There's a lot of talk about starting up - but what happens after the start-up phase is over and it's time to grow? The next phase is the scale-up, and we've been looking at businesses who are moving on to these next stages. Deepak Ravindran is the co-founder of OddBox, a London-based social enterprise delivering boxes of wonky fruit and vegetables to offices and homes across the capital. This ingenious premise is tackling food waste and also seeing the business grow - here's how they're scaling up.
Tell us a little about your business and what stage you’re at now
Oddbox is a social business fighting food waste in UK’s farms with innovative solutions, and our first solution is London’s first wonky fruit and veg box scheme. We buy fresh, wonky & surplus produce for a fair price directly from local farms and markets and deliver them in a weekly subscription box scheme to South London's homes and Central London's offices at a rate 30% cheaper than similar box services. We donate 10% of our produce to charities that fight food poverty.
From delivering 200 boxes a month at the end of 2016, we grew 900% to deliver 2000 boxes a month by the end of 2017. We currently deliver 3000+ boxes every month. We’ve saved over 100 tonnes from food waste and donated over 7 tonnes to fight food poverty. Now we work with 26 growers across England.
When did you realise you were past the ‘start-up' stage and it was time to start growing?
From November 2017 until now, we’ve had a growth rate of over 200% of repeat custom. Within the last six months I reached a point where I stopped involving myself in day to day operations and focused more on growing the business - I realised that there is only so much time in the day, and that it's important for me now to prioritise activities that matter the most.
How is the business expanding?
We are moving to our third warehouse in less than two years. We’ve also added our employee base from 2 full-time and 4 part-time staff staff to 5 full-time and 10 part-time staff.
What has been the biggest challenge of scaling up?
We don’t have just the one big challenge but many mini challenges. Because we are an operationally heavy company, we have to ensure that our operational capacity is in line (i.e no over-capacity or under-capacity) with our sales growth at all times. Invest too much and we risk running out of cash; invest less and we risk losing customers and employees. So the challenge is to ensure that we keep a close eye on cashflow whilst ensuring that employees are motivated and customers happy.
What have been the benefits so far?
The benefits of scaling up have been a reduction in costs (fixed) due to the economies of scale and the multiplier effect of gaining more customers (more word of mouth).
What organisations / resources / sources of advice have been helpful during this process?
We are part of an accelerator called E-Spark, so speaking to fellow entrepreneurs helps. Virgin Startup has a very helpful forum, as do Facebook groups which focus on startups.
What advice would you give to businesses looking to scale up?
Focusing on things that don’t scale before you scale helps increase your chances of success whilst scaling up. For example, meeting customers face to face for their feedback, building brand, thinking about what your team culture should look like etc are easier to do when you are relatively small. Make the most of the flexibility of being an early-stage business - it doesn't last forever!
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