b and wWill Breakey is a doctor and entrepreneur in the food industry. Will graduated from Imperial College School of Medicine in 2011. He is working his way through specialist training in Plastic Surgery and studying for a PhD in Craniofacial Surgery at University College London. He is Chair of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) Innovation specialist group.

Will runs a start-up condiment company, Dr Will’s. Dr Will’s make healthier, natural alternatives to the condiments we all know and love (e.g. tomato ketchup). Dr Will’s products can be found nationally in Holland and Barrett stores or online at Ocado.

Interview

How did Dr Will’s Start?

Dr Will’s started as an idea in 2015 when I was a core surgical trainee in Newcastle and attending a CrossFit gym. There was another member there (Josh) who owned a restaurant in town. We got chatting about business ideas.

Josh told stories of people slathering ketchup on the burgers he made. My mum is a nursery teacher and told me how parents also put Heinz ketchup on their child’s broccoli to make them eat vegetables. This didn’t make sense at all.

Together, we thought that we would make something that was ‘good’ for kids/anyone looking for a healthier diet, but also had finesse so that chefs would be happy to have it ‘slathered’ on their food.

How did you take the first steps in growing a business, as sometimes as a doctor you can be poorly connected with these things?

A stream of serendipitous events fell in to place. First, we started making ketchup in the kitchen and treated it a bit like a research project. We read as many recipes as we could find. We took the recipe to Josh’s restaurant and tried to make it in bulk but came up with some burnt brown sauce. It was a complete disaster! I think we got to about 38 iterations of ketchup until we found ‘the one’.

I then rang some food wholesalers to ask what they did and we were put in touch with a farmer in Yorkshire who made his own jams and sold them. He said he would do us a run of 200 bottles.

We sent him the recipe on a letter – a piece of paper with tomato stains on – and he helped us to make a product. We took the 200 bottles to a market stall in Newcastle and sold all of our bottles. There were a couple of shopkeepers there who said they would sell the ketchup in their shops in Newcastle.

At the time, I was studying a PhD at University College London, which had a really strong incubator programme and ran sessions on how to start a business e.g. how to create business plans; market a product; find gaps in the market; and so on. Business 101! It finished with a pitching competition and we won the postgraduate part of that. This was £3000.

We thought there was something in this so we got more sauce made, ensured proper branding and networked more. We met other people in the foodie industry and it went from there.

There’s a well-trodden path with food start-ups where you start selling to little independent food shops delis and then mini grocery’s. You then move up and try and get into high-end stuff like Selfridges and Harvey Nicholls, and then small chains like Planet Organic/Source Market and then Ocado and finally supermarkets.

Presentations are common as a doctor, how does this differ from a pitch? 

There are a lot of similarities but it’s much more nerve-racking to pitch! At a conference, you know your research and the consultant usually has your back.

At a pitch it’s just you with 3-5 investors who see these pitches all the time and you’re hoping for their hard-earned money to spend…

What tips do you have for a successful pitch?

I think there are set ways to do pitches and to lay out your deck. It’s important not to focus on what you’re doing and what your company is. Instead, focus on what you are going to do for the investor. At the end of the day it’s their money. Have a proper plan, proper financials and believe in your idea!

Instead focus on what you are going to do for the investor.

You’re a PhD candidate, surgeon, entrepreneur and recently you became a father. Do you have any strategies or routines to allow you to juggle these roles?

I’m fortunate with my current rota as it gives me some downtime post on-call. The other bits I fit in as and when. It’s not easy to fit them all in but it’s something you can do if you’ve got good support around you.

I have a 40 minute commute. I use this time to speak with the Dr Will’s guys. The team in London are great and allow me to continue practicing medicine.

Talking of your team, how do you identify people who are going to add value, support you and not be a burden?

With Liam (Managing Director) we put an advert on ‘Escape the City’. We’ve been helped along the way by Callum Negus-Fancy who had a lot more experience in hiring so he helped us interview for Liam. We struck gold there! Other people we thought would be great didn’t work out.

We now only take people after internships and Santander support this with an amazing internship scheme. As a start-up, you’re taking a big risk employing someone after interview. For anyone looking to work in a start-up, I’d advise that even if you aren’t doing a formal internship, go and spend time with the company.

For anyone looking to work in a start-up, I’d advise that even if you aren’t doing a formal internship, go and spend time with the company.

You’re an example of somebody who has stayed in clinical medicine whilst creating a business. What are the challenges and/or benefits of this?

Challenges are having enough time being pulled in so many different directions. It can be challenging to have the time and headspace to be able to switch from surgery to business/entrepreneurship.

The benefit is that you have a really worthwhile distraction from either business or from medicine. As a medic, having an outside interest in the business is very healthy and it keeps your horizons broad.

As a medic, having an outside interest in the business is very healthy and it keeps your horizons broad.

What would you say to someone thinking of leaving to pursue an idea?

My advice is to think about it very, very carefully. I think it is common to hear people say: ‘You’ve got a startup idea. It will only work if you commit 100% to it and quit your job.’

I enjoy clinical medicine and I felt if I could do both things, then I should do. But if medicine is not for you, don’t let anyone stop you, just make sure you have enough of a back-up to make sure you’re not jumping off a cliff.

If you were invited to your old medical school to give a speech to all of the graduates on graduation day, what would you say?

The opportunities that having a medical degree brings are almost unrivalled in terms of getting your foot in the door to anything you want to do. We’re lucky that it commands a degree of respect. If you’ve come out of medical school it shows that you are bright enough to take on a lot of different roles. Most people will sit down with you to give you advice or a chance at a job. Graduates should make the most of the opportunities out there now for those with a medical degree!

The opportunities that having a medical degree brings are almost unrivalled in terms of getting your foot in the door to anything you want to do.

Are there any start-ups that you are particuarly excited by?

I think some of the CBD food companies may be one to watch. I don’t know too much about it but they seem to be everywhere.

I also like the idea of companies that are concentrating on issues that Society is too embarrassed to talk about, like Hims, who deal with erectile dysfunction but beautifully branded, and Hanx, a luxury condom company set up by a gynaecologist.

About The Author

James Schuster Bruce

James graduated from University Bristol in 2017 and currently works as a junior doctor. He holds an intercalated BSc degree in Pharmacology. His interests include: medical education, technology, global health and surgery. Most recently, he has incorporated technology into undergraduate otoscopy teaching, presenting his work internationally. He has also spent time abroad researching digital solutions to tackle ear health in East Africa.

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