Nimisha, a lifelong entrepreneur, started out running a dry-cleaning shop and now runs a business that makes healthy snacks and ingredients.
Around the time that Nimisha Raja turned 50, she started to sell everything she had in order to fund her new business. She sold her existing enterprises, a coffee shop and a dry-cleaning business. She even sold her home and moved into rented accommodation.
It was a huge leap – although it didn’t feel that way to her. “I think my general attitude is ‘all or nothing’ in everything I do,” she says. “I just felt sure it was going to work, because it was a good idea and I [was] going to give it my all.”
Nimisha, now aged 60, now has a profitable company in Nim’s Fruit Crisps, which makes healthy snacks and dried ingredients. The company, which has its own factory in Kent and employs over 20 people, has certainly had its ups and downs with the Covid pandemic and Brexit in recent years. But Nimisha has found ways to weather these storms.
“You’ve got to be resilient when you [run a] business,” says Nimisha, who has spent over 35 years setting up and running her own businesses. “You can’t just give up. You try and find every avenue possible to survive.”
As a teenager, Nimisha was interested in becoming a lawyer – but she also wanted to become financially independent as soon as possible. So she left school at 15 and started waitressing, before progressing to manage restaurants.
At the age of 23, she decided to set up her own business. She opened a dry-cleaners in south London, which expanded to five branches, and she then also opened a wine bar. But when she unexpectedly became pregnant, she knew that working nights was no longer feasible, especially as she was a single mother.
Nimisha closed the bar and opened a coffee shop, choosing a location opposite a school where she thought her daughter might go someday. Her plan came together. “It was wonderful because I could go to all her music recitals and meetings, [I could] just pop in and out. And she could just walk across to the coffee shop [after school],” she says.
Nimisha’s cafe became a popular post-school spot. As she observed families everyday, she had her next business idea. She saw how parents and children argued about whether to buy fruit or crisps for an afternoon snack. She wondered if there was a way to create a healthy snack that the children would enjoy.
Nimisha set up a test-kitchen in her garage and experimented with making crisps by drying fruit. She then started the long process of finding a factory to make her snacks on a big scale, eventually selling her other assets and setting up her factory in Kent. Nim’s Fruit Crisps was ready to go.
Today, Nimisha’s crisps are stocked in shops such as Holland & Barrett. She sells her dried ingredients and drinks garnishes to restaurants such as Zizzi’s, and she is developing a range of dried ingredients for people to cook with at home.
Nimisha’s advice for other older workers, if they’re considering setting up their own businesses, is to think carefully in advance about what they want from it and how much time they want to give to it. She now mentors start-ups and she sees many entrepreneurs who underestimate the time and commitment needed.
“There are lots of good things about it…but it’s always going to be ten times harder, cost you ten times more, and take ten times longer to succeed than you think,” she says.
While Nimisha still works as hard as ever, she is also starting to think about retirement. She plans to sell the business by the time she turns 65, so she can fund her retirement and buy a home once more. She has also returned to her first interest – she’s studying law with the Open University. She isn’t yet sure how she’ll use her degree but she might set up a charity that offers free legal advice.
“I don’t think I ever made a plan for how I want my career to be,” says Nimisha, who has instead thrown herself wholeheartedly into the opportunities that came along. “[But] I’ve really enjoyed it and I think I wouldn’t change it.”