Katy Barfield knows that food deserves to be eaten. But sometimes it needs a little help getting to where it’s needed.
In 2014, she launched Yume Food, a social enterprise connecting businesses with surplus produce to businesses that can use it.
Having recently secured $2.6 million in funding to further develop the business, she’s certainly on to a good idea.
She also knows that social entrepreneurship will be key to solving complex problems in the future, and that more women can and should get involved.
We spoke to Katy to find out what it’s like running such a business, how she got started, and her advice to other women looking to pursue ideas that extend beyond business interests alone.
How did you come up with the idea for Yume?
Yume is an evolution of the last 10-12 years of my work. The idea evolved as the technology around us became more sophisticated and the market failure and scale of waste became even clearer than before. As the founding chief executive of food rescue organisation SecondBite and having launched Australia’s first wholesale fruit and veg business, Spade and Barrow (now Aussie Farmers Wholesale), I came to the conclusion that we needed to do something at scale to dramatically reduce the 3.9 million tonnes of food that goes to waste in the commercial sector in Australia each year. We couldn’t solve the wastage problem through a bricks and mortar location, we needed to be bigger than physical boundaries. Through the Yume platform, its limitless the impact we can have on tackling the problem.
Tell us about your background, and how it ultimately led you to pursuing this idea?
I was determined to find a way to enable everyone be part of the solution, so I created Yume to upscale the food waste reduction effort and revolutionise the existing food supply industry. Yume is a unique online marketplace that enables organisations with quality surplus produce to connect with businesses that can use it. For buyers, the online marketplace acts as an opportunity to purchase quality surplus produce at heavily discounted rates. For suppliers, the platform gives access to a large network of buyers outside of their normal sales networks, increasing the supplier’s profitability by selling quality produce that might otherwise have gone to waste. Our no waste mission ensures that any produce that isn’t sold on the platform can be offered for donation to one of our food partner charities around Australia.
Having just secured $2.6m in funding, what do you think ultimately led to you being successful in approaching investors for this idea?
There are three key ingredients I discovered that you need to demonstrate to be successful.
The first is to make sure you understand your business and financial model inside and out. You need to know why every line is in your financial plan and where you drew the data from.
The second is you need to make sure you choose strategic investors, not just any investor. To be successful in the longer term you need to make sure that the people on the journey with you are like minded and can help you achieve your goals.
And finally, you need to be fit mentally. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, so you need both the physical and mental endurance. And remember, it will take longer than you think.
You’ve founded a number of startups. Where did the ambition to be an entrepreneur come from? What unique skills do you have that make you successful with this work?
I never set out to be an entrepreneur, it was accidental. What I do is identify market failures and try to develop solutions that are drawn from common sense. I then build a great team who also passionately believes in the mission. I’ve always set out to solve problems, not become an entrepreneur or run a business.
What does an average work day look like for you? From getting up, getting out the door etc, to finishing up in the evening?
(Laughs) there is never an average day. My day normally starts with being woken up by my two young energiser bunny sons who are aged five and seven. There are rare times when my alarm goes off at 6am and I have half an hour to myself before the day starts. Depending on the children, I leave home around 7.30am and ride my bike to work. It’s a 35-minute ride and helps me clear my head and get in my exercise for the day. Once I’m in the Yume office, my day is always varied.
I often feel like I’ve jumped out of a plane without a parachute and I’m taking all these people with me who are relying on me to stitch a parachute together before we land.
My day normally finishes around 6pm(ish), unless I have an event to attend, and I try to be home before 7pm to spend time with the family, feed, bath and put my boys to bed.
Do you engage your sons in your business and work?
My sons know what I do and enjoy listening to Mummy do a radio interview. They are still young so coming into an office isn’t that much fun. But my husband runs the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, Food Justice Truck, which sells food to people seeking asylum. The boys enjoy going out with Dad and helping to volunteer and serve up produce!
What can women personally do to get involved in social entrepreneurship?
The most important thing for anyone wanting to get involved in a social mission is discovering what’s important to you. For me, it’s about the planet and specifically our abuse of resources. You need to gain a deeper understanding of your passion. Once you have, you need to volunteer or find a role for your skills and dive into making a difference. No matter how challenging your days may be, if you’ve found your calling, you should leave every day feeling energised.
Finally, what role do you think social entrepreneurship will have in the future in terms of solving some of the most serious and pressing issues of our time?
Social entrepreneurship is going to be one of the frameworks we will use to solve complex issues and problems much more in the future. It’s a huge growth opportunity and I believe it will become a mainstream sector and attract significant investment. Its relevance is sort after by the younger generation of the workforce, who are coming through and demanding more meaning out of their working lives than just contributing to the company bottom line. Social entrepreneurship brings together the financial with the environment and the social — it’s true triple bottom line reporting. This is the sector where people will want to work in the future.