We spoke to Angelee Sidar, founder of Soul Deli, a sustainability-focused, fresh food café chain, about setting up a business from scratch and financing her mission to revolutionise food in the workplace.
In September 2017, Angelee made the decision to abandon the security of a corporate role in a major food business to follow her dream: to provide nourishing, soulful and quality food.
Two years, 35 employees and 11 Soul Deli cafés nationwide later, Angelee reflects on what she’s learnt about running and growing her own business.
Starting out is hard
The reasons for starting a new business are diverse. But for Angelee, it was simple. Having grown up around a family restaurant before building her career in the food sector, she saw a clear opportunity to make a difference by creating healthy food.
“I’ve seen the difference good food can have on people’s lives. I’ve seen people go in and out of hospital because they are not eating properly. Good food is so important for your body – and for your soul,” said Angelee.
Following the buyout of her company, Angelee had set off to find her passion.
Her first venture was to set up a business selling a superfood product in India but struggled to raise the funding required to continue the project further. Six months later and now completely broke, she wanted to give her dream one last try.
She contacted a local gym owner about providing nutritious food for their members. They arranged to meet at a newly-opened co-working office, SPACES in Gerrards Cross and this is where she had her eureka moment.
SPACES has no food offering and clients had to drive into town to get their food, so Angelee took the opportunity and approached the centre manager. She offered to set up a café to help create atmosphere and a central point in this new co-working space. This is where the idea for Soul Deli really began to take shape.
Talking about taking that first step, Angelee said: “My advice to anyone else is to dive straight in. It can be scary, but you should put yourself in the worst-case scenario and be realistic about the fact that this might happen. If that feels ok, then go for it. What have you got to lose?”
Fortune favours the bold – the importance of the pitch
The Soul Deli in Gerrards Cross was an instant hit with customers. Seeing this success and how people enjoyed both her food and the environment, Angelee knew she was onto something.
Not long after this, Angelee came to work one morning to find that the, CEO of IW Group (SPACES’ parent company), was visiting the next day.
“I didn’t know if I would even get to meet him, but I decided that this was my moment and that if I saw him, I would take the opportunity to pitch my business idea to him. And so I went home and spent all night preparing my life changing pitch.”
When IW Group’s CEO arrived in Gerrards Cross, Angelee seized this moment and managed to get a meeting with him later that day to pitch her idea.
“I offered him a free flat white in return for 5 minutes of his time. Fortunately, he gave me an hour,” said Angelee.
Seeing the potential, Angelee was offered the opportunity to set up further Soul Deli cafés in various SPACES locations.
Funding the business
Initially, Angelee sold some jewellery and used the £9,000 she made from that as seed funding to launch the first Soul Deli.
After agreeing the deal to set up further cafés, Angelee needed more money and applied for a StartUp Loan through Virgin StartUp. The process was simple and easy. The money came through in around 5 weeks and gave the business the liquidity it needed to get up and running.
The business officially started trading on 1 February 2017, and has since grown rapidly, with additional outlets in 11 separate SPACES offices around the UK.
In 2018, Angelee approached a VC company to look for further investment. She had a clear mind about what she wanted from investors – people who shared her vision, cared about what she wanted to do and understood that it was about more than just money.
So, when she got her lawyer to check the contract and realised their interests didn’t align, she took a step back.
“Raising money was not the most difficult thing. The biggest challenge was understanding what type of money I wanted to raise – and from whom. Some investors were too heavy-handed and that would never have worked for me and Soul Deli”.
Through the process, Angelee was introduced to a number of private angel investors who shared her vision and understood her business journey. Through these angels she was able to secure £200,000 of investment which she needed to expand the business. The ability for investors to benefit from SEIS helped make Soul Deli an attractive investment option.
Angelee is now preparing for the launch of Soul Deli in Canary Wharf, planned for Q4 2019. This will be her biggest launch to date and a key milestone for this fast-growing business.
What’s next for Soul Deli
Now that “everything is working”, Angelee aims to continue growing the business over the next few years.
“The next step for the Soul Deli is to centralise our kitchen and key functions ready for our next wave of growth into forward thinking Corporates. The types of companies that care about their employees wellbeing and the environment. I think it’s time for the contract catering sector to be shaken up and we want to be the ones to do it. Our mission is to revolutionise food for the work place!”
In the more immediate future, Angelee is looking closely at her HR and people strategy. Her aim is for every team member to be passionate about her vision to create food with soul, and for each Soul Deli to deliver a brilliant experience.
As a first step, Angelee will be visiting each site, holding talks and workshops, looking for feedback and coaching new team members.
“With 35 people in 11 locations (and counting), making sure that everyone and everything is aligned is really important.”
Tips for others starting out
Understanding business finance, and the options available, has played a key part in shaping Angelee’s 5-year plan for Soul Deli.
Here are her top tips for other entrepreneurs:
1. Be bullish about what you do
If you’re starting a business related to something you are passionate about, then be bullish. Shout about your product, solution or brand to everyone you meet. You never know who your next customer or investor will be.
2. Find someone that really understands contracts
Finding the right type of investment isn’t always easy, and some VCs and angel investors could have clauses and conditions in their contracts that don’t align with your ambitions. Find experts to help you make sense of any agreement and get a deal that works well for both sides.
3. Attend start-up events
Now feels like an amazing time to be growing a new business in the UK. There are so many networking groups, start-up clubs, co-working spaces and incubators to take advantage of. Take every opportunity to get out there and meet people, extend your network and learn all you can.
4. Find an accountancy firm that understands your sector
When I started out, I used a local accountancy firm, but it was very stressful. So, we moved to another accountancy firm who promised the earth – and they let us down too – to the point where we were threatening to take them to court.
We now work with a firm of accountants with many catering and restaurant clients on their books. They understand our business model, which makes a huge difference.
5. Employ the best people you can
We recently employed an internal bookkeeper for the business. Working part-time, she is a mum, and used to work in a senior role for Deutsche Bank, so she really understands finance. Because of this, I can be confident that our bookkeeping is not just up-to-date but that every financial decision is well thought-through.
There are lots of brilliant people like this out there who won’t cost you a fortune – if you’re prepared to take the time to go out and find them.
6. Confidence is key
Confidence says a thousand words when pitching your business. So do the things that will help you present yourself in the best possible way.
Knowing yourself, sharing your vision, and doing this in a really compelling way to everyone you meet, is the very best thing a business owner can ever do.
Finance at every stage
Business financing is not a one-off decision, but an ongoing and evolving situation. No decision can be made in isolation to the businesses journey. Find out more about what options are suitable now and what might work at another stage.
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