Gracie Tyrrell is the co-founder and CEO of Squirrel Sisters an award-winning, no added sugar, healthy snacking brand that was launched in 2015. Squirrel Sisters snacks are available in over 2000 stores across the UK and they have just started exporting to the US and UAE
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
After graduating from Leeds university, I moved to New York to study at Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. After I completed my 1 year in NY I started working in the film and TV industry as an actress. I worked in the UK and USA and got experience across adverts, independent films and theatre. I also worked on the production side of TV both in Europe and the US. I knew I always wanted to run a business and was passionate about wellbeing and the impact that food has on our health, so I launched Squirrel Sisters with my sister Sophie in 2015. Squirrel Sisters is the UK’s original No Added Sugar brand. We have a range of multi award-winning snacks that are vegan, gluten-free, 100% natural and contain no added sugar.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
We launched our business in 2015 after Sophie was diagnosed with a heart condition called Wolfe-Parkinson-Whyte. After the surgery Sophie started reacting really badly to sugars and processed foods, she could not tolerate any sugar in her diet. Trying to find tempting foods for her that had no added sugar was almost impossible so I went on a mission to research foods that would be suitable for her. I found none and I was shocked at what I discovered about the majority of snacks that I found. We as consumers simply do not understand the extent to which sugar is hidden in our food- savoury as well as sweet- so I started to create my own recipes for her that were healthy, tasty and naturally sweet.
How did you achieve awareness?
When we first launched, we attended lots of trade and consumer shows such as The Allergy and Free From Show and Women’s Health Live. We did lots of sampling; at one stage we were sampling twice a week (we did it ourselves), which was very time consuming but it was an amazing way to meet new and existing customers and get their honest feedback as well as telling them about our story and product. Sampling in the early days was invaluable for the developments of the brand, we gained so much brilliant and constructive feedback that we were able to make changes for the better.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
The business is still 100% self-funded. We were really lucky with who we knew when we launched the business. Sophie’s husband is a graphic designer, so he was able to create our brand for us and we only worked with people that got what we were about, which meant they wanted to support us and our mission. We also became very savvy when it came to spending, we got by on our savings for a couple of years. We did have to take a hit on salaries, but that’s quite normal when starting a business.
What are the key successes?
We have had so many amazing highlights over the years including publishing a cookbook with Pavillion Books- ‘Naturally Delicious Snacks & Treats’. The commissioner followed us on Instagram and read our blog and got in touch to see if it’s something we wanted to do, we jumped at the chance. Launching into major retailers like Holland & Barrett has been incredible too. However, one success that really stands out is that we have stayed true to our values and mission and never compromised on the quality of our products.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Balancing and navigating personal life with running a business has had its challenging moments. A business doesn’t run itself so you can’t just take a chunk of time off to deal with personal issues. I went through a pretty traumatic divorce when we were just starting to gain traction with the business., which made it really hard for me to focus on work and be fully present. When it was really tough, I would allow myself to take the day off and have the time on my own away from work to process everything that was going on and let any emotion that I was feeling come to the surface. Luckily, I had Sophie to support me and cover for me at work.
What are your plans now/for the future?
I have lots of exciting plans for the business but the main focus for the next year is online and growing our D2C (direct to consumer).
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
There’s no better time than now. Running a business takes a lot of hard work and you need to stay motivated. Passion is crucial; you have to be passionate about whatever it is that you are doing because if you don’t have the passion and the belief then it won’t work. It’s all about passion, persistence and patience. We believe that if you’ve got the passion then go for it. We had no experience in running a business before we started Squirrel Sisters, but we knew if we didn’t give it a go we would regret it forever. Trust your gut and believe in yourself.
Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Be bold, trust your instincts and take action.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
- It sounds cliché but my Mum is my biggest inspiration. She is the kindest, strongest and most encouraging and supportive woman I know. She has always made me feel like I can do and achieve anything and given me the confidence follow my dreams.
- My Dad is also a huge inspiration to me. He built and was the chairman of a very successful company called The Henley Centre, which he eventually sold to WPP when he was in his early 40’s. He’s been a real sounding board and helped me whenever I’ve needed advice with my business. He’s achieved amazing things in his life while still being the best, most supportive Dad and husband to my Mum.
- My sister Sophie. She’s been with me through thick and thin and has lifted me up in some of the most difficult moments of my life. She is a great Mum and has been an incredible business partner over the years.
- Renée Elliott, founder of Planet Organic. She is an amazing woman who has achieved so much, which is so inspiring. She has also been such a support to Squirrel Sister over the years and given us invaluable advice.
- Beyoncé – I love her and her music. She empowers women (and men!) and has an incredibly inspiring work ethic.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
I have so many but my top three right now are:
- Always trust your gut
- Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will
- Be as fearless as the women who you admire
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
Instagram: @squirrelsisters (https://www.instagram.com/squirrelsisters/)
Facebook: @squirrelsisters (https://www.facebook.com/squirrelsisters?fref=ts)