Bobby Patel is the founder and CEO of British FMCG company Appy Food & Drinks. In 2012, Bobby combined his experience in the food and drinks industry, with his passion for branding and marketing, by founding Appy Food & Drinks. His idea was to create healthier and affordable options for families in a natural and ethical way, and after a ton of research he was able to pioneer the first stevia-based kids’ drink in the world.
Bobby has steered the company to many awards and great annual growth, particularly in export markets – with a global presence in 27+ countries. His main drive remains ‘people before profit’ and his continued commitment sees him passionately working to create new innovations, under the Appy Food & Drinks family of brands, that will leave a legacy for healthier generations.
In this interview, Bobby shares his experience of starting a healthy food & drink business. He said he's fortunate enough to be able to tap an industry with clean history. He also shares what motivates him and the mistakes he learned from in the process.
His advice for entrepreneurs starting a business:
Pay attention and learn from others who have done it before you. Plan ahead and set your end goal so you do not stray from it, and most importantly be persistent and keep on going!
Can you tell me a little bit about Appy Food & Drinks, and what else do you do as an entrepreneur?
I am a self-taught entrepreneur who decided from a young age that I wanted to follow in my Dad’s footsteps and work for myself. When I set out to build Appy Food & Drinks, I was determined that I wanted to make a change in the food & drink industry and help future generations to be healthier.
I knew that to be successful my company had to live up to my own personal values, as well as fulfill my passions. I aim to inspire and help others so I am also a mentor with Virgin Startup, and I like to give back to the community by supporting good causes through our Appy family Club.
What does Appy do that makes it better than the rest? In other words, how did you find your competitive edge?
We are lucky to start from a fortunate position that some other brands do not have, and that is a clean history. We are not tainted by any previous products that could be deemed as harmful to the nation’s health.
We have always made better-for-you products the natural way and will always continue to do so. I also believe we stand out because of the people behind the brand; we believe in people before profit and this is echoed throughout our company – from the team who make the magic happen, to the customers and community we serve.
What do you consider the biggest milestone that you have hit with your business? What was the biggest thing you did to get there?
We have won many awards and most notably the FSB innovation award which was recognized for our forward-thinking business approach, but I would have to say that being listed in Tesco, within our first 12 months of trading, was a huge achievement. It wasn't easy but it was certainly a proud moment to see that the biggest supermarket in the UK believed in what we were doing enough to take us on as a new brand.
We have just been added to 21 more stores, and they have agreed to take all added sugar juices for kids off their shelves - which is great for our mission to make families healthier.
What does a typical day look like for you? Is there something you make a point to do each day?
I am a bit of a workaholic as most entrepreneurs notably are! I therefore have to make it a point to stop and breathe in order to think clearly and function at my best. I try to get outdoors running with my dog as often as I can, and take a long walk every morning to rejuvenate – this is great to keep not only my body, but also my mind clear and focused. Most of my ideas come during this time, and it gives me the opportunity to reflect on how far I have come, and how much further I want to get to.
What is the biggest business mistake that taught you a powerful lesson? Would you mind sharing how it changed your business?
I learned that I have to let go a lot more and trust my team to deliver the talents they truly have without interruption. In this regards, I see myself as a conductor in an orchestra and I need each sound to play their own part for the overall symphony to work.
When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.
Knowing that I am helping people and making a change is what keeps me going. My Mum suffers with diabetes so I know first-hand how detrimental this can be, and I find it rewarding knowing that we are making a huge impact on families’ lives. I have a set goal in my head and I remind myself of this daily so I do not lose track of my mission and stay motivated.
In your experience, what is the best way to find your ideal customer? Are there any mistakes that our readers can learn from?
I think a lot of us doubt our own capabilities or perhaps our product, so I would say that you need to believe in your ideas, and most importantly in yourself. If you believe in your own product or service, and you know it will solve a particular problem then you need to go for it and believe that they will like it too.
If you put it out there, they will come as they say! In my case, I knew that there was a gap in the market for healthier all-natural products that appealed to kids, so I was determined to fulfill that gap. I targeted that customer base that wanted something better for their families than was being offered on supermarket shelves.
Did you have a hard time starting your business? How did you handle time and resources constraints?
Starting the business itself wasn't the hardest part; like lighting a fire, it's keeping it lit that's the challenge. A tight budget meant we had to do everything ourselves despite a very small team, including getting our name out there and into retail.
We relied on bloggers and word of mouth for exposure, I personally looked after the product distribution to start, and we used the money we did have to drum up business through trade shows. We also made sure that we did our research and spent considerable resources into product development so that when we launched we were confident about our product.
Looking back, I am glad we didn't rush this part because releasing a product that was not perfect or that did not reflect our all-natural pledge would have been suicide for our brand.
I strongly believe in reading. Do you have a book that you highly recommended Startup Savant readers and I grab a copy of?
Richard Branson’s ‘The Virgin Way’. It may sound cliché but I have great admiration for the man because I can identify with him. He broke the rules by not finishing school but now he is starting to break convention by enabling mankind to fly into space. They say if you aim for the stars the worst you can do is hit the moon - well he has done more than just that! And I would like to do the same one day.
I would also like to sneak in another book; the biography of the brilliant Elon Musk ‘Unbridged’. It is a truly inspiring story of a man who will be the most innovative entrepreneur/man to have ever lived.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice that you would give someone starting a business? What do they need to know from the beginning?
In short, I would advise you to pay attention, plan, and persist.
Pay attention and learn from others who have done it before you. Plan ahead and set your end goal so you do not stray from it, and most importantly be persistent and keep on going! People will reject your idea, you will come across many obstacles and have doors shut in your face so believing in yourself and perseverance are crucial for success.