Inside the Ambition: Nigel Richardson on embracing his inner superhero for Secret Hamper

Published · 6 min read

Inside the Ambition is a series that tells the stories of business owners, going from how and why they started their businesses to where they are now. I spoke to Nigel Richardson, the founder of gifting company Secret Hamper.

Nigel was one of the Sage Ambition competition finalists, which had a prize of a business advice meeting with entrepreneur and Sage Ambition Ambassador Peter Jones. Here, he talks about how his business is creating that all-round feel-good factor for lots of people and how his ambition is fuelling his desire to succeed.

You can listen to a podcast of the interview or read about what he had to say below.

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Tell us about you and your company, Secret Hamper

I used to work in the City in London and I worked for a firm that sadly lost a lot of its staff, 98% in fact, in 9/11. Every year on the back of that, we used to have a charity day, which in a way became a bittersweet moment for me, because it would be a day where there was lots of camaraderie and we knew the money we were making that day was going to some fantastic charities.

So when an opportunity came up for me to take voluntary redundancy, I thought I’d really like to be involved in something that gave something back and created a feel-good factor.

I’d watched a TV ad around Christmas time. The story was this young guy had gone out to by some ice for a Christmas party. As he went out of the house, he saw an elderly neighbour across the road come up with his shopper on wheels. And the pavement was frozen over, so the old guy shakes his head and goes back into the house.

The young guy spots this and while he’s out shopping, he puts together a bag of groceries for this guy, then goes and leaves them on the doorstep, rings the bell and walks off.

Earlier in that summer during my gardening leave, I’d come across an elderly gentleman in our village where we live who was on his own and quite lonely, and that resonated with me, the advert.

So I popped out to my local supermarket, put together a bag of groceries, and on 23 December at 10.10pm, it was raining, torrential rain, and I went out and I left this bag of groceries undercover, on his doorstep. I rang the bell and I ran off. I got home, absolutely soaked.

My wife looked at me as if I was bonkers and said: “What on earth have you been doing?” I just said: “I’ve done this act of kindness and it’s given me a real buzz, and I think there’s got to be something in there.”

People need that in their lives right now. Every time you switch on the TV or people open a newspaper, it always seems to be bad news and it would just be nice to read about something good.

Since we’ve launched Secret Hamper, we’ve helped hundreds, maybe thousands of people, do their own random act of kindness in their own way. And we’ve worked with various different UK-based celebrities who have embraced their inner superhero as well.

So we’ve got quite a nice celebrity following. We do lots of local community work. We’ve raised over £10,000 in the last 18 months for a local hospice. So we’re very much focused on helping our local community as well.

It’s all about embracing your inner superhero, performing that random act of kindness and giving back. And we want to create that all-round feel-good factor, most importantly for the recipient but we also want to include the sender too.

Entrepreneur and former Dragons' Den star Theo Paphitis with Nigel
Entrepreneur and former Dragons’ Den star Theo Paphitis with Nigel

So how does ambition get you through those tough times? I’m sure there’s been some challenges in your business. And how does your ambition help you get past that?

Coming from an industry where I worked with hundreds of people to literally working on my own, you have to really be motivated to get out there and take the knocks, because you do.

I knew nothing about business when I started. I could do my old job with my eyes shut. But going out there and meeting people, and initially, you could look back and see through the archives, I used to dress up as a superhero.

And sometimes when we did some of our fundraising activities, I’d be outside the train stations at prime commuter time and some old colleagues would come past and see me dressed up like this and smirk at me.

But I thought to myself, I’m doing this for my family and I don’t want to put myself into a position where one day at work you can tap me on the shoulder and say: “You’ve past your sell by date, off you go.”

I just thought, what really drives me is, first and foremost is my family – I want to provide for them and hopefully have a legacy for them, and maybe bring the kids into the business at some stage.

And secondly, really, is knowing I can make a difference.

We had an instance where a local businessman had sent off 40 hampers to a team of neonatal staff at a local hospital that saved a little boy’s life, who was born prematurely. Twenty seven other businesses came on board for that exercise and helped him purchase those hampers. And all of the staff went home feeling appreciated. They’re unsung heroes in their field but how nice it is for them.

There’s a chap over in the UK called Theo Paphitis, who’s a retail entrepreneur. He used to be on Dragons’ Den. I was fortunate to meet him 18 months ago.

I asked him if he’d kindly buy some Secret Hampers off of me and send them into a care home for Valentine’s Day and he liked the idea of that.

But when we got down to the detail, he’s a patron of a children’s hospice, so he spun it round and said: “Look, I’d love to help. Can we do it for this children’s hospice that I’m a patron of?” So that’s what we did.

So here’s a guy who’s worth hundreds and hundreds of millions. He’s spent a few hundred pounds with me and we sent in some boxes filled with goodies for the children in the children’s hospice on Valentine’s morning and they all had a fantastic day.

So that’s the sort of thing we can do – create those experiences. The more of those we do, the more it motivates me to know we can have that positive impact on people’s lives.

In this day and age, sadly, there’s so many people out there who suffer in silence. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you’re destitute or anything like that. We all have our challenges, so just a little bit of encouragement [goes a long way].

It could even be an employer who has got a team member who has done an outstanding job. And it’s just the way it’s presented, to say to them “you’re one of the superheroes, good job, carry on”.

Now that guy could go home and it could be a voucher for a restaurant with his wife and all of the sudden the implications of that, the ripple effect just goes on and on. Because that guy could have been getting some grief from his wife for working late.

All of a sudden, he’s been shown some recognition from his company and he goes out with his wife and has a fantastic evening. So there’s lots of ways we can go with this.

One thing that really drives me and I’m excited about is we want to develop an app where you can record a video message and we’re going to attach that to a superhero’s cartoon body on the app. And then you can choose an e-gift voucher.

And then the idea is you say your message to the recipient, choose the e-gift voucher and send it at a press of a button so the recipient will open their phone, there will be a message from you on there saying “happy birthday” or whatever it might be. And there will be a little voucher for you to go and enjoy that experience. And hopefully, with the power of the internet, there’s no reason why we can’t go international with that.

Who is a hero of yours that personifies ambition?

I have to say, more so in recent times, it has got to be Elon Musk.

I’ve only come across him relatively recently because as I say, I’ve never really been on Twitter or any social media channels up until then. But I started following leaders in business and entrepreneurs.

And I’d just seen this guy who’s been involved with various different startups and what he’s done with Tesla, and how he’s got the space project and stuff. It just goes to show anything is possible if you’ve got that drive and ambition.

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