When Phil Pinnell graduated in 2008, he found himself in the unfortunate position of trying to get a job in London at the height of the financial crisis. His response? Start a business! Scratch Meals partnered with Michelin starred chef Michel Roux Snr and recently launched in Sainsburys.
What gave you the inspiration to start up Scratch Meals?
I was doing an internship at the European Parliament straight out of university. I was living alone in Brussels for 3 months, and I'd never been someone who was happy to just eat takeout, even at university. I like to be healthy and I found it nearly impossible cooking for one without expense, waste and hassle, especially when I was getting home at midnight every day. There was this glaring gap in the market that was somewhere between cooking for several people and a microwave meal for one, and I knew instinctively that it was a viable option.
What gave you the guts to make such a bold move in a recession?
The recession was hitting everyone hard and I just thought, why not? If I don't try it now, I’m ten times less likely to take a risk when I’ve got a family and responsibilities and maybe a mortgage. I think it helped that I really didn’t understand finance, or what a consumer index was – and my lack of knowledge allowed me the chance to be bold and just go for it. Plus the idea of succeeding against the odds is a real motivator.
How did you raise the money for a start up at a time when everyone was holding onto their cash?
It wasn't easy at all. My partner and I had a few thousand each – I sold my car – but we were looking for angel investors; private investors and entrepreneurs. We had no business experience, we were young and we lacked credibility. We spent months and months getting turned down for over 300 meetings, but we believed in it so strongly, we just kept on making those calls. After about 11 months, we had 6 financial backers. We also had backing from The Prince's Trust, and while they didn't have much money at the time, they do support you as you develop with workshops and planning.
How did you get Michelin starred chef Michel Roux Snr involved?
The only good part about investment taking such a long time is you meet more people who have ideas that might help you. It was suggested we might need a celebrity chef to help sell the product but I didn't think we could afford it. Then, a potential investor who knew Michel introduced us, and he got to know us and he decided he liked us, but it was clear that we were not good cooks! Luckily, we're not stubborn – we're aware of our limits, and we want to work with the best people, so we asked if he'd come on board and design our menu. in 2011 we managed to get a trial in Sainsbury's trial and we're just starting the next run – we believe in our business model but Michel Roux's name certainly helped.
What advice would you give someone trying to set up a business in difficult financial times?
The best advice I could give anyone is this: don't wait to perfect something in a dark room for three years. A product usually goes through so many iterations in a development cycle to get it perfect, by the time it's released, you've done so much market research that you may have no market left. Being a small company with less money and less on the line is actually at an advantage – your mistakes are cheap. Also, check that your idea is viable because if there's not sustainable long term drive for your product it doesn't matter what it looks like. We knew that people were increasingly living alone, and that Jamie Oliver had spearheaded a gourmet and sensory indulgence culture in Britain – so we knew we had a market. Also, persevere - we should have given up many times but because we were willing to listen, to change, we managed to overcome the odds.
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