Imran Merza and Taz Basunia have known each other for 13 years and found a mutual interest in a healthier, more adult confectionary market. So they both quit their city jobs in favour of starting their own entrepreneurial rollercoaster in a market everyone loves – sweets. With lots of drive and a shared dream ‘Jealous’ was born, a company that ‘brings credibility back to candy by making sweets as natural as possible, without all the nasty stuff’.

1. What have been your key milestones and how have you celebrated them?
TB
Leaving our jobs was a serious milestone. We had to say ‘You know what; I’m going to have the courage to risk it all and believe in myself’.
IM
Once we’d done that, the next milestone was once we actually got a name and a product. We had to get ideas from up here (points at head) into a product and then into a store.
TBAnd that’s another thing as well, when we first told people we were doing this they were like ‘Are you kidding me?’ ‘What, so you’re going to sell sweets now?’ (laughs).‘I sell gummy bears.’ It sounds weird right? I think once we got into Selfridges it was better because although we always believed in ourselves, it was good to have someone credible behind us. That was when we started getting into all these other places too.
IM
The next one (milestone) is literally right now, in the next few days. We’ve been working for 12 months with a design agency that did the branding for Innocent smoothies and some other really cool upcoming and established brands in the UK food sector. We’re just switching servers and getting everything online at the moment, so in the next few days hopefully it will start taking off.
TB
We’ve been friends for 13 years so we go out all the time and have fun and for us business is about having fun and enjoying ourselves. There’s no point leaving corporate life and then starting something new without having fun. So we socialise and we love networking and stuff.
IM
Obviously once we do hit certain milestones, we plan to go out and celebrate big time. We don’t feel we have done anything major just yet. Once we’ve actually hit a certain threshold in terms of turnover then we’re planning to go and have a big party and really say to the world ‘Look, we’re here’. But at the moment we’re really still learning about the confectionary market – what works and what doesn’t work. You don’t want to make too many outlandish claims and become too cocky or bold until you can actually say ‘We have a solid foundation that we’ve built’.It was only when we launched into Selfridges that we announced it to everyone; until then no one knew that we’d quit our jobs. We kept quiet because we wanted to let our actions do the talking, and, apart from our very close friends, everyone was like ‘What just happened there?’.

2. Have you had any setbacks or disappointments along the way and what have you learnt from them?
TB
There are so many naysayers. Everyone we told at the beginning was like ‘What, why are you doing this?’, ‘No one wants to buy that’!
IM
Honestly the funniest thing is whenever we put up a Facebook or Twitter post and people are saying ‘Ah that’s amazing you guys are doing so well’. When behind the scenes they don’t know the number of sleepless nights, financial issues, so many things that can go wrong on a daily basis but we’re the only ones that know about it. For every high, there are ten lows and you’ve just got to keep moving forward.The first major one was, without going into too much detail, a trademark issue before we even launched. That set us back at least 4 months and was very tough at the time but we managed to overcome it like many other challenges since then.
TB
Basically you have to assume you’re always going to have issues; whatever happens the whole business life cycle comes with problems. When one comes up we just try to relax, think it through and solve it because most things have a solution. With that mindset we are always able to move forward to our goal. As long as you’re flexible about how you get there then it’s fine.

3. Have you taken any chances or risks that you feel have really paid off?
TB
Quitting our day jobs to go for this was really scary. I used to work in the city and he (Imran) was an ex-trader and to suddenly give all that up and try and set something up from scratch is quite daunting. But we both love what we do now – so much so that it doesn’t feel like working. They say that for a guy, creating a business from scratch is the closest thing to motherhood. You have to constantly look after it, give it priority over everything else, so much so that only my closest friends know until now [laughs] the negative impact it has had on my personal life in the last couple of years. But if you really believe in something and are passionate about it then you can really start creating something amazing

4. Tell us about your work life balance?
TB
You barely get to see your friends and family and your mind is always on the new business. So at first it completely took over.
IM
But it has calmed down a bit now. On the weekends we don’t always have to think about work. But the thing is, I love what I do now. I’m passionate about it and I don’t see it as work. If we have an event to go to, and we go and do some networking, I don’t consider that work. Work and personal life are almost combined. When you’re working for yourself it becomes a part of you.
TB
You definitely need a holiday though. It’s important. Very important. You have to sometimes just get away and clear your head.

5. Where have you taken inspiration from?
IM
Our inspiration goes back a few years to someone I knew who loved sweets but was a vegetarian. So she wouldn’t eat sweets because they contained pork gelatine. At the time I was trying to impress her by buying her sweets. I went on a mission to find her some vegetarian sweets. But they didn’t taste great and were poorly packaged. Chocolate was always nicely packaged and I thought ‘Why isn’t anyone doing this with sweets?’ So I started doing some research and realised it’s actually a huge market and that’s why you’ve mainly got the big players like Cadbury and Mars.
TB
My take was that there’s premiumisation of lots of things like cup cakes, doughnuts, milkshakes etc but no one had really touched gummy confectionary. While chocolate had all become really innovative, sweets were still childish. I thought grown-ups like sweets so let’s work for them.So we started talking and mixed premium with the vegetarian and healthier angle and the combination started like that. We wanted it to compete against chocolate as an alternative gift and from that we thought let’s call it something like ‘Jealous’.
IM
And while some people say I don’t really understand the name, you don’t really need to understand. The most important thing is, whether you like it or not, it’s very hard for the name not to stick. We wanted the name to be an instant association with our sweets.