Karma Cans & Karma Kitchen

Sector: Catering & Hospitality

Along with her sister Gini, Eccie is the powerhouse behind Karma Cans, a catering and events business delivering over 1000 meals a day to corporate businesses across London.

After struggling to find kitchen space for their business, they also set up Karma Kitchens, transforming underutilised industrial sites into thoughtfully designed commercial kitchen units for the foodservice industry. They recently secured £250million of investment.

An image of Eccie Newton sitting on a bench outdoors

When did you make the decision to start your own business and how did your journey begin?

I had studied at London School of Economics, and I didn't know what I wanted to do when I graduated. I just really needed money. I started applying for jobs but felt like I could make more money on my own. I wanted every day of my job to be fun. I saw a lot of friends applying for jobs that had great titles. But when I questioned them on what went into the job itself, it didn't sound very fun or exciting. It's so important to think about what the everyday of your job's going to be and not just think about the title. We often don't think about those things when we make decisions about our careers.

When I was weighing up what to do next, I thought, well, I’d ticked all the boxes - I've done the A-Levels, my degree, and my Masters. I also felt like I had done everything that my parents wanted me to do and now wanted to do what I wanted to do. While still at university, I’d been making lunches and delivering them to people's offices, so I already had a little bit of traction, although just a couple of clients. I thought that perhaps that was the direction I needed to develop. That was how Karma Cans started. My sister, Gini, joined the business, started helping me and one thing led to another.

The main thing that university taught me was about working alone on long-term projects and delivering them over a period of time. When you're in business, you need to have that long-term commitment to yourself to deliver over time and understand that you’re not necessarily going to see the end for a while. That's a core skill of running a business. You need to know that the pay-off may not be for five to seven years’ time. You need to grind away in the background, hope for the best, and stick it out.

What was your big idea when starting out? How did it develop, and did it change?

When we started Karma Cans it was the very early days of the home delivery market. Just Eat were in business, but Uber Eats didn’t really exist.

Our initial goal was to sell healthy lunches to individual consumers, in reusable containers, and we’d deliver them to their offices by bike. Over time, we realised it made more sense to do bulk orders serving large offices. The original concept of a healthy lunch delivered to your office is, in principle, exactly what we have gone on to do. What’s changed is the way we sell it. We now go direct to the office manager instead of individuals.

The second business we developed is Karma Kitchen. This is where we take light industrial warehouses and turn them into commercial kitchen spaces that we then rent to other food businesses. This one came about as more of an accident. At the time, Karma Cans wasn't making much money, and we were having a conversation with our financial controller about what to do about it. One of the things she said that really struck us was that we’d probably make more money renting out our kitchen space than we made from making lunches.

Thinking about it more deeply, this had potential. Our biggest challenge at Karma Cans was that we couldn’t find kitchen space. It was completely impossible. There wasn't really a co-working style model for a food or kitchen business either. That’s why we built our own. We made the decision to take a step into the unknown and build a second business, committing to running both at the same time.

What did the team around you look like when you started out? Who did you want on the journey with you? What qualities did you look for and why?

We have just the best teams. People talk a lot about culture in the workplace, and how a culture is built by what you make, how you make it and what's important to you as founders. But, at some point, culture transitions from just being something that the founders’ control and direct, into being something that is built by the team themselves.

Karma Kitchen is a bit younger as a business, so the team is still understanding who it is, whereas Karma Cans already has quite a mature culture. It's definitely a team of people that get things done, that are very responsible and that have each other's backs. The team really trusts each other to do the work. No one ever lets each other down at Karma Cans.

The team at Karma Cans have really been amazing at defining what the business is and what it can give to the people who are part of the team and the community it works within. From early on we've always believed that if we're selling a product then that's what we should be. Team lunch is what we sell. We sell the idea of communal eating and making sure that everybody's ideas are heard. The whole team sits down at lunch, sharing the same food at the same time, sharing ideas, and talking in a casual way. That's what we really believe in at Karma Cans. That's the core value for us. That's what we do in our company every single day - day in, day out - we all have lunch together. Everybody arrives at the same time, we eat at the same time, and we leave at the same time.

As a female founder, what has been the most significant barrier in your journey? Have you been confronted with gender related roadblocks and how did you deal with them?

One of the problems with this question is that it encourages you to talk about the issues that you’ve faced, instead of focusing on the great things that you've done and all the cool stuff that you've built. The whole story becomes about how you’ve struggled.

I think that both Gini and I are hard line. The companies we've built are the companies we've built. We couldn't tell you what it would be like to do it as a man, because we've never experienced that. While there have indeed been some frustrating moments, I would focus on the fact that working for yourself is extremely liberating because you build your own world. What's not to love about that?

No matter what we face in a pitch, or in the boardroom, we always come home to our team. We’re surrounded by people that we've chosen to be around and who believe in us. There's nothing more powerful than that.

How would you challenge the status quo culture of high growth companies traditionally dominated by men?

There are not very many female founders in the UK that receive funding. There is a large intersectional group of people who contribute to the economy, who are consumers and members of our community, who are ignored when it comes to funding. We have tended to fund companies that are run by white men, and that leads to entire interest groups and whole markets being ignored. Diverse financing has the potential to grow big successful businesses that capture wider audiences and more consumers.

I would perhaps look at the pitch meeting, which could be expanded into a slightly different format that might suit people who are less comfortable with the traditional ideas of pitching. What would be helpful is having longer conversations. I know loads of people who run very strong businesses, their peers really look up to them and respect what they're doing. Their customers are happy and they're making good money, but they struggle in a pitch meeting because it's intimidating, or that kind of conversation isn't something they are used to. That doesn't mean that they're bad at running their business. It just means that they're bad at pitching. Reframing it and creating an opportunity to meet people and have a conversation would be hugely beneficial.

What three tips would you give to the next generation of female founders?

The first one is really specific; create an eight-page slide deck for pitching. Make a beautiful, clear deck that crystallises all your ideas about how you see your business growing.

Secondly, know where the money comes from and build your business case to target the right audience. Do the research into what kind of money and returns are compatible with your business, so that you can figure out who to talk to. Fundraising is quite draining, so this will save you quite a bit of time.

Thirdly, there will be uncomfortable moments when you are negotiating, or you want to close a sales deal. There’s always a time where it gets a little awkward. If you can put yourself in that moment for a second longer, that is at the heart of what a good negotiation looks like, riding the wave of feeling uncomfortable. Don’t jump in and say anything to fill the silence; it’s OK to be uncomfortable.

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