From ‘Fired!’ to ‘Hired!’: Harrison Jones on his time after The Apprentice and starting his dream business
When Harrison Jones joined the thirteenth season of The Apprentice in 2017, he did so with an idea of starting his own healthy eating brand and several years’ experience in his pocket. At age 19, he began his own landscaping and gardening company before getting into sales, and eventually taking his ambitions to national television at age 27.
Three years later, and Harrison’s organic food brand, Equals Health, has finally come to fruition.
“Equals Health was just an idea I had and that’s why I applied; to get it up and running. I didn’t have the money or following to get any sort of head start, so I went on for exposure and possible investment.”
After ten weeks, two words and a point from the all-mighty finger of Lord Sugar, Harrison’s time on The Apprentice was up.
“One of the reasons that Lord Sugar didn’t choose to invest was because it was a business that I had no experience with. Food wasn’t something I was involved with previously; I hadn’t even worked in kitchens and he tended to work with businesses that were already set up and established, which I wasn’t happy with at first but in hindsight makes complete sense.”
He might not have had the investment that he needed from Lord Sugar, but being on TV meant that Harrison had received a healthy online following that he could use to his advantage for those first couple of months whilst he was still in the minds of viewers across the country.
After much posting on LinkedIn stating that his business was still going ahead, he met his now-business partner (coincidentally also named Alan) and after a few meetings, received an investment in the form of six figures.
“I guess he was putting more of an investment in me because, like Lord Sugar said, I had no experience and it was just an idea I’d shared with him.
“He definitely bought into the idea of healthy eating, trying to create a household name in healthy food. There’s no real healthy eating brand that you can list off from the top of your head in the same way you can list off fast food. That was my goal and I think he was quite excited by that. Obviously, that would be a long journey, but he was up for joining me on that, which is amazing.”
Equals Health launched in July 2018 as a main player in the frozen organic meals industry, one that Harrison believed was important through his own experience of being unable to find easily accessible healthy food in between work and training.
“The organic food aspect came about a bit later, we actually started with non-organic food but then we started working with the UK’s largest organic retailer, Planet Organic, and then from there we learned the benefits of what it was; no pesticides on the crops, etc.”
He also noticed a gap in the market of grab-and-go organic meals that companies weren’t really providing. He attributes this to the lack of awareness that British people have in organic food.
According to the Organic Market Report from the Soil Association, although a £2.5bn industry, organic accounts for only 1.5% of the overall food and drink market in the UK.
“We’re actually quite far behind compared to Europe and America. It’s not common knowledge that non-organic food is usually sprayed with pesticides and other stuff to help them grow quicker and more perfect – when that’s not really the natural way of growing food.
“Even in 2020, we’d rather not spend an extra £1 on something that’s organic because we see it as too expensive, but we’re happy to spend so much on the weekend on drinks and take outs.
“As cheesy as it sounds, investing in what you eat is important and I’ve only really learned that since starting the company, I don’t think it’s that engrained in us. I think even in school, we’re not taught the benefits of eating well but it’s probably one of the most important things.”
Six months later, and Harrison’s life changed in another way with the arrival of his first child with Apprentice co-star, Michaela Wain.
“He’s amazing, it just slowed things down a little bit for the company – having to juggle a new baby, being a first-time dad as well – but I got through the initial difficulty and the company is still going.”
He admits things didn’t go as fast as he would have liked, but he also blames his own optimistic naivete that comes with starting a business.
“You start off thinking, ‘By month one I’ll have this, by month three I’ll sell this volume’, but the reality is that it does take a while and you’re never going to know anywhere near as much at the start as you do when you’re two, three years down the line which is where I’m at now.
“It might not have gone as quickly as I’d imagined but I’ve also learnt that this sort of thing is not an overnight success.”
Unpredictability is something that has scattered the early legacy of Equals Health. After a few meetings in 2019 with Virgin Trains – who was once a major part of the British rail industry – they lost their contract and consequently ceased operating trains; effectively cutting negotiations with having Equals Health products on their trains. The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has further thrown future business prospects into the air, but Harrison believes it’s just a matter of “keeping on top of things”.
It’s this sort of unpredictability that calls into question the balance of planning the future of your business compared to rolling with the punches, and Harrison believes it’s a difficult line to balance.
“Planning is massively important. You must have a plan; you must have goals. You need to know what you’re spending so you also need to know what you’re selling to counter that cost. In terms of marketing you need to have a strategy of who you want to target, how you’re going to get there and through which avenues.
“However, things also happen that you can’t predict. I didn’t know I was going to be a first-time dad; we could never have planned for coronavirus. You need to be flexible when these things come up, but you need to have a clear plan.”
Fortunately for Harrison, he knew ahead of time where Equals Health products would fit into his target markets’ lives.
“The idea was that instead of ordering something rubbish in, you’d go to your freezer and grab a healthy alternative. Frozen food is technically better because we flash freeze it, so it locks in the nutrition and flavour straight away.
“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel so it’s more of a twist on things we already know, but they’re all tailored specifically towards health so you might have some high in proteins, some high in healthy fats; developed by us, cooked in our kitchen and delivered straight to your door, all in-house.”
If you’re interested in sampling a healthier lifestyle with Equals Health’s organic food range just visit our Shop.