Yuru Guo graduated from Durham University Business School with a master’s degree in Management (Entrepreneurship). She is the co-founder of Hey! Food is Ready. She is also the UK Young Innovator Award Winner, a scheme funded by the UK government, as a leading entrepreneur in the North East. She cares about social issues and is eager to make a positive impact on the world. When she was 17, she went to New Delhi and designed and delivered a training course for children aged 5–12 years about the UN Sustainable Development Goals. She also helped organise a charity auction event for the UN Refugee Agency in New York City and helped raise 700 USD. The main reason for her building Hey! Food is Ready is that she wishes to use this platform to help refugees, immigrants, stay-at-home parents, retirees, or anyone who loves cooking in the UK to generate a meaningful income and share their native cuisine, culture, and stories with the broader community.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I graduated from Durham University Business School with a degree in Management (Entrepreneurship) in 2021, and since then, I have been building Hey! Food is Ready. Hey! Food is Ready is an online marketplace that connects approved home cooks from different cultural backgrounds living in the UK with hungry neighbours looking for authentic, wholesome, homemade food. We are hoping to use this platform to empower and diversify the UK’s gastronomy and communities, bringing timeless recipes to full-time households.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
When I moved to the UK, I realised I could no longer get the same authentic home-cooked meals that my family made when I was home. The frustration of homemade food hunting sparked the idea of creating an online marketplace connecting approved, talented home cooks from different cultural backgrounds living in the UK with hungry neighbours like me looking for authentic, wholesome homemade food. Together with Frankie and Kiki, we developed a platform from our university dorms to a thriving business. That is how Hey! Food is Ready was born… Through the platform, people can order old dishes that taste like home or new ones that taste like adventures.
How did you achieve awareness?
- Promote authenticity and diversity
One of our main values at Hey! Food is Ready is to provide an immersive, authentic insight into our home cooks and their stories. Video content is a particularly important part of promoting our service. Our home cooks are offered the opportunity to feature in videos which highlight their personal skills and background. Alongside this, we will write blog posts for them and promote them across our social media channels. This increases the transparency between home cooks and customers, and makes our service more engaging.
- Connecting with the community
We build links with the community through social media. Applications like Whatsapp groups and Next Door allow us to engage with the wider community directly. We are also in the process of contacting news channels who will help broaden our reach across the community.
- Building a network
Through LinkedIn we share our progress as a business. We have made many valuable connections through competitions such as The Pitch UK, PNE Newcastle Incubator, and Innovator UK. These contacts help us to grow and raise awareness.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
At the beginning of the project, we received a market research grant from Durham University. This grant is vital as it helped us conduct the market research and understand what customers are the customers’ needs but what does not currently exist in the market. After that, I started to develop our product based on the feedback and insights provided by the market research. Meanwhile, I’ve been selected as the Young Innovator Award Winner UK. This programme provides me with a £5,000 grant to develop the business further. We’ve also been selected as a part of the Newcastle Impact incubator, where they provide us with grants, shared office space, and mentoring opportunities. With the like-minded entrepreneurs from the same cohort, we are able to encourage and inspire each other, providing the solution to our difficulties. Recently, we’ve been chosen for the Durham City Incubator, which provides us with equity-free grants to help us with marketing and onboarding more home cooks onto the platform.
What are the key successes?
The main issue we solve is the absence of work for home cooks, who have the ability to sell food, yet do not have the resources or advice to make it a reality. We are predominantly targeting people from different cultural backgrounds such as refugees, immigrants, stay-at-home parents and retirees. Recognising different cultures is paramount to Hey! Food is Ready’s ethos. We want to deliver a service which values diversity and brings new voices to the table. As a founding team of women, we believe gender equality through and within the business is particularly important.
85% of our existing home-cooks are stay-at-home mums from various cultural backgrounds. Our platform lets them generate a meaningful income from their love of cooking while parenting. We have spoken to women who have been unable to pursue a career in the past due to their husbands limiting their autonomy. With Hey! Food is Ready, we want to encourage these women to be independent in their profession and reach their full potential as food entrepreneurs.
We will help home cooks by providing infrastructure, marketing, and support. This is particularly important for cooks who are not as confident with technology or that are newly laid-off from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some refugees and immigrants come to the UK economically and socially disadvantaged. With our platform, we can help them flourish by working together to build greater intercultural understanding across the community.
Being able to use our platform to empower more people from different cultural backgrounds who love cooking to become food entrepreneurs and chase their dreams, allowing them to do what they really want to do, is the key to success for me and for the business.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
To be very honest, we are facing so many problems on a daily basis. The good thing is, every challenge comes with thousands of solutions. As an online marketplace, unlike a traditional, linear startup, a platform doesn’t need to acquire just one group of customers. At a minimum, it needs two: its consumers and its producers. Therefore, the biggest challenges we were facing were chicken-egg problems, meaning the number of buyers driving attractiveness to sellers and, likewise, the number of sellers driving attractiveness to buyers. Our solution is to try to make a two-sided market one-sided. We found a user group that can fill both our customers’ and producers’ roles. That way, we no longer need to worry about attracting and balancing two separate user groups early on.
What are your plans now/for the future?
Our plan now is to focus on the Newcastle market and build a solid product, customer base, and diverse community. Later on, we will use the same business model, expand our service to other major cities in the UK and eventually complete our nationwide expansion plans.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Starting a new business and seeing how it grows from an idea to a real product feels mind-blowing and rewarding. Every single day, I can tell that I am growing together with my business. The entrepreneurial journey is not easy and can sometimes be lonely too, but if this is something you always dream of doing, you should definitely purse it. Because the good thing about working on what you are passionate about is that time flies and you do not feel like you are working.
Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?
- Creating value for customers is important because customers will be the ones who eventually pay for your product. If they trust the brand, and the product is convenient for customers to buy, and they believe that they are getting more than they pay for the benefits versus competitive offers, they will order from you.
- Focusing on product development. Once you receive the external investment, the top priority is not to get a fancy office for your team or throw cash into heavy marketing activities. The priority is to develop a solid product that can satisfy the customers because “a rose never misses its beholders.” Offer great quality products and customers will come naturally.
- Treat people with absolute sincerity and admit your mistakes when you are wrong. That’s the key to winning people’s hearts.
- Reach out to people and be open-minded and respectful of everyone you meet. Don’t judge a book by its cover, as you will never know what someone can bring to you.
- Be resilient. This will give you the strength needed to process and overcome the hardship. There will be people who love your products. Meanwhile, there will be people who criticise your products. It’s useful to learn how to adapt and bounce back whenever you receive criticism.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
My mom and dad always have a positive attitude and mindset towards their lives. This influenced and encouraged me from an early age. When I was young, they introduced me to the idea of “glass half-full”. This gave me a new perspective on the world, and since then, I’ve always known how to focus on the positive side of the world whenever I come across difficulties. They also inspired me to go on adventures, chasing my dream. In the meantime, they are my support and huge fans.
Anna Mary Robertson Moses or Grandma Moses began painting in earnest at the age of 78 and is a prominent example of a newly successful art career at an advanced age. I am a strong believer that age does not unlock people’s potential and that no one is too old for anything. If there is something you want to achieve, no matter if you have a family or a 9-to-5 job, always find time for yourself and put in the effort to make it happen.
Sanmao is the desert writer. She moved to Africa with Quero, to a town called El Aaiún in the Spanish Sahara, a colonial area with competing factions of Spanish, Moroccans, and native Sahrawi people. She wrote her own adventures and her words allowed an escape for so many who couldn’t follow in her footsteps. I read her book in secondary school. Her free soul, easy lifestyle, and kindness have encouraged me to pursue my dream and to embark on my own adventures.
James Dyson inspired me to not give up. He finally invented the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner after five years of testing and 5,127 prototypes. He makes me believe that I can always dream big and make it happen. I love his “can-do” attitude.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
All over the place was sixpence but he looked up at the moon.
This sentence is from a novel written by British novelist William Somerset Maugham, it keep reminding me that no matter how much I achieved, never forget my why I started and the initial mission of starting of the journey. Stay hungry and stay foolish.
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
Facebook: Hey! Food is Ready