The Pitch 2018 winner Oddbox aims to reduce food waste by delivering wonky veg boxes to consumers. Our judges were impressed with the speed the purpose-led business scaled to 2,500 subscribers, its mission and potential.
We spoke to co-founder Emilie Vanpoperinghe about the challenges of growth, raising £529,000 investment and winning The Pitch 2018.
Why did you launch Oddbox?
It all started at a market in Portugal. We were on holiday and every day we would go to the local market to do our shopping where we would buy these huge and seriously ugly tomatoes, which were truly delicious.
That’s when we started wondering why we couldn’t find these at home and why all the tomatoes in the supermarkets in the UK looked so perfect but were also perfectly tasteless. We met with some growers to understand what was happening. The team was shocked by perfectly good quality carrots that ended up in the skip because they had cuts or small blemishes.
Apple growers told us of the recent issues they had with early frost. How it impacted the look of the apples and their struggle to sell them. We thought there had to be a solution and a way to rescue these perfectly good apples. That’s how Oddbox was born. We launched in May 2016 with 20 customers, mostly friends and neighbours, and have grown since then.
The team was shocked by the perfectly good quality carrots which ended up in the skip just because they had cuts or small blemishes.
What problem are you trying to solve?
At least a third of the food we produce worldwide is thrown away. We waste 10m tonnes of food worth £17bn in the UK every year and 20–40% of fresh edible produce is rejected due to tight criteria laid by supermarkets or because it is surplus to requirements.
Consumers want to make ethical choices but are put off by the high cost of shopping sustainably. With Oddbox you don’t have to choose between your conscience and your wallet. We provide a win-win solution for growers, consumers and the planet.
We pay growers a fair price for produce, which is perfectly good quality but doesn’t meet supermarket specifications. Sell our boxes for 30% cheaper than similar services and with each box purchased you save produce from going to waste. In addition, we donate 10% of the produce we rescue to charities fighting food poverty.
How has the business grown?
We grew our customer base from 20 to 70 in 2016 – it was a very slow and difficult year. It was hard convincing growers to work with us as we couldn’t take big volumes. They were still very sceptical about whether consumers would be happy to receive wonky produce.
We thought we would be able to get customers a lot faster and didn’t realise how hard it is to convince people to buy. There were many ups and downs and many times when we questioned whether it was worth continuing. But it was worth pushing through.
Mid-2017 we started to do local fairs and the word of mouth spread. We got some local press and had two great articles at the end of 2017, which really boosted our growth in early 2018.
Oddbox’s now delivering to over 2,500 homes and businesses including the likes of WeWork and the Wellcome Trust, and are in discussion with large food service companies. We also partnered with the Economist magazine for their campaign around food waste.
What has been the biggest challenge to this growth?
We had and still have several challenges. Our business is logistics heavy and so scaling requires a balance between growing the sales and managing operational capacity to ensure we deliver great quality produce and service to our customers.
We want to scale rapidly but need to ensure we can maintain the quality and variety in our boxes and continue to delight our customers.
What was it like raising £529,000 investment?
Raising funding takes a lot of time and effort. We have been lucky to have a great team who could manage the operations while we were focusing on funding.
The raise took us six months from start to finish. Starting with preparing a business plan, financial projections, several iterations of a pitch deck and identifying investors. Then having several rounds of meetings. On top of that, we decided to raise part of it with angels and part through crowdfunding.
We actually didn’t meet as many potential investors as some people. Very early on we asked for advice from other founders in the food waste sphere and approached investors who had funded similar businesses.
We approached a few angel groups like E100 and S100, and ended up pitching with one of them but didn’t get much interest. What worked for us was to partner with ClearlySo, a social impact investment network. We pitched at one of their events as all their investors want to invest in social-impact ventures and we knew quite a few would be interested.
I would suggest researching who funded similar businesses to yours and targeting angels and angel groups who actually fund businesses in your space. They’ll understand what you do and get your business model a lot faster. We realised tech investors were never going to be interested in a logistics-heavy business and they don’t have the knowledge and skills you need from your early investors.
What was it like to be crowned The Pitch winner?
The whole team was so excited about winning The Pitch. We honestly didn’t expect to win as there were so many other amazing startups in the programme.
It is an amazing recognition of what we have achieved and all the sessions in the programme were extremely useful. It’s a great opportunity to get inspired, to learn from others and to share our experience.
We will definitely benefit a lot from the mentoring package we have won and are so grateful to Propel by Deloitte for sponsoring the Pitch and for supporting so many startups.
What have you done to improve your pitch?
I have been working on improving my public speaking skills for a long time. Despite that, I still get anxious about being on stage. I am regularly on panels and doing speeches, so it is getting easier but I think I would still struggle to do a speech unprepared.
What works best for me is to learn a script by heart and practice it several times. That helps me avoid saying ‘hmm’ and makes my speech flow well.
What’s next for Oddbox?
We currently deliver in south, west and east London. We want to cover the rest of London in 2019. Bristol and Brighton are on our roadmap after that. Our plan is to expand to tier two cities in 2020 and look at the potential in mainland Europe.
Our vision is to become the hub for wonky and surplus produce in Europe. To build a B2B tech marketplace to bring visibility on the huge amount of surplus and wonky produce available and open more avenues for produce to be sold at a fair price and reach the consumers.