From a young age, Rahul always wanted to follow in his dad’s path of running his own business, one he describes became successful through ‘pure hard-work and dedication.’ This dream drove him to study Economics at Cambridge with the hope of getting a good overall understanding of business and the economy.
Soon after, he joined Goldman Sachs where he worked for 8 years as a senior trader. Now, Rahul is fulfilling a childhood dream and following in his dad’s footstep running EatFirst, a food delivery business offering healthy, high-quality lunches and dinners cooked by Michelin-experienced chefs making customers lives more happy, healthy and convenient.
Hi Rahul, thanks for agreeing to share your story on YHP. Can you give us some background information about yourself…
Growing up in Manchester as the son of immigrant parents, I was naturally ambitious from a very young age. My parents moved to the U.K. from East Africa in the ‘70s and my father built his own business from scratch. He made a success of it through pure hard-work and dedication, so I always had great respect for him as a child. With my father as a role model, I knew I wanted to be a successful entrepreneur and follow in his footsteps and I realised very early on that a great work-ethic was a key ingredient in the recipe to success.
Throughout my school years, I strived to get into Cambridge to study Economics in order to get a good overall understanding of business and the economy. I was always quite competitive and after seeing my Cambridge peers attempting to get places at major investment banks, I decided to do the same. I spent 8 years at Goldman Sachs, working as a senior trader in one of the most highly pressured environments in the City. Working at Goldman, I learnt how to stay focussed, cope under pressure and multitask and my passion for wanting to make a difference in the world grew from there.
How did the idea for EatFirst come about?
Working long hours as a busy professional in the city made it really hard to eat well. I’ve always been health-conscious and became naturally frustrated with the poor quality of food delivered to the office. I got tired of having Pret or itsu for lunch every day, and the evenings were even worse; it was almost impossible to get healthy, quality food delivered to the office. Even when I did order from my favourite restaurants the food would often arrive lukewarm, in terrible plastic packaging or taste awful. I even struggled to find prepared meals that didn’t make me feel guilty afterwards.
I dreamed of being able to create a company that could solve the food problems that I and many of my friends and colleagues were experiencing. My vision was to be able to provide busy people, like myself, with a real alternative to poor quality takeaways. I wanted to build a team that could create meals that had been specifically tailored and designed for delivery, using high-end restaurant techniques and speciality packaging.
Tell me about the early days, the type of challenges you initially encountered?
Initially my approach focussed on providing great food in the most convenient way possible. I attempted to build a model where customers could order at the touch of a button and receive their food in just 10 minutes - something that had never been done before. We achieved this through sequential logistics, with hot food capacity on the road and launched an MVP in central London in early 2015.
Customers loved the innovative product and super-fast delivery times, and within a few months we were delivering over 500 meals a day with fantastic customer feedback. After ploughing through the seed funding, I reached out to over 100 VCs and eventually was able to secure €7m of funding from top funds.
Unfortunately, despite the commitment of an extremely hard-working team, we eventually came to realise in late 2015 that this business model would be too difficult to turn profitable in our desired timeline. The unit economics were very challenging. As such, I made the difficult decision to completely pivot the business model and refocus our effects on profitability rather than growth.
What is EatFirst? And what are you trying to solve with it?
EatFirst is a company on a mission. One that creates innovative food experiences designed to make customers lives more happy, healthy and convenient.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
Despite having a good business idea in mind, not having a food background or the capital to start a business made me think twice about leaving a great job in a major investment bank. Months later, a chance meeting with Oliver Samwer (founder of Rocket Internet and Global Founders Capital) in a Mayfair hotel led to me telling him about my business idea.
I outlined my vision to build the U.K.’s first online vertically-integrated food brand to replicate the success of ASOS in the fashion industry. He wasted no time in offering to seed fund the entire project. Since then we have been able to secure over €10m from some of the world’s top food-tech investment funds.
What advices would you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their start-ups?
Focus on partnering with investors that can add more than just money into your business. Try and find a backer who can open doors to potential partners, suppliers, founders of peer companies and other investors. These are the best types of relationships as you gain not only financial benefit but also strategic guidance to help you grow.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
It was extremely exciting to see months of hard work and planning evolve into an operating business with real customers and sales. It was nerve-racking to receive the first few pieces of feedback, but we were all so happy to see that we were making a positive impact to people’s lives. Not only that but building a strong team around me was immensely rewarding as it’s amazing to be able to share the company’s successes with the team.
How did you initially get traction?
Since our pivot, EatFirst has been going from strength to strength. We are the only on-demand online food brand in the UK to have been awarded two Guild of Fine Food Great Taste awards for product innovation. We’ve also been honoured with 200+ pieces of editorial coverage about the business in some of the UK’s most influential media including: Business Insider, The Times, Grazia, Cosmopolitan and Foodism which has helped us to really market the brand.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Our vision at EatFirst is to become a global food brand and take advantage of the rapidly growing trend towards convenient and healthy meals. Households spend over 10% of disposable income on food, amounting to a $120bn market in the UK and a $1.35tn addressable market in Europe.
In 2015, U.S spending on prepared meals and dining out overtook grocery sales for the first time ever. In addition, consumers are actively making food choices to support their wellness; 76% of consumers are willing to pay more for food they consider to be healthy.
This insight on market trends has led us at EatFirst to focus on an omni-channel approach in order to build our business successfully. Despite plenty of competition in the ‘online food delivery’ space from companies such as UberEats, Deliveroo and Just Eat, we have managed to use these businesses as sales distribution channels by listing on their platforms as a partner restaurant. This way, EatFirst can increase brand penetration with new customers and take full advantage of the marketing dollars spent by ‘competitors’.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Being invited to a meeting with David Cameron as a small business leader and being able to share the story of EatFirst and the great work we’re doing here. That was a real milestone, it really hit home that we are building something amazing.
What should we be expecting from yourself and the EatFirst team for 2018?
A huge focus of ours will be to grow the nationwide delivery service we launched last year. The team have worked hard to scale the business to be able to ship our meals, sides and drinks overnight anywhere across the United Kingdom.
We’re also planning to launch into the retail space with a special range of Asian meals created by Head Chef Benn Hodges. With our food we are looking to redefine how people view a supermarket ready meal, our healthy focus will prove you don’t need to be packed full of sugar and fat in order for them to be delicious. We’re planning to launch into Ocado and Selfridges with our brand-new range, so keep your eyes peeled.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Never give up - no matter how bad it gets there is always a way out - you just have to evolve and adapt. Starting out is no picnic, you need bucket loads of belief and sheer determination.
Highs and lows - They are inevitable, make sure you remember the highs, it will make the lows a whole lot easier.
Seek advice - It’s essential, learn from other people's mistakes. Get as many learnings from colleagues, investors, competitors as you can, there’s no shame in seeking guidance it’s the best way to avoid making costly business mistakes.