“Changing Your Mind Means You Have One” - The Crucial Rules To Founder Success

Health food trailblazer and Founder of PROPER Snacks, Cassandra Stavrou shares her rules on hiring, firing and non-negotiables as the founder of a multi-million pound company

By Aswan Magumbe

10 September 2023

he number of female entrepreneurs is on the rise - and good thing. According to the Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship in 2019, if greater efforts were made to help women become successful entrepreneurs, 250 billion pound’s worth of new value could be added to the UK economy. Yet, with discussions around women-led businesses in the media often subjecting them to doubt and critique, what better way than to go straight to the sources available and shine a light on just how female founders overcome these statistics.

Cassandra Stavrou’s popcorn dream began in 2009 when she spotted a gap in the market for a premium line of healthy snacks that didn’t compromise on taste - and therefore enjoyment. A little over ten years since the launch of Propercorn (now PROPER Snacks), and the year the brand celebrated its 10 year anniversary, it became Europe’s largest healthier snacking company. Stavrou now sits on the UK government’s food and drinks sector council and was awarded an MBE in 2019 for her services to the food industry.

On Wednesday evening, The Stack World hosted an IRL event at 180 Strand where Stavrou opened up to Sharmadean Reid and shared the rules that she lives by as a founder.

The next Founder’s Rules event will be happening on February 23rd, sign up as a member today to discover who your guest for the evening will be before anyone else.

If you missed the event, we’ve got you covered. Below you can find some of Cassandra Stavrou’s rules for founder success - OR, sign up as a member to get access to all of our previous event recordings.


‘Routine is much more dangerous than adventure’ - Paulo Coelho

‘There are no rules - break the rules’

Escape the day to day, be sick in the street, miss flights now and again, and take risks. It's never a good look to be sick in the street but the point is, if you've never been sick in the street, you're missing out. The thing that entrepreneurs can take from this is: be careful to not be too restrained and to become too mechanical. We often get pulled, especially more and more now, with ‘what does the data say?’, and we start making decisions based on the hard facts. The danger with that is that idea generation can go really stale.

‘Love the outliers, look for the contradictions’

Look for those little nuggets or insights that are undervalued, and then creatively try and resolve them. That's when you come up with ideas that push things forward. You have to put yourself in that mindset consciously, otherwise, you just slip into that very rational, logical way of thinking that I don't think breeds the best ideas.

‘Changing your mind means you have one’

The big idea of being restless is something that we all need to get really comfortable with. It's a rule that took me years to realise was a strength and not a weakness, as I got more confident with my position of leadership.

Let's say you've seen you've learnt something and that you want to change it, it's really easy to start feeling disappointed with yourself. ‘Why didn't I get it right the first time?’. Innovation never ends and progress never comes from standing still, particularly if you're scaling, you might get lucky with your first launch, and it performs really well. But to grow, you need to keep moving. Never neglect detail - that’s where the magic happens.

S.R: I distinctly remember you telling me babes we're not called Propercorn anymore, it's PROPER now. It's PROPER Snacks because you were expanding beyond popcorn. And little touches of brilliance add up to something special and if you don't, you produce mediocrity.


‘The first thing with a product is: be obsessed with it’

Keep the main thing, the main thing - that's advice from Richard Reed, one of the founders of Innocent Smoothies. Be obsessed with the thing that you're asking people to part with money for, and don't lose sight of the product and the thing you're selling. Growth, profitability, fame, followers - all of that stuff stems from that but if you focus on them first, I think you're more likely to fail.

S.R: ‘Always remember to keep the main thing, the main thing.’


‘Prioritise sales over marketing’

I think that's been happening less and less in business, maybe because of social media and people's aspirations around personal brands, but your sales are your lifeline. That's your blood supply! Sales and marketing every time.


‘Better a hole than an arsehole’

Dan Jacobs, the Head of Talent for Apple, he said that. Bring up the people who stand for your values and let go of those who don't.

S.R: I have huge holes in my team right now, and it's very easy to fill them with people who might not quite be right because you need someone right now, and you're doing everything and you just need support. ‘I just need support’, ‘let me just hire this person who happens to be available’, but what you're saying is - not to say that everyone is an arsehole - better to have a hole in your team than fill it with someone who's not quite right.

C.S: Every business will have a set of values, whether they're written down or not, typically it will be the founder or the CEO values, and you should have zero tolerance for anyone who doesn't live those values. Because not just in the early days, but the entire journey, the minute someone doesn't share those values, it's amazing how one person can have such a negative impact across an organisation. Bad management is the number one reason why people can leave a business, or they're negatively representing your company to your external contacts, and the attitudes can very quickly ripple across the organisation.

Put them through their paces, set them a challenge where they're going to do the job that you're asking them to do to see if they're the right fit - really take your time. The other thing is: get really good at firing people. That may sound callous, but if it's not working for you, it isn't working for them. It's always in the best interests of both parties. Get comfortable with firing, as well as hiring

S.R: Hire slow, fire fast.


‘If it doesn’t make you feel something: stop. What doesn’t move you, isn’t going to move anyone else’

Ask yourself that question: how does it make me feel? We are creatures of emotion, so we put feeling before truth. We put beauty before logic. When you create, you have to create for a reaction and an emotional response.

A good example is about five years in, we were about to do our first major media campaign. We had a million pounds. We didn't know how we were going to spend it. At the time, this was when advertising was really telling people how to live their lives, like ‘remember to eat five a day’, and ‘remember to throw me away’, and it was starting to become wallpaper. Then Becky, our creative director, was sat at her computer, and she designed this beautiful grid of popcorn patterns; no messaging, no words, bold coloured background, and that was it. It just looked wicked. And we were like, ‘let's just wrap 10 buses in popcorn pattern’, and we literally did wallpaper. In saying nothing, it said so much about us: it was bold, it was impactful, and today it’s one of our most iconic assets. And it's because we had the confidence to back the thing that wasn't very rational. It didn't make much sense. It didn't follow the rules. But it prompted such a strong instant reaction in us.


‘Don’t look left or right; be different. If you obsess about your rivals, you'll lose what makes you, you. Get inspired but be who you are.’

Unfollow your competitors. I've never ever followed any of our competitors in like 10 years, and half the time, I don’t have a clue what they're up to - you can’t help but be influenced. Seek inspiration from outside your category, that's where all the good ideas are. We used to choose our Pantones based on what was walking down the runway.

S.R: If you're a designer today, it's very difficult to not be influenced by Canva, Pinterest, and what's on Instagram, so everyone's graphics start to merge into one similar-like visual. Whenever I brief the tech team on what graphics to create for social, I send them mood boards of rave fliers, I send them mood boards of art books. I always try and go back to the source because if you don't, you’ll end up with a brand design that looks like a photocopy of a photocopy, and you could almost create these like pillars of things that are adjacent to you.

‘There’s no such thing as a failed entrepreneur’

There's a writer called Nassim Taleb, and he wrote about fragility. He says that entrepreneurs should be treated similarly to war heroes - there's no such thing as a failed soldier. Even if you're not starting a business, if you're trying to impact change within your organisation, you're taking the hard option, and that's exceptional, and deserves so much respect. There are some low moments where you really feel like giving up but there is no such thing as failure when you're taking such amazing risks.

The next Founder’s Rules event will be happening on February 23rd, sign up as a member today to find out who your host for the evening will be before anyone else.

If you missed the event, we’ve got you covered. Below you can find some of Cassandra Stavrou’s rules for founder success - OR, sign up as a member to get access to all of our previous event recordings.

The Short Stack

In the first instalment of The Founders Rules, PROPER Snacks and Eat Real founder Cassandra Stavrou MBE speaks with Sharmadean Reid to share her ten pieces of wisdom on how to successfully handle all the baggage that comes with being a female entrepreneur

By Aswan Magumbe

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