Emily Potter

Emily Potter

At Finbuzz Emily Potter reports on finance personalities. Her primary interests are fintech, energy markets, and venture capital.
Emily Potter

Could just explain a little bit about EatFirst what it was, what it does, how it’s different from other food delivery services, and what brought you to start it.

The reason why EatFirst was born was to make the dining-in experience better. What I wanted to build was real restaurant experience at home or at the office, if needed. We reinvent the weeknight dinner, so to speak.

When we started the business, we were thinking about a convenient way for people to eat well and eat great quality food, and so we hired amazing chefs. We have Ben Hodges, who is our head chef, who was previously at Roka restaurant in London, and he was also running Itsu’s recipe development. So he’s really our big driving force behind our menu.

So we cook everything fresh on the day in our kitchens, and then we blast chill them and deliver them with meal cards, to help you heat them at home meaning that there’s no loss in quality, freshness or flavour.

Lukewarm food?

We get it to you chilled so that we can preserve the flavours, preserve the nutrients, and make sure that there’s no decrease in quality during delivery. You know it’s been cooked fresh on the day, you know who’s made it, you can interact with them, you can talk to the chefs and they tell you their whole story around the dish and what goes into the food. Everything is there. The idea is that it’s not mass produced, it’s been made fresh in our kitchens fresh on the day. We found that this model is quite different to most online food businesses and offline food businesses.

Are there specific aspects of working in finance that motivated your career change?

I was working just under eight years at Goldman Sachs. I was doing derivatives trading. And for the last kind of half of my financial career I felt quite entrepreneurial within Goldman. I was helping to build an e-commerce platform for derivatives trading within Goldman. And, um, and I think that it made me probably the most prepared for going outside of finance and starting an entrepreneurial venture in whatever sector of industry it might have been. I had experience at Goldman starting or working in a small business and growing it, working with all aspects of the business from kind of the operational part to the marketing part to the finance part of it.  I felt that I was helping to run a kind of mini-business within Goldman, and so I think that prepared me very well for kind of the leaving and then doing something else.

And also do you think that seeing kind of being more entrepreneurial you realised that….

When I started my career at Goldman I loved the job, and I always thought that I was going to continue doing this for the rest of my working career. Either I was going to continue trading at Goldman or I was going to the move on to a hedge fund and continue trading there. And then the more I got into being entrepreneurial, working with technology especially.  I’ve always been an entrepreneurial person and having that kind of experience at Goldman made me feel a little bit better prepared for starting my own business at some point.

Did you find that a lot of your co-workers at Goldman Sachs were also similarly frustrated with d the quality of the food?

Yes, that’s where the idea actually came from. When I was thinking about leaving and starting a business I was thinking about what’s the simplest problem I have to solve and then what is there a problem that my friends and colleagues have as well. I was always quite health-conscious, wanted to eat well, but I always ended up ordering something online, and that I didn’t feel was healthy. I just didn’t feel like there were enough options, and then there’s only so much sushi you can eat.

You know it gets to a point where you’re just like…

Tired of eating the same thing over and over again?

Yes, so I thought well, this is a simple problem, I’ve seen other people have the same problem, turns out they do, then maybe there’s a way I can solve this problem, um, and then I looked at what other online food businesses were doing at the time. You know there was Just Eat, Hungry House, and then there was Deliveroo. I just felt that they can’t control the food quality. They’re not making the food, they cannot control what they’re sending out to customers.

They’re not involved in the restaurant.

So I felt that, from a customer experience perspective, how can you not control the food that’s going out of the door?  At some point I hope that Eat First will be the biggest restaurant in the world because it will be doing thousands of meals per day from one kitchen and so this restaurant, which we’re sitting in, will be hopefully the biggest one in the world, because there is no other restaurant that’s doing tens of thousands of meals a day. At that point you’re able scale efficiencies in your operation and purchasing power in your supply chain. That becomes quite an efficient and scalable business model.Best-Meals-and-Container-1200x627_facebook-(1)

I like that vision, that’s cool. And even when you were saying with variety, I feel like I eat the same salad at Pret every single day.

Yeah.

And that speaks to me definitely. How involved do you still feel in London’s finance scene? And would you say that the finance employees were your original customer base in your head when you started EatFirst?

Yeah, so, I’ll answer the second question first because it’s, it’s the most obvious one. Yes. It was definitely the case that my view of what our initial customer base was [working because] I was the customer. Single busy professional in finance typically was what I thought the target customer was. So that was kind of who we marketed to initially. And now it’s been over a year we’ve been running the business, I couldn’t have been more wrong in that, because our market demographic has totally evolved and is quite different now. We do have a lot of finance professionals, single busy professionals that order from us, but actually our biggest market is working families, people at home, working parents don’t have time to cook. That’s probably our biggest market. After that we do a lot of deliveries to offices for lunch and for dinner, and they tend to be not just finance, actually our, our biggest industry, or biggest sector that we, that we deliver to is actually fashion.

You can see why they’d be really health conscious though.

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Maybe it’s the health conscious thing, maybe it’s variety, maybe it’s the fact that they’re more into food and they care about what they’re eating and it being great food cooked by great people, rather than they’re happy to kind of have more the mass market type of meals. I think like in finance, sometimes you’re so time poor that you’re less conscious about food, maybe you’re happy to go to Pret, where it’s more mass produced but you know it’s consistent and it’s going to be the same wherever you go, whereas we’ve found that fashion, has been a fantastic industry for us as a customer base.

Answering your first question about how involved I am. I actually do feel quite involved still in the finance scene. I am still very close to my former colleagues and friends. I tend to meet a lot of people still within finance that have worked previously also in banking that have left to do other entrepreneurial things, running a small business or a start up in London. It’s quite a good network and it’s quite a good community, especially right now when there’s so many new fintech businesses that are starting in London, whenever I go and meet kind of new businesses, or founders of new businesses tend to be a lot of finance people there. Because I think people are quite inspired about the fact that new technology is helping a lot of innovation in finance.

There’s an area for growth there.

Yes, there’s a definite, definite area for growth and I think that now you see a lot of new businesses that are starting in London are very focused on finance.

And, so you said, just out of curiosity, a lot of other people you know in finance have left to do startups, what are some other startups that people are doing?

Lots of different things, loads of different things. One big thing in finance is that compliance and regulation has become a huge overhead and bottleneck for banks and other investment companies, and so there are a lot of startups now popping up in compliance as a service. Helping companies do background checks, helping people with internal software, white-label software solutions for compliance, helping people to track your employees especially in banking, you know making sure they’re not doing anything that would be counted as misconduct or anything like that. I have a few friends that have left banking that have gone into starting those types of companies. And then there are also companies doing wealth management, this is an area where we’re seeing now a lot of innovation from new business, and it’s also something that a lot of people I know that have left banking and have gone into companies like that as well.

Our-responsibility

How do you feel your work-life balance has changed since you’ve gone from finance into this start up culture?

I used to spend 12 or 13 hours at a desk all day in front of about eight screens, and that was my working life. I didn’t travel a lot for work, I was in one place in London at the same desk, you’d know where to find me Monday to Friday and the occasional weekend, whereas now you probably couldn’t find me if you were looking for me because, I tend to be out of the office a lot, meeting suppliers, potential investors, sometimes customers.  I like to try and get involved with the operation when I can, I try and do deliveries as well.

If you do deliveries, do you tell them like “Oh! I’m the CEO”

No, I don’t. I typically don’t. But I, but I, um, but it’s nice, kind of, to see who the customer is, because otherwise I don’t see them.

Because then you’re connected to it.

It’s nice to meet, to be able to say our customers live in these kind of places, and our customers have this type of demographic. So, you know, I may be, I may be working a lot more at the weekend or, or in the evenings, and working on new ideas.

There’s not a clear on the clock off the clock.

I think that you find that when you’re running a business it feels a lot less like work. Because there isn’t a lot of clear structure or hierarchy above you, when you’re coming up with cool ideas, and especially working in food – everyone loves to talk about food.

Yeah, for all my friends at home that’s all they talk about.

You’ve been to a good restaurant you tell your friends about it, you know, so food is good for idea generation because whenever you’re out you’re generally going out based around food so when I’m out at a restaurant that doesn’t really mean I’m working, it doesn’t feel like work, but actually I’m doing something that might be good for the business.

That’s productive! Have you always been passionate about food and cooking and if so, what got you into that?

My family has always been into Indian food and cooking. I’m vegetarian, so great vegetarian Indian food has always been what I’ve grown up with and been surrounded with at home. And then when I, um, when I started working in London and living on my own, I used to cook a lot. But my issue was that I just didn’t have the time because I was working long hours, and so I’d only find myself like once a while at the weekend. During the week I like exploring new restaurants and new types of cuisine, but when you don’t have time it’s quite difficult to do, and that inspiration around bringing variety in menus. We change our menu every day, which not many restaurants do, in fact, I don’t know any that do and we have totally different items on our menu every day. And the reasoning behind that was people get bored. Like, you know, I used to go to the same places every day for lunch.

Yeah, same [laughing]

Yes, but I didn’t actually enjoy it. You don’t want to take a risk and end up with something you don’t like, you know it’s going to be okay, you only have fifteen minutes anyway to go grab something so might as well just go to Pret or wherever. And so, my idea was I don’t want people to get bored with us and so, um, you know, in order to build a product that people can actually enjoy every day if they want to, we need to have variety. And I didn’t want to have, I didn’t want to have a menu of a thousand items because then it takes you an hour to pick. You know, if I order online on Just Eat or Deliveroo it takes me hours to choose what I want to have.

 And you’re overwhelmed by all the options.

There’s so many different restaurants, so much choice, and that’s not convenient for me. I’d rather have a menu of fifteen items or twenty items all of which you know are good, and then change that menu everyday so we have an international cuisine. On our menu today you will see Italian, Asian, Japanese. You’ll see a lot of different cuisines, and then tomorrow you’ll hopefully see something totally different. So that way, if you order from us today and really like the food, then you come back tomorrow and not feel like it’s the same. And also, it’s different chefs, so we have a team of chefs that are creating our dishes, so often, when you go to the same restaurant, the reason you don’t go that often is because it’s the same taste, and so you kind of get, you know, you don’t want to have the same taste over and over again, and so by having different chefs do our recipes, it, it feels like, you know, you get variety in taste as well.

I saw this upstairs, but, so I read online, just I was researching you a little bit, uh I read that you said that the team environment at Goldman Sachs really influenced the way you run Just Eat.

EatFirst. [laughing]

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EatFirst. [laughing] Sorry. We talked so much about Just Eat it’s just in my head. [laughing] EatFirst. Sorry. That wasn’t good, “Oh I’ve been researching you and you have this company Just Eat.”

[laughing]

So EatFirst. I just was curious about how you see that translated into EatFirst.

Well, you’ve seen what the environment is.

Our-Story-founders

That’s why it was interesting for me to see that.

We try and have like a collaborative environment. The team is quite young and quite motivated  and they’re really excited about the vision and the passion for the business, I mean when you came upstairs you’ve seen like on our whiteboard we have sticky notes of all the ideas that I try and make sure that we have no divides between the organisation. So we don’t have a marketing team and then an operations team and the marketing team are the only ones that can come up with great marketing ideas and the operations guys just focus on day to day execution. No. We have meetings like you just saw where everybody contributes, you know, and that’s the reason why every week one person from the team presents what they do. That way, like, people actually get, you know, really…

Exposed.

Really exposed to all parts of the business. I hope that we created like a family culture here and good community and so the idea is that I hope that we can continue this as we grow, and we become a bigger team, we can still keep that easy right now when we’re only twenty people here. It’s easier to do that, but when we, when we’re kind of fifty people or a hundred people I hope we keep that. You know, Goldman is quite good at that. The banking industry has been through a lot of ups and downs and right now is not the like the best time in the banking industry. It’s been a tough time [for] banks over the last few months not been making record profits and struggling to grow and that obviously propagates down into the mood of the employees as well. So, you know, Goldman is quite good at creating that team working culture where everyone feels like they’re part of it. You know, they’re part of it at times when things go well, and they’re also part of it when things are not going so well. Whereas the, like you know, it’s easy when things are not going well for teams to get disengaged with the business, and so I think Goldman is quite good at keeping people engaged and motivated. I think that they do that in quite a few ways. They encourage social interaction in teams and we try and do that here, to have social things outside of work. They encourage community work. They encourage like once or twice a year you actually take a day off and you get given a day off to go out and actually do something for the community.

Oh cool.

And do all sorts of things, go to an old age home, help them, go to the parks and help with the gardening, whatever it might be, but it means that you meet people from all across the organisation. And it’s a really good way actually. That worked really well, even though it’s just once or twice a year, it actually worked really well at creating a culture.

A culture to network across the company.

And there’s a big feeling when you can call up anyone, even if they’re in New York or Asia, and ask for help. And they will help, without any requests for anything in return. I’ve only ever worked at Goldman, after I left University, but from speaking to friends in other, in other banks or in other firms other big companies, that isn’t the case. I found that happened all the time. I could call someone in research in New York and ask them a question and they have no problems in helping me out even if it took quite a while. I could call someone in Asia. I think that Goldman has done really at creating that culture. It’s hard to actually pinpoint how they’ve done it, because it feels like everyone has got that in them, already. It is not obvious what they’ve done to create it, but clearly it comes from management.

Those sorts of things don’t just happen by accident.

Yeah, and I’m hoping that as we grow we can sort of foster that culture as well.

I’m from California and  there’s a huge health food consciousness movement in California. It’s been interesting for me to see London picking up on that. I was just curious where you see the future of sort of the health food movement in London.

I completely agree, and, and when I’ve been there and seen that, it’s very, very different to London. I think London is going in that direction. California is quite far ahead of where London is right now and so it makes sense for us as a business to kind of be conscious of the fact that people are becoming more health conscious. People care about what they eat more and more, and uh, I think that, you know, it’s um, the reasons for it are, um, that people recognise more and more how it impacts productivity and how it impacts your overall health what you eat.

London’s really the only place that I’ve seen it take off the way it does in California.

I think the future is going to be much more like what you already see in California where there are tons of businesses offering healthy great food. And, um, and so, you know, that’s why I want us to be a market leader in, in London, offering that.

Well, you’re jumping in at the right time really.

Potentially we are, and I hope that we can kind of keep offering that. So that is uh, that is a I guess a USP for us as a business to be offering healthy food, but then at the same time we know that people like variety and people don’t like to necessarily, and you know some people do, but not everyone is gonna be, you know super healthy all the time, people like to kind of…

Yeah, indulge.

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Indulge sometimes, yes, so as a restaurant it’s important that we have a good variety in terms of our offering. So I would say that our general focus is offering healthy transparent fresh food, um, but you know, if you want to indulge there’s also options for you as well.

And I think it’s also showing people that eating healthy doesn’t have to not be indulging, if that makes sense.

Because there’s so many restaurants where it says you know it has this flavour and this flavour but yeah, what else is in there? And another question, I was just curious, how central is sustainability to EatFirst?

Well, you see it in most things that we do. For example our packaging, there are very few, in fact I don’t know any other, online food businesses that use sustainable packaging. Most use plastic, non-recyclable, especially with cutlery. Really bad stuff.  All our packaging is made from sustainable, decomposable and biodegradable materials. And then on the uh, on the other side of it, how we combine sustainability, corporate responsibility – whatever you want to call it – we makes sure that we don’t waste food. So we have partnerships with local charities, from kind of St Mungos homeless shelter, to the Renaissance Foundation, Kid’s Company, when it was operational, Veterans Aid, tons of charities in London we’ve done cooperation with to make sure that we don’t waste food. So, if there is, um, food that you know, is not sold, it is given away rather than…

Not just thrown away

Yeah.

So what aspects of working in the food industry that you enjoy? You talked about being able to go out and meet all the people…

It’s quite dynamic, quite varied, not necessarily just the food industry it’s also my role in EatFirst versus what I was doing before. Um, you know, I’m, I’m able to, you know, I’m able to kind of really meet some great people and work with, also in an industry where I’m not the expert.

You have to rely on others a bit.

Yes. Our head chef is, is so much more knowledgeable than me in food, that, um, you know, it’s almost sometimes like humbling that I uh, that he’s so great at what he does.

And it’s good too because he’ll probably feel more empowered in that role.

I also get to actually see the end customer, um, and receiving good feedback and things like that is something that, you know, makes all of us quite happy, whereas at Goldman that was something I never would see. I never got to see who the end customer was, or the client was. You know I was on trading side, and so it was a bit closed off. That was something I really liked.

And so then, what is your most important focus for the coming year and what do you hope to achieve?

Our biggest focus is ensuring great consistency as we grow, so, you know, it’s quite easy when you’re doing, when you’re quite small to make sure the quality is good. I want to make sure that as we grow we consistently deliver great quality food.

Did it say that you went to Berlin?

We launched in Berlin. Berlin was kind of a test product for us, as we wanted to test how EatFirst might work in another market, also a market that was quite different to London, and how it was received. It’s still in the test phase so we haven’t, so we’ve never kind of fully launched and gone all in in terms of Berlin and we’re still thinking about potentially Berlin as the next city. And we’ve done, you know, we’ve got a potential operation there, but yeah we’re just focused on London. Our goal for 2016 are all focused on London, becoming one of the bigger players in the market in London.

Very niche.

Very central, especially yeah, I would say in the city in central London, but EatFirst is delivering to a lot of London now. I think you know a big focus for us is increasing brand awareness.

Do you use cars or do you use bikes?

We use motorbikes.

What do you wish you’d known before you started out doing Eat First, or is there something you wish you knew?

Wish I would’ve known….Yeah, there’s loads of things we’ve learnt along the way, we never got anything right at the beginning.

[laughing]

There’s’ been a lot of trial and error. We didn’t know, who our most loyal, most referring or, or word of mouth inducing would be. Also, what do people actually like to eat, you know, that’s also been an experiment in some ways. We obviously started off just creating the menus that we thought were the best and who inspired then, but obviously based on customer feedback and sales. Having all the data that we do now, would’ve been, made us, we would have been able to make much better decisions earlier on.

But how would you have known that without doing that so…

Yeah, exactly.

Do you have any tips for people looking to make a similar career change to you or just for other young entrepreneurs like yourself?

I would say that, it’s not a really easy change, because you move out of something that’s quite stable, your daily role is you know the same and which you know. It might seem exciting to do something totally different from that, but also it’s a lot of hard work, and you [should] be willing to put really hard work and long hours and be creative. If you’re looking to move out of finance especially and do something entrepreneurial, be aware that it’s not a piece of cake. We’re still finding it really hard, we’re still learning loads, we’re still working long hours and you have to be really passionate about it, because you can definitely not coast, and you have to be passionate about what you want to do. So maybe have an idea that you really believe in. And you’re willing to work hard.

What’s on Rahul’s CV

Born: Manchester

Lives: London

Studied: Economics at Cambridge University

Drinking: Yogi Tea

Eating: Beetroot, quinoa and lentil salad with baked sweet potato and goat’s cheese

Currently reading: Ken Watanabe: ‘Problem Solving 101’   (and the CityAm every morning)

Favourite business book: Ben Horowitz: ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’

Talents: Finding and hiring talented people

Heroes: Great entrepreneurs that pushed the boundaries and weren’t afraid to fail: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson

First ambition: To be the next Pete Sampras (sadly never achieved)

Motto: Work hard and take risks

Most likely to say: Let’s go!

Least likely to say: Anyone for a burger?

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