MADE Fest Interview: John Littlejohn
Ahead of Sheffield’s MADE Entrepreneur Festival next month, we catch up with one of the key speakers, Josh Littlejohn, to find out more about his business Social Bite, a small chain of sandwich shops in Scotland that puts all profits into social causes and employs 25% of their staff from homeless backgrounds.
As a successful businessman, tell us what drives you?
Seeing ideas in my head become reality. With that, seeing social impact as a result of our work and individuals’ lives improving.
When you were just 21, after finishing your degree in politics, you decided you wanted to become an entrepreneur, what sparked this change your career path?
I didn’t get a job with the government after a six month long graduate scheme interview process. I never wanted to jump through anyone else’s hoops again to define my own opportunities. I wanted to create my own.
Your first entrepreneurial job was in events, why did you choose to explore the events industry specifically?
All of the brainstorming ideas I had were events focused, so it was an obvious place to start. If you plan it right, you can begin without any funding too so it’s definitely a good place to get cracking.
With little experience in events, how did you find this transition?
Good fun, exciting and addictive.
To be successful in this industry, it is understood that everyone has to have setbacks to learn from their mistakes. Have you had any setbacks during your rise to success? And how did you overcome these setbacks?
I created an exhibition called Scotland’s Ski and Snowboard Show. The first step was to sell lots of exhibition stands to ski companies, and this turned out to be more difficult than I had expected. I was very close to going bankrupt because people were just not biting, but this focused the mind on becoming a great salesman. So I survived by learning how to sell, and selling for my life. A skill that has been crucial ever since.
Following this, remarkably you sold your possessions and poured your money into Social Bite. Tell us a bit about this company – what was your main aim when setting up this business?
My dream was never to make money. It was always to try and ‘change the world’, whatever that meant. Social Bite was an idea to help people. We created a sandwich/coffee shop with the idea of making a significant social impact. This has evolved into considerable work with the homeless in Scotland.
Developing a social business must be a very rewarding career, how does Social Bite help to give back to the community and solve social problems?
We donate 100% of our profits to good causes, feed the homeless with meals that our customers pre-pay for, and employ 1 in 4 of our team from homeless backgrounds.
You’re heading to MADE festival this year to offer advice to other budding entrepreneurs, what will you be talking about?
Just telling anecdotes from my own story. It doesn’t matter who is in the room, we all just want to be entertained and inspired. That’s what I will aim to do. Budding entrepreneurs can have so many amazing experiences, help so many people, and have so many doors open to them – if they turn the button in their head off that focuses on maximising financial return. This way of thinking goes against the grain in business, but that is the best advice I can give.
What are your future plans for Social Bite?
I plan to build a village for the homeless in Edinburgh in 2017 so we can tackle the problem root and branch – from housing, to support, to employment. We are also opening a restaurant in Edinburgh, which I hope to replicate internationally.
Do you have any other ideas in the pipeline?
Words: Tom Green-Fuller
Catch Josh Littlejohn at the MADE Fest conference on November 8 at the Crucible Theatre. Head to www.madefestival.com for tickets and full programme info.
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