10 Questions With… Janice Johnson, Founder, Eating with Elephants

Q. What was the main risk when starting up your business? (Alex Ware, Millfield)

A. Financially, it was actually low risk. I formed partnerships with venues who already had suitable spaces where I could host my events, which meant I didn’t need to take on the cost of buying or a renting a venue of my own. Having a clear deadline for attendees to buy tickets well before the event meant that I could use the ticket sales money to pay for event costs upfront which also minimised risks.


Q. How did you come up with the name of your brand? (Emily Hayward, Bay House School)

A. The concept is all about getting people to embrace talking about the things they hide and are afraid to speak about. Things that we all know about but are too afraid to say out loud are often called ‘the elephant in the room’. So the name describes exactly what happens at each event, getting together to eat and talk about the elephants in the room that we deal with in everyday life? i.e. Eating with Elephants.


Q. How do you motivate yourself to do the ideas you want to do? What tasks and thought processes do you use to help motivation? (Isaac Rigby, Bay House School)

A. I focus on spending most of my time doing the things that I’m curious, excited and passionate about. Lots of my work is exciting, fulfilling and makes me feel like it’s making a real difference. That’s hugely motivating for me. With any business though, there will always be times when things are difficult or mundane or in the case of admin just not that interesting! My advice is to keep some examples of when things go well and use those to motivate you. I have the most amazing feedback from Eating with Elephants dinners with people saying how life-changing it has been for them to be able to share their story. If I ever need motivation, I have a read through those and quickly remember why doing what I do is important in the world – it’s the best kind of motivation there is.


Q. How difficult is it to start a business with little background in it? (Imogen Asquish, Bay House School)

A.¬†I think that it really depends on the business. If it’s highly technically skilled then that will be more difficult. You will probably have to invest a lot of time and money into training/or qualifications and learning the trade. That could be easier if you have mentors or contacts who could help you learn and connect you to opportunities. If it’s less technical you may not have to invest as much into technical training but you may still need to upskill or work hard to become an expert in your field so that you can stand out from the competition. Either way starting a business is never easy but, if you’re willing to do it, the hard work often pays off.


Q. Have you ever had to come over any major set-backs? If so what was it and what did you? (Meadow, Bay House School)

A. Not long after I first started Eating with Elephants, the venue I was hosting my event at decided to raise its prices at very short notice. I had several events lined up and the price would have meant increasing my ticket prices. I wasn’t willing to do that as it would have meant that the events would not be inclusive as many people wouldn’t have been able to afford to come. So I had to search for a new venue extremely quickly. Luckily, the search paid off and I found one that I was able to negotiate with and get an ever better package than the one I has with my original venue. It just shows you that it’s worth sticking to your values and that – with the right mindset- you can turn any setback into an opportunity.


Q. Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? (Luke Treharne, Bay House School)

A. No. I think if I had learned about entrepreneurship growing up, I would have definitely chosen that as my path, but I wasn’t exposed to it, so didn’t really know it was an option I could pursue. I followed a pretty traditional path of doing my A-Levels then getting a university degree and then joined a company graduate scheme. I worked in corporate roles for years before I decided to start working on my own ventures.


Q. How busy is your schedule? (Ellie, Amersham College)

A. Very! For the past few years I’ve had a portfolio career. That means I do different types of work, including working for my organisation, working part-time as an employee and working on short-term contracts for other organisations. Not all of these at the same time, but my week is often split between working for myself and working for/with others, so it can be quite busy and involves a lot of time management to make sure it is manageable – it’s important to have a rest too!


Q. What is the most important thing to consider when wanting to make a profit in a newly emerging business? (Kashaf, Accrington Academy)

A.¬†Definitely knowing your income and outgoings. Multi-page business plans are great for advanced companies looking for investment, but when you’re starting out the most important thing to know is:

  • How am I going to make money (your business model)?
  • How much I will sell my product or service for and in what quantity?
  • How much money can I expect to make doing that (your sales quantity)?
  • How much money will it cost me to do that (your costs/outgoings)?
  • How much will I make once I’ve deducted my costs from my sales (profit)?


Q. What was the inspiration behind your enterprise? (Freddie Downard, Folkestone College)

A. I could see the lack of opportunities for people to come together and share stories about things they are struggling with. Loneliness and isolation is one of the biggest causes of obesity, mental health issues and early death in the UK. I knew that the more people feel they can talk about the less things they are struggling with or fear they might be judged for, the more connected and less lonely and isolated they feel. I had experienced that myself and seen it in other people when I was researching the subject. I looked back at what helped me and what seemed to help others in my research and realised that creating a space where people can use storytelling to share their experiences in an informal and judgement-free way around the comfort of the dinner table could make a real difference.


Q. How do you keep track of all your finances on your own? (Michael Leech, East Kent College)

A. I don’t! I have an accountant who supports me with tracking my finances overall and for the

day-to-day I have online accounting software/apps to keep track of any money that going in and out. My motto is, do what you do best, and outsource the rest! So unless you’re an absolute financial whizz, it’s good to get help where you can.


Find out more: www.eatingwithelephants.com