The Big interview: SuperJam entrepreneur Fraser Doherty

SuperJam entrepreneur Fraser Doherty reveals how to launch a business from blank page to first order in just 48 hours.
Fraser Doherty has a new book out about creating a start-up business in 48 hours.  Photograph: Greg MacveanFraser Doherty has a new book out about creating a start-up business in 48 hours.  Photograph: Greg Macvean
Fraser Doherty has a new book out about creating a start-up business in 48 hours. Photograph: Greg Macvean

Scotland’s “jam boy” may have grown up a bit in the decade or so since becoming one of the youngest people ever to supply a UK supermarket, even sprouting a beard on the way, but he still manages to exude youthful charm and a child-like zeal for new challenges.

Fraser Doherty’s journey from 14-year-old schoolboy making jam based on his grandmother’s recipes to twenty-something serial entrepreneur and motivational speaker has been well documented. The milestones on the way include securing a listing, in 2007, for more than 100 Waitrose stores across the UK before branching out into Tesco and beyond. His sugar-free SuperJam range can now be found on thousands of supermarket shelves in countries as far flung as Australia, Finland and Russia. It has even gained something of a cult following in South Korea.

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The jam venture has since branched out into hosting tea parties for elderly people who live alone, in care homes or in sheltered housing. It has hosted scores of such events across the UK, featuring live music, a wee bit of dancing, scones, tea and, naturally, lashings of SuperJam.

Edinburgh-born Doherty is also a co-founder of Beer52, which has grown rapidly to become one of Britain’s largest craft beer clubs with ambitions to replicate its success in a number of overseas markets.

Since 2010, he has been “Entrepreneur in Residence” at London Metropolitan University, delivering lectures and speeches on how to cut it in the big bad world of business.

No surprise, then, to find Doherty scooping a string of awards and accolades on the way, including Outstanding Young Person of The World Award, in 2007, and John Logie Baird Innovation and Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland gongs just a year later. He has also made it through as a finalist in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, NatWest Enterprise Awards and Ben & Jerry’s “Join our Core” contest, among others.

There has even been time to pen the odd book in between the bouts of jam making, beer sampling, globe-trotting and public speaking. Following on from The SuperJam Cookbook, in which he shared his jam-making secrets with the world, and SuperBusiness, a book about his story and everything he has learned, Doherty – now with an MBE after his name and still only 27 – has just released 48-Hour Start-up. Essentially a check-list guide to launching a business from blank page to first order in the space of a single weekend, the book also sees Doherty shed some light on where budding business folk frequently come unstuck.

“When I first did SuperJam I did things the long way and the wrong way,” confesses Doherty, speaking ahead of an Edinburgh International Book Festival event last week to promote the new publication.

“It took me years to get the packaging right, get a factory and convince the supermarkets to take my products on and I thought if I had known these things from the beginning I could have done them a lot more efficiently.

“I looked at how long you actually needed to start a business and if it would be possible to do it in a couple of days, over a weekend say. It is quite amazing what you can achieve if you focus entirely on it and turn off other distractions.”

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Doherty, who at an even tender age than his jam-making debut was busy flogging bacon door-to-door, is adamant that any “wantrepreneur” with the right mentality can make the leap from great idea to marketplace. He even talks in the book of this fear of failure or endless procrastination as being “a very curable disease”. The guide, he asserts, can be taken as a “cheat sheet”, providing an essential blueprint for getting that dream off the ground.

“Most ideas have been done but they haven’t always been done that well,” Doherty observes. “I think there are lots of opportunities to reinvent everyday things. People often think that an entrepreneur has to invent something when in truth it may be preferable to come up with a better way of doing something already out there. You don’t need to come up with some wacky idea.”

He adds: “A lot of people have an idea or a dream to start their own business, but they never get round to taking the first steps. I simply wanted to guide people through the key practical steps that they need to take.”

These days, a fair amount of Doherty’s time is devoted to the burgeoning Beer52 project. The Edinburgh-based craft beer club came about after Doherty’s now business partner, James Brown, embarked on a motorcycle trip across Europe with his father, during which they visited many bars and breweries. Upon his return, Brown junior hooked up with Doherty and the pair hit upon the idea of a beer club, offering members a monthly selection of hand-picked craft ales and lagers from around the world delivered directly to their doors. The variable tariff subscription model also offers big incentives for existing members to bring newbies into the fold.

An accompanying magazine, Ferment, to which Doherty contributes, has become the largest-circulation publication on the booming craft beer scene in the country and the venture has been able to raise funds to launch the brand internationally.

“When Beer52 was set up we were not that sure it would work,” says Doherty, “but we have now seen more than 100,000 people sign up, sold some three or four million bottle of beers and worked with two or three hundred of the best breweries in the world.

“We are also producing a magazine that goes into the boxes of beers and WH Smith branches. I think craft beer is going to become even more mainstream and we can build a really successful Scottish company.

“We love it when someone discovers a new beer they would never have thought about trying before. The aim is to educate people on all aspects of craft beer and the breweries behind them. We have also been able to support a number of start-up breweries and help get them off the ground.”

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The venture is pushing into Ireland and eyeing several markets further afield, which should help Doherty fine tune his taste and knowledge of all things beer-related.

He has not long returned from Colorado in the US, taking in 20 to 30 breweries and tasting some 300 beers over the course of just four days – one presumes in sample and not pint-size quantities. “Someone has to do it,” Doherty jokes.

Wearing his SuperJam hat, meanwhile, the young entrepreneur recently took his mum to South Korea, appearing on a home shopping channel together – “That was quite some experience. I can say everything related to jam now in Korean.”

Just a few years away from celebrating the big three-zero, Doherty still appears keen to sink his teeth into new tasks, while further developing the core SuperJam business. In addition to trialling new flavours and gift products, the brand recently launched in Japan and the company’s founder plans to spend “a bit of time over there” promoting it.

He describes his life to date as “an amazing adventure”, and is willing to talk of Edinburgh as being home these days.

“I did the whole constant travelling thing for a couple of years and visited about 60 countries. I am now living back in my home town. I am in the office most days, focusing on our products, trying to grow the business and the team.

“Of course, I still love travelling, but I can come back and find things that are special about this place that you perhaps weren’t so aware of as a kid. Now that the business has taken off I feel that I need to be a bit more hands on.”

As he goes from couchsurfer to 9-to-5 man, Doherty is keen to maintain the regular rounds of talks and lecturing, with those public speaking requests likely to intensify on the back of the book launch.

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“I get invited to all sorts of places,” he says. “It’s not something that feels all that natural at first, to stand up in front of a crowd of people and talk about yourself, but I guess that I enjoy sharing some of the things that I have learnt and want to encourage others to give it a shot and not be afraid to start up in business.”

48-Hour Start-Up by Fraser Doherty MBE is published in paperback format by Harper Collins Publishers at £12.99.