one. The idea for Kate and Mark’s company began 18 years ago when Mark was training for the New York marathon.
Kate explained: “He was struggling for energy and I had really got into cooking at the time, so I researched how his diet might help his energy levels and changed the family’s diet.
“We focused on whole grains and everything brown, and cut down on meat and saturated fat. It wasn’t rocket science.”
By 2008, Kate had secured a publishing contract for her book – Go Faster Food – and in 2009 it was flying off the shelves.
A career in health writing followed and more books, and in 2014 Kate began making vegan snacks at home to help with her running.
“I have been cooking since I was three so the recipes just come to me – often in the middle of the night.”
The company’s first customer was Google which, says Kate, is one of her proudest moments.
“We launched the Go Bites at Food Matters Live – a big food show at the Excel Centre in London,” she explained. “The buyer from Google happened to try one of our Go Bites at the event and said it tasted fantastic.
“They usually take products for a three-month period and they took us for two quarters.”
By 2017, Kate had secured a deal with Holland and Barrett – and Go Bites are now stocked in 340 stores in the UK. The company also launched its products in Tesco in February 2018.
She said: “Our vision helped. We are a challenger brand, but with a snack product we are up against Mars and Nestle with huge budgets.
“You have to have something that makes you different. Our passion for our vision helped and they liked our branding.”
But innovation has been a critical lesson, admits Kate, who says Holland and Barrett initially told them Go Bites would be placed in 300 stores and then only put them in 14.
“It was hugely disappointing but we made it work in the end.”
Problems with design and branding have also been a big learning curve, she admits.
“If you don’t feel that something is right you have to dump it and start again.
“[Our product] is vegan but we weren’t telling people that. We changed the packaging, we told people how many calories each one had, we went for bolder colours.
“Tiny little things take such a lot of time. But it is little changes that make us more competitive in the market.”
Alongside producing healthy food snacks and books, Kate and her team also run a schools programme.
Kate has created an ‘Eat Like an Athlete’ programme – a set of resources, lesson plans and workshops – that uses sport as a hook to get kids engaged.
So far the company has worked with 50,000 children around the country.
“I’m really proud of the programme, which really focuses on our vision – to inspire and fuel an active lifestyle.”
Looking to the future, Kate says the business is planning to treble turnover by 2019.
“We are focusing on the UK and the European expansion will happen gradually.
“We have some interest in China and we are already exporting to Hungary – we started last year and we supply the Hungarian air traffic control and several shops, and we are doing really well there.”
Kate’s tip to other business owners is to listen to as much advice as possible.
“It’s your company – you can do it. There will be naysayers, but listen to as much advice as you can so you can make as an informed a decision as you can and listen to your gut.
“No one knows your business better than you.
“Every overnight success takes ten years in the making. It’s hard work, but it’s about sticking to your vision and being authentic.”