How to launch a successful pop up business for less than £1,000

Posted by
Sarah Biddlecombe
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It took Miranda Roberts and her boyfriend Stefan Buschbeck just three months, and less than £1,000 in savings, to make their dream of running a pop up restaurant a reality.

The pair, who live in London, had been together for two years when they both decided they'd had enough of working for other people and took the plunge of quitting their jobs. Miranda, a 28-year-old from London, left her role as a restaurant manager while Stefan, 32 from Germany, resigned from his career as a pastry chef.

They scrabbled together their savings and decided the time was right to launch their pop up business, after a few months of experimentation and preparation, their uniquely flavoured shrimp burger (brilliantly called 'The Shrimpster') was born. 

Now, three years down the line, their pop up 'Shrimpys' is such a huge success that the couple are already planning to open their own stand-alone restaurant.

So how did they get started with running a pop up restaurant and what did they do to make it work, in so little time and with so little money? Here, chat to the couple to find out all the tricks of their trade, and ask them how you could do it, too.

Why did you decide to launch a pop up?

Miranda: We had always talked about it and it was actually something that brought us together as we had that shared passion, although it took two years before we started really looking into it.

Stefan: We’d had enough of working for other people and wanted to take back some self-control. We wanted to feel we were achieving something. We had both got to a breaking point with our jobs and thought, right, we’re going to give it a go. If it doesn’t work out we’ll just find other jobs.

What did you do to prepare?

M: I was going to do a business degree but I couldn’t afford it so I decided to go and learn on the job. I took a job at a restaurant and worked my way up to manager – it was so much better.

Why fish?

S: We were looking around at what other people were doing to spot the gap in the market and thought, we want to do something with fish. A lot of people will eat prawns but not fish, so we thought this would be accessible to a wider audience.

How long did it take from making the decision to selling your first Shrimpster?

M: Only about three months – we just jumped in.

S: We had £1,000 in savings and just decided to apply to the market we wanted to sell in. They loved the idea so we got started. 

So you had £1,000 and three months. What steps did you take next?

M: We had to apply to the market, set a trial date, register with the local council, register ourselves as a business and buy all the stock and equipment, plus get the gas and electric safety checked. Then we worked out who our suppliers would be and how our stall would look.

Was it easy to establish your brand?

S: We stumbled a bit in the beginning and it didn’t work as smoothly as we thought straight away. No one knows who you are when you’re starting out and we had created something completely new that didn’t exist. People would come to the market looking for pizza, pasta and falafel, so we were a bit different.

M: Very few people wake up in the morning and think, ‘I really want a shrimp burger!’ When people go to markets they have a specific idea of what they want so when you do something a bit different you have to change that idea in their head.

Did you make any sacrifices?

M: We lost some of our friends because everyone was going out all the time and we couldn’t afford to go with them. We spent a good year just working and then going home to watch TV, and that was it.

S: We don’t live for the weekend anymore: we work seven days a week. We don’t have any spare time. But when it starts working and you figure out how to make it run, it’s great.

How long did it take to make a profit?

M: About eight months. We weren’t losing any money until then but we weren’t getting any pay for it either.

We launched the pop up in September at the end of the summer and when the winter came we had to make a bit of extra money, so I worked part time as a waitress while Stefan worked with the supplier of our buns. We were running the business seven days a week alongside that so we had a lot on our plate!

But once summer hit we quit and we’ve been doing this full time for about two and a half years now.

Did you use any great apps or websites that made running the pop-up easier?

M: We started using accounting platform FreeAgent two months into running the business and it was a revelation: it's helped us to save thousands of pounds. We also use iCloud and Dropbox for storage, Pinterest for brainstorming new ideas and, of course, Gmail and Google Docs.

What’s the best thing about running Shrimpys?

S: It’s great being part of the wider community of street traders and you get to know everyone really well. It’s a huge family: even when you go to a tiny food festival somewhere remote you see traders you know from London.

M: There’s a great support network if you ever need help with anything. It’s also amazing because you get that moment of seeing the instant look of excitement on people’s faces when you serve them their food. When a customer comes back and says the food was amazing it’s like instant gratification.

S: Sometimes you can have a really bad day and it takes just one customer coming up and saying the food was amazing to make your day.

…And the worst thing?

S: Being outside in the rain.

M: Winter is cold and tough and we can have long days! 

Is it hard working together as a couple?

M: No, we work really well as a team because we bring different things to the table and don’t step into each other’s roles. Stefan does the recipes and works on the look of the product while I handle the logistics side of things.

I know other couples who have set up a business and it hasn’t worked because they are constantly like, ‘this is how I do it so you have to do it that way too’. Luckily we’re both quite laid back and although the first year was a bit of a learning curve we’re fine.

What would be your advice for anyone who wants to launch a pop up?

S: Have an idea and stick to it: you can change minor things and develop the concept but don’t change what you do. And don’t let people tell you what to do.

M: You have to really believe in your product. Don’t just do something you think will sell well: do something you really believe in because there will be really shit days and if you’re selling something you don’t believe in, there’s no point.

S: Just jump off the cliff and do it. Pop ups are great because there’s very little financial stuff going on. If it fails, it fails, but you’ll learn so much from doing it. Just get out there!

M: Just do it! Just get out there. 

Images shared with for publication by interviewees