Meet Sam Bompas: Jelly monger and architectural food smith
Earlier in the week, we held our latest Inspiring Entrepreneurs series of events at the British Library, with Michael Acton-Smith OBE from Moshi Monsters and Sam Bompas from Bompas & Parr. As well as being able to watch in London, it was broadcast live and there were screenings around the UK. Which meant that although I was putting my little baby to bed, I could catch most of it from home. Brilliant! I thought I’d tell you the story of Sam Bompas, co-founder of Bompas & Parr.
Sam came on stage in a very sparkly shirt (I haven’t seen anything quite that bright since I saw Noel Fielding live) and was a confident, excitable, ‘mad scientist’ sort of guy. A few science experiments later, we learnt a little bit about his business and a huge amount about his love of ideas.
Sam founded Bompas & Parr in 2007 with his partner, Harry Parr, who he has known since he was 13 (they were in the same orchestra at Eton). He knew that he wanted to do something fun at the weekend, and living close to Borough Market, decided he would like to have a stall there.
His initial plan was to sell jelly; they thought that as water was the main ingredient, it would be cheap to produce and they would be millionaires in no time. Plus there is something quite magical about jelly that makes everyone smile; they would win everyone over with bright colours and silly shapes. They quickly came against two hurdles. Firstly, that high quality copper moulds are expensive, and secondly, that making jelly is very time consuming. He said that jelly taught him everything he knows about being an entrepreneur.
Harry was studying architecture at the time, and he managed to convince his course tutor that he’d like to have jelly as the main theme of his final project. He made beautiful jellies using moulds created through rapid prototyping. To challenge themselves further, they sent out a message to architects: give us any design and we will make it. Which they did, for a fabulously extravagant jelly banquet.
This led onto a fabulous list of projects: a whisky tornado, glow-in-the-dark ice-cream, cooking with lava, chocolate waterfalls, fireworks you can taste and an erotic fairground with a breast bouncy castle (yes, you did read that right). As Sam said, "I gave up a normal career in financial marketing to make jelly. I gave up a career in jelly to do other silly things."
Although Sam talked about how he is motivated by ideas rather than by money, I couldn’t help notice that there is a lot of sound business stuff going on in the background. He employs a team of ten experts in his studio and has built a very, very impressive client list including Diageo, Cargill, Mercedes-Benz, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He has attracted major press attention as was named by the Independent as one of the “15 people who will define the future of arts in Britain.”
Sam’s ethos is that work should be fun (I doubt he even calls it work) and I wholeheartedly agree. Why do something you’re not passionate about?
At this point in the night, the speakers started talking about some of the challenges and setbacks they had faced. His thoughts? Don’t anticipate how difficult everything will be and have a really short term memory. Having read some of Sam and Harry's other interviews online, I suspect that having a great partnership which balances creativity and and practical application also really helps. And the challenges? People always expect Bompas & Parr to do ‘world firsts’ and obviously it is pretty difficult to continually do that. Although they seem to be doing a pretty good job of it.
Want to find out more? Check out some of the projects on their website. It's fascinating stuff.