40: Bicycle Delivery Service – Interview with Richa Bhalla from Pedals

In today’s interview we feature Richa Bhalla from Pedals, a new London-based bicycle delivery service.

Ian Stride and Richa Bhalla
CTO Ian Stride and Founder Richa Bhalla

What kind of business do you run? When did you start it and where is it based?

London’s first fully green, on-demand bicycle delivery service. We started it in October 2015, and are based out of an old Hospital near Warren Street converted into hot-desking space by the amazing Camden Collective. It’s a great spot for getting work done and meeting new and interesting startups. It’s definitely helped kickstart our business.

What inspired you to start this business?

Petal & Cycle is the first company that I started from scratch. I knew nothing about the flower business going in and quickly discovered how difficult it was for new startups to get their products around the city in an environmentally friendly, affordable way. In order to run a consistent, eco-conscious service I had to hire a cyclist to be on staff full time which was inefficient when I was in the process of ramping up sales as orders were sparse. Thus I decided to start Pedals alongside Petal & Cycle a few months back. Pedals helps companies as they ramp up distribution. Early on, there’s no fully fledged logistics in place for smaller companies and they’re in need of interim support while their orders build. Initially, I mocked up an MVP to test and we’ve adapted ourselves based on feedback since. We still have a long way to go but we change and improve what we have on the site as it continues to be an iterative process.

What is your daily routine of running your business?

For better or for worse we don’t really have much of a routine at Pedals HQ. We typically find ourselves solving problems, enhancing our latest offering given feedback and working to keep our windswept cyclists smiling and safe. Alongside all of this we are still small enough to come up with very bespoke green delivery solutions for all of our clients and spend quite a bit of time working on making those ideas come to life. Overall we’re aiming to make everyone’s interaction with us as seamless as possible.

Tell us about your experience with Y Combinator!

I started off my career in banking and quickly realised that it wasn’t for me. I was keen to learn about startups and I decided the best place to do that would be Silicon Valley. I moved there without a job but to hungry start building any experience I could. I managed to wrangle an internship with a company entering Y Combinator and I quickly became submerged in 15-18 hours days, ultimate frisbee tournaments and a ramen noodle lifestyle. As someone with no prior knowledge of the startup world it was an invaluable experience. The guys that I worked with (the three co-founders of the company) excitedly spent time showing me various youtube videos and encouraging me to read the books that make up the foundations of Silicon Valley. They constantly likened my experience to an alien coming to earth for the first time. It was an intense 3 months during which I managed to meet some of the biggest tech stars of our time in very casual settings. Oftentimes I’d get caught up in lengthy conversations only to realise that I was babbling on to the creator of gmail or someone as equally mind boggling.

Who is your target market?

We’ve just started and are looking for all the help we can get in making a greener London.
So far we’ve focused on small, eco conscious companies with a similar ethos to us. But we are also interested in targeting individuals that are cycling evangelists and supporters of our cause. There are times when you’ve forgotten your keys on the other side of town or want to get a birthday present hand delivered to someone that you care about. The alternative has always been to stick things in a cab but at Pedals we emphasise personal interactions, human to human. We ensure hand delivered packages offered up with a smile by our wind swept cyclists.

Whether you’re a cool, quirky brand or an individual that cares about the environment, we just want to provide awesome people with a reasonable way to be green.

What keeps you motivated to keep working on your business?

When people get excited about our service when they hear about it. From small companies, to eco conscious individuals we seem to be finding support for our idea all over the place. Helping other small companies out is also really encouraging as I know how much I appreciated any support early on. Having someone focus on logistics is unbelievably useful.

What would you recommend new entrepreneurs? How to get started?

Talk to everyone you know. Keeping things under wraps hinders your chances of ever starting anything. You’ll find connections in the most unexpected places so give yourself a fighting chance by not being afraid to tell people about your ideas and ask for advice. It can only help your cause.

Have you ever started a new business and then given up for some reason?

I was sad to see the back of Petal & Cycle but I got to a point where it was impossible to run both at the same time. Pedals Delivery took off much quicker than expected and required my full time attention early on and I was essentially forced to pick one over the other. I also never found the time to find someone to take over day to day operations of Petal & Cycle which is a shame because we are still receiving order requests!

Outside of business what do you enjoy doing? How do you recharge your batteries?

I love walking so I tend to pack up a picnic and head out of the city on the weekend. When I lived in San Francisco people worked really hard but were also in the habit of hiking and being outdoors at least once a week. When I moved back this encouraged me to look into all the amazingly accessible, beautiful spots around London and I had never really taken advantage of it before.

To learn more about Richa’s business please visit Pedals-delivery.com.

39: Interview with Kara from Secret Safe Books

Today we talk to Kara Witham from Secretsafebooks.com who has a truly unique business!


What kind of business do you run? When did you start it and where is it based?

My business which I run with my husband is called Secret Safe Books. We handcraft and sell online hollow books, flask books, and ring bearer books. It all started as my hobby in 2009 after coming home from work when I was a museum gallery guard in Chicago. Now we are based in Minnesota.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I’m 40 and was born in Seoul, South Korea; at the age of 6 months I was adopted by American parents and brought to the USA. As I grew up, I was always interested in crafts and art. My childhood best friend’s mother was an artist and would always invent projects for us to do. When I applied for college, I only applied to one art school, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago which is where I got my BFA in painting and drawing. I also took a course in book-making while I was there which came in handy for my current business.

What inspired you to start this business?

Well, I never set out to start a hollow book business. I had been in a long series of odd jobs over the years after art school with very little success at selling my art, and I was starting to resign myself to thinking of any arts or crafts project of mine to be a simple hobby. Using just an x-acto knife, I was making hollow books after coming home from my day job. Then I put a couple up for sale on the craft site Etsy just to see what would happen. To my surprise, they sold quickly. Soon I couldn’t craft them fast enough with an x-acto, and my husband bought me a scroll saw to try instead. Over months I developed a better way of crafting the books that was more efficient and more beautiful. The business grew from there.

What is your daily routine of running your business?

I get up around 7 a.m. and make coffee and check the online shop for messages. Then I answer any emails and head out to the workshop (our converted garage). I do the gluing process of crafting on the books, and then my husband comes out to the workshop later to draw templates and brace the books for cutting. After lunch I go back out to the workshop and cut books with the scroll saw and do more gluing. When we’re not crafting, we’re usually posting about the business on social media. Then in the evenings, we wrap orders to go out the next day.


Does your business generate enough money to support you?

Yes, my husband and I both make our living through our business. My husband was laid off from his full-time day job right around the time I switched over from hobby to business. He’s better at computers and finances than I am, so we make a good team.

What would you recommend new entrepreneurs? How to get started?

I think “Do what you love” is actually the best start. Then I recommend checking out the competition to see how you stack up and see if there’s a market for what you do. If there is, then learn how to improve on your competitors and to create your own niche.

What was your experience setting up your company website?

My husband created our stand alone website via Shopify and found it very user-friendly. He had never designed a site before, and the template we chose had high ratings by other users who said the creators of the template were extremely helpful with any questions or problems. And indeed they were very helpful with our questions. It’s been an ongoing process continually tweaking our site based on customer suggestions and looking at other sites. My first shop, which is still running on Etsy was a breeze to set up. Basically, I uploaded a banner with the shop name, I took a few photos of my Secret Safe Books, uploaded them, filled out the description, information about shipping, and it was open for business.

Do you think that Social Media such as Twitter or Facebook are good marketing tools?

Absolutely yes, I think social media is a crucial part of marketing today. I typically ask our customers how they discovered our shop, and not everybody replies, but when they do, it’s often to say they found us via Pinterest, Facebook, Wanelo, or Reddit. (Not so much Twitter, because personally I enjoy posting on the other media better. I need to learn how to enjoy Twitter).

What is your experience with paid ads? Do you recommend Google Adwords or Facebook Ads?

We’ve run Google Adwords for years now consistently, and it’s a major source of traffic for us. Right now, our customers from Facebook are just engaging with my regular posts, we haven’t tried paid ads yet. We’ve experimented with paid promoted pins on Pinterest recently and received traffic from it, but not proven sales from the particular promotion. In the past, we paid for two advertorials, where a blog will write up an article on your business, and that was worth it, bringing sales right when they were published as well as months and years later (because they remain on the blog forever).

Outside of business what do you enjoy doing? How do you recharge your batteries?

I love playing with our cat, Remus. I can get him to leap in the air after a fake bird on a string, he always makes me laugh. Plus I enjoy reading books. (Yes, I do actually read books in addition to carving them into hiding spots!)

To learn more about Kara’s business please visit Secretsafebooks.com. She also set up an Artisan Gifts subreddit at https://www.reddit.com/r/ArtisanGifts/.



38: Bircher Muesli Pots – Interview with Anna Mackenzie from Cuckoo foods

Today we feature Anna Mackenzie from London-based company Cuckoo foods.


What kind of business do you run? When did you start it and where is it based?

I’ve started an FMCG (Fast-moving consumer goods) food brand called Cuckoo which sells premium on-the-go Bircher muesli pots in innovative flavours for those who are busy and looking for a breakfast or snack that is delicious, easy and healthy. We’re based in London but the products are produced in Wales. We sell in to retailers such as Selfridges, Waitrose and Tesco.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

When I was a student, most of my summer jobs were working for smaller companies or startups. I went to Edinburgh University where I studied Business Studies and Psychology, and started Cuckoo straight after graduating, so never had another full time job.

What inspired you to start this business?

I started Cuckoo with Lucy Wright, one of my best friends from school. We’ve always shared a love for food. When we were on a school trip to Switzerland we were staying in a hostel and they had Bircher muesli (which is originally from Switzerland) and it was by far the best thing they had to eat. It was delicious and we wondered why it wasn’t more of a thing back at home. We forgot about it and eventually went our separate ways to Uni. When I was there I found I couldn’t find a breakfast in the shops to take to the library as it was either a croissant (unhealthy) or a yoghurt (not filling) so this idea of a lack of on-the-go breakfast was at the back of my mind. The summer I graduated I was at home and my mum was whipping up these Bircher mueslis for breakfast; all more unique and even tastier versions than I had tried before. Catching up with Lucy at the end of the summer I mentioned the idea to her of turning it into a business and she was really keen – the next week we started working on the project and what is now Cuckoo.


What would you recommend new entrepreneurs? How to get started?

Meet up with other entrepreneurs in the wider industry and seek as much feedback and advice as you can. Don’t be scared to share your new idea as that is the only way you’ll validate it, and ultimately if you’re passionate about your idea and have come up with it, no one is going to copy it as well as you. Make a step by step plan of what needs to be done and see who you can seek advice from at each stage to get you to the next stage. People will introduce you to others and it’s a great way of creating your own support network whilst getting advice.

Who do you think is the most accomplished entrepreneur you’ve met?

We had the honour of having a coffee with Simon Woodroffe the founder of Yo! Sushi a few weeks ago after we met him at an awards ceremony. He shared his wisdom on how he thinks of new ideas (looking to the near future and thinking about what people will be doing and then saying OK let’s look even further to the future and do that) and marketing and PR (everyone who starts a food company is going to say their food tastes great so you need stand out and be talked about by doing amazing things outside of the good food, which should be a given).

How many people are involved in your business?

It is still just Lucy and myself full-time. We then have marketing interns and great team of Directors, and now outsource or work with freelancers on our accounting, production, operations and PR.

Do you think it is a good idea to start a business with a friend?

Yes – Lucy and I are extremely lucky as when we first started to work on the business we never once thought about what the other would be like as a business partner, or what if it didn’t work out – we just went with it. We have different strengths and weaknesses, we’re honest with each other and we also socialise outside of work with our group of friends – all of which are reasons why I think it works so well. You also get to have a good laugh everyday!

How competitive is your industry?

The FMCG food industry is extremely competitive and everything about your product and business needs to be aligned for it to be a success and even then it takes a lot of hard work and persistence, no matter how good the idea and product is.

To learn more about Cuckoo please visit Cuckoofoods.co.uk.

37: Coffee Roaster – Interview with Roberto from 80 Stone

Today we feature Simone and Roberto from London based coffee company 80 Stone.


Tell us about your background! What have done before running a coffee house?

Simone and Roberto met in London in 2006, working together in a restaurant.
Roberto grew up in a coffee shop in Verona and always worked in hospitality, Simone has always worked with coffee: roasting, engineering and barista training.
Roberto left London in 2008 and started running his own busy aperitif & wine bar in Verona.
After finishing in 6th place at the 2010 UK Barista Championship, Simone moved to Central America, where he worked in a coffee exporting company and judged barista competitions in Guatemala and El Salvador. He also secured 2nd place at the Italian coffee cupping competition in 2012.
The two friends met again in London in mid 2012. At the beginning of 2013 they shook hands and decided to open (and build) a coffee shop, Chairs and Coffee.

What do you think of big chains such as Starbucks?

Unfortunately they do not provide good quality coffee and good service, also because most of the employees apply just to get a job (not for passion for coffee). Independent shops in general can be more customer-friendly and can offer better quality products.

How did you come up with the name 80 Stone?

We bought our coffee roaster at the end of December 2014, and we got it shipped from Italy. It is a 5kg F.I.M.T, (Fabbrica Italiana Macchine Tostatrici) produced in Turin, north of Italy 1960c. (The company was apparently bought by Scolari more than 30 years ago). We refurbished the machine ourselves and we started our mission to roast our own coffee at the beginning of April 2015.
We branded our product with the name “80 Stone Coffee” because we kind of figured out that the roaster weighs about 80 stone, plus we were born in the 80s!


What are some new trends in coffee houses? What do you think of flat white coffee?

Nitro coffee! Also different milks. Flat white is our best selling drink! We love it because is made with more coffee and less milk so you can taste more the coffee.

What is your personal favourite coffee?

It is like asking what is my favourite dish! i can’t really decide!

What are the best and worst parts of running your business?

Worst part: the risk of starting a business! It’s very hard to get customers, there is always competition and it’s important to understand why things sometimes are not going well (especially at the beginning).
Best part: when the business is established, it can give very good rewards (customers feedback, reviews, articles, awards, money). When things are going well it’s very exciting to find more challenges (expanding the business, open a second branch)..

What would you recommend new entrepreneurs? How to get started?

If they have a budget to invest (not much) and passion (a lot), just do it!! Keep in mind that starting a business is a risk, it can work very well… or not.

How many people are involved in your business?

2 co-founders (directors), plus 2-3 staff people.

How much time do you spend running your business per day?

24. Having a business means be always at work, even if not physically in the premises.

Any books about entrepreneurship you can recommend?

Setting up and managing your own coffee bar, by John Richardson & Hugh Gilmartin.

What are your future plans for the company?

Now we are focusing a lot on the roasting, we are planning to develop this part of the business.

How competitive is your industry?

There is really a lot of competition in general, this is why it is important to be aware of the new trends. The market keeps on changing, we must follow it.

Do you use any productivity tools?

It is important to have marketing tools.
At the beginning we were using just free easy-to-manage tools, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Now that we really want to develop the business (especially for 80 Stone Coffee Roasters), we are paying for Google Adwords, two amazing websites with Shopify, plus a professional telemarketing operator.

Tell us some fun facts about you or your business!

Well, working with public is always fun! Everyday there is something weird happening in the cafe! Most of our customers are very friendly young professionals.

How was your company funded?

Listen to this. We founded our limited company 3 years ago, using our laptop in a pub near London Bridge, while drinking a pint of beer. We still laugh at this, when we think about it! In our country this could never be possible!

What is the best business decision you’ve ever made?

Buying the coffee roasting machine. Definitely.

Where is the best place to find staff?

No idea. We are struggling to find staff… There is too much mess on the Internet. Coffeejobsboard.com is a very good website, but it’s not always followed enough by job-seekers. Gumtree.com is very expensive (now £59.00 for an ad!). There are also millions (and millions) of job-apps that make big promises but they don’t give any results, because there are too many of them.

Your website was designed by Phatmonk Studios. Tell us about the experience!

A customer (now a good friend!) was coming to our coffee shop every day, working with the laptop. One day he offered himself to build a website for us (Chairsandcoffee.co.uk). And then he made the second (80stonecoffeeroasters.co.uk)! Now he moved back to Brisbane (Australia), but we always keep in touch. We call him Matt “Triple Shot” because he was drinking only triple shot lattes! One of our coffee blends pays homage to him (Brisbane Espresso blend).

To learn more about 80 Stone please go to 80stonecoffeeroasters.co.uk.


36: Website Design – Interview with Colton Mathieu from Coco the Bear

Today we feature Colton Mathieu from Coco the Bear who is a Texas-based designer.


Tell us about yourself and your background!

I’m a 25-year-old dude in Texas who loves designing brands, gaming with friends, and spending way too much time in coffee shops. I attained a bachelor’s degree in business from Sam Houston State University and have my own branding and graphic design business.

What service do you offer? Where are you based? How many people are involved?

I’m a one-man team based in Houston, Texas. I offer any design service in the graphic and branding design realm. From the original logo to the complete website, I have the capacity and drive to tackle it all by any means.

What would you say is the best way to acquire and keep customers?

The best way I’ve found to keep clients is to take a vested interest in what their businesses do and who they are. To many people, their business is their baby and I want to treat it as such.


How did you come up with the name “Coco the Bear”?

Funny enough, I was stuck coming up with a name and decided to go back to nicknames I was called as a child. The one that stuck out the most was Coco The Bear that my dad used to call me. Surprisingly, there’s not much else to it.

Do you use Social Media to promote your business?

My main outlet for social media is Instagram. I’ve found a ton of resources and inspiration from other designers on there. Other than that, Facebook and Twitter are feeds that I have but don’t put much time into.

What inspired you to start this business?

I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I would take things apart and never really put them back together. I liked to see how things were made. Long story short, after high school I ended up going to a university and getting my Bachelors in Business and getting a job in retail. I knew retail wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I decided to fully pursue a career in branding design. Being 25 years old, I figured I’m young enough in my career to go full force towards something I’ll really enjoy. Now, here I am. The end goal for Coco The Bear is to be picked up by an agency and continue to do freelance on the side.

What is your daily routine of running your business?

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I go up to the coffee shop for a couple hours and get some work done. I’ve found it necessary to get out and be social when working for yourself. After my time at the coffee shop, I go home for some lunch, maybe check a few emails and then continue what I left off at.

What are the best and worst parts of running your business?

Best – Delivering a finished part of the project to the client. To know that someone is happy with something you’ve created is invaluable.
Worst – Marketing myself to the public. I don’t enjoy talking about myself or what I’m good at so you can understand how that’s difficult.

What keeps you motivated to keep working on your business?

The prospect of being picked up by a design agency keeps me going. I desperately want to create a portfolio that I can show off and be proud of.

What would you recommend new designers? How to get started?

Just go for it. I spent most of my free time during college at a nearby Starbucks teaching myself Photoshop. Once I understood most of Photoshop’s capabilities, I went onto Illustrator and discovered how much more I was capable of.

You know you’re a designer when …

… you look at an advertisement and can name all the fonts used on it.

Do you have a USP? Why should someone choose you for their design needs?

The reason someone should choose Coco The Bear is because I believe that your brand is something that you should be something to show off. Because of this, I offer unlimited revisions on most of the things I create. I want the client to be extremely satisfied with everything they create.

To learn more about Colton’s design business please visit Cocothebear.com.