A love of travel took her to study in the United States and China before returning to the UK to work in investment banking.
Whilst working in the city, Lavinia developed a passion for preparing original sweets and desserts at home and realised her ambitions lay in food rather than finance.
In 2013 she created the Lavolio company which has gone from strength to strength and to Buckingham Palace!
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
My name is Lavinia and I am the founder and owner of Lavolio Boutique Confectionery, a collection of handmade Italian sweets and chocolates beautifully presented in decorative tin boxes with a range of extraordinary and surprising flavours. They are much more than a box of chocolates.
My career in banking was going well, then the financial crisis happened and in one day everything changed – my company fired 4,500 people in one day and I was made redundant. At that moment, standing in front of a shut door, I decided I was going to be devoted to my passion for food, which has been a part of me and my Italian upbringing, since my childhood.
This is when I had the idea of making a box of chocolates more exciting. Using a traditional Italian panning technique which preserves using a thin sugar coating, inside are different fillings made with nuts, chocolate, real pieces of fruit, spices, coffee….Every bite is a surprise with different textures and tastes. Once you try them, you immediately know what it is all about.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not at all. My career in Investment Banking wasn’t part of a plan either, it happened because I studied Economics at Bocconi University in Milan and had to complete a summer internship before graduating. I found an internship online, in London which resulted in a full-time job once I finished my studies. Once I decided that I wanted to start a business, I started very small scale, on my kitchen table, before moving on to selling at food markets. This is how I found my first stockist and 6 months later I started supplying Fortnum & Mason.
Today I’m stocked in the best independent shops all over the UK, they are available online on Amazon Prime, Ocado, and on lavolio.com. My products are even enjoyed by Royals! This growth has enabled me to open a real shop in London, and to hire an amazing team. This happened organically, little by little.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
The biggest challenge, I feel, is to turn an idea into a viable business. I started selling at food markets around London and my products got noticed because people had never tried anything like it before. I had to go from being someone who loves sweets to understanding business plans, scaling up, health and safety, food laws and contracts with suppliers. And many other things, including hiring and managing a team.
It’s important to be resourceful. Different challenges will require you to learn how to tackle tasks you weren’t even aware that existed. For example, I discovered that learning some tricks from coding improved my e-commerce revenues by 50%, and by learning tools used by graphic designers I was able to move our personalised gift offering in-house. As the business grows, I am sure the challenges will continue to change.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Lavolio was selected as one of the Small Business Champions on Amazon.co.uk homepage and got a full page 8 Business article on The Daily Telegraph. The business’ achievements have been featured in the Evening Standard, Mail Online and on CNBC and BBC radio. Lavolio has been invited to supply the Royal Palace on different occasions. I personally went inside Buckingham Palace (in the staff room, on the side!) to deliver some of my handmade confectionery.
Above all, I am proud to have customers who have been supporting my business and buying Lavolio for over five years; customers who travel a long way to visit my shop, order my products regularly and order internationally, because they see the quality and care of my products and the passion I put into giving them a great customer experience. What would my business be without their happiness?
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Not being afraid to learn: I am definitely on a learning journey. Even if my initial idea was based on a lot of research I couldn’t have imagined what it would be like to start a business from zero.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I have been learning about the different aspects of starting a business mainly by sharing my idea with other entrepreneurs and mentors. They provide a huge amount of expertise and support. As a business born out of adversity, Lavolio always had an intent of positivity. It’s always been about learning, growing and expanding, but also making something beneficial to the community that would grow around it.
I put a lot of importance in giving back to the entrepreneurial community, finding and supporting small and local businesses and becoming each other’s champions, running campaigns together and promoting more small businesses to a similar audience. I also mentor a number of early-stage food startups and female founders.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
I believe successful female role models should be talked about more, to provide our girls with the inspiration they need to really build up their ambition. It starts with the culture and knowing about the opportunities available plays a vital role in inspiring the next generation.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
It’s hard to always remain sure of yourself and emanate the self-confidence that you need. My advice would be to embrace your feminine side, even if it means showing your vulnerability at times. Your character makes you who you are, and if you look well enough you can find your own strength and passion like no one else has. Just remember to always be yourself, and to trust in your abilities. Fight that impostor syndrome by celebrating every little success in some way.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My ambition is to continue to grow the business, establishing Lavolio as the number one premium Italian confectionery brand, selling internationally. One step at a time.