Just Started – Raghav Agarwal: FIREUP

Cooking can feel like rocket science for many of us – but for FIREUP, the redesigned Dutch Oven that’s powered by jet engine technology, that’s the ultimate goal.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Name of founder: Raghav Agarwal
Age of the founder: 29
Location: Oxford
Date launched: 19 October 2021
Number of employees: 4

What does your business do?

In short, FIREUP uses science-based innovation to upgrade cookware classics. For instance, for our first product, the FIREUP Dutch Oven, we applied Professor Thomas Povey’s research into high-efficiency cooling systems for next-generation jet engines to traditional cookware. The end result is an iconic and aesthetic cooking pot that outperforms regular Dutch Ovens in both efficiency and heat distribution; it’s not rocket science…except, it is. What’s more, the design and technology behind our products is also patented, meaning they really are one-of-a-kind.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I met Tom, an accomplished rocket scientist, professor, and serial entrepreneur at the Oxford University Innovation programme and we discovered our mutual passion for cookware innovation. From then on, we joined forces to develop the most aesthetic and innovative cookware on the market, in an industry that had seen little to no innovation in nearly a century.

How did you know there was a market for it?

Before even looking into the size of the market and its potential growth, the lack of innovation in cast iron cookware in just under a century was enough of an indication that there could be serious market potential and demand for our innovative products. The figures were even more reassuring; the growing UK cookware market currently sits at £1.3bn and the worldwide cast iron market stands at around $2.8bn, which is expected to expand to $3.3bn by 2025. We chose cast iron over aluminium as the base material due to its versatility and durability.

What were you doing before launching your business?

I started my professional life at Deloitte but knew early on that I wanted to start a business. I first went into entrepreneurship in India, launching a homeware and cookware equipment manufacturing firm. Equipped with all the practical knowledge and manufacturing expertise, I completed my MBA in Oxford and now I am launching FIREUP.

Have you always dreamed of starting a business?

Most definitely. When I joined the family business, I was very clear I wanted to start my own venture. Having started that venture, I enrolled for the MBA. From the very first day, I was on the lookout for ideas and like-minded entrepreneurial networks. I did not apply for a single job just because I was sure of the entrepreneurial path. I chaired the Oxford Entrepreneurship Network and represented Saïd Business School on the Foundry Student Advisory Board. As chair, I hosted top CEOs, judged pitch competitions, and organized entrepreneurial events. I also founded the Family Business Club, representing the university at the Bloomberg family Business Capital and organizing family business and wine tasting events.

How did you finance your business?

I mostly bootstrapped but also received some financial support from Oxford University Innovation. We are now exploring external forms of financing to expand our operations and research to the next level. For instance, we are launching a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign on the 19th of October which will offer customers an exclusive opportunity to purchase our unique cookware whilst also hopefully raising enough funds to finance the company’s growth. This is especially exciting for us since we are the first Oxford University Innovation company to finance our enterprise this way.

Explain your business model and how you make money.

The business model is relatively straightforward; we produce aesthetic and innovative cookware, we raise finance for production through pre-orders, and sell our products directly to consumers, cutting out the middlemen.

What are the main challenges you have faced? And how did you overcome them?

Every day brings with itself a new interesting challenge. Since our physical products are manufactured in overseas factories, convincing factories to prototype and produce earlier production runs were extremely difficult with limited finances. Bootstrapping the startup meant tight deadlines and budgets for execution.

What has your experience been of starting a business during a pandemic?

Pandemic derailed our launch by almost 18 months. FIREUP was due to launch in October 2020. We are now launching on October 19, 2021, with the first product deliveries scheduled for March 2022. In general, COVID has hit our startup pretty hard. Each time we finalized and convinced a factory to start sampling for us, that country would go into lockdown. Then, our video shoot could not be completed because of the lockdowns. Since our team is quite global, managing multiple lockdowns meant longer, more uncertain timelines.

Describe your first breakthrough.

Getting the very first license signed with the University of Oxford after months of negotiations and technical product changes was an interesting breakthrough. Having our first prototype from the design board to the factory mould was the first step. Proving that there was both customer demand and that the product was viable was key. We then built our team from the ground up and secured initial funding for sample development. Bootstrapping came with its challenges of fund scarcity and extended personal liability risks. All in all, having gone through all these startup cycles, we are now ready to launch.

How has Brexit impacted your business? Do you think it will in the future?

Since we manufacture in Belgium and are registered in the UK, Brexit has had a direct impact on our business. It was much easier to import from the EU before Brexit but it now requires longer, expensive paperwork and involves delayed deliveries.

What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?

Persistence is key. There will be fires burning everywhere, every day brings with it a new set of problems. Your job is to constantly put them out. Prioritizing based on risk-returns is another skill that will help you better solve everyday problems. And of course, humour and compassion go a long way in building and managing great teams.

What is one resolution you have for your business this year?

As well as helping home chefs around the world cook good, we want to do good. We are committed to doing good for the environment, be it through the materials we use, where we manufacture, and the energy-saving functionality of the design. We’ve ensured that our products are long-lasting, 100% recyclable, and made from zero toxic materials. Our product is made in an 80-year-old factory in Belgium using the newest manufacturing technology. The factory is fully compliant with the highest environmental and work standards. It pays fair compensation for workers, complies with global safety procedures and environmental standards.

How do you see your business developing in the next three years?

At the moment, an exciting opportunity lies in our cast iron development. We are about to launch our beautiful Dutch Oven in the coming weeks and focusing all our efforts on it but are also planning ahead for new products using our patented technology to bring innovation to cookware. We aim to extend our vision of integrating the latest research and innovation in everyday products by adding new products to the existing range. We plan to set up our own factory to ensure the highest quality standards and create employment opportunities. Additionally, we aim to engage in extensive omnichannel retail by building up our global brand.

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Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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