From an early entrepreneurial career that began by selling Spitting Image characters in his primary school playground, to becoming founder of a multi-million-pound specialist flavour supplier to the bakery industry, Mike Bagshaw is a man who knows the taste of success. His Newbury-based business, International Taste Solutions (ITS), was recently named West Berkshire Business of the Year and he is chairman of the British Society of Baking. Just over a year ago he co-founded Takestock.com, an ecommerce platform for the food industry, and he also runs Tasteful Creations, a natural flavours and colourings business for the home baker and smaller bakery businesses.
One of six children – three brothers and two sisters – Mike Bagshaw grew up with a strong work ethic from a young age. He was extremely fond of his half-Dutch, half-German grandparents who had moved to England after the war and set up a very successful painting and decorating business. Tough times hit the family when his father was made redundant and he left school at 18, working hard to fund his way through university. Success in the sciences and a love of food led him into the food industry before his “eureka” moment struck and he decided to start his own business.
Tell us about your first money-making venture
I was nine when Dad had a cleaning job at the factory where they made Spitting Image characters. Every night they used to throw away the rejects so three times a week I took them into school and sold them. In less than a fortnight I had made more money than Dad made working full-time in a week. I used the money to buy a bike and sold eggs door-to-door, then progressed to buying more bikes and doing them up to sell on, then buying and selling cars.
How did you develop an interest in food and flavours?
I took three science A levels at school and grew up thinking I wanted to be a doctor, but after a work placement at a hospital, I realised it wasn’t for me. I loved chemistry and biology, I had a hobby as a craft brewer and I was passionate about food in general. My chemistry teacher Mr Thomas told me about biotechnology and food technology and I forewent the entrance exam at Cambridge University to study at Reading University for a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology. I funded myself, working as a shift manager at McDonalds, selling cars and cleaning offices – I was always looking for ways to make money.
What was your first proper job?
At university, I had an industrial placement for a food consultancy company called LinTech in Reading. I discovered a real passion for food technology and from there I worked in a raft of food ingredient businesses.
What prompted you to start your own business?
I was working as a sales director and could see there was a gap in the market. I had always wanted my own business and in 2009, when I was on holiday, I read Duncan Bannatyne’s book Anyone Can Do It. I was 31-years-old and knew I had to go for it. Within less than five months I had written a business plan, resigned from my job and formed ITS.
Was it successful straight away?
It didn’t come easy. I was working from home, I bought a £5,000 Vauxhall Vectra and was out on the road at 5am visiting three or four customers a day. I couldn’t afford to stay in hotels so I’d get home at night to see our two children and then work until 1am. I was surviving on four hours sleep a night five days a week. At weekends, I’d work from 3am to 8am on Saturday mornings. My wife was very understanding, but it was very tough.
As a start-up the bank refused me a loan, but the building society lent me £45,000 against our house. Everything else, like the gym memberships, had to go. I put as much money as I could on interest-free credit cards too.
We had burned through half the money and hadn’t had any sales in nine months but then suddenly, after a year and a half, we got there. Turnover went from £3k a month to £50k, then £60k and then £90k. I paid off the credit cards and within 18 months we were debt-free, which we still are today.
We were growing so fast that I decided to invest in some units and brought my father-in-law into the business and then invested heavily in people, infrastructure and capabilities.
Every year we’ve grown by a minimum of 30% and doubled our profits at the same time. I like to think I grew the business the old fashioned way, working really hard and now I believe we’re light years ahead of our biggest competitors.
What’s important to you?
You have to look after your staff, there’s no point in making money if you don’t share it. Everyone has a development plan and if we’re on budget we reward them every quarter. At the end of the year, I share a large percentage of our net profit – we have 16 people in the team and I love rewarding them for their efforts.
I firmly believe that if you’re tight with your money, then people will be tight with their time. We’re also very flexible on hours and we employ a lot of return to work mums and older people who have a wealth of valuable experience.
How do you give back to the community?
Growing up poor had a big impact on me and I give a lot to charity. I am aiming to do lots of good things each year for different charities, which can be from £10 to £1000, as long as it’s a worthwhile cause, and I also sponsor my son’s rugby team. I believe it’s good to help people who are less fortunate and I’m also planning doing a lot with schools. My old school in Cox Green, Maidenhead, has invited me back to talk to them and I’m hoping to go to senior schools in Newbury and talk about being an entrepreneur.
Tell us about your role as chairman of the British Society of Baking
It keeps me very busy. It’s all about how we can attract more youngsters into the food industry and inspire them for the future. Our main focus is helping the future of our industry find employment and to learn valuable business skills. It’s a great role for me and I certainly have a pretty full agenda.
What are your plans for the future?
Currently ITS turnover is north of £3 million and I’d like to take it to £10m over the next three years. We have a fantastic group of people and our growth is phenomenal. Most of our business is in the UK but we are growing extremely fast internationally in places such as Spain, Germany, Holland, America and Australia and India.
I want to grow as a family business, I am still very young and determined to develop ITS further with my world-class team. My daughter is 11, she is really into making cakes and says she wants to study food technology, so who knows, we might be working together before too long.
How would you describe yourself?
Fun, caring and passionate in everything I do.
What do you do to unwind?
I used to play a lot of rugby, boxing and American football, over the years I’ve broken 14 bones in contact sports. Now I coach rugby, play squash, run and go to the gym and try to be sensible about what I eat.
I work very hard so I appreciate the value of time out – I love cooking; it’s a lovely thing to put food in the slow cooker and go out for a walk. In January my wife and I divorced and that was very tough, but we share the children and I work very hard to be a good dad. I also have a fantastic girlfriend who has inspired me to push on and chase my dreams.
I’m a big fan of active rest and have built my own craft brewery and bar at home which is popular with my friends.
I only need 5-6 hours’ good sleep a night and I try to make use of every minute of the day.
What’s your favourite flavour?
As food it has to be tapas because it’s so much fun to make and it means so many different things.
What’s your philosophy?
You have to decide what you want out of life and make sure you take time to smell the flowers. Don’t miss the beautiful moments.