Get To Know The Female-Founded Company That Tripled Its Monthly Sales While Providing Refugees With New Opportunities
Mondays can be rough—sometimes we need a little motivation to get the week started. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from Project Entrepreneur Alumnae—female founders who applied to the Project Entrepreneur Venture Competition to attend our two-day PE Intensive and join a nationwide community of hundreds of women entrepreneurs. Get to know more about the PE Community and #beinspired by how these women motivate themselves each Monday to tackle the week ahead.
Manal Kahi is Co-Founder and CEO of Eat Offbeat, which provides catering of off-the-beaten path meals that are conceived, prepared and delivered by refugees resettled in NYC. Her company has been featured in Eater, Newsweek, Fast Company and The Huffington Post, and since attending the very first PE Intensive in 2016, Manal and her team have tripled Eat Offbeat’s monthly sales. We sat down with Manal to discuss what motivated her to start her company, creating a common company culture for a multicultural team, and her advice for early-stage founders who are still figuring out how and where to spend their limited resources.
What inspired you to start your business?
When I arrived in New York in 2013, I was impressed with the quality and diversity of peanut butter, but disappointed with the hummus options on supermarket shelves. So I started making my own based on a family recipe, which my friends started raving about. My brother (now co-founder) Wissam and I saw an opportunity, and went on a mission to find a hummus as good as our grandmother’s—that’s how we came to think of refugees being resettled in New York as an excellent community to find talented home cooks just like her.
The idea has evolved since: although we both love hummus and could eat it all day everyday, we knew there were endless other recipes around the world that we’d like to discover and share. That’s when Chef Juan [Suarez de Lezo] jumped on board, shifting from his usual Michelin-star level kitchens to a more modest (but much more exciting one) to help us bring the idea to a boil. From there, Eat Offbeat came to life, helping the NYC community discover authentic, homestyle catering made by refugees.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
On top of typical startup challenges such as access to the right capital at the right time, marketing to the right audience, or figuring out logistics, we face other challenges specific to our model. One of those challenges is being perceived as a non-profit and as such as a less “profitable” or aggressive business.
Other challenges include building a common culture when over 15 different countries and cultures are represented on the team. Language has never been a challenge on the day-to-day operational level, but it can become challenging as we grow and try to find more efficient ways to communicate company-wide. The biggest challenge, however, is making sure that our mission remains at the core without compromising the quality or competitiveness of our offering.
What’s been the greatest reward?
Seeing the pride in our Chefs’ eyes when they hear praise from a customer!
What changes would you most like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?
The food industry has lost that special connection between chefs/cooks and consumers. We order food, post pictures, enjoy it with our social circles, and yet we rarely know or think of the people who actually prepared it for us. I would like to see that human connection re-established. At Eat Offbeat, we are constantly looking for ways to do just that—we are chef-centric and never miss an opportunity to highlight our Chefs throughout the entire experience.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
In addition to the feedback we get from customers, [I’m motivated by] the Chefs who work tirelessly at our kitchen. No matter how hard I work, I know they’re working harder, and no matter how tough it gets, I know [they’ve been] through tougher.
Can you provide a few updates on what’s new with your business or what you’ve accomplished since you attended the PE Intensive in April 2016?
Eat Offbeat has tripled monthly sales since we attended the PE intensive in 2016. We raised almost $100,000 on Kickstarter—the campaign was over-funded by more than $40,000—for the first Eat Offbeat cookbook (which is currently under production). [We also] won the WeWork Creator Award in January 2018.
Can you describe a problem you solved in your business that other early-stage entrepreneurs face and tell us how went about solving this problem? How can other early-stage founders repeat your success?
When we first launched we were handling orders manually, which became hectic and inefficient as orders ramped up. Available solutions were expensive and not adaptable to our needs, and we couldn’t afford to build our own. We used a combination of free tools to build a semi-automated process, which took us relatively far. We are now in the process of developing our own technology, and given that we spent two years experimenting with available tools, we know exactly what we need to build.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out?
My advice would be to start small, test and iterate, and only invest [in technology/tools] once you’ve validated what you need.
Photos courtesy Eat Offbeat
For more motivation from our PE Alumnae, check out our interview with Michelle Bacharach, Founder and CEO of FINDMINE, a fashion tech company that scales outfitting across a fashion retailer’s enterprise. Her automated ‘Complete the Look’ technology can be found on retail sites for MILLY and John Varvatos. We caught up with Michelle to discuss what motivated her to start her company, the one thing she wants to see change in the fashion industry, and why she believes every founder should be completely obsessed with the problems they’re trying to solve.