'There can be a bit of bulls**t in startups – don't get bogged down in what other people are doing'

This food startup owner set up her business after being made redundant.

By Sarah Kiely Founder, Sadie's Kitchen

IN JUNE 2015, I was made redundant. That was quite unexpected because I wasn’t planning to leave my job and definitely wasn’t thinking about launching a food startup so soon.

My background was in public relations and marketing and I did a lot on both sides of the industry, both in agency and in-house teams. I had flirted with the idea of opening up my own business some day, but not at this stage of my life.

After losing my job, I took six weeks out to clear my head. It can be quite a shell shock because obviously there’s financial pressure when you’re made redundant, and at the time, myself and my partner were trying to go for mortgage approval, so it was a massive blow.

Even though I needed a job, I couldn’t bring myself to apply for the same role somewhere else. I just knew in my stomach that it was now or never if I was going to start my own business – and that just happened to be one that produced and sold bone broth.

When I started, I wish I could say that there was some big strategic plan for the business, but I have a huge passion for food and have used bone broth for three years now.

I have found it personally helps with my digestion. The problem is that it’s really hard to make and source the right bones and ingredients, and the cook-time at home just isn’t realistic for today’s busy world.

Finding a market

During the six weeks after I was let go, I was a little bit lost and tried to get an idea if the business would even work.

This wasn’t something I could just make at home. I needed to get approval to pass all the red tape and had to do training and courses to learn how to handle food. Then I also had to source commercial kitchen space that was suitable, which proved to be particularly difficult.

In the space of a year, more places – like shared kitchen spaces – have come along that would help a small food startup get off the ground, but when I launched there really wasn’t a lot of standalone kitchens you could rent out affordably.

SK Chilli wo product shot ariel
Source: Sadie's Kitchen

Eventually I found a kitchen, called Newmarket Kitchen out in Bray, where I could get a place to make the bone broth at a scale to start the company.

The company didn’t start to trade until November last year and I was still freelancing as a journalist to keep the business afloat before we got a chance to really test the market.

We started out as a direct-to-customer business and we had a little shop on our website where we would take orders for once-a-week deliveries. This gave us the opportunity to do massive batch cooks, freeze it and then react to orders.

We were selling out in no time and couldn’t keep up with the deliveries. It proved there was a market for the product and a cry from people in different parts of the country for it as well.

Takes time

When you’re in startups, you learn to appreciate that everything takes longer than expected. You really have to prepare for that.

I think bringing a new product to market is a long process and nobody really understands what goes into it. People might have looked at me and said, “She has been talking about that product for a year straight and it’s still not on the shelf”, but it takes a long time.

We thought we would have our second product on the shelves by October and now it won’t be out until the end of January – and even at that, it will be a push.

Growing the business is exciting because you are getting to make more money and reach more people, but it doesn’t come without its issues – plenty of things can go wrong.

We outgrew our kitchen quite quickly, which meant we went from small batch cooks out in Bray to fully fledged outsource manufacturing in a huge unit out in Baldoyle Industrial Estate.

It’s all still my recipe, but as a food company, trying to make your product scalable without really compromising the overall quality is definitely something I was very conscious of. For anyone in food looking to outsource, my advice would be to be very involved in the process.

Surprised

If the person I was after I was let go could see me now, they would definitely be surprised.

Even this time last year, there just wasn’t a business. Essentially we had just started out online, but after six months we were already retailing in Dunnes Stores, SuperValu, the main independent shops and many craft butchers on board.

Even in January we are launching into 250 new stores and we’ve signed a distribution agreement with Independent Irish Health foods and they are opening us up to those kind of stores around Ireland.

So we’re now going to be in 400 stores by early 2017 and are hoping to start exporting early next year and create some strong partnerships too.

I like to write everything down so I can remind myself of the milestones – actually they’re like little reviews I give myself every six weeks. It allows me to look back at what we projected and what we actually achieved.

And it’s all been done with very limited resources. I had to bootstrap the entire company myself because I wasn’t planning to go out on my own necessarily this quick.

Source: Sadie's Kitchen™/Twitter

Maybe I was a bit of naive going into it, but I wouldn’t change anything because I’ve definitely learned so much.

I think a good attitude will get you most places though. Often times with startups, there can be a bit of bullshit around what people are doing.

But I think you have to be true to your own business and use your realistic projections for your company. Focus on what you’re doing and don’t get bogged down in some of the pretense around it all. Just get out there and reach your customer.

It can be tough as well in that you are working for yourself and it can be lonely. I went from an office environment and having work colleagues and a support system to essentially working from home for the first year of my business.

A lot of people don’t see that lonely side either and your friends don’t really understand. I think you find yourself almost dismissing other people’s work problems a bit.

They might be complaining about something small that happened in work and I think, “Guys, I’m paying myself for one job, but doing 10’’, but that’s a conscious choice I’ve made and wouldn’t have it any other way.

One foot out the door

At the start people were asking, “What’s a bone broth?” Now I get asked, “How did I do it?”

The way I look at it is, I didn’t have a choice. I just lost my job and needed to do something to start over for my own wellbeing.

It was a baptism of fire in a way and I wouldn’t change that because it really gives you a great grounding. I just had to get the brand out and I think that’s why it worked so quick, we were never in a position to make a loss.

I’m not saying that’s the right way to start, because some people might be a little scared about leaving their job to start a company and need some financial support.

My advice is that you can have one foot out the door where you’re working and also be planning a business. Then when you’re ready, you can go for it.

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