Grace Regan: Why Going Back To Square One was the Best OptionLast Updated: February 1, 2019
In 2015, Londoner Grace Regan was tipped as a potential game-changing media entrepreneur. She’s now back at square one, with a new business, operating from the kitchen of her London home, and with ambitions that are undimmed. “I’m doing this because I know I have to. It’s the thing I have to do,” she told AGENT.
STARTUP life is beset with numerous psychological, emotional and logistical challenges. There is no single recipe for success. But what tends to pay off is the ability to be true to yourself and keep pushing at your own vision. Sometimes this means having the guts to tear things up and walk away from a project that may look good on paper but which nevertheless just doesn’t feel right. London-based entrepreneur Grace Regan (25) is a case in point.
In 2015, after a time spent in a startup accelerator in Silicon Valley, she and her business parter were poised to raise investment for their news media audio app service.
Clippet, which Grace Regan cofounded in September 2014 with James Macleod (grandson of Rupert Murdoch) was an innovative media service that sent 60-second audio news stories to the mobile devices of their millennial target market. It received solid support, and predictions of success from such venerable media commentators as Roy Greenslade.
Macleod had departed by mid-2015, and it was with her new business partner that Grace Regan travelled to Silicon Valley to focus on monetising the service, which was developed into an automated audio news aggregator, rechristened Streamr.
On paper, it looked like a win. Streamr was more scaleable than Clippet, which, like any project with a heavy reliance on manpower, was less attractive to investors. “But all the things I loved about Clippet were lost. And I was thinking about the fit of my skillset within this very automated, hi-tech concept, and it wasn’t for me. I needed to find something else. And eventually we decided to bring it to an end.”
The New Start
“I got slightly disillusioned by the whole tech world…”
GRACE Regan was speaking to AGENT from the kitchen in her East End London home, grabbing a 20-minute window from the 365-a-days working cycle of the square-one startup entrepreneur that she has returned to for her new venture.
This domestic kitchen is currently the nerve centre of a business that Grace Regan is using to get an early start on a movement that could transform diet and eating in the UK and Europe. Spicebox is an Indian food delivery and takeaway business, but one with a difference.
The recipes shun animal fats and sugar in favour of vegetables, pulses and healing natural spices. It’s a win-win for the consumer and the planet—slashing calories by over a half of those contained in standard takeout food, and minimising the impact of the food’s production on the environment.
It’s quite a turnaround from Silicon Valley and the tech industry, but it was the time that Grace Regan spent in the world tech capital that inspired her new venture.
“SpiceBox came about from two things—I had a slightly strange time in Silicon Valley, when I got slightly disillusioned by the whole tech world. But at the same time, I was struck by what’s going on in the food scene—there were loads of really exciting start-ups in San Francisco, and a huge movement in plant-based eating, and eating food that doesn’t contain any animal products. There is a huge amount of investment into companies that are researching those foods. In California it is so mainstream, and way more advanced than in London, but you can see that it’s where London is going to be in maybe two to three years.”
“Numbers are not huge at the moment. But have week on week growth at the moment, which is really exciting. We’ve also started street food stalls at market, and I’m looking at raising money to move into a proper commercial kitchen, employ kitchen staff, and start bringing delivery in-house.”
“The start-up phase is really hard, and it is not glamorous…”
WITH a lifelong interest in cooking and Indian food, Grace Regan is doing everything herself, assisted only by a few interns.
“I research the recipes, source the produce, and cook all the food. That’s a huge bonus because we would have needed considerably more startup funds otherwise. I’m also doing the markets at the weekend, so I have no days off. We had to outsource our delivery, but I’m in a position to be able to go to investors with a concept that truthfully proves there is a demand for it.”
“I’ve met with as many people as I can who’ve run successful food businesses. So many of them started out from home, cooking the food, working street food stalls, getting the word out there. It’s reassuring to speak to them and realise that I’m not a crazy loon, and that this is actually how most successful people start,” she laughs.
Regan says its vital for any young entrepreneur with an idea to put it to the test. “Don’t hesitate, just dive in. A lot of people think that it’s easy to start a company but it’s a huge mindgame more than anything. You’ve really got to work out whether it’s what you want to do, because it is really hard, and it is not glamorous. That’s why it’s important to test an idea and see whether your determination is strong enough. I’m doing Spicebox because I know that I have to. It’s the thing I have to do.”
“Do I care about this? Do I genuinely believe the world needs this?”
IN HER advice for startups to put an idea to the test, Grace Regan is also drawing on her pivotal experience in the US during 2015.
“Life in Spicebox has given me an interesting perspective on the tech world. You gradually realise how strange it looks, because some of these businesses have a lot of money invested into them, and still they have no products—they’re just concepts.
“The end of Clippet and Streamr was interesting, because there wasn’t really a proper ‘end’. We had potential investors, we had a demo day, people were really interested. It wasn’t that it wasn’t working; but I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to raise money and spend the next four years of my life working on something I wasn’t truly passionate about.
“Coming to that realisation is actually extremely hard. But I was continually asking myself, ‘Do I care about this?’ and ‘Do I genuinely believe the world needs this?’, and you have to be truthful with yourself.
“I don’t need to ask myself those questions about Spicebox because I know I care about it, and believe the world needs it. That’s what you really need to get a business running, to be able to sustain you for working seven days a week for no money…”
“I worry for the tech industry, I really do…”
SPICEBOX is not a tech business, but a business in which technology will eventually be used to maximise efficiency; where the tech has a well defined purpose. Possibly for this reason—that tech will be a tool to help the growth of her passionately nurtured brainchild, rather than the business itself—Regan displays no regret or bitterness about the Clippet/Streamr experience. She has let go.
“I kind of fell into tech and media tech, so for my next venture it just seemed right that what I would do would involve food,” she recalls.
Indeed, Grace Regan is concerned about the future of the tech sector and its sustainability. “I worry for the tech industry. There are so many companies raising ridiculous amounts of money for ideas that there’s no need for, and it’s a dangerous culture—all these people just raising money, and then raising more money, and more money, and it’s pretty terrifying. From my experience in America as well, there were startup accelerators just churning out maybe 80 companies every three months: they put so much money into them, and the failure rate is huge.”
Regan found no real evidence of the gender discrimination that is reportedly so marked in the tech sector. “I noticed that it was quite prevalent in America. There is a considerable lack of women in the industry, and often I’d be in meetings with my male cofounder, and they’d start talking about business and finances, and my cofounder would be addressed directly, as if I wasn’t in the room. I was thinking, ‘Hmmm, this is quite interesting. Is it because I’m not capable or is it something to do with my sex?’ I don’t really know what the answer is, but it is quite strange.”
“I do feel strongly about it. There are lots of women in the food industry, which is great, but when you move to level of going for investment, and trying to raise money, it can be quite a strange space to be a woman.”
Regan loved America and California in particular. Interestingly, her Twitter profile continues to list her locations as “London and California”. “It was an absolutely incredible place, and so much of Spicebox is built on my experience there, and the inspiration that I drew from it.”
GRACE Regan’s working day is incredibly full, but she regards herself as fortunate in two respects. One is the patience, support and understanding of her boyfriend. The other is an appreciation that what at one time was her pastime or hobby has properly become her full-time motivation.
“One of the nice things is that all of my hobbies are now my job—cooking, reading recipe books, going to markets at the weekends, researching food writers and blogs, all of the things I loved doing before are now my job, so there is a balance in that. My interests are now really useful!”
Inspired by entrepreneurs such as Martha Lane Fox; LEON fast food founder Henry Dimbleby; former MasterChef champion and Wahaca cofounder Thomasina Miers; and social media thought-leader Gary Vaynerchuk, Regan is forging ahead with Spicebox.
Her vision is of a global chain of healthy and sustainable restaurants, with an integral delivery chain to provide for increased trends in outsourcing of cooking.
Interview over, Grace Regan heads back to the food surfaces of her kitchen, to prepare her recipes, as well as coordinating deliveries and seeing to the hundred-and-one other aspects of her operation, the sense is of someone who has learnt from the tough times and who is painstakingly preparing a recipe for success.
As she says herself: “I’d love to go back to California one day… who knows? Maybe potentially with Spicebox! But its is probably more realistic and a lot easier to grow Spicebox on this side of the Atlantic, because there is such a need for it right here.”