How I founded a start-up that gives back to the community
Catherine Gazzoli started Piccolo to further the work of The Food Education Foundation. Eight months on, she reflects on how she ensured her commercial business would fulfill social commitments
Name: Catherine Gazzoli
Started in: April 2016
Company description: Piccolo produces organic baby food with the aim of helping busy parents give their children a healthy start in life. The company works alongside The Food Education Foundation and donates 10% of its profits to help fund food education in partnership with the National Childbirth Trust.
Describe your start-up barrier:
There are some products that require scale to even have a hope of making it. Baby food is a product that is predominantly purchased alongside other products in a family’s weekly shop.
This means I had to jump right into the world of retailers – and work with them on a deal that was mutually beneficial for them and for me financially. I moved to this from an environment where my KPIs were focused solely on making a difference from a social perspective, so this was a bit of a leap!
Now my main KPIs are making sure that everyone has their margin requirement and a fair deal, while holding down our commitment at Piccolo to giving back. I will always ensure giving back is at the heart of Piccolo, while balancing the needs of our commercial partners. I am pleased to say I have achieved this, as the more Piccolo we sell the more we support new parents in food education.
What were the practical steps you took to build a business based on social values?
I was very fortunate in that I had a fantastic circle from my experience at Slow Food. People like Prue Leith, food campaigner and educator doyenne, and Craig Sams, founder of Green and Blacks, taught me the ropes. Practically, this means that Sams and I spent weekends at his place in Hastings going over financial models and margin requirements for retailers compared to wholesalers, and overall he passed on to me a lot of expertise and knowledge from the host of businesses he has founded.
Leith supported me with recruitment and building the right team, as well as giving me direction on how to enshrine the purpose and values of the company in all our legal documentation. I did invest a considerable amount of time and resources in the legal aspects of understanding how to put our social values and commitments into our company documentation.
What was the outcome?
Piccolo is set up in a very professional way – by that I mean we have been reporting to a board of directors since pre-trading and have a robust system in place that tracks our deliverables and targets. The outcome is that I am very confident that we are prepared for any challenge, and have secured the social giving back principles the company is built on.
What key questions should other founders ask themselves while starting a charitable company?
- How can I make a social commitment with a commercial business? There are plenty of organisations, such as Social Enterprise UK, from which a new business owner can take advice about how to weave social purpose into the commercial realm of a new company.
- What can my company do to give back? Piccolo does a raft of activity on the charitable side and our in-house nutritionist Alice and I also work with governmental agencies and community centers that help disadvantaged parents in various parts of London.
What one piece of advice do you think entrepreneurs should take on board?
You don’t need oodles of experience in the industry you want to go into. I have a whole career in food and food education; this is helpful, but a history in the industry you are entering is not necessary as a platform to become an entrepreneur.
I think it’s critical to have a mentor. Mentorship is so important – at least I have found it to be. You cannot be everything to a company, but there are times at the beginning when you almost need to be. So you need someone who has done it before to cheer you on as well as give you pointers.
Is there anything you would do differently?
I would have started earlier! It takes some time to bring a product to market, especially if you are going straight into a large retailer. I spent a fabulous six years at Slow Food learning loads, and had a beautiful little girl, but I could have started Piccolo earlier and taken the product range to parents earlier. Juggling a family and a new business is a natural for me.