Born and raised in Lancashire, Camilla Ainsworth was the youngest finalist in the history of the BBC’s The Apprentice series.
A former law student, Camilla was just 22 when she appeared on 2018’s The Apprentice, narrowly missing out in the final. Her vegan nut milk M+LKPLUS caught the eye of the CEO of Holland & Barrett and she went ahead to launch the grab and go dairy alternative into 645 of their stores, where it continues to sell out.
Alongside being stocked in several retail outlets, M+LKPLUS was the first dairy free product to be made available to patients, visitors and staff at NHS hospitals throughout the UK. Camilla was recently listed in the ‘Top 10 women to watch list’ of 2019 in the drinks industry and has huge plans for the business this year including an exciting new product range and multiple retail listings.
Camilla will be speaking at the London Festival of Enterprise on 7th-8th July, the UK’s largest fast growth business event.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role?
I often refer to myself an accidental entrepreneur! After studying my whole life, I needed a break and so I travelled to Australia. While working on a cow farm I discovered I was intolerant to dairy, and all I could find was plain almond milk full of sugars and additives with lack lustre branding. I started M+LKPLUS out of my personal need for the product but as I shared it with my friends and spoke about it on social media the demand grew, which took me further away from the path I had envisaged for my career and into something completely new.
You starred in series 14 of the BBC’s Apprentice – how did you get involved in this?
I’ve always been a huge fan of the show, but it wasn’t until I set up M+LKPLUS that I thought I was in a strong enough position to apply. I applied through the official application process, and it was really tough – I think there were 75,000 applicants going through five stages!
What is it really like to be on The Apprentice?
When I started out on The Apprentice I was only 22, and as soon as I told the other contestants my age it was as if they had completely switched off, they no longer saw me as competition – until it was too late and I had beaten them all to the final! I feel very strongly that age isn’t a barrier to success. Some people say that when you are young you’re naive, but I think that being a young entrepreneur gives you a fresh outlook and the moves you make are authentic and uncalculated.
Has appearing on The Apprentice helped you in anyway?
I think my biggest learning from being on the show was how teamwork can totally set you apart. When you are working in a group of strong-minded people, being a team player, getting on with everyone, and making the effort to listen to others can be a catapult to success. My ability to be a team player was totally my secret weapon during The Apprentice.
Tell us more about your business? What is the goal behind it?
If you ask any of my friends, they will tell you that a M+LKPLUS bottle is completely my voice. When I started the brand, I knew that I was my own target customer, so I wrote the kind of slogans and catch-phrases that would make me choose a product on the shelf. I could see there was a huge gap in the market for a fun and healthy product, and I didn’t want M+LKPLUS to look mundane on the shelf so I decided to reclaim bold, bright pink for everyone! The brand personality is so important, not just on the bottles, but on social media too. Because the M+LKPLUS posts are funny and relatable they spread through word of mouth, which is so powerful for a brand.
Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?
Competing with other brands can be a challenge but while it is important to understand competitors, if you start trying to imitate them you are already going to be way behind on what they are doing. I tend to keep a much closer eye on the US market than the UK market, because the UK trends follow about a year behind what they do in the states.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start out in the business world?
My biggest piece of advice would be to create a business where you are the ideal customer, make yourself your own target market. When you do things that way, you will spend a lot less time second guessing yourself, and it is so much easier to be passionate about every aspect of your business. I also think that as an entrepreneur you have to get used to being uncomfortable, an entrepreneurial journey doesn’t often feel safe, but the sooner you accept that you will have to live outside of your comfort zone, the easier your journey will be.
How do you feel about mentoring or speaking at entrepreneurial events?
Humans are very social creatures, we like to share our ideas, vocalise our stories. Sometimes being an entrepreneur can be very isolating, you can spend a lot of time alone, planning your next moves or analysing your business, and mentoring and going to events allows you to get out there and talk about your brand. My worst nightmare is someone really pushing a product on to me, and events and mentoring sessions are fantastic because it’s not about product sales, it’s an open room you can answer and ask questions, story tell, and spread the ethos of your brand to people who really care.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I think it was when our website and orders first went live, and people were buying M+LKPLUS in Australia and the USA – I was completely taken aback. I had customers in parts of the UK I had never heard of, and people all over the world supporting the brand. It was pleasantly sobering, and it still blows my mind how many people have invested in my product.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
That’s a hard question! In business I take a lot of inspiration from the books that I read and from the people I follow on Instagram, Instagram is such a great source of inspiration, both for lifestyle and for business. I also take inspiration from other brands that I love – just not necessarily ones in my own sector. Personally, my parents have also been huge inspirations to me, they both work so hard.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I try not to over complicate my products, I simply look at what flavour trends are growing, how I can make M+LKPLUS more accessible and work on that, rather than trying to expand in every direction and loose sight of what makes the product unique.
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