Why solving your own problems is the best way to start a thriving business, Mamamade’s Sophie Baron
Joining me on today’s show is Sophie Baron, the woman behind London’s cutest meal delivery startup for babies, Mamamade.
In March 2019, Mamamade came to life when Sophie struggled to find healthy and fresh options for her baby. She set out to develop a product that would provide some support for other parents going through the same struggle. Mamamade delivers unprocessed, unrefined combinations of real ingredients cut perfectly for little fingers that’s flash frozen to seal in the nutrition and flavour.
This is her journey of becoming an entrepreneur whilst holding down a full time job and the lessons she’s learned along the way.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Yeah, so I'm Sophie, I'm the founder of Mamamade, we are here to support parents through every stage of the weaning journey when they're introducing solids to their little ones. So ages six and up, we provide programs and leading products and just a general support. Really amazing. I want to go back to your life before you started Mama made um and what you're up to and what kind of led you to wanting to start your own business and go down that entrepreneurial path. It definitely wasn't like a straightforward, obvious path. I would say. I had been working in new york at vogue. Then I came here to do a master's, I met my husband got a job working in kind of tech became head of operations for a tech company and when I had my daughter, I just felt very much at sea with this new identity as a mother, I really struggled.
00:05:40Edit And so I went back to work really quickly And it was sort of in that period when I realized how poor the resources were for modern and working parents, everything was sort of assuming that, you know, I'd be on maternity leave for 12 plus months or even then going back to work part time, there was nothing that really felt on a brand level, on a product level, like it was really designed for a working parent and so that was when the idea of her mom and they kind of started wanting better options for food. Um but it was a good year between kind of the idea and then launching it and even then one day line should, it probably took a good like 3-6 months before I really kind of went for it and now we're now we're here and it's been going really well being free, but it was definitely a long gestation period. That's so cool. In the beginning, when you were still working your other job in tech and you were like, oh, I have this idea, were you like, oh, I'm just going to start making some food for myself for my friends to sell on the side or were you like, okay, I'm gonna quit my job and go all in right now.
00:06:45Edit What was that early time like of kind of getting started, it was definitely more of a kind of hobby slash side hustle of like, let me see if this product works and let me see if it's something that people would like, so experimenting with different flavors and collaborating with friends who are nutritionists and, and I think everyone just treated me as like she finally has a hobby, you know, like you needed something after she gave birth and when she's not working, she's in the kitchen. And so it definitely wasn't like really much besides this hobby and I stayed actually working at my job up until about a year ago, at least part time. I love how you were like, I'm a busy working mom, I'm low on time, I need help, but then you're like, I'm going to introduce this side, hustle and work in all my spare time as well. But that's why I think I, like, I still, like when I look back at those early times, like it still seems to me like I was just pursuing some kind of like creative outlet in a way, it was just sort of like something for me to do that wasn't work.
00:07:46Edit I mean I was literally stretched to the Hilton, felt so overwhelmed, but sometimes in those periods you start to look for things to do that feel like of like an outlet and I think mama may definitely started as a kind of outlet for me and thinking about how I could use support and how I could use help. And it was really only once I got feedback from like friends and friends of friends and started to actually sell it, but I thought, okay, maybe there's actually something here that could be a real business. And so when it was getting to that point, when you started asking friends for advice and for feedback, had you already collaborated with a chef to create some recipes and you were, you know, making them at home or what kind of was happening at that time. So at that time it was purely just me and my kitchen just coming up with some ideas, definitely. I'm learning as much as I could about child nutrition, baby nutrition, but it was, yeah, it was really just me and then once I kind of decided to start selling it, that's when I started doing it properly. Got some some professional help, but in the form of favors from people I knew to kind of revised recipes and revise um like nutritional content and I was still operating from home.
00:08:57Edit I mean, legally like completely registered at the council and you know, they came in and did all their checks and everything, but was operating from home for a while. Yeah, it's only been about six plus months at this point that we've been in a proper commercial facility. Amazing. What kind of capital did you need to get started? And was it like you're investing in the food and the product and working kind of on a favor basis with chefs and things like that or were you like from the get go investing in branding, building a website. I know you're obviously quite your tech business as well as uh, free service. So what was that kind of capital situation for getting started? I think it's amazing what you can do with very little money these days. I mean, the actual investment in the beginning was minimal. It was in a Shopify website that I did myself. Um it was the branding, I used a friend. So I got very good rates on that.
00:10:00Edit And the biggest investment remember was at one point I bought a huge chest freezer for like £400 and then several £100 worth of like vegetables, and I remember looking at my husband being like, well, you know, if this goes like belly up, I'll just have the vegetables to eat, let's go to the freezer and it won't be that big of a deal. So from the beginning, I mean, I was very much like just trying to use whatever kind of extra cash we had, there wasn't much of an initial capital injection into the business and then really in terms of marketing and sales was all through instagram, which is like this amazing free marketing tool. So it was really just a few £1000 I would say to start, And then we've been bootstrapping the business, or we did up until um in July 2020, we've closed a round of investment family. Oh, congrats, that's so exciting. And what will that go towards? Is that to scale the product or is that for more of an investment into the, into the tech and the and the website. For the most part, it's being invested into growth. So, yeah, improving the website, improving the packaging, improving the branding.
00:11:05Edit But a small amount of it is just going towards um like upscaling the operations on the kitchen side. But because we've been able to bootstrap this far, we're in a comfortable facility. Um so a lot of that has already been taken care of Yeah, it's really important for growth at this point. I really love your branding, it is so fun and so pretty. I'm like, well I don't have a baby, but I want that in my fridge, it looks great. It's such a sensitive subject at the moment because we're completely revamping the branding. I feel I feel very attached to this branding because it's been so like, it was such an organic sort of generation of it. Like I went to a friend for a logo and kind of color ideas and then we kind of did a little tweaking on it and, but I think as a result it's a bit of a Frankenstein the brand, which is why we wanted to now kind of stripped back and really understand what we're trying to communicate and but part of me is really going to miss this version. What did you say it was? It's a, it's a what kind of brand that's a bit of a Frankenstein, like it's just little bits and pieces from like, you know, this period and that period and things done on Canada and things done on, you know, not very much done professionally up until this point.
00:12:18Edit Got it, got it, got it, wow, so it's fully going to change. Yeah, that's so exciting. Oh my gosh, I love that for you? Okay, I want to go back still to the beginning to those early days. What was the kind of feedback you were getting from people that you know, made you realize it was a validated product and that you were ready to like actually start selling and you know, go more in on the company. So I suppose it would be helpful maybe to understand like what the current or at the time what the offering was for parents and for babies in terms of food on the shelf. So it was like either you were cooking everything yourself, so batch pureeing or you know, back steaming and then freezing or on the supermarket shelves were these pure A's. We're usually an opaque packaging, um long life products that's on the shelf and there is, you know, they're they're great products. Like I like to think of them as fast food. Like there's always a time and a place that you wouldn't necessarily only feed your child that. And yeah, it just seemed like crazy.
00:13:24Edit Those are the options available. So I started to speak to more and more parents who all felt the same. Like no one felt that good about offering these pouches, but there wasn't really another alternative. And so I came up, I literally came up these prototypes of what's now my mama made mix and was putting them in like ziploc bags and driving around and dropping them off and then getting feedback that way. And then when I started to just testing out selling them and seeing what people would pay for them and then people coming back time and time again or people that I didn't even know coming to order them and getting feedback from people I've never met before saying like, this has literally saved me. That was at that point where I was like, okay, this is actually something to do properly. But in general, there was, I think it started with that initial feeling that people were communicating and they're like, well I don't want to use the pouches, but like there's nothing else, hmm And what made you decide to go for a subscription based model versus being like, you know, going straight to aim for being on the supermarket shelves and that kind of direction. I think for the most part, everything, every decision that we've made that moment so far has been sort of organically made.
00:14:32Edit So the fact that we started with me literally driving door to door, the fact that we started with like the instagram sales, we've always known our customer really well and that's something that I really didn't want to lose by going into retail, especially not at this stage. We're still really young. We're still really early in our story and like the the amount that we're able to get to know about our customer and build in response to what they're telling us is so valuable for everybody because it means that we're actually creating products that people want. It means that we're learning and we're improving a lot quicker I think than if we, we're going straight to retail. And then also it just allows us to stay really lean because we're able to keep our margins basically for ourselves. And so I know now or I read now that you have partnered with some really amazing chefs, um, I think I read someone came from bomb bob ricard, What was the kind of thing that you were looking for when you were looking for people to collaborate with and what enticed them to actually leave those kind of jobs to work for, You know, a new startup that wasn't funded yet.
00:15:44Edit It's always been really important for me, at least with mama made for the food to be good for it to be food that actually tastes like food for food that's recognizable as food. Something that parents wouldn't feel bad about eating themselves. For example, if they're really strapped for time, it's why our porridge is, for example, are like humongous portions. It's intended to be shared between parent and baby. Um, and bringing on these chefs was actually just a kind of a lucky stroke of lockdown in a way is what we found all these restaurants shut and a lot of these chefs who have families themselves, the ones that came to us in particular. Um, they have young Children and working in a restaurant's berries with antisocial hours, you're working very late at night really, hardly long. So we were able to offer shift work and basically a comparable salaries that they could spend time with their families and then just understanding the kind of need for this kind of product I think is particularly well understood by people who love food and spend their days working with food.
00:16:44Edit Um So it was really just, it was very lucky in a way that it coincided with lockdown. But I think anyway, going forward, we've been able to retain that these chefs, you know, because of the lifestyle that we're able to continue to offer them. And did you also have to work with dietitians or professionals that specialist in like babies and kids and toddlers or you didn't have to do that. So we did like in the very beginning, obviously being from my kitchen was like a completely different story. But then um now every recipe has been developed completely by a nutritionist. We have an in house for the, yeah, she's in house now nutritionist, last doctor who has vetted everything, who still kind of approves every recipe. So we're really sure that we're offering good meals. So the way it will work is the chef will kind of come up with a recipe idea, We'll send it off to the nutritionist who makes tweaks based on the nutritional content and then we tweak again for taste.
00:17:46Edit And it's kind of that back and forth process until we get to something that tastes good. But it's also nutritionally sound. And do you bring in your, like your, um, your child, your toddler to try out the products? She is the original taste test, I think brought her to the kitchen. It was like over the weekend, um, because we had to get something and she was like tearing into the banana oat pancakes that are released and it's always this like sigh of relief and she actually eats the moment made product part of me, somewhere like I got two cents, put it up. She does either, it's always like, okay, there's at least one toddler on this planet who will eat this. And yeah, he's, he's been the original text tester from the beginning. That's so cute. I love that. I want to get into talking a bit about marketing. I know you said in the beginning instagram with your kind of key channel, that's how you were finding your customers and spreading that early. Good word. What else were you doing to kind of spread the word? How are you requiring new customers and how has that evolved?
00:18:49Edit It's still very heavily weighted on instagram and it was for a long time. I mean instagram is the main channel and then it was some in person events. Um, so going to family clubs or going to places where we knew there'd be a lot of kids and just trying to get flyers into hands and and products into hands. But for a good, I was 7 to 8 months of our story. It was instagram. Um, and then the word of mouth that kind of comes from that and referral is still a really big chunk now of what we do and a bit in an ambassador slash affiliates. Um, yeah. So kind of word of mouth and is the referral thing that you just mentioned is that kind of like a program where someone can refer their friends get some money off and then the new customer also gets some money off. Exactly. That's what we're running now. Is that kind of refer a friend, give 10, get 10. That's been really effective. But we're also trialing soon a kind of points based program.
00:19:52Edit So trying something else that as well. But because we've just seen with moms especially, it's that connection. If one person in one area loves the product, all her friends are going to buy that product. So just trying to get a bit more attraction through that. Yeah. And I think that's just inherently in consumer behavior as you share things that are good with your friends. I remember when I started using, um, when I used to live in London, I started using farm drop and they had that referral kind of program and it just makes it so easy because the service was so great. It's easy to talk about with your friends, your friends are in a similar phase of life where they care about the food that they're putting in their body. They care about, you know what they're ordering and where they're ordering from. So you're all on that journey together. Yeah, exactly. I would say like our earliest customers weren't necessarily incentivized by the discount. They were just happy to see others happy to spread the word. So we don't even, we didn't need a formal referral program and now that our customer base is growing, it's, it's, yeah, just trying something else that yeah, absolutely, Absolutely.
00:20:58Edit We often talk about the challenges that come with being an entrepreneur. Obviously it's never easy, but on the outside things always look rosy. It looks like, you know, you've got this thriving business etcetera, etcetera. But what are some of the struggles that you've had and has there been a time where you faced a significant challenge in the journey that you can share with other people and there's lots, I think it's just that decision to keep going. I mean for for me, like I didn't, we didn't have investors for a really long time and relatively speaking for the first year plus it was completely self funded. Um, so there were a lot of moments of being like, is this the make or break moment, should I just stop now? Um, you know, pull out whatever I can and get on with my days because as good as our attraction has been, it was a bit up and down in the beginning, especially because we're relying mostly on organic growth and unpaid growth, it can be a bit slow. And so financially I would say that kind of will to keep pushing.
00:22:03Edit It did there were periods where it felt like I was at the poker table being like, okay, am I going to put more on or walk away? Um not that I've ever played poker, but so I think it's now that we have raised funds. You know, I woke up in a panic this moment this morning being like, are we bleeding cash? You know, how are we going to keep this business going? I mean we're not, you know, all it takes is for you to sit down and kind of go through your balance sheet and see where you're at, take stock of everything. But there are these moments of yeah, sheer terror like, you know, should I pull out now now we can't, but before yeah, I totally get it. My husband and I, we have started using this mantra recently and it's just stopped stopping because of course, you know, if things are really tough or you've had like a series of bad days or a series of, you know, crappy situations, you're like, am I doing the right thing, the self doubt creeps in and you're like, maybe I should stop, maybe I should do something else, but you know, stop stopping is like what we're operating under and I think that's a really simple, like nice, like two word thing that you're able to just quickly pop into your mind and it makes such a difference.
00:23:13Edit I love that. I don't wanna start using that. Stop stopping. Oh my God, start using it. I was being like, you know, I've come too far to only come this far. That's, that was much like, love that. So that's similar, similar vibe. Yeah, for sure. So where is the business today? And what does the future look like for you guys? I know you have some merch on the store, which is super cute. I love the spoons, they look amazing. I think I read that you have 12, 12 different recipes that come with the first box um that you order, what's the, what's the expansion look like? So yeah, definitely building out the merch because that is, it's a lot of fun and people really like it and it's nice to come up with products that are kind of a bit nicer looking than what's out there for them at the moment. Um in terms of flavors, we are building out more so we've got 23 but adding in a line of puree so we can be service thing, families that have younger babies and then on the other end toddler meals as well, there's a lot into product development at the moment and just improving our website really is a big, big piece for us.
00:24:24Edit We've been on Shopify, but mostly all done myself, so it's really nice to be working with developers who are helping us come up with the proper kind of slicker offering then what my limited tech can offer totally. I get that feeling, I want to go back to talk about just for a second when we were talking about changing the branding and and making that decision to go in a different direction. How do you know that you should do that and how do you kind of get the feedback from other people and build that into what it should be? I think it got to a point where we've we've grown our customer base a lot, we've grown our audience a lot, and because our branding never really had much strategy behind it other than what was kind of in my head about what I want, I knew I wanted the brand to feel like, I knew what I wanted it to help people feel like when they interacted with Mama made and sense of keeping your identity is something a bit more sophisticated, but we we were kind of losing grip about how to communicate that.
00:25:29Edit I think we were losing a little bit of that core that you do when you go into this brand new work of that kind of mission vision purpose and and really understanding what you're about. Um so that's something that was kind of the starting point of wanting to really make sure that we were firm on that because so much of this business has just come from my head that it's um yeah, we've just gotten to a stage of this size where we need to be able to externalize that a lot better and then with the actual look and feel of it, trying to find something that keeps that sense that we've got of the, like something a bit different in the baby world a bit more sophisticated when it's speaking to the parents, but also is maybe a bit more inclusive. That speaks to different family makeups rather than just mothers necessarily. So yeah, these are all kind of the thoughts that have been pinging around when you just thought, let's just sit down and do this properly and do you then go and survey your customers to find out what they like and what they don't like?
00:26:30Edit Or are you just basing it off working specifically with a branding agency? No, I mean that's the beauty of being direct consumers that we do just spend a lot of time working and speaking to our customers. So like, it's not even about necessarily what they like or don't like, but it's like how are we helping you like how, what are we, what pain point are we solving for you understanding actually how they understand our service, that was a really big piece and then when it came to the actual look and feel of it and yeah, I'm saying like what other brands are resonating with you trying to get a fuller picture of the kind of Yeah, world that they're living in terms of what they're interacting with daily. But I would, yeah, I would say just really understanding the service that we're offering them was a really big piece of it. Yeah, for sure. So important. So important. What advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to launch their own company? Just do it. I think going back to like stop stopping thing. I mean, I think you'll always regret not at least trying. I mean doing it sensibly to start trying to do it with as little kind of overhead as you can to start?
00:27:40Edit That was for me, it made it a lot easier to start because the risks were so low, you know, thinking about what amount of money can I put into this where if it was to all go, you know, dead, what would that be a life changing amount of money to lose? And the answer was always no. So I think that makes it easier to start. And then just looking at the right places for the validation that you need so that your customers about your clients not looking anywhere else for validation. I'm not looking for someone. I had so many people be like, are you still doing that thing with the vegetables? And it was like this horrible feeling, oh my God, I just like cry about it. But then it's like, well I don't really need to be listening to those people because I've got customers that actually I am helping and even now on occasion we'll get a kind of snarky comment on a facebook post and you know, it's hard not to be a bit, you know, ruffled by that, but I think staying focused on why you're doing what you're doing and staying focused on who you're helping and yeah, just going for it because it is really fulfilling.
00:28:45Edit Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes it's hard to shut out that negativity. I heard a woman that I spoke to recently, her advice was when she she's a podcast host out of Australia and she was saying that if she's experiencing negative comments or like trolling, she would just have to sit there and be like, but you are not my intended customer in that case. And so I just need to remember that you're not my target. And I thought that was a really nice way of just having to like take that moment and be like, you're not who I'm trying to speak to right now. That's like, I think that actually just sums up perfectly what like, well I've had to learn over time, like especially I thought that kind of my immediate friend group and their friends would end up being on my customer base and I've actually really struggled to penetrate my kind of most close community of people and I think taking a step back and being like, oh, actually they're not my target customer for so many reasons, does make it a lot easier to then just kind of like whatever. Like I've got my own thing going on.
00:29:46Edit Um I've got a great thing going on and yeah, yeah, you're just not my target, you're not my focus. Yeah, exactly, and you're putting in your effort to the people who are your focus and who are who are buying it from you and supporting you and love what you're doing, championing, championing, can't say that word, championing, you know what I mean, championing you were up to the sixth quick questions part of the episode. Question number one is, what's your why? Um just help parents on the whole. I mean, it's very general, but I really struggled after the birth of my daughter. I just feel like it doesn't need to be that difficult. Um it doesn't need to be so lonely and isolating and that second guessing everything you're doing. So if we can help even a few parents transition into this new world a bit easier and feel better about themselves than Yeah, that's that's why we're here. I love that question. Number two is what's been the number one marketing moment that made your business pop, definitely bringing on are now marketing lead, who's now oversees our instagram.
00:30:58Edit So putting everything behind our instagram just literally has changed, transformed our business in terms of growth, we've definitely seen as our audience has grown, our business has grown. Yeah, so on instagram are also doing things like press and that kind of thing. Just really putting a lot of resource behind content on instagram. Um partnering with experts on instagram, putting out useful content. Yes. And that's just having someone support me and that has been transformative for our business in terms of converting customers. That's so cool. Question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter and well now I'm not hanging out with very many, I'm like in third trimester like lockdown. Um but I really love connecting with other female founders, so be it in person. I mean it used to be at the wing, may it rest in peace, but even online there's so many great groups and resources and I just love hearing what other women are up to, even if they're not necessarily entrepreneurs, but they're in the working world or they're juggling families.
00:32:03Edit Um I feel always a bit greedy for stories um because I just feel like we all get so much from each other when we can just kind of collaborate in that way. It just sharing stories for sure. Question number four is how do you win the day that's around your AM or your PM rituals that keep you feeling happy and successful and productive and motivated, it always feels like a good day if I've managed to balance like looking after my daughter and the business and in order to actually achieve that, it just means being really diligent in terms of my habits of when I wake up and getting some time and for myself before she wakes up and making sure I'm actually present when she is awake, given scheduling my work day so that I know what I have to get done before it's time to collect her from their histories. So I do try to be as strict as I can with my schedule. Um, but that allows me to feel really kind of fulfilled at the end of each day. So it's not, it's not the most fun, but it's a very strict schedule, but it's, it's helpful.
00:33:04Edit I love that Question # five is if you only had $1,000 left in your business bank account, where would you spend it? I keep talking about it, but probably um instagram probably um yeah, that's just for us where our customers um and we needed the last time of hail mary pass to, to get some more cash into the business? It would definitely be kind of putting more and more behind our instagram storefront. And last question question number six is how do you deal with failure? And that can be just a general experience or your mindset and approach, It's definitely not always easy, but I've really worked on splitting the kind of negative connotation to failure and trying to reframe it as a learning experience, like I've, especially with the fundraising process and having so many meetings that just went so badly, or like, you know, you do a podcast interview and you're just like, what was I saying? I'm trying to reframe it as, you know, that was something I'm never gonna do again, it's going to be a learning experience.
00:34:14Edit Um so that reframing does feel like a muscle that can be worked and can be trained, um so you stop being as bothered by, you know, when things don't go right and they don't go well, um yeah, that's probably the number one way. Amazing, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show and share the learnings about your business and what you've been up to. No, thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it.