The Startup Interview: 2 the Kitchen
We love food. It’s something that we all have in common. No wonder then that the food industry is worth nearly £100 billion to the UK economy every year and that so many entrepreneurs choose to tap into this thriving industry. Alice Rawsthorne is one of them, but she isn’t selling food. In fact, she isn’t selling anything. Instead, she’s determined to get you and I to cook together and have more fun in the kitchen. I met her for a chat about her new blog, 2 the Kitchen, entrepreneurship and to try some of the delicious food she’s sharing with the world.
“My kitchen is a bit cramped,” Alice informs me. So, we’ve met in one of her friends’ flats in Marchmont, Edinburgh’s stone-built student district. It’s a large, bright space and we pull up seats at their large kitchen table with a mug of tea in hand and some savoury puff pastry treats which Alice has prepared. At the age of twenty-two, Alice has decided to follow in her parents’ footsteps and start a business of her own.
“Tell me a little bit about yourself,” I ask. “Throughout my childhood, I was always cooking. Me and my dad used to play Ready, Steady, Cook. I always wanted to be the green tomatoes. We always grew up around food,” Alice says, her hands clasped to her mug of tea with a smile stretched across her face. “I was raised in the perfect, chocolate-box village with the butchers, the bakers — which is where I had my first job at fifteen — and I’m fairly sure we had a candlestick maker at one point too.”
I ask the obvious next question — I can’t seem to start an interview with anything else: “What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?” “I guess it was my parents,” she tells me confidently. “My mum’s always been involved in various ventures and she was a business advisor when I was younger. Sometimes I’d go and sit in on her meetings and hear about everyone else’s ideas which I found really exciting.” Since coming to university, she’s immersed herself in the entrepreneurship community with internships at the Scottish Institute for Enterprise and the Saltire Foundation, as well as working with LAUNCH.ed who played an active role in her latest venture.
It seems like the perfect opportunity to ask about the idea behind 2 the Kitchen, a startup specializing in recipes for two which Alice launched just two weeks ago. “Me and my flatmate love cooking together and we do it quite a lot. For a lot of my friends, that’s one of our main hobbies and I’ve always seen it as really sociable.” Alice says. “But when we’re following recipes, it’s quite difficult to divide up which tasks you’re going to do which is how I came up with 2 the Kitchen.” Her blog, which splits recipes into a red team and a blue team (perhaps inspired by her love for Ready, Steady, Cook), features everything from starters and salads to desserts and aims to cater to every culinary requirement with new recipes added every week. “It allows you to actually have a conversation with someone and catch up, rather than thinking about what you have to do next,” she adds.
“And are there any differences between the two teams,” I ask? “I expect chopping, preparation, etc to be a little bit quicker for the red team than the blue team,” Alice explains. “I cook with my boyfriend and he’s great, but he needs a bit of guidance sometimes so the blue team is slightly steadier or easier and I think that works.” I understand this explanation all too well. Although I enjoy cooking, my girlfriend would certainly have me on the blue team in our kitchen.
“So how has it gone down so far?” I ask. “So far it’s been really well received,” Alice tells me. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback, but it’s still really early stages.” This is an entrepreneur who knows the risks involved in setting up your own business. Throughout our interview, Alice is very honest and knows all too well that a business’ success depends on a lot more than a successful launch. Nevertheless, this knowledge seems to spur Alice on. “It’s been so much fun,” she says. “I’ve been through to Glasgow to the specialty food fair, have met lots of amazing people who produce gorgeous products which I’ve featured on the blog like an amazing balsamic oil by Little Doone. I’m trying to promote local shopping and particular specialty products which make the food taste that little bit better.
“It’s been so much fun! I’ve been through to Glasgow to the specialty food fair, have met lots of amazing people who produce gorgeous products which I’ve featured on the blog.”
So far, I’ve wondered how the business is going to make money — a problem faced by millions of passionate bloggers — so I ask whether her focus and promotion of specialty products may be the answer. “I’ve planned for a few months of not making money and for focusing on building my brand,” Alice tells me. “Eventually, I hope to fund it through affiliate marketing and links through to food producers’ sites. I don’t want to go down an advertising route because I find it quite distracting.”
I leave the domain of 2 the Kitchen for a little bit and challenge Alice with an unexpected question: “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?” “Ooh,” she says, pausing for a few seconds to deliberate. “Last summer I attended a workshop run by Mark Beaumont, the round-the-world cyclist who told us not to worry about money and to do what we love because, if you love it enough and people see that there’ll be somewhere to turn it into a living.” Alice applies his theory of doing what you love to everything she does — the courses she takes at university, her startup and her hobbies. It comes as no surprise then that she hasn’t applied for any graduate jobs and doesn’t intend to. Rather, she’s going to spend the time after graduation building her blog and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to fundraise for the Multiple Sclerosis Society next October.
I inquire about her ambitions in life, and after a moment of thought Alice responds with: “It’ll sound bad but I don’t have a specific benchmark in life. I just want to be the best I can be and do the things that I love. If I can forge a career out of cooking and writing, that would be the dream.”
Alice jumps up to check on a cake she has baking in the oven as we joke about Mary Berry’s shop-bought pastry and a mutual interest in the Great British Bakeoff. It reminds me of Ruby Tandoh, a student runner-up in the competition two years ago who now writes for The Guardian. “What do you think of her journey?” I ask Alice. “If she acts as a role model for people then I think that’s brilliant and I’m so glad that she made the most of that initial publicity.” It’s a view which goes against the views of many which were publicised in the media a year ago but it’s nice to hear.
We’re back in the food domain so I ask about the lessons Alice has learned from the process of setting up her own business so far. “I’m well aware of my limitations and know that you can’t do everything yourself,” she tells me, emphasising the role that others, especially business incubators, have played in guiding her business so far. “Originally this was going to be a collection of eBooks but, quite rightly, LAUNCH.ed suggested a blog to help build up my brand.”
At this point, I cannot resist the temptation of the puff pastry treats sitting before me any further. I try two — one with caramelized red-onion and feta and the other with beetroot and tomato relish, the recipes for which I hope will appear on her blog shortly. Needless to say that they taste great. As I eat, Alice offers me her piece of advice for other entrepreneurs. “Just try it,” she says. “You’ll never find out unless you give it a go. I know that 2 the Kitchen has a long way to go but the only way I can get there is by having it available to people and asking for others’ feedback.”
“Just try it. You’ll never find out unless you give it a go.”
“So who is it that you’re targeting with 2 the Kitchen?” I ask. “I’m going for people who I can easily reach to test out my product at this early stage and moving forward, I’d love to expand that. For now, however, it’s mainly students,” says Alice thoughtfully. “And do you have a particular style of food you’re writing about?” I ask in the knowledge that, despite a student focus, this isn’t about pizza, pasta and baked beans on toast. “I just like good, honest home cooking. I like something that tastes good, even if it doesn’t look Michelin star. Flavours are a lot more important than it’s appearance which is tricky with a food blog because traffic comes from something that looks pretty,” she says. “It’s all about finding the right balance.”
As time ticks on, I’m interested in how Alice has managed setting up a startup while completing her dissertation in Linguistics and English Language. “It’s going okay at the moment. 2 the Kitchen is actually working as something of an incentive for me. I’m saying to myself that I have to get this much done on my methodology and, once its finished, I’ll let myself write a recipe,” she says. “It’s not as crammed in as I thought it would be and I really look forward to working on 2 the Kitchen so I plan my day to indulge in cooking once the uni work is done.”
I reach my final question, one which I hope will interest many in the blogging community of which Alice is now a part. “Do you feel a pressure to blog about certain things at certain times?” I ask. “Yes. Today, for example, is National Carrot Cake day,” she exclaims, however there isn’t a Carrot Cake recipe on her blog. “There’s lots of external pressures on what you should be putting up and in some instances I’ll give in — Valentines Day and Pancake Day are good examples — but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes there are things that people want you to write about but ultimately, you’re just not that interested. You want people to know that you’re interested in what you’re writing about when they land on your blog.”
“I see it more as a lifestyle business rather than something that would make millions and be easy to sell. That isn’t, however, to say that if an investor offered me millions for it, I wouldn’t sell. At the moment, however, its my baby and I don’t want to give it away.” Another, this time final, entrepreneurship question pops into my head: “Do you think you’d ever get an investor to buy into your blog?” “I see it more as a lifestyle business rather than something that would make millions and be easy to sell. That isn’t, however, to say that if an investor offered me millions for it, I wouldn’t sell” she says. “At the moment, however, its my baby and I don’t want to give it away.”
We get up and Alice whips up some icing for the cake she’s been baking as I take some photographs. Her cake will be ready just in time as another of her friends has just arrived home to try it. I leave her to it, wrapping up warm for my two-hundred meter walk home. Talking about food has made me hungry — maybe I’ll try one of her recipes this evening.