I launched a business from my kitchen while on maternity leave
SIX MONTHS after giving birth to her first child, new mum Sophie Baron found herself suffering from severe postnatal depression and was desperate to go back to work.
The London-based mum made the tough decision to cut her maternity leave short – but found cooking nutritious foods for daughter Liba a constant struggle alongside her work.
In 2019, Sophie, then-29-years-old, decided to launch her own baby food business – Mamamade – from her own kitchen, with any spare cash she had.
Just a few years on, the company is now selling 200,000 meals a year to parents across the UK, including garnering the attention of celeb mums like Lucy Mecklenburgh, Rochelle Humes and Millie Mackintosh.
Mamamade turned over £500,000 in 2021, is on track for an annualised revenue of £1m for 2022 and is one of the fastest-growing baby food subscription companies in the UK.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous for our #BOSSINGIT series, Sophie, previously the Head of Operations for a tech company, explained: “I found the transition to parenthood like a huge shock to my system.
“I’m from New York originally and I was here in London, I really had no family or help around us and my husband was working really long hours at a demanding job.
“When it came time to introduce solids to my daughter, I was shocked that the only options were either to cook everything myself, or else to rely on long-life puree pouches.
“It just seemed like there had to be a third way where parents could have the convenience without having to compromise.
“I started to kind of play around with a better product from my kitchen and it sort of took off from there.”
Sophie, who is mum to Liba, four, and Arthur, one, initially spent around £300 buying vegetables and £400 on packaging, bags and stickers.
She then decided to concoct four flavours of plant-based baby food from her home.
Sophie said: “This was me using extras from my paycheck at my normal job to buy things like stickers.
“The first big purchase I made is probably an order of frozen vegetables that was like £300 and that was like, ‘oh my god at least if this all fails, we’ll have loads of frozen veg.’”
After getting a nutritionist friend to look over the recipes, Sophie made her first four baby meals, including Greens and Chia and Kale, Banana and Quinoa, which are still on sale today.
When it came time to introduce solids to my daughter, I was shocked that the only options were either to cook everything myself, or else to rely on long-life puree pouches.
Speaking of how she started getting her product out there, Sophie said: “In the beginning, it was just handing them out to other mums from my NCT (National Childbirth Trust) group or in places like a music class.
“When I look back I was so shameless, but I guess I really felt so strongly that there had to be other people who bought this kind of thing.”
As interest started to grow, Sophie made the decision to put £10,000 of her savings into the business, and she ended up turning over £14,000 in the first year.
But Sophie decided she wanted to take the business further, and wanted to expand from her driving round London to personally deliver orders.
In January 2020, Sophie and partner Ian – who now works full-time for Mamamade as a partner – launched their own Shopify website so they could ship subscription meals, costing from £2 per item, and pre-packaged bundles.
By March of that year, the pandemic took hold, and the couple found their business started to boom thanks to parents ordering more food via delivery.
Sophie said of lockdown triggering more sales: “I think for us it was a key element. It pushed us ahead in a nice way.
“In 2019 when I was starting, people did not trust frozen food. People were not getting deliveries the way they are now.
“I think we would have had a much harder job explaining ourselves without a pandemic happening.”
While Sophie was excited to get more sales, they were still operating from their family home and it was very chaotic.
She said: “We were kind of managing in my house but it was becoming really, really unpleasant.
“There were just boxes everywhere. It was around the clock and we realised that we needed to actually have a proper kind of facility.”
Very early on I realised how important Instagram was to the business and I needed someone to help.
Sophie and Ian decided to find a caterer in a commercial kitchen to help with production.
Sophie said: “They had no bookings because of the lockdown, so we were able to sublet from them, and work out of their kitchen.
“In March we moved out of my house. We later moved to a slightly bigger kitchen and last February we were able to upgrade to a very big facility.”
Also around that same time in March 2020, they hired their first employee to work on social media.
Sophie said: “Very early on I realised how important Instagram was to the business and I needed someone to help.”
How YOU can Boss It like Sophie and launch your own business:
- Sending influencers gifted items can boost your business – don’t hold back because you don’t think people will care.
- Build a community on Instagram and connect with them, you have to be authentic. People want to connect with the brand in a way that feels personal.
- Focused on building that engagement because there’s no point in having 100,000 followers, if only 2,000 people care about you.
- Find like-minded businesses on Instagram and help promote each other. It’s not competitive, it’s collaborative.
- If there’s anything you don’t know, or that you’re scared of, be it finances or social media, find someone to help you with it. Not only that, but get training in that area because as a business owner, you need to understand every element of your business.
- Just do it. I wasted a lot of time worrying if it was a good idea or not.
One of the ways they used social media to help boost sales was through paid influencer gifting.
Sophie explained: “We worked with people with mega followings or even not so mega followings, but are just active and have engaged audiences and then they in turn became like real advocates of the brand.”
To scale up the business, Sophie decided to seek external investment – and initially raised an impressive £280,000.
The Mamamade founder explained: “So the first round was in August 2020 and that was mostly like friends and family and supportive angels.
“I learned a lot over that round, what it means to raise money, what do you need to show investors.”
Her second recent round of Crowdfunding raised a staggering £1.2million, which is enabling her to expand the business even more.
This includes bringing on more talent and putting more money behind marketing and reaching new people.
They currently have 40 products across four ranges, but hope to expand this further.
Speaking of her investment success, Sophie said: “I wanted to give an opportunity to all the people that have supported me from my earliest days.
“They can put £10 in and own a piece of Mamamade.
“It was amazing. We’ve got 304 new investors on board as part of the Crowdfund.
“My top tips for fundraising are making sure that you’re really telling a solid story, and really making clear what your vision is for how the world will look with your product or business and why the world would be better off for having it.
“Also really appreciating that it’s like an opportunity that you’re offering people and making sure that you’re bringing the right people on board as a result.”
From starting off in her own kitchen, Sophie now employs 12 people, delivers between 500–600 food boxes a week and has built a strong community of working or busy mums.
The baby food industry reached over £1.4 billion in 2020 and is forecast to reach almost £1.7 billion by 2025, and Sophie has her sights set on making the most of this.
Sophie said: “We want to finish off 2022 with an annualised revenue of over £1million.
“What we’re looking at is 20 per cent growth month-on-month.”
But it hasn’t been all plain-sailing, with Sophie saying one of the hardest moments was when she was still working during labour in the hospital in December 2020.
“Our website was not fully functional”, she explained.
“There’s literally pictures of me and my partner on the computer trying to fix things while I’m in labour, it was just such a ridiculous situation.
“And then I found it really hard once I had my son last December to actually get back into the mindset of going back to work.”
Sophie said she never imagined setting up her own business, and added: “I genuinely never would have expected it.
“Even now, like I’ll see people from years ago, they’re like, ‘you’re the last person we thought’.
“I did not see my life going down this way.”