My Week: Simon Procter, Housebites

Serial entrepreneur Simon Procter launched Housebites, a revolutionary take on the common-or-garden takeaway, in September 2011. He hasn't had a holiday since. Here's a snapshot of his week, sleepless nights, frogs' legs and all.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

The first thing you should know about me is that despite the fact I run a delivery business bringing restaurant-quality food to homes across the nation, I don't eat amazing food every day. It's the first question everyone asks, but the sad truth is that - unlike my head chef, who gets to try a lot of dishes - I'm usually too busy to do more than grab a sandwich.

That said, yesterday I launched Housebites Fresh, a subscription-based ready-meal delivery business, prepared by our chefs (they're all horsemeat and preservative-free). We provide a week's worth of ready-meals in one go, so that busy people like me can bung a meal in the oven or microwave and have a high-quality meal in minutes. I've been living on them for the past week.

I'm technically competing with the classic supermarket ready meal but given that most of those are produced in a factory, poured down a giant chute into a plastic tray, and can sometimes take 22 days to actually reach your mouth, I don't think there's much competition. At the moment, Housebites Fresh is a sideline but who knows with start-ups, this one could take over.

As you can probably tell, Housebites is altogether a very complicated business. There's the delivery side, which involves managing chefs all across the country - and keeping them motivated. There's the new Housebites Fresh business, and then there's our catering arm, which is actually the most profitable part of the company right now. It started out as a completely different idea: I thought people might want chefs to come to their home and cater for dinner parties but it turns out that market is tiny. Product launches, weddings and big events - that market is huge.

Running a business with so many moving parts leaves me with very little free time. I'm up at 6am every day, I haven't had a holiday since August 2010, and I've only had two days off since I launched the company. Things are especially intense at the moment because I'm in the process of raising a further £1.2m in funding - ours is a volume business and until we reach that tipping point where we become profitable, we're burning through cash. I'm also both CEO and COO, so I'm taking care of all the operations stuff. Hell, I still manage the payroll!

Over the last 14 months, I've learned a lot about the business I created. I didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to motivate the chefs or how much support they would need, from menu designs to feedback on which recipes are proving most popular. We now have 55 chefs cooking for us, delivering up to 60 meals a night each. We're aiming to bring on a further 12 every month in London over the next few months and expand into ten new cities across the UK.

It's pretty easy to recruit new chefs - they mostly come to us. In the early days, when no one knew about us, our chefs were only making around £30 a day. Now, that figure has jumped to more than £200 a day. As incentives go, that's a pretty big one. When chefs get fed up with their restaurant jobs, now there's an immediate escape route: 'Hey, I can go work for Housebites!'.

People often ask me what sets Housebites apart from the likes of Hungry House or Just Eat. We are a franchise business, letting chefs create micro-businesses out of their kitchens. Hungry House is like a CompareTheMarket for takeaways. The other major difference is the amount of choice you get with Housebites. With traditional fast food takeaway, you only get pizza, Indian, Chinese or Thai, really. With us, you can find frogs' legs, cheeseburger spring rolls, panfried seabass or even an old-fashioned roast leg of lamb with rosemary. Try tracking those down from a regular takeaway.

I have huge ambitions for this business. I just want it to be so, so, so big. I'm talking full nationwide penetration in the UK. We want our chefs to be so well known that they’re on Saturday Kitchen every week. We want to be in New York and Germany within five years. We even want to build our own game, if we can!

But with big ambitions comes worry. Sometimes I lie awake worrying about whether we're going to raise the money we need. Am I going to have to go into the office one day and tell the staff they don’t have a job any more? But that's the lot of an entrepreneur and it’s getting easier and easier.

Right now, I'm talking to you from a pub where I'm having a lunch-time pint with an old friend I bumped into at a conference this morning. I'm having two hours off in the middle of the day. This could never have happened a year ago. At this rate maybe I'll even get to take a holiday at some point soon... Three years or so.

Find out more about Housebites

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