Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
I’m Aneisha Soobroyen, the Founder and CEO of Scrumbles. A proud Londoner, I’m now based in Croydon and live with my husband and co-founder Jack, along with Smudge and Boo our pets. I suppose Entrepreneurship was a route I was likely to take, as looking back I was quite an independent, bold and curious child from a young age. This was often mistaken for naughtiness and I found myself expelled from 4 schools by the age of 10. Despite the disruption I excelled at school leaving with top grades completing GCSEs and A Levels a year ahead of my peers and leaving for university at 17. These early challenges taught me resilience and a determination to succeed against the odds which has been a driving force for me in setting up my own company.
As my first job out of university I was a sales rep for Iams & Eukanuba where I fell in love with the industry and earned the nickname “tenacious Aneisha” for my relentless work ethic. I was fortunate to learn and develop my craft at fantastic employers P&G, Unilever and L’Oreal. Leaving blue chip employers for a snacking start up, bear nibbles I got my first exposure to a fast growing small business and I knew it was for me. A quintessential crazy cat and dog lady I was always keen to work with animals, but it was my experience with Boo that prompted the theme of gut friendly pet food.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
Scrumbles was founded in 2018 out of a frustration with what was (or wasn’t) available in the market. I’m mum to 2 furbabies, Smudge and Boo. When Boo, our kitten, showed signs of a poorly tummy I sought the advice of a vet who supplied a “poo prescription” which did the trick. However, the problem returned when she refused to eat it, so I set out to create a food that would boast the same probiotic benefits.
Combining my aim for gut friendly pet food and a passion for sustainability, the idea for Scrumbles was born. I set myself the goal of creating a brand that would become a household name, first choice for pet parents who are engaged in nutrition and sustainability. 3 years in, we’re supplying the some of the biggest retailers in the country, have a thriving D2C business and even supply supermarkets in Hong Kong.
What is your main inspiration and driver for your business?
My kitty Boo should really get the credit for Scrumbles creation, as it was due to her tummy-troubles that I had my ‘lightbulb moment’ and realised the importance of our pet’s gut health. Having seen the pet food industry from the inside out, in my previous role, I was determined that high quality, nutritious and gut-friendly food for cats and dogs could be made responsibly and accessible for all. It’s the fundamental values behind Scrumbles that most differentiate it from the competition. No other pet food in the market takes such a broad view of responsibility to both the animals it serves and the wider community. We became certified as a B Corporation in 2018, and last year also joined as a member of 1% For The Planet, reaffirming our goal to balance purpose with profit.
What was the moment that everything changed for you?
A huge milestone for us was appearing on Dragons Den which exposed us to a huge audience, who were able to really see the real us and hear our values, ethics and purpose. We were made an offer by Deborah but turned it down, she’s been very supportive since and tweeted us when the show aired which also gave us an extra boost of exposure. The show aired again in the second lockdown and we saw even more demand for the products following this.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
There have been many ups and downs along the way. For the first year Scrumbles existed out of the spare room in our home in Croydon, meaning we often had to scale walls of kibble or wet food just to get through the front door. I really found the first six months hugely challenging, managing product development and the logistics of supply and demand. Jack was still in full time employment while I set out to launch the business and get some traction and sales off the ground. We just took each day as it came; serious hard work, long days, trusting intuition and jumping on good opportunities quickly.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
Our first big retail stockist was an incredible win for the business and propelled our credibility and financial security as a business.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
We spent the two years before launching living as frugally as possible and saving to self-fund the business for the first 9 months but like with any plan, not everything worked as we expected it to. We quickly found costs creeping up and had to explore funding options. We considered crowdfunding, initially, but the fees were prohibitive so we chose to do it ourselves. Friends and family were incredibly supportive but ultimately we had to reach out to some private investors. We were lucky to have some connections through our careers but in some cases we had to simply reach out and cold call if we wanted to stay out of the red. Having never raised funds before, it was an interesting, exciting and scary experience to outreach to what were essentially strangers to sell our dreams but we were fortunate to find some believers who took the risk and have since been amazing supporters and helped the journey feel less lonely!
What has been your best investment?
A high performing, talented team to deliver the significant scale up. We are currently a team of 6 and are actively recruiting for 3 additional team members. This includes recruiting for a dedicated Sustainability Manager to ensure we’re leading the way when it comes to purposeful pet food. There is so much value in the right people building the vision with you.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Where do I begin! We’ve made lots and continue to make mistakes every day, it’s all part of the process and inevitable when you’re doing things that you’ve never done before. Early on we made a naïve mistake on trademarks and wanted to use a brand name that wasn’t in use but someone else had owned for a number of years. We thought we’d ask politely if they were happy for us to use it and they came at us hard with solicitors so we backed away. Like all our mistakes it felt like a really big deal at the time and very emotional but it turned out to be ok. We did the sensible thing of opening a bottle of wine and put our heads together for a brainstorm. Jack, my partner, came up with the name Scrumbles. Everyone tells us they love our name so it was a good mistake and whilst the process cost us some funds and legal fees at the time, it could have cost so much more.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
As a mixed-race, female leader I know first hand how invisible biases and prejudices can affect people’s careers and lives. At Scrumbles we look for candidates with the brightest attitudes rather than any arbitrary measure of academic success that can reinforce these biases. We take care to recruit through a number of channels to reach a wider, more diverse network of talent. Having an honest look at company recruitment processes and policies is a good place to start, I think, for a more equal future.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Stewardship and organisation is a must! We’re not an overly process led company, and being a small team, everything is discussed ad hoc and orally but I’ve learnt that unfortunately everything comes down to keeping a record and a bit of time and effort early on saves so much time in the long run.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
It’s so hard to pinpoint one person. I’ve met so many inspirational people along the way and before who I admire and aspire to be like. Hayley and Andrew, the founders of Bear Nibbles, definitely played a big role in giving me the confidence to take the leap and do my own thing, and I always reflect on the bosses I’ve had (the good and the obscene!) who taught me a lot. There are a lot of brands who are doing incredible things that serve as role models like Lush, Hiut and Ikea who I look to regularly as role models for what I want to achieve with Scrumbles.
What was your biggest learning of 2020?
Nothing is fixed, which is a good thing. The pandemic brought about lots of challenges; we had agreed distribution which was reneged because of the pandemic, and out of cycle cost price reviews from our suppliers, which is something we’re dealing with ongoing, but it also made us take stock, review what we’re doing and our approach. That’s a good habit to have pandemic or not, so something that will stay with me.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I set myself the goal of creating a brand that would become a household name, first choice for pet parents who are engaged in nutrition and sustainability. I would like to continue to scale and be available in more retailers while remaining true to the values we set out with from the start. I am very ambitious so I have very big goals for the business.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
I wish I read more and it’s on my plans! I get The Week magazine to stay on top of the news and as we spend a fair bit of time travelling to see customers and for events, I listen to podcasts regularly. One of my favourites is “How I built this with Guy Raz” covering inspirational and challenging journeys established entrepreneurs have made. I think it’s a must listen for anyone in business and you can learn so much from the challenges and amazing things other people have achieved.
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
It’s harder than I anticipated despite knowing it would be hard and even with a co-founder, incredibly lonely. I would say build a strong support network, including having a co-founder and befriending other people doing what you’re doing so that you have the mental resilience to work through the highs and lows as there will be a lot of them!
Finally, where can we find you/how can we support you?
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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