I have a very clear memory from the first few nights after I launched this blog. I was sat on the sofa in my flat, looking through some of the accounts that had started to follow this journey and the Harri Bites logo quickly jumped out at me. After a quick Instagram stalk, I came across the dreamiest salted caramel cake piled high with popcorn (along with numerous other goodies) and after realising that the company was female-led, instantly knew that I had to get in touch.
The lady behind Harri Bites is just-turned 30 year old Harriet Linder, a mother of one based in North London. We arranged a call, I babbled on about how much I love the cake and after a quick natter, we set a date to meet.
In case I haven’t mentioned it before, popcorn is my thing.
Fast forward four weeks, an hour on the M1 and a few U-turns later, my satnav tells me I’ve arrived. Judging from the number of shiny cars in the area, I can’t bring myself to park my rusty old corsa nearby so after a quick detour around the block, I abandon the car (!) ring the doorbell, and am instantly welcomed inside.
Harriet Linder. I feel like I need to give you a hug!
Surrounded by marble work surfaces, Tom Dixon light fittings and fresh bouquets of flowers, it’s safe to say I have house envy in an instant.
Note to self: I definitely made the right decision about the car..!
She offers me a coffee – white no sugar in case you were wondering – we sit down in her cosy all-white living room and I soon find out that beautiful house aside, there’s so much more to Harriet than first meets the eye…
She can. She did. Right are you ready?
Harriet Linder. I’m ready!
SC.SD. So you’ve got your superfood balls and you’ve got your cakes – two very different ends of the spectrum! What, in your own words, is Harri Bites?
HL. Harri Bites started as a healthy snack business but over time it’s evolved and I’ve started to introduce cakes that definitely aren’t healthy! It’s now become a food business inspired by food, fashion and interior trends. It’s for people to indulge in the good and the bad!
SC.SD. Talk me through those trends…
HL. So superfood bites are obviously trendy at the moment. A few people make energy balls but they’re really ugly brown balls basically..! So, I thought I’m going to try and make my own but make them look more appetising and design some pretty packaging.
My cakes are inspired by interiors – marbles, golds, pastels etc… I feel like that’s what people want in their homes at the moment so why can’t I translate that into a cake that also tastes good?
With a Psychology BSc degree to her name, creating superfood bites and baking wasn’t an obvious career choice from the outset. Fresh out of university, Harriet joined the world of marketing – a career she knew wasn’t her dream role. When she was made redundant from her job in 2014, knowing full well that she didn’t want to go back to university, she took a six week, crash course in Creative Writing and soon started interning for luxury magazines in the City. On the side, she used the redundancy as an opportunity to start jotting down ideas for a food business but put those on pause when she landed her first role in journalism.
HL. It was a hobby after all.
SC.SD. What ideas were on that list?
HL. I knew what I wanted to do – the ideas were more related to the name of the brand. My maiden name is Baker…
SC.SD. Fitting then!
HL. Exactly, so I wanted to keep the HB. I toyed with Harri Bakes for a while…
SC.SD. For what it’s worth I love Harri Bites! Let’s park that there for a second though and talk about journalism…
For the first half of the week, Harriet juggles Harri Bites with a part time editorial role at a contract publishing company. She is responsible for keeping readers up to date with everything luxury in the beauty, travel, hospitality, food, fashion and interiors sectors.
HL. I love it! I’m finally writing….I get sent pictures of incredible places in the Maldives and I’m sat at my desk like “I hate you!”
Unlike a lot of women who state becoming disillusioned with their current role as the reason for setting up their own business, Harriet started Harri Bites on the side of a job she is still very much passionate about. Something that I go on to point out is rare…
HL. I feel like I have two sides to me. One side is very academic and organised which is where the writing and news reporting comes in but I’ve found something where I can unleash my creative side in Harri Bites. I can go mad with the cakes. I line everything up and measure everything out and it’s all so organised but then when I actually start baking it’s like an explosion, I can’t even blame my one year old!
Yesterday my Mum came round and I was just like “don’t judge me!”
SC.SD. Haha! Do you remember where you were exactly when you decided to just go for it?
HL. Max and I were on holiday in Abu Dhabi in 2015 but I was getting restless and just wanted to set it up. I had no idea about business though! I remember saying to Max “what do I call it, ‘Harri Bites Limited’?” and he said yes and then started making jokes about whether he gets 50% shares in the company! I obviously said no!
On cue, Max walks in with a rosy-cheeked eighteen month old who is clutching on to a bottle of Jo Malone perfume.
HL. She’s going through a perfume phase at the moment…
SC.SD. I see she’s got good taste!
HL. I know right!
After a quick cooing session over Sienna who seems besotted with the fragrance, Max asks why there’s no car on the drive and I have to explain that I couldn’t bring myself to park in front of their house…
After saying their goodbyes, we continue.
HL. So Max helped me set up the initial basis and then I just got on with it. I had my other job so in the evenings and weekends I’d work with a graphic designer to sort the logo and packaging.
The packaging was a big deal to me and took a long time. I think because I did marketing I spent so long thinking about the name, logo, fonts, colours etc. I didn’t know anything about packaging so had to do a lot of research.
SC.SD. Whereabouts did you look? Pinterest?
HL. Pinterest for inspiration but I went to Selfridges loads because they take on a lot of new brands.
SC.SD. And they’re products are renowned for being ‘luxury’ too aren’t they?
HL. Yes exactly. And the price point of my bites was at the ‘luxury’ end of the scale so it felt like the right place for me to look. I started off with a box of 9 individually wrapped balls and took it from there…
In the early days of Harri Bites, Harriet juggled the stress of setting up the business whilst being pregnant, living with her parents at the time and house hunting for a family home- a hectic set of circumstances at the best of times.
HL. I remember this one night I was determined to make 300 bites… I just had to. I was up until 2-3am and Max was helping me… our hands hurt by the end of it!
SC.SD. Out of the blue?! Or did you have an order?
HL. I didn’t have an order but my plan was to send them out to retailers as samples to see if they wanted to take them on… and this is where you’re going to hear my downs and low points..!
SC.SD. Ok let’s get them out of the way!
HL. I literally walked into town the next day and went into cafes… it took time but I was fully prepared for that. I was pregnant at the time though so there was a bit of back ache!
SC.SD. And did you hear back?
HL. Not much. I followed up, I chased and chased and chased and it got a bit difficult… just constant rejection. I heard things like “your price point is too high, we sell something similar, you can’t see the product because they’re hidden in the box” etc…
Painfully, Harriet also recalls a real “what if” moment along the way…
HL. Selfridges said they’d take an order at the very beginning which was amazing but they wanted me to be on the floor giving out samples and it was on my due date so I had to say no… I just remember thinking if the baby comes early then it just won’t work and, in the end, she did… so I lost that.
SC.SD. Oh no! That’s such frustrating timing. I trust that you’ve tried again since?
HL. I’ve tried but the contact has moved on and I couldn’t get hold of the replacement… then I had Sienna and took a step back. I just remember thinking this is really hard. I’ve just had a baby, I’m tired, I can’t keep hassling these people.
SC.SD. But you didn’t completely give up?
HL. I didn’t give up! I started approaching smaller places that were a bit more niche. I was out for lunch in Maida Vale and Sienna was making loads of noise so I took her outside and went into a deli across the road. I looked around and there were lovely cheeses and pastries and chocolates and wines…
I just started talking to the owner! I was like “Hi….err… so I’ve got these bites..!” and she just said ok bring me a sample! So I did and she placed an order…
In addition to the deli, Matt Roberts personal training gyms also agreed to take the superfood bites on.
HL. They didn’t sell amazingly because the shelf life at the time wasn’t that long. I was given lots of really useful feedback though… about the box, the prices and I just started to listen. It was the same with the gym. Their members are wealthy but they’re very price conscious, they want something where they can just grab it and not really think about the price.
With that, Harriet took a step back at the end of 2016, and spent the next few months developing the packaging that you now see today. With the help of a friend who owns a chocolate company (best contact ever, I know…) the bites are now sealed properly helping to increase their shelf life, the boxes are transparent so you can see the product inside and the price has been reduced.
HL. It took me a very long time to work out what to go for. I basically learnt that my instinct didn’t work but that’s ok. I just took it all on board.
SC.SD. A lot of people would struggle to admit that… do you take criticism well in general?
HL. Not so much with family (!) but you can’t get annoyed… I suppose the only think that was frustrating was that I’d lost a bit of money on the old packaging but you get over it eventually. Business wise I can take it so I do listen and absorb it… you’re doing it for different reasons so you can’t get emotional.
SC.SD. That’s hard when you have pregnancy hormones flying all over the place though surely?
HL. I know right!?
SC.SD. So the bites are sorted, when did you start creating cakes too?
HL. It was Sienna’s birthday in March and I started getting quotes from some incredible cake makers but they were so expensive… I just thought maybe I could make this myself?
With that realisation, Harriet bought the necessary baking equipment earlier this year and in order to stay awake during night feeds with a newborn, started to watch ‘How to’ cake decorating videos on YouTube in the early hours…
HL. I just love watching food videos, they kept me awake! It was like watching reality shows, it’s just so therapeutic… My Mum’s an amazing baker and she always taught me so I’ve never been frightened of baking… I just thought this could be another branch so I’ll give it a whirl.
SC.SD. How did you decide on which flavours to offer? Do you lead with requests or do you have staples?
HL. A bit of both! Everyone loves a classic Victoria sponge. I’ve also got a lemon and poppy seed version with a lemon curd and vanilla buttercream and a chocolate and espresso sponge which I thought was a bit more sophisticated than a standard chocolate cake. I also use gold scalloped cake boards for every order too – I want people to identify my brand with something.
SC.SD. They always look gorgeous. So everything happens in there…
I point to her kitchen.
HL. Yes, so I got in touch with an Environmental Health Officer before I started selling…that was another learning curve. It’s all done through your local council – they basically come in, ask you loads of questions, check the kitchen and give you a report.
The beauty of working from home though is that they have to book an appointment, they never just turn up! They also gave me advice on packaging too. It’s continuous learning. It’s not like I’ve gone on any courses so I’ve just learnt from scratch, watching people, talking to people…
SC.SD. Watching YouTube videos at 3 in the morning…!
HL. Watching YouTube videos at 3am!
About three months ago, Harriet started to post pictures of cakes on the @Harribites Instagram feed and the interest for both bites and cakes quickly picked up.
SC.SD. What do you get more orders for?
HL. I don’t think I can say that I sell more of one than the other because it’s all still so new. I’m in the process of developing a website where customers will be able to order everything online though.
SC.SD. Let’s talk Instagram because it’s such a powerful tool for small businesses. How has it helped Harri Bites?
HL. It’s helped me a LOT. Of course my friends support me but when you get people you don’t know commenting and people you’ve never met reacting to the bites and cakes it’s so useful. Your friends have to like it, that’s their job!
I get a lot of cake orders via word of mouth but a lot have come through Instagram too. Obviously I don’t have a huge following so who knows what it’ll be like if it grows but so far, it’s been amazing.
SC.SD. This stage sounds exciting though?
HL. It’s so exciting! I’m excited for my website to launch too!
With so much going on, it’s easy to forget that Harriet continues to work as a journalist three days a week.
SC.SD. How do you find juggling your role at the magazine and Harri Bites?
HL. Because I now work from home, it’s not as bad because my commute into Canary Wharf used to be an hour and a half and that was so tiring. I just take advantage of my spare time now. I don’t have the commute and I have my lunch hour to bake as well. Yes I feel like I’m always working but I’m so grateful I have flexible hours!
There are moments where it gets too much sometimes and I think should I cut something? But then I’m like no, I’m so passionate about this. Go to bed and wake up tomorrow. I could have quit last year when the packaging failed, I could have stopped when I had Sienna but I just carried on because I care about it and I want it to be successful.
SC.SD. How do you feel about competitors in the space? For cakes I’m thinking Crumbs and Doilies and for the balls I’m thinking Deliciously Ella, Bounce Balls… oh and Livia’s Kitchen… I haven’t actually tried those though…
HL. Do you want to? I’ve got some?
Harriet quickly runs to the kitchen and returns with a tub of Livia’s Kitchen Raw Chocolate Orange Millionaire Bites.
SC.SD. Oh my gosh they’re so yummy. Thank you!
HL. Arent they!?
We spend the next few minutes stuffing our faces and talking all things sweet treats and what makes for good competition…
SC.SD. What are your thoughts on them all then, especially when brands like Deliciously Ella are…
HL. Completely smashing it?! To be honest I was inspired by her. When she first started her blog, I tried one of her recipes and just thought maybe I could do this so started experimenting with recipes… I took them to work, Max took them to his work and his colleagues were like “she should definitely start selling these!” The seed was planted then- it was such a confident boost.
SC.SD. So you almost use the competition to your benefit then?
HL. I just don’t really see them as competitors to be honest… not bad ones anyway. There’s good and bad competition. The good being that you’re inspired and it pushes you to try something different!
SC.SD. How do you plan to grow? Can you ever see the business growing to such an extent that you need to stop making them by hand and industrialise the process instead for instance?
HL. I started looking into factories in December last year actually. Rosie Millen (@missnutritionist) told me to stop making them myself and said that I should be at the forefront of the brand, not in the kitchen.
However, after researching factories across the country, Harriet encountered numerous problems such as they don’t allow nuts in the factory, the Harri Bites balls are too small, they were fully booked for the foreseeable future and that she should make bigger bars instead…
HL. I’ve just taken a step back with that. I just thought I’m not cracking this, maybe it’s not the right time.
SC.SD. Are you ever tempted to take on Rosie’s advice and put your face to the brand more?
HL. I’m a bit shy… a lot of people put themselves out there but that doesn’t come naturally to me… I need to work on breaking those barriers down.
We deviate slightly to discuss all things social media and how we envy anyone that finds it easy to market themselves as part of their brand.
SC.SD. On this note, let’s move on to personal life then… How have your friends reacted to this?
HL. They’ve been great, they’re all really supportive. Some of them have their own babies and businesses too so they get the struggles.
SC.SD. Let’s talk about that more. How does being a mother affect the way you run your business?
HL. Hmmm, some days you plan to make this, that and the other but then they wake up with a temperature and it all goes out the window…! I have to juggle a lot and it’s hard sometimes but I have so much support around me.
Harriet’s family all live nearby so along with her husband, her parents and her two sisters are often on standby to help as and when she needs it.
HL. Sienna is a wild child! Every time she sees me in the kitchen she pulls at my leg so it’s impossible to make cakes. She gets a spoon and a bowl and we have to pretend!
There are days where I feel like I’m going to cry I’m so tired… I can’t do this… but you just think get over it! If I want it to get to where I want it to get to I’m going to have to put in the graft!
SC.SD. Who do you go to when you’re having your lows then?
HL. My husband and sometimes my Dad. He’s really good with business, he has his own company and he’s a really hard worker so I get that boost from him and of course my Mum…. they both have their different qualities but Dad’s good for the business questions! He’s non-stop. I’ve grown up with that and I feel like I’m hard-working because it’s just rubbed off on me.
SC.SD. Dad’s are good like that. Are there any women- either in your personal life or the public eye- that you look up to and admire?
HL. I admire lots of my friends for taking the plunge and going for it. In terms of the public eye though, not so much people but I get a lot of inspiration from some of the female-led Australian brands – especially for health foods, design and interiors. I feel like they’ve been doing it for years and we’re only just starting. Their cake designers are like artists.
SC.SD. I couldn’t agree more- when I was renovating my flat I was obsessed with some Australian designers on Instagram.
HL. Exactly, I’m obsessed with self-taught patissier Thao Pham’s creations – she’s the founder of cafe Don’t Tell Charles (@donttellcharles) in Melbourne…. you salivate as you look through the feed! I just thought why isn’t this happening in North London? What you mainly see here are figurines made out of fondant, and don’t get me wrong they are amazing, but they feel very old fashioned to me. I’m all about meringue kisses, cake gems and gold leaf.
SC.SD. Agreed! Right, swift U-turn, what’s your favourite quote?
HL. Erm…. “Never give up!” Because I haven’t yet! And then “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. You can spend hours almost drowned by a negative response from someone and it can get you so down but really, their day hasn’t changed and yet you’ve wasted half a day getting upset!
SC.SD. That’s very true. What advice would you give to your younger self then?
HL. See I’m going to be 30 in a week but I still don’t feel old! I still watch Disney movies… Sienna’s not fussed by them and I just sit there watching them myself!
Advice though? I’d tell myself that quote, “don’t sweat the small stuff!” With business and personal relationships, you can get so bogged down over analysing. Also, I’m a sensitive soul and I’ve learnt to embrace that and not let it make me feel vulnerable and pathetic so I guess don’t fight that. I can cry really quickly but so what?!
SC.SD. Sometimes a good cry really helps though! You can cry it all out and then it’s like, ah, that was nothing!
HL. It does! I know! And I’d also say to just have some self-belief that even if you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing, you will get there. Some people, like my sister who’s a speech therapist, always knew what they wanted to be but I didn’t and I realise now that it’s not a bad thing.
SC.SD. I really relate to that! My career has always been so important to me but I’ve never had a specific job title in mind. I always knew I wanted to research and write and travel, yes, but that doesn’t lend itself to just one job… so it’s almost a case of just making it up as you go along.
HL. I’m like that too! At one point I thought writing is my life! Sometimes I think I want to write a children’s book, my imagination can run wild and then suddenly I bake cakes and I love cakes… you just have to go with the flow!
FYI, Harriet has that fresh-faced Blue Peter presenter charisma, I could definitely see her writing children’s books too one day…
SC.SD. Very much so! And what advice would you give to anyone that wants their own business but is holding back because they want to start a family or have just started a family?
HL. I think it’s definitely possible to do both but you have to be realistic. And planning to have a baby to actually being pregnant aren’t always in your control so you have to be aware of that. You also don’t know what you’ll feel like when you have your baby…so just go with gut.
The first few months are a real blur. You’re exhausted – every mum is so I don’t want sympathy for that – but I started to reach a point where I realised that I want more and needed something else, I can’t just be cooing all day. I wanted the best of both worlds so just go with how you feel and be honest with yourself.
Harriet now works from home on the magazine from Monday to Wednesday, has Sienna at home with her on Thursday to Friday and then works on the bites and cakes from Thursday to Sunday.
HL. There’s a stigma that women should do everything and I guess I am trying to be like that but it’s because I want to, we shouldn’t feel like we have to.
SC.SD. Well said! Last question then, what does down time look like?
HL. Erm, I do get burnt out sometimes but I’m learning to listen to my body. When you get that tired and you’ve worked your butt off you can’t think straight sometimes… you start doubting yourself but then you go to sleep…
SC.SD. Or have a good cry!
HL. Sleep, cry, a really good bubble bath, a good walk… I exercise as much as I can. Going to the gym gets it all out!
Last week I was baking loads of sponges and it got to the end of the day and I just said “I’m going to go to the gym” and Max said “why don’t you lay on the sofa?!” but I said “nope I’m going to the gym” and just like that, it made me feel better!!
We end our chat there and after sending me home with all three flavours of superfood bites (the Maca + Peanut ones make for the best road trip snacks going FYI) I can’t help but admire Harriet’s determination to strive for more in life.
Despite having a respected career that she, to this day, still enjoys and of course the gorgeous Sienna who ensures that no two days are the same, Harriet has launched a business alongside her already busy lifestyle that oozes the luxury and class that she writes about day to day.
From the academic, to the maternal, the creative to the shy there’s so many sides to her personality that she’s wholeheartedly embraced and despite facing numerous setbacks with Harri Bites along the way, not once has she opted to walk away.
Instead, she takes time out to re-evaluate, openly admits when she’s got it wrong and returns stronger having learnt from her mistakes. On top of that, she has that girl next door wholesomeness that I am certain puts everyone she meets instantly at ease.
If that doesn’t add up to make one inspiring business woman, I don’t know what does.