Polly Lamming, Founder of Polly&Co.
Polly&Co. Ltd is an all encompassing umbrella agency ran BY students FOR students, providing: catering services (mainly gluten free), events, products and brands.
1. Why Polly&Co.? Tell us a little bit about this venture. Was there a specific moment that sparked its creation or was it always a buried dream within you?
Polly&Co. is really the culmination of 23 years of being obsessed with food and beautiful photos in magazines. As a kid I loved to rip out pics from mum’s newspapers and make birthday cards with them, or just put them on my wall in my bedroom. My favourite one is from the FT weekend supplement from 2000 of a slightly burnt crusty baguette with unsalted butter melted into the soft middle and a dollop of Bonne Maman jam. And of course a checked tea-towel thrown jauntily next to it. I still have it on my wall!
2. I can imagine, there were probably times when it got tough juggling your studies and what you were creating. How did you keep the vision alive?
Social media is both a blessing and a curse for our generation. However, when used appropriately, it can be an incredible tool to keep engaged with your audience with little input or only 5% of your attention. I just made sure I was still uploading content, and answering people’s questions when I could. The key is the focus on brand and consistency: mine was all about food or Oxford. That was it.
3. As best as you can, describe the best thing you did or decision you made then that helped you dream come to life now?
I walked away from a safe city graduate scheme. And that was really really tough because living in London is fast-paced and expensive, so doing that was a big step and a scary one. Having said that, it was probably the best decision I made, simply because it wasn’t for me. I loved the people and some of my closest friends I met at the firm in question, but I couldn’t throw myself into the work that I did in the way I can now. And that is the key to doing a job you love – you have to feel inspired by what you do, or what’s the point?
4. Reflecting on your time as a student, what would you (as your current self) tell yourself then?
I wish I’d just chilled out. I really didn’t like my college, and rather than accepting that it was OK not to be enjoying uni, I freaked out and threw myself into everything that came my way. I went out tons and took on loads of positions of responsibility that I didn’t have the time or energy to commit to. I was genuinely terrified of people realising I wasn’t having anything other than a totally incredible time, and pushed people away because of that. I am lucky and so grateful that those closest to me saw what was happening and remained by my side, despite some pretty rogue behaviour from me at times.
5. What tips would you give to students who are still pondering whether to implement that idea or start that new business?
I think go for it. This is the age to just do it and if it fails, it fails, but at least you tried. My reasoning with Polly&Co. is that in 10 years, I will need stability. I will want a family and I’ll hopefully have a mortgage and kids to think about. That is the time for a stable job and a stable income. Now? It’s ok that I’m at the bottom of my overdraft. It’s ok that my diet is 80% coffee and bananas. And it’s ok that I am ok with all of that.
6. What practical actions have you made that ultimately has made Polly&Co. what it is now?
Forming a good team is the key. I mean I seriously couldn’t have done this without my best friends and my family. It’s so clichéd, but, as someone said to me recently, in the end it is people that make everything on this planet good. And I totally agree. It’s not even the official business relationships. It’s the everyday ones. One of my best friends is a teacher and a bloody good one at that. She has so much responsibility and I look at her and I’m just like wow. You still have tons of friends. You still pick up my phone calls whenever I need you. She still makes time for everyone and is kind and modest and good. That is what makes me keep going. If you have people like that believing in you, you feel like you can do anything.
7. What’s next for Polly&Co.?
We are launching the Polly+Constance Café in January 2019 and I cannot wait. The café is going to be 100% gluten-free, and aimed at students, with 10% off for all with a valid student card. I’m not able to tell you for definite when we will be opening our doors, but the brand, and the concept and everything is launching on the 4th of January. Its going to be all about co-working, and chill-out spaces, unlimited coffee + fizzy water and free wifi. The launch event on the 4th of January is going to be amazing – we have some of Oxford’s best acts lined up to perform, as well as amazing drinks and, of course, gluten-free food.
"Don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them." - Madam C. J Walker
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