We last met Grub Club when they featured in the Growth Hub success story videos in 2015. At that point, they were based in a co-working space in King’s Cross, and had recently run a successful crowdfunding campaign. We revisited them over a year later at their new office in the Collective Temperance Hospital to speak to co-founder Olivia Sibony about where they are now and the support they have received along the way.
Launched in 2013, Grub Club’s aim is to revolutionise the restaurant industry by enabling anyone to set up a restaurant anywhere. They do this by connecting talented chefs with underused spaces around London in order to create unique dining experiences for individuals or groups of diners. Olivia can only speak positively about London as a place to start and grow a business and she tells us she has noticed a real push from local and national government, as well as larger corporate organisations, to support start-ups. Easier access to finance and physical workspace has, she says, been key: schemes such as the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) tax incentives encourage investors to take a bigger risk in supporting start ups; and a noticeable increase in workspace has enabled entrepreneurs to be surrounded and motivated by fellow entrepreneurs while they develop their ideas.
Olivia described the vibrant ecosystem of support available at co-working spaces – from courses, to mentoring and panel sessions, to peer support – all of which she argues are equally as important as the physical workspace itself. In the early days of Grub Club, the support received while working from Google Campus was crucial to the company’s success, and since then, the support offer from Camden Collective has been equally vital to their growth. There is, however, a long way to go: as Grub Club grew, so did their need for private office space and Olivia echoed the sentiments of a number of businesses we have heard from, highlighting the ongoing struggle for growing businesses to find workspace that is affordable.
It was Grub Club’s ever-growing support network that helped them find their current workspace at the Collective Temperance Hospital. The subsidised office for creative start-ups within a disused hospital is perfect for the team: it fits with their ethos and the diverse, creative network has opened up opportunities that they never expected to have, from photographers who document their events, to performers, chefs and venue recommendations. The only downside is that the subsidy comes at a cost: they don’t know how long the building will remain available (it is earmarked for demolition) and therefore when they might find themselves having to once again look for office space.
Olivia describes the power of networking as “immense”, and tells us that growing a wide network of people she can call on has been the best business support she has received. She does, however, recommend exercising caution, describing networking as a very long-winded process because everything relies on a chance encounter. She has also learnt that it is important to set parameters: Olivia only goes to specifically targeted networking events of ideally no more than 30 people, as she finds they are more intimate with a higher chance of finding the people that are right for her. Bigger, more loosely shaped events, she says, can be difficult to navigate – but that is personal preference.
She also tells us how incubators and accelerators are a great way to build your network: Grub Club won a place on the first of the Camden Collective Accelerator programmes, and it offered them an amazing opportunity to develop the business and resulted in funding to develop an app. Olivia tells us how it really helped in the early stages of the journey, to think through the business model, understand the value of minimum viable product, get access to the right networks and learn from fellow entrepreneurs and seasoned mentors and professionals.
Grub Club has also just been part of the Mayor for London’s first Go To Grow cohort. Speaking about the programme Olivia “[Go To Grow] has been amazing for us: we’ve met an impressive, curated network of mentors and fellow entrepreneurs who have been incredibly helpful, supportive and constructive.”
Having worked in a corporate environment before, the big increase in corporate organisations wanting to support start-ups came as somewhat of a surprise to Olivia. This access to expertise, and often financial support, can be invaluable to growing businesses and can also be in the long term interest of the company providing the assistance. Grub Club benefitted from the discounted accounting for start-up businesses offered by KPMG, and given the positive experience, as the business grows Grub Club are considering using them longer term.
Olivia’s advice to any new business is not to fear failure but to see it as part of the journey – and not to believe the stories of unmitigated success. She also emphasises the importance of building your business piece by piece and warns not to underestimate the power of face-to-face meetings, and the benefits that having that direct contact with a strong support network can bring:
“London is filled with amazingly forward thinking, open-minded people who serve really well as your early adopters as well, so you can engage a really strong community of people within a specific sector who are willing to just take a punt and test out your idea, give you feedback and be a little bit more engaged in your product so you can get real, direct feedback without the risk of going really big from the outset.”
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