Gem Misa is the Managing Director of Righteous Limited, a new food company on a mission: to make healthy eating more enjoyable for everyone through a range of great tasting healthy products.
Before starting Righteous Ltd, Gem worked at Unilever for 8 years as a Global Brand Manager for a £1.1 Billion laundry brand, and before that, she spent a year working with Unilever South Africa and also in the Philippines.
Hi Gem, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
I’m doing great! Thanks!
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’m a stay at home mum. I manage my business (of which I am, at the moment, the single employee) from my kitchen-cum-work-desk, at the same time as raising my 2 year old daughter, Harper. I am also an absolute Foodie (bordering on obsessive!)
Tell me about how you got into business?
I started life in the corporate world, but soon I began to dream about setting up my own business and develop products that I was absolutely passionate about. As time passed, I became increasingly unhappy at work. Then, one day, I was being interviewed by a senior manager for a move to a new job within the company. Sensing my frustration (but thinking it was because I wasn’t happy with the position being offered), she said: “Maybe you should stop swimming against the tide and see where it takes you.” This was the push that I needed! So soon after that, I summoned up enough courage to do what I knew in my heart of hearts was what I meant to do – start my own business.
How did the idea for Righteous Ltd come about?
I always knew I wanted to start a food business (being a Foodie, it seemed like the obvious choice). I started Righteous primarily because I believed my home-made recipes tasted great and thought I could try to start by selling these. What I found out during the process of adjusting them for production outside of my kitchen (and ensuring that they stayed fresh for extended periods in yours!) is that mass-producers often take short cuts to extend shelf-life and enhance flavours and that these short cuts are often at the expense of our health. This is when I realised that there was a very big gap in the market for great tasting, healthy food options.
Tell me about the early days of Righteous Ltd, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Righteous was born from the ashes of an unsuccessful 1st business idea. And I think the hardest part for me was accepting that my original business idea was not working – especially since it was such a passion project of mine. Entrepreneurs, as you know, can be a bit bull-headed about forging ahead and insisting that something is going to work if you work hard enough at it. But when I forced myself to look objectively at the business (it was a gourmet salad company), I realised that there were a few critical issues that was not going to make the business the success that I wanted it to be in the long term (high labour costs, inconsistencies in quality due to being 100% handmade, etc.) So I had to force myself to step back and look at what was working for the business and what wasn’t. And what I realised was that what people loved about the product, and what they kept coming back for were the salad dressings. So after 1 year, I closed that current business (ensuring that we had no outstanding debts to any of our suppliers) and proceeded to set up Righteous.
What is Righteous Ltd and what are you trying to solve?
Righteous Ltd is an exciting new food company on a mission: to make healthy eating more enjoyable for everyone through a range of great tasting healthy products.
How have you been able to fund it?
For the 1st two years, I grew Righteous on a shoe string budget from £9,000 in Year 1 to £120,000 in Year 2. It was when we got into supermarkets that I realised that my ‘slow organic growth’ plan was no longer viable because supermarket buyers were expecting us to perform just as well as big brands (despite the difference in marketing budgets!) and if we didn’t perform, we could get de-listed, and all our hard work, time and money would have been for nothing! This is when I decided to look for investors in the business through crowdfunding.
Tell me about using Crowdcube and why you decided to Crowdfund? Were you nervous?
I decided on crowdfunding versus other funding options (bank loans & angel investment) because I loved the idea of the power of the crowd. You see, the biggest challenge for me now is to find a way to tell more people about my brand, so having a large group of people scattered all over the UK who were personally invested in the business was great because they became ambassadors for Righteous – helping me spread the word about the brand.
Crowdcube.co.uk was the group we decided to work with. I met them last year when they were nominated alongside of Righteous as a Top 100 UK Small Business. The team behind Crowdcube are great – really supportive & so easy to work with; so all my nerves about pitching my project were eased as the Crowdcube team was happy to help me get the best out of the whole process.
Can you tell us the process, I’m sure there are a lot of our readers thinking about crowd funding?
You need to approach a crowdfunding site, such as Crowdcube, with your business plan & proposal on how you want to pitch your business. They will go through the due diligence of checking your numbers add up and you are who you say you are, and if they think your proposal is strong enough they will approve your pitch and post it on their site. Then, you have 60 days to raise the full amount you are asking for (we asked for £75,000 in exchange for 15% share in the business). If you do not raise the full amount you do not get the money. If you raise the full amount, you get the money less a small percentage that goes to Crowdcube as well as a few legal fees used for issuing company shares to your new investors.
The Righteous dressings can now be found in over 700 supermarkets in the UK, how did you manage to get all these supermarkets on board?
I approached Tesco & Waitrose after 1 year of trading in smaller stores. I made sure that I had evidence that our products were selling really well in these smaller stores – one of the strongest convincing factors was that Righteous quickly became the Number 1 selling brand of sauce for Whole Foods Market’s 8 stores in the UK. It was presenting evidence like this, and showing them how there is a gap in their current list of products which we can fill, which I think was what convinced them to carry our products.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
1) Ensure that our products are the very best that they could be, which will ensure that customers who try the product continue to buy it.
2) Make sure that you only take on new stores that you are able to support. Any expansion will require support through marketing & promotions – so you need to be sure you are able to do this to guarantee growth of your business in that new store.
3) Promote your business like crazy!
Could you give us an example of a setback you had in the early stages of the business, how you overcame it and what you learnt from it?
One of the biggest setbacks for me was being turned down by supermarkets the 1st and 2nd time I approached them. But not taking ‘No’ for an answer, I tried to think of creative ways to convince these supermarkets to carry our products. One idea included sending picnic baskets with salad leaves, fresh vegetables & our range of dressings to the entire executive board of one supermarket – two directors wrote us back saying how much they loved the product and would put in a good word for us. In other cases, we had to wait for the buyers who kept saying ‘No’ to move to a new position, then try to pitch our products to the new buyer that’s come in. What I learned from this is persistence is absolutely crucial to keeping your business growing.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
There have been so many highlights that I have been extremely proud of:
- Righteous has been voted as a Top 100 small business in the UK for 2 years in a row now, by two business websites: Smarta.com & Startups.co.uk;
- Being the No.1 selling brand of Sauce for Whole Foods Market in the UK;
- Winning the Great Taste Awards (the Oscars of the Food Industry) for our top quality dressings
- Being featured on BBC’s The Apprentice as an example of an ‘innovative start-up creating a niche in the market’
- Becoming the 14th business in the UK to be successfully crowdfunded, so that we could produce our very own TV Ad: http://youtu.be/26KEehfpl-8
What should we be expecting from yourself and Righteous Ltd for the rest of the year?
You will soon see all 5 of our dressings stocked in Tesco’s biggest supermarkets (previously they only stocked 2 of the 5); you will also be seeing Righteous in Booths.
You may also have seen our new 1L catering packs on all salad bars of Whole Foods Market stores as we are now their official salad dressing supplier.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1) Don’t be too precious about your business idea. Try and be objective & establish key performance targets that will help you analyse if this business is working or not. Then be wilting to tweak the business idea based on what you learn.
2) Celebrate the small wins! You’ll need to look back at these successes when the going gets tough to help you forge ahead.
3) Always continue to improve your product or service to make sure your customers are getting the best of what you offer. This is what creates loyalty.