How I took Grubby from a novice to a successful business in just three years

Martin Holden-White reveals his growth secrets
Martin Holden-White
Martin Holden-White

I'm Martin, Founder and CEO of the UK's first plant-based recipe kit, Grubby, on a mission to make plant-based cooking accessible and delicious to the point where the meat will never be missed. 

Having started out as a chef aged 16, I struggled to cut down my meat intake. Making quick and tasty plant-based meals with minimal ingredients was hard, and I thought other people must be struggling too. So I quit my reasonably well-paid sales job without a plan and started developing recipes from my flatshare in East London, going back and forth to Tesco, before launching nine months later in an office reception from a glorified shelving unit with an izettle strapped to the side to take payments.

It's been a real rollercoaster, having started as a B2B office delivery service pre covid to landing back at my mum and dad’s on March 23rd 2020, when all the office buildings emptied overnight, having spent every penny I had and wondering what the hell to do next.

I had to pivot fast. I raised funds on Justgiving to deliver over 1,000 meals to NHS hospitals. When we weren’t packing boxes, finding ingredients and replying to customers, we were door-to-door selling. We grew a small army of friends and family delivering flyers and helping pack in the summer that followed, where deliveries grew from seven boxes to a few hundred. 

I remember we had to get a black cab to collect 150 cauliflowers from Covent Garden market one morning because our veg man hadn’t delivered and our delivery team were waiting outside. We were going back to customers late at night to deliver missing ingredients we’d forgotten to pack, and we were about to get kicked out of the industrial unit we were in. We were close to breaking point and running out of cash. 

When the £100k Innovate UK grant came in, I cried in front of the team. It hit me how much Grubby meant to me. But actually, it was just the start of the Grubby life and the foundation of our awesome team and culture!

We’ve come a fair way from measuring out spice blends with teaspoons, packing everything by hand, managing all orders on two rickety bikes, very nearly running out of cash on several occasions and winning a Trademark lawsuit that almost meant we had to change our name early on. 

Here’s how we raised funds for our startup

Funding for startups can be a tough game, and it's getting tougher. Investors are less active than they have been in previous years and are much more focused on profitability than growth. Therefore, you need to have something unique and on a short path to profitability to peak interest. 

There is not one size that fits all in fundraising, and it's crucial for early-stage entrepreneurs to identify the funding route that best aligns with their business's stage, industry, and objectives.

Our fundraising journey has taken many different turns along the way. We’ve raised over £5m to date from various sources, including angel investors, grant funding, venture capital, and crowdfunding. 

Our initial success came in the form of a £100k angel investment when we had little traction, and it was very much at MVP stage. I did this through an entrepreneur network called the Supper Club (now called Helm). These are a group of high net-worth individuals, and they also hold two investor days a year where people pitch in a dragons den-style format. After the pitch, I then went on to meet 10 of the people in the room at follow-up sessions, and eventually, around six weeks later, I got ‘the email’ saying one of them wanted to do a £100k ticket in return for a significant equity stake. In hindsight, it was actually reasonable and fairly standard for the stage I was at (basically MVP).

This was followed by an additional £100k grant from Innovate UK's Sustainable Innovation Fund, which required an extensive application process. They have multiple applications across a variety of sectors throughout the year. It’s a government scheme all with the aim of boosting the UK economy and innovation across industries. The applications are very popular and often attract 10’s of thousands of applicants. Grants can range from £10k to several million for later-stage projects. It’s definitely not free money, and it may not have equity attached, but it’s a very lengthy process, and you’re allocated a monitoring officer who requires reporting throughout the project. So don’t enter into it lightly.

Building on this momentum, we raised £1.3m through a combination of new angel investors and a successful crowdfunding campaign, garnering support from over 600 individual investors. Crowdfunding is a great way of raising funds and gaining brand awareness. Again with the caveat, it’s a very time-consuming process with a lot of due diligence, and you should look at securing half of your funding before going live, as this is what gives you momentum on the platform.

As things continued to gain traction, we secured a substantial £2m investment from both new and existing angel investors. This was followed by a significant pre-Series A round, amounting to £1.8m, which included our first venture capital partner, Love Ventures, alongside other angel investors and a second crowdfunding campaign. 

Through a strategic and collaborative approach, we successfully fundraised the required capital to fuel our growth and bring our vision to life at the various stages. We had so many no’s along the way as well as initially failing with our first grant application, which was make or break at the time. Persistence is definitely a key part of the process when you consider that about 99% of the responses you get will probably be a no.

My advice for any start-ups looking to raise funds: 

  1. Have a good Finance person. It's crucial for managing fundraising.
  2. Preparation is key. Invest time prior to raising to get all your data in place.
  3. Be yourself. Authenticity is vital for successful pitches.
  4. Look for investors that fit what you do, or you'll waste time contacting people who are never going to invest.
  5. Build a committed team aligned to a clear mission and strategy. We spend a lot of time on our strategy and use this to form part of our team meeting flow to make sure we’re staying on track. 
  6. Learn from the no's. Improve your pitch with feedback.
  7. Use Crowdfunding, but plan ahead and secure big investors early.
  8. Don't pitch the big players first. Practice with mentors.
  9. Metrics matter. Understand key financial indicators.
  10. Have a laugh. Stay positive during the challenging process.

With the funds raised, we’ve delivered over 1 million meals to over 50,000 customers, having been named in the UK’s top 100 startups for the past two years running. We’ve generated over £6 million in revenues since launch, and we now, directly and indirectly, employ over 250 people. Our CAGR is 528%, showing our consistent upward trajectory, and we're still the UK's highest-rated recipe kit on Trustpilot, and we recently won the Startups100 prestigious Social Impact Award as one of the highest-scoring B Corps in the sector. 

Fundraising is a challenging process, but with perseverance, a solid team, and a clear vision, you can make it happen!

Written by
Martin Holden-White
Founder of Grubby
July 5, 2023