Set to become a household name, our Founder Priya Koliyot shares her journey into the shops
Enjoying a whirlwind of success this year has been the result of years of experimentation and tenacity for Startup Giants Founder Priya. As her ultra-delicious Keto Elf crackers are set to hit the shelves in Wholefoods, Planet Organic and Daylesford Organic, she shares her journey with us …
You’ve seen incredible success this year Priya, how long has it taken to get into these stores?
Surprisingly quickly. I’ve been working on developing this product from last year. But the product only launched in May 2023. So it has been really quick.
How did you initially approach the shops?
There’s an event called the Bread and Jam festival. I found out about them last year and they have lots of different startup companies and workshops to promote fast growing food and drink companies. In March this year, they had an event where you could pitch to supermarkets. So I applied then but my product wasn’t completely ready so obviously I didn’t get through. By the time the next one came around in July, I applied again because I was ready and that was it. I think there was a little bit of luck in my preparation as well, because these companies were looking for a product like mine and I didn’t have any other competition in the market.
What perfect market timing and market fit. How has Startup Giants helped to prepare you for this?
I owe a big chunk of my success to them. I’ve been working closely with Helen from Startup Giants for the last year. I was developing the product concept and when I listing out the ingredients, she mentioned Natasha’s Law. It’s a requirement for businesses to label all food that is prepacked for direct sale with a full list of ingredients, with the 14 major allergens emphasised in the list. After learning this, I went back to the company and changed the recipe again to avoid all of these ingredients which in effect tightened my business offering and messaging.
Have you needed people to push back on your decisions and ideas?
Yes absolutely and the team at Startup Giants definitely delivered on this. At the time it felt like tough love – we would have meetings almost every month where I would share my progress but the Startup Giants team would say ‘no you can do better, have you thought about this …’
I’ve worked closely with Helen at Startup Giants which has been incredible – she’s signposted me to different people, events and awards, which is how I found out about the Health Optimisation Summit which is where everything changed for Keto Elf. Chances are high because it’s my business and I’m on the case that I would have come across it eventually, but Helen had done her research before me and made it happen sooner. In terms of brand building I’ve also been shortlisted for a number of awards that she recommended I apply to. In fact, I just got confirmation yesterday that we’ve been shortlisted for the ‘Nourish Awards’ in the Keto Savoury Snacks & Light Meals category. The results will be out by the end of September …
Fingers crossed for you! I’m keen to know more about how the Summit changed the world of Keto Elf?
It’s an event that only happens once a year in London and they have the best of the best people in biohacking to speak across mindset, motivation and health. I went along to it, the tickets are quite expensive but it ended up being so worth it. Not only did Tim Gray, founder of the Summit, get to meet me and test my products, he loved it and gave me a shout out on instagram which was huge as he has over half a million followers.
How have you followed up on that opportunity?
He’s really happy with the product and has approved Keto Elf to be exhibited in the event next year. I’m so excited – in the food and drink world it’s kind of a big deal because it’s such a massive event with a very limited amount of spaces. They’re very discerning with the companies that exhibit there. Since then, I’ve managed to get into Wholesale Foods, Planet Organic and Daylesford Organic so it’s really elevated and sped everything along.
‘I owe a lot to the mentoring I’ve received at Startup Giants. It’s helped me to shape Keto Elf from a viable concept into a scalable product that I know is going to benefit people’s lives.’
How do you feel before a pitch or interview?
I always feel a mix of nervousness and excitement. Nervous because I want it to go well and excited because of the opportunity. Fortunately the excitement wins because I always do my research and prepare myself beforehand. I always have a quick chat to Helen at Startup Giants on the day of a pitch and she helps to frame my thoughts. So I keep my thoughts about what an investor might want vs what health benefits a consumer might need, very clearly in my mind and run what’s best for the scalability and longterm life of the business all merge into one.
Have you got plans to like introduce more flavours and expand the range in different ways?
Yes definitely in time. When I get revenue coming in from the supermarkets, then I want to expand on the range and keep the focus on convenient healthy foods, go-to foods. So I’m looking at keto or gluten free oatmeal options that you can just grab, but without any seed oils, no gluten, etc. And then functional chocolates. So from now on, every product we introduce is going to be convenient, clean and delicious.
What’s next on the list for Keto Elf in the coming months?
So much! We’re working with an agency to get our Amazon store ready so that we can sell to UK and Europe (specifically Germany, Netherlands and France to start with). I’m in the process of getting Organic Certification from the Soil Association and I’m in the process of registering The Keto Elf as a B-Corp. On top of that, I’m preparing a talk as I’m a speaker at The Keto & Low Carb Festival on 17th September at Birmingham. It’s full on at the moment but I’m absolutely loving it.
What advice would you give to fellow Startup Giants’ founders?
Being in business is a journey that you have to keep moving forwards on. This is my second year working with Helen and Jeb at Startup Giants and my business is starting to go really well, in the first year I wasn’t this good. I felt like I was really lost in what to do next, and then it all just turned around when I snapped into gear when I told myself: I can’t just play around with this, I need to take steps to action this properly. And then just doors just started opening one after the other. The reason I mention this is because I just want my fellow founders to know that if you know if you’re struggling in the first year or the first few months and you’re feeling lost or your business plan might not being going to plan. Please remember that I’m seeing success now but this is my FOURTH product.
In the beginning I started with keto based cookies but there was an issue with scalability and the shelf life was only a few days. So I switched to more shelf-stable cookies, but there was still an issue of scalability with the cost-of-living crisis and energy prices. So next, I changed the product to keto mug-cake mixes, so I didn’t need any electricity anymore because I was just putting powders and packets together, which is much better. But then again, because I was going to be making everything myself, it was still not scalable.
Finally we decided to start again because so much time had passed since I first started. So I looked again at the trends of the customers – people just want to grab something healthy and go. So then we switched over to the convenience food arena. I was lucky enough to find a manufacturer who could work with my wishes to be Natasha’s Law compliant and produce the product, crackers seemed to be smooth and right. It just started falling into place and the growth was really quick.
I’ve found that if something’s not going right, it’s okay to change your plan because you never know, new options that are coming your way might be so much better than what you initially thought your business needed.
That’s such valuable advice thank you Priya. There’s always opportunity in chaos, isn’t there?
I think so, exactly. I was almost about to like give up thinking I can’t do this. But then the fact that I held on a little longer, it made all the difference. It’s just reworking and reworking it again. You’ve got to be ready for the challenges and some really unwanted scenarios. But then, once you go through them, it’s often the case that it was the best thing to have happened.
For example: if my cookie business had worked out, I’d be making maybe enough money but it wouldn’t be scalable to the level that I’m able to scale up now. I screengrab positive feedback and messages from customers so if I’m ever having negative thoughts or self doubt creeps in, I go back to them and see that this is not just a scalable, profitable business, it’s literally something that’s helping people and they really want it in their life, so it’s fulfilling for me as well.