I was entering through the revolving doors of KPMG in Canary Wharf when somebody from SohiWorld (I thought he was a volunteer at #StartUp2017 so I went straight towards him to ask to guide me through the crowd) approached me about this website which connects you to other attendees based on interests, skills needed and available business opportunities. Asked if I want to record a video and introduce myself to the public, I said: Where’s the mic? (nothing unusual for those that know me).
That worked out pretty well! 30 seconds of blurb, uploading the video on the website whilst I was making my way to the 8th floor to witness what was cold “How to start your own food business”. The topics for discussion have been pretty eclectic – from creating your own manufacturing to going outside the building and knocking at delis’ doors (and supermarkets later on) to get your natural lily jelly jam on the shelf.
It’s a tough space and every speaker had some hurdles to overcome, be it funding their business, finding the right customer segment or attributing the product to a specific category. There’s no one size fits all, sometimes you fall right in between two product lines. You could have the most innovative range of dried fruit crisps such as Nim’s Fruit Crisps, but the supermarket floor manager needs to know where to fit them, how to label them – savoury and crisps or fruits and vegetables section?
If you are not familiar with Cobra Beer and how Karan Bilimoria started his business, read his story online.
How to start a food business?
Simon Lacey, Co-Founder @GroceryAccelerator took the mic first answering the questions: How to start a food business?
First thing to do is to obtain proof of concept, regardless where you’ve got that light bulb moment. Be sure the opinions of those you ask for feedback are valid, legitimate and be rather frugal about the amount of information you want to take on board, not every detail will bring you closer to validation.
Simon also mentioned briefly the importance of understanding the buyer centre and the main players involved in the decision-making process whether it’s a small deli, a supermarket or a pop-up shop on high-street. Interviewing a supermarket manager sitting behind desks and a member of staff serving you at the counter in Tesco will give you different hints when solving the jigsaw puzzle.
Competition and market research are key, but hey we all know that, right? Do your due diligence when testing the market and constantly reflect on what truly sets you apart from other businesses in your space. Particularly if you are interested in applying for an accelerator, do not send across another “me-too” application.
Be bold, but do your research first and find that area of innovation where you can develop an unfair competitive advantage – from a nifty feature that creates just enough meaningful value to your potential customers to perhaps targeting a niche of a niche market. Yes, the prospect of getting just a small piece of the pie is daunting, isn’t it? But nobody says you cannot cut another piece if you feel peckish later on. Dominate on small segment, make your early customers become your advocates and use them as a reference to increase your market size.
Nimisha Raja at Nim’s Fruit Crisps touched on a sweet spot – the team and the main stakeholders in your startup ecosystem. Being a single founder is not fun, some people are enticed about the idea of retaining 100% of the equity, but at what price if you would be burning yourself out earlier than cashing in your first year profits? CBInsights published this study a year ago showing the most frequent reasons why startup fail (the website charges users to access the content, however you can subscribe to their newsletter and get more or less the same info into you mailbox for Free 😉 )
Tara Mei helps early stage businesses get their products on the shelf through her programme called Kitchen Table Projects. Most people start in the independent sector and often approached her thinking there must be a shortcut to achieve mass user acquisition just by speaking to a few delis on high-street. She had to disappoint some of us sitting in the audience, there’s no shortcut to success. Instead, she advised to get 500 shops you think your product may fit in, go and speak to each and every one of them, if you don’t find the manager, speak to the floor cleaner, interact with your buyers.
After you finish with the 500 look for a pattern, start profiling and segmenting the kind of shops that will be a natural fit for your products and vice versa. Always remember that the buyer decision making process is highly influenced by the end-buyer, customers that walk in stores and look for products like yours. If there’s not enough demand for your pasta sauce, how you can make it appealing to vendors to offer you a trial. Come in store, run some personal selling campaigns, offer samples to their customers and do the work for them for a few days whilst they take a break and enjoy a cup of tea.
Tip for those of you who want to start a food business
The USA leads the world in food innovation. The first place to start is to look at WholeFoods which is among the best retailers making an impact on food innovation. Go and visit their stores in High Street Kensington and screen the USA market. Find a product story that actually worked there and test whether this could work in other markets or not.
Don’t forget that when you walk in their stores you’re the founder of your innovative product or technology that could make a great impact on their customers’ experience. Mr. Unilever, Mr. P&G don’t have the luxury to walk in there and do the same. These supermarkets are in need of innovation. The pop-shops or independent delis are in a more desperate state to try cutting-edge technologies to keep abreast with our times and compete with the big retailers.
When you are working 24/7 on your product and sometimes you stumble upon various obstacles that could hinder your expectations is fairly easy to lose sight of how to leapfrog the established companies, and that’s the power to co-create value with other people in a lean and seamless way that other organisations cannot do!
The wide range of talks and speakers enticed a lot of us to attend the conference, too many of us I would say! As much as I enjoyed these two sessions, in the end you just become frustrated standing in a long queue when you’re told that you will not make it inside. There were plenty of sessions to choose from and, whilst I was heading to the HSBC building next door, a member of staff advised me the building is over crowded and most likely I won’t get in. That happened just before lunch, so there’s me trying to come up with something useful to kill another hour and half before the next session.
I went upstairs to Level 13 to visit the Winter Garden exhibition where I met street food vendors like Hummus Brothers, WellFedFood (both founders were there greeting their customers Kudos to them!) and Karma Cans. Food unites people, no doubt about that! I bumped into some friends from college whilst ordering some nibbles, it’s such a small world! I like to think that great minds simply think alike! 😀
People were still keen on staying for the second round of sessions. The seats were allocated on a first come first served basis, so I decided to squeeze in and stand by the door. The rest of the room seemed like a battle field full of bags, winter coats and people sitting in a crossed-legged position on the floor.
The talk was about Blogging and PR.2 and how startups and businesses can take advantage of PR to build their online presence. Understanding the difference between aggregator/mainstream media (Huffington Post or Mashable which started as a one-person blog and it has become a brand in itself) and blog-stars/personal brand driven and vociferous VBloggers could put you in front of the right or the wrong type of customers.
Before reaching out to journalists think of where you want to be featured (consider their readers’ profile). Be clear about your objectives, why do you want to use PR as one of your acquisition channels? Once you’ve secured the coverage, what’s next? Online content doesn’t have an expiration date so use it to build references for future blogs and as a tactic for SEO. Roxana Stingu, SEO Technical Manager at 123-Reg shared with me a few SEO tips.
Tips for Blog Coverage!
- Always try to secure free coverage! If you’re product is truly innovative or the story behind it has a twist, mainstream media will probably approach you first.
- Personal blogs are more selective in the type of content they are publishing on their website, it’s all about their reputation as writers. Try to get to know them first and they style of writing. Is your topic relevant to what they covered before?
- Comment and engage in discussions on their forums or after they published an article, show them that you care!
Here’s an example of how you could pitch to brand driven bloggers (again, I don’t believe there’s one size-fits-all kind of email; Sometimes being honest and straightforward starting with the Subject Line could be more effective. Remember, they receive hundreds of emails like yours every day, what would make them open and read yours?):
Subject Line: Blog coverage about YourStartUpSpace
I’m the founder of YourBusiness which specialises in YourBusinessSpace (5 words about what makes you unique). I’ve really enjoyed your article about TopicSimilartoYours (add link) published on Day/Month in NewspaperName.
I am wondering if YourStory would be something that you could cover in one of your upcoming articles (but don’t tell them what to write or when to publish it).
I left Enterprise Nation @e_Nation shortly after this session grabbing an eye on their upcoming events. Go Global 2017 launch sounds interesting, what else caught your interest?
You can access the full event agenda by following this link.
If you have any questions about #StartUp2017 or you want to know more about any of the subjects covered in this article feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet directly @DianeFlorescu.
Co-Founder @LocalSpoon Tech Entrepreneurship Student @MSc_TE_UCL
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