“We’re Not in the Business of Building Huge Teams”
Interview with Kafoodle Cofounder & CEO Tarryn Gorre.
One of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that all of us should make an effort to live healthier lives. One company that’s trying to make that easier for people is Kafoodle, a UK-based food-compliance company. Kafoodle works with commercial kitchens of all kinds, from bars and restaurants to schools, hospitals, and care homes. The company’s goal is to make the planet healthier by giving people the information about food they need to make good choices.
Kafoodle Cofounder and CEO Tarryn Gorre spoke with Roland Siebelink this week on the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast. They talked at length about Tarryn’s past in hospitality, her passion for healthier food choices, and Kafoodle’s role as a startup that’s trying to create a healthier planet.
- The importance of Kafoodle finding partners to work with on food health.
- How Kafoodle has adapted to serve a world that prioritizes convenience.
- The methods Kafoodle uses to reach out to customers and engage with the community.
- How the pandemic became a blessing in disguise despite restaurants shutting down.
- Why Kafoodle is determined to keep its team small.
Roland Siebelink: Hello, welcome to the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast. My name is Roland Siebelink and I’m a scaleup coach and ally.
Today, I’m so proud to have with us, dialing in from London, Tarryn Gorre, the co-founder and CEO of Kafoodle. Hello, Tarryn. Thank you for joining.
Tarryn Gorre: Hi, Roland. Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. Excellent. You were telling me that London is unusually warm and sunny this time of year, and yet, you’re stuck in a podcast to deal with me. I’m really sorry about that. But let’s talk about Kafoodle. What is Kafoodle’s mission in life? What do you change in the world? What do you offer?
Tarryn Gorre: Kafoodle is a food tech company. Our mission in life is to be all about food. On the techie side of it, we want to deal in big data. On the day-to-day side of it, we’re a food compliance software that works with commercial kitchens, mainly in the UK but also have a few clients internationally. And we help them comply with all the different food legislation. We move ingredients information around, like micro-nutrition, macro-nutrition, costs, and allergens. We architect that information and service it in an easy-to-use way where it could be sent to the likes of Just Eat or Grubhub or the restaurants’ websites, or any application so that we can make it safer for diners to see what’s in their food.
And when I say diners, we look at everyone. We work with schools. We will start in primary schools. We work with primary schools, secondary schools, universities, restaurants, bars, cafes, as well as hospitals and care homes. We do the full life cycle of the human. And our goal is to make the planet healthier by giving people food information that they need at different points in their life from different establishments.
Roland Siebelink: Wow. I like that. You really connect that also to that ultimate, big inspiring goal to make the planet healthier. That is ultimately, I’m sure, what gets you and the team up every morning.
Tarryn Gorre: Yeah, absolutely. We started six years ago and the momentum around this topic has just kept growing and growing. It’s now really great to be part of a huge ecosystem because there’s so much going on with food. We couldn’t build everything, so we’re really big on collaboration. But I think the idea of working with people who would use carbon footprint and increased sustainability and look at plant-based is really, really exciting.
Roland Siebelink: That’s awesome. I think that’s also something that doesn’t always come easy for startup founders, to start realizing you can’t do everything yourself. And how do you start partnering with people, right? Even if their product is not exactly how you would have built it, if you had had the chance.
But you mentioned that Kafoodle was started six years ago, Tarryn. That’s awesome. Can you tell us a little bit more about how did you get into this part of the business? Maybe something about who you started it with as well.
Tarryn Gorre: Sure. I got really interested in the way technology can be used - mainly because in Vegas tech gaming, there’s quite a lot of that going on.
But I was quite interested to see how that was transferable to food. And it just so happened that Kim and I got chatting one day, and she had this idea of an app. Kim is very consumer focused. She’s got some amazing companies under her belt. And she really wanted to help diners make good choices, which was the most noble idea and really, really good.
But the more we chatted, the problem we have is that so much of the industry is on pen and paper, and it’s pretty antiquated. You could have the best intentions in the world, but the quality of the data you’re getting isn’t going to be good, and it just won’t help consumers make educated, safe choices because it’s not right. As that evolved in that first year of 2014, we’re trying to think about how to solve this problem. Could we work with someone? And it basically ended up with us building this really robust kitchen management system that could get chefs off of pen and paper and off of Excel spreadsheets onto a more intelligent user-friendly system that could then send food information in different formats to different players in the market.
And we did that through 2015, where we were very much concentrating on how can we make eating out of home safer, mainly in restaurants and bars. And we were lucky enough, in typical Tarryn style, I had an incident where my aunt went into hospital and the hospital food was just appalling. She was diabetic, going in for cancer surgery, and all she was being given was sticky toffee pudding and chips, and really odd food.
And I just remember having a rant at someone about how important hospital food was? And I suppose I had this conception coming from the hospitality industry that hospitals are big, they have lots of staff, they have very big kitchens. Hospital food, you’re trying to make people better. I just assumed it had been done well, and actually, it really isn’t.
I ended up complaining to a lot of people at the time, which ultimately resulted in a government grant to look at how we could take our software into the healthcare space. And then how we could bring in not just the health needs of “Actually, I don’t feel like having 500 calories today,” but actually the fact that, “I’m on Warfarin, I’m hypertensive, I’m going in for the surgery. What should I eat the night before? Or what should I eat whilst in hospital?” And then even more importantly, when you’re in long-term care, such as a care home, how’s your planned nutritional requirements for those people that you are feeding as a chef but also to allow family members to have an input on the aging population?
Roland Siebelink: Wow, that’s awesome. And such a strong vision to bring into practice. How have you divided the role between yourself and Kim then?
Tarryn Gorre: As it so happens, Kim is brilliant. She’s a serial entrepreneur. She’s currently running a voice recognition software for children.
Roland Siebelink: She’s already moved to a new startup, that’s awesome!
Tarryn Gorre: Yeah, she’s moved to a new startup. In the beginning - I think picking the right co-founder is really, really hard. Kim is very much an ideas person. We always knew that Kim knew what she wanted to build and knew what she wanted to do, is very into the ideas. And that I would come in to do the day-to-day operations or the day-to-day running of the company.
And then that’s now evolved to I’ve got an amazing ops director and now I’m driving the vision of the company and thinking about what’s next with Kafoodle and how does that all work? Dividing up the roles was a lot of brainstorming of “You do this, you do that.” And I think just being really communicative with people.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah, absolutely. And picking the right co-founder and also continuously deciding if it still makes sense to be that pair or if you should somehow move on, I think is the best practice in startups.
I have to ask, of course, having such a background in the hospitality industry and with all the care homes you mentioned, how has the pandemic been influencing business?
Tarryn Gorre: COVID, we closed a fund round. We’re lined up. We had done 3X two years in a row. We’re really excited to try and do a 5X, have a really good year. Closed off our round on the 6th of February. England goes into lock down on the 14th of March.
Roland Siebelink: Wow. Okay. Just in time, right?
Tarryn Gorre: Just in time to close the fund round. But the pandemic was - we couldn’t hire at scale. We onboarded quite a few people remotely, but sales started to slow down. We’re lucky in the fact that 65% of our revenue comes from healthcare. Obviously, hospitals and care homes stayed open. They, unfortunately, did get preoccupied with a lot of other things that were going on that they considered much more important at the time. I completely understand that. Our sales did slow down, but we were lucky that we had 65% of our revenue in care homes and hospitals.
We, as a company, ethically, decided to freeze all of our licenses for any food business that wasn’t open because everyone’s struggling. To just charge them cause they’ve signed a contract just didn’t sit right if we weren’t having an impact on their day-to-day business. We froze license fees, but then we kept the whole team on, helping people design the come-back menus, I call them.
Okay, we close down in March, but we’ll come back in summer and then you guys want to have loads of healthy options on your menu and loads of things that are under 500 calories that people can grab. We have lots of legislation in London that it was really exciting to see the people innovating. We had one client that did postbox cocktails that they needed our laboring software for. And another guy that entered the take-away sectors who needed to send the allergens.
We had a lot of different clients innovating. We also innovated and created an order-and-pay software so that you could do deliveries and do takeaways. Do click-and-collect software. That was quite exciting. We probably didn’t do the 5X growth. We still did 3X on our licensing, so that was good. But it was a tough year and our whole team went completely remote for 12 months within 24 hours. We’ve actually decided to stay remote. But at the time it was quite surreal, I suppose.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah. I hear that from so many startups. Some of them were already fully remote upfront. But it was pretty rare, of course, before the pandemic. And now I do think the large majority of them are saying, “There’s really no point in us getting back to the office,” because you’ve figured it out. More doable than we thought.
Let’s go back from the technical challenges of the pandemic, which hopefully, we will forget soon. Let’s go back to your vision. Where are you now and where do you want to be? Let’s say, in 10 years time, how big could Kafoodle become and where do you see your rightful place in the world?
Tarryn Gorre: Well, in 10 years time, I hope it’s on a beach and Barbados. I won’t lie. In all seriousness, I think we’re at that really exciting moment. We will come out of this pandemic. Consumer behaviors will go back to normal. I think, if anything, people are thinking about being healthier, eating better. Unfortunately, the rise of food allergens obviously drives our product, but it’s also a very sad outcome.
In the next 10 years - 10 years is a long time - I think our next few steps are - we’re a social impact business. I’m really passionate about tracking the impact we have, whether that’s a child in a school who doesn’t get bullied anymore or can actually easily eat because they don’t have to have an armband or sit at a separate table to everyone else with allergens. Or whether we can help people live better for longer because even though they have dementia, they’re able to have access to better food or we know what’s better for them based on their requirements.
Our next steps, which I know sounds so cliche, is around getting the right data, really capturing what we think is best for people. And that would probably still take a bit of time. And then trying to get that mainstream - and not just from a business perspective. But I’m really passionate about the fact that when someone’s struggling who’s pre-diabetic or when a child is struggling with their weight - with the childhood obesity rising - that getting it right and this idea of food as a preventative medicine, I’m really passionate about.
The easier we can make that for people to say, “Yes, I do really fancy deep fried fish and chips tonight, but actually, it’s just as easy for me to order grilled fish and roast potatoes.” Just start that subtle education around making the right choices more often that I think will help people. And then just making it easier to follow that. We’re so convenience driven that I think we need to make health easier. And I think right now, there are very few people who completely understand what’s in food and what to eat, whether that’s shopping in a supermarket, cooking at home, or eating in restaurants. It is quite confusing to know if a salad is actually a healthier option, considering the dressing and everything like that.
Roland Siebelink: Looking at the growth that you want to achieve with Kafoodle, at the moment, you said it’s full life cycle, serving every diner everywhere. I think you said from schools, restaurants, healthcare, cafes, bars. You did mention 65% of your revenue comes from the healthcare sector. Is that where you first landed and that you’ll expand from or do you think that’s your core customer that you can learn from the most?
Tarryn Gorre: Yes and no. I think care homes are a very interesting market. The aging population is obviously a very hot topic. They have very specific nutritional needs. And I’m very passionate about improving the frailty and the link to nutrition in the care homes. But the other sector that we’re getting a lot of sales in but also has similar problems but different in the food transparency is schools.
Education, 10% of children have a food allergy. And I think the big thing we have with food transparency in schools, both in the States and in the UK, the States have eight allergens you have to show, we have 14. But in school, someone could be allergic to pineapple or kiwi fruit or apples. And they could be allergic to raw carrots but not cooked carrots. I think making that better and easier for schools is probably where we will also spend a fair amount of our focus on. I think education and healthcare will be our two core sectors.
Roland Siebelink: The common theme there seems to be is that there’s an underlying thread of moving from mass kitchens, one meal for everyone, toward more customized options while still keeping that efficiency, right?
Tarryn Gorre: To an extent, Roland. I think what we’ve got to be careful of is it’s very hard if you’re saying a school of 300 people, you can’t create 300 different dishes. I think what I would like to see, personally speaking - I get personalized nutrition is a very hot topic. I don’t know if that is right in mass catering because of the rise of food costs, sustainability, everything else the chef has to consider. But I do hope that we can get to a stage where they can be a meal option that, based on what’s available, can be slightly tailored for people with different needs.
Especially in healthcare, with the rise of dementia, what we call food envy as a normal consumer, is a real thing. I don’t really want to be getting a different meal. And as the kid with the allergy, I don’t want to be given carrots when everyone else is having chicken pie. We have to think about how we can make personalized nutrition inclusive.
And I mean that at home. I’m sure you have a family. You don’t want to cook four different meals every night cause everyone’s had their gut biome, everyone’s doing their genome diet. You want to cook one meal and maybe someone has extra potatoes cause they went to the gym or their body’s good with carbohydrates and someone else has more protein. The core ingredients and the core menu are the same. If that makes sense.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah. My sister and my niece have severe celiac. I’m indirectly familiar with the problem. Food envy is also something that I’ve seen, especially when the person providing the meal is not the same as the person consuming the meal. When it feels like an imposed choice. I can totally get that.
Looking at those target markets, care homes and schools or the broader education market, how do you think about your go-to market? How do you reach those customers? How do you ultimately persuade them to work with you and how scalable is that?
Tarryn Gorre: We actually do lead generation. We had a really good CRM. We have a database that we put through a pretty standard sales cycle. We also engage in the community. We get involved with Public Health, England, the school food meals. We also try and give back. It’s not always about just buying the software. It is about us having a presence and trying to support schools when it was COVID happening.
I think the scalability for us is the referrals. We work with a few different strategic partners in education. And also, when the school uses us, they’ll then refer us to everyone else in the council or everyone else they come across.
Roland Siebelink: You’ve got high referrals at this stage?
Tarryn Gorre: Yeah. I think at the moment, probably 50% of our business comes from someone referring us. For good or bad reasons, chefs move around quite a lot. And that’s quite interesting for us because if they’ve used Kafoodle somewhere and they go somewhere else, the first thing they say is, “Can we put Kafoodle in?”
Roland Siebelink: Yes. I’ve seen that phenomenon with certain softwares in industries where people move around a lot. Sometimes the business even certifies them as an official user of the software. And then they put it on their LinkedIn and that’s another advertisement.
Tarryn Gorre: Exactly. And I would love Kafoodle to be that. I can’t wait until I can see a really great chef with “I’m Kafoodle certified.” I think I might have to speak to our marketing team about getting that done.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah. Awesome. Talking about your team, how big are you guys at this stage? And by guys, I mean people from all backgrounds and genders, of course. And how have you divided up the team between the different functions that you have.
Tarryn Gorre: We have actually just gone through a huge streamlining exercise. We were growing team-wise quite fast. And we put a pause on it because of COVID. But also, I think the blessing of COVID is it almost gave us time to just take stock. What could we automate? What can we streamline? And we could do quite a lot. We only have 17 people in the team. And my dream is to keep it below 20. I think if we could be a SaaS company with below 20 people, that would be great. I’m not in the business of building huge teams because we’re in SaaS and I want the product to be easy to use. I don’t want to have 100 people handling questions about software because it should be intuitive.
But we are divided up between a tech team, obviously - a tech and product team, which I wrote into one - sales team, marketing. We do have customer success or account growth, as we call it. And then we still have a few project managers and ops guys.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Cool. Is it about a third technical, a third market-oriented, and the third the rest? How does it split?
Tarryn Gorre: Yeah, that is the split.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. That’s usually what I hear from companies around this stage. But I like that you’re focused on staying below 20. Most other founders I have on this podcast will tell me how they’re doubling the team every year. And that’s a different take, right?
Tarryn Gorre: Yeah, it is. They’re different people - and I’m sure I might regret saying this - but we’ve never hired a PA or an office manager. To be really honest, Roland, I’m just a bit scared of how you keep the really awesome culture when it grows. And 20 is that number. Every founder I speak to is like “When you get to 21. watch your culture.”
Roland Siebelink: Because they don’t fit around the breakfast table anymore. Even if these breakfast tables are virtual and healthy these days.
Tarryn Gorre: I’ve thought if I can get away with that, that would be great.
Roland Siebelink: There’s one company I’ve heard of. I haven’t worked with them myself, but a fellow coach has. And they run $300 million annual revenue with six people on the team.
And the way they do that, Tarryn, is by being extremely good at outsourcing everything. They’re one of the top customers of Upwork and similar platforms and all six people are essentially top-level executives who are very good at structuring work for other people to perform. That might be a model for you guys to consider if you want to keep a small core team.
Excellent. Okay. We’ve already been talking for almost half an hour, so I wanted to give you some opportunity to also talk to our listeners and say what do you need from people listening to this podcast? Do you need leads? Do you need partnerships? Do you need recruits? What is the burning need right now?
Tarryn Gorre: I think we’re always open to recruits. I think it’s always interesting to see CVs. And as you say, those top-level people that can really take the business to the next stage. Right now, especially since your podcast and where people from around the world are, is really looking at partners. We’ve got to the stage now where we can take a breath. We’ve got an open API. We’ve got a really good core team. The software’s completely transferable. We are translating it as well.
But I think it would be really interesting - I want to stay in healthcare and education, but obviously, completely open. We work with Just Eat delivery platform in the UK. It would be really good to get a partnership with another tech company where we can feed the food information into their delivery platform.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah. You’re really seeing yourself become more of an upstream player where your API feeds into the downstream players who own the customers? Okay. That makes a lot of sense.
Tarryn Gorre: That’s our big play at the moment, mainly because we want to see what people are eating, but we want to get that information to people. Especially, post-COVID, there’s a huge rise in the convenience of food but wanting the healthy option. And we’ve proven now that putting calories on your menus or showing the nutrition increases the sales at the restaurant because people will order a takeaway on a Monday night when they’ve had a long day at home. But they want to know it’s healthy.
Roland Siebelink: That’s absolutely right. Are you looking for further investors as well? Or is that too early at this stage?
Tarryn Gorre: We will be doing it next year.
Roland Siebelink: Okay, so you’re looking for a new round in summer in 2022.
Tarryn Gorre: Fund rounds rollover. There’s something quite interesting we want to do in that B2B2C space. We’ll be looking at doing a fund round in the early parts of next year.
Roland Siebelink: Awesome. Very cool. And if people want to know more, where should they go? And is there something particular you would like them to download?
Tarryn Gorre: You can go on to Kafoodle.com, which is our website. Or you can drop me an email, which is Tarryn@kafoodle.com if you want to find out more. And if you’re in the UK, then do download our Natasha’s Law white paper, if you’re a food business or obviously Roland’s podcast.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. Thank you so much, Tarryn. And any investors who would like to start building early contact with this awesome company to invest in next year, happy to provide the introduction to Tarryn as well. Please feel free to reach out to me as well.
All right. Excellent interview, Tarryn, really have been so honored to have you on the podcast. I love the vision and how much you’re doing to build a healthier planet. I’m looking forward to seeing how many hundreds of millions of dollars or pounds, if you will, you can generate with your small team.
Tarryn Gorre: Thank you very much, Roland. Thank you for having me.
Roland Siebelink: Thank you so much.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.