Christopher is a co-founder of Better Nature, the UK’s leading Tempeh brand. Tempeh is an all-natural, high-protein and firmer alternative to tofu. He is an Oxford graduate, where he studied a Masters in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, and an avid marathon runner. Better Nature launched in the UK in 2020 and since then has won four international food-tech competitions and was one of six startups invited to present on the mainstage of the Good Food Conference – the world’s largest alternative protein conference. They’re currently comprised of a team of 10 and have raised £2.4M to ate from leading Angel Investors and VCs.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in entrepreneurship?
I am one of the co-founders of Better Nature, where our mission is to make protein without compromise to the planet, people or animals. We bring natural, delicious and nutritious vegan food to people that is better for everybody: it is as sustainable as possible and is both carbon and plastic-negative – in fact, we offset our footprint two times. We do all this by bringing the amazing tempeh, a plant-based food originating in Indonesia to people’s tables, helping them to eat more healthily on a daily basis.
My way into entrepreneurship was quite serendipitous. I was finishing my Master’s in Biochemistry, when, during my last summer, I took on an internship with a leading Strategy Consulting firm. Although it was great and they offered me a position to stay on, I did not feel fulfilled and I knew something was missing. Later, I realised that I was missing the feeling of having an impact, of making the world a better place. Therefore, even though I took up their offer, I started looking around to explore other options and I ended up randomly applying to participate in a Biotech conference at Cambridge called the GapSummit.
Two to three months before the conference took place, 100 delegates were selected from 24 different countries and organised into groups of 5. In these groups, we were expected to come up with a business idea to present during the conference and the winner of the competition would receive a cash prize to turn their idea into a reality. I happened to be placed in the same group as my future co-founder Ando, who at the time was finishing his PhD on Tempeh Fermentation. He comes from a family of food scientists and lived in Indonesia until he was 24. At the time, I was just transitioning to become vegetarian, so of course I was keen to learn more about the product that nobody had heard about outside of Indonesia. Everything developed from there.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
It is the act of following your passion to fulfil your purpose. It is not necessarily about impact or money, but more about the act of taking that independent step to follow what you love and what is going to bring you fulfilment.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
It is always important to keep an eye on the gaps in the competition. As I mentioned earlier, at the GapSummit, our group of 5 came up with a project around tempeh and we entered the entrepreneurship competition, which we won. For me, this was the first sign that they were on to something. However, we made sure to test the idea amongst a wider audience before we decided to go for it. I started by cooking tempeh for friends, then we took it to consumer shows and offered it to people at food stalls to try. The warm reception we received really convinced us that there was a demand for what we had to offer.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that are needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
As for skills, I would probably highlight listening skills: you need to listen to be able to take on people’s feedback and be able to speak with everyone and listen to everyone, especially when you are starting.
However, in my opinion, the right mindset is more important than specific skills. Amongst these, I would highlight the learner’s mindset: being humble and inquisitive enough to be constantly willing to learn and knowing that although you are not going to be great the first time, the more time you invest in something, the better results you will achieve. Another important one is persistence, which, for me, is basically the faith that you will eventually succeed and even if you don’t succeed in the way you want to, wherever you are, you are fine as long as you are developing as a person. Last, but not least, it is important to be aligned with your long-term vision and be purpose-driven. It is what will allow you to find team members who will go to the end of the earth with you and will help you communicate your purpose to those who might want to invest in you.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
To be able to directly attribute the impact of the business to my and my team’s efforts.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
There is a business called the Tofoo Company, who have managed to establish themselves as the category-defining brand in the tofu category. We are hoping to achieve with tempeh what they have achieved with tofu.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I would love to know how they went about establishing themselves as the number one go-to tofu brand in the market, how they educated people about tofu and what their visions are for the future.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
It is an extremely special moment when quite early on in the project, we embarked on a study trip to Indonesia as a team to try out different kinds of tempeh all over Java. It was a fantastic adventure that really brought us together as a team.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
One should not really be blamed for this, but I guess, sometimes, especially at the early stages, entrepreneurs tend to become too optimistic. This is especially problematic when you are optimistic about timelines, because in reality, normally things tend to take twice as long as you expected them to. When it comes to managing your cash, this is an extremely important thing to keep in mind.
How have you funded your ideas?
Through three rounds of investments. In the first round, we relied on the support of friends and family, in the second, on Angel Investors and in the third, on Angel Investors, VCs and Crowdfunding. Between the three, we’ve managed to raise 2.4 million pounds.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
I have already mentioned the Gap Summit competition that also gave us some financial support. We have participated in some of the competitions that exist in the food space and some organisations have been really helpful, like EIT Food’s Food Accelerator Network and the ProVeg Incubator. The support was not always monetary though – sometimes we received free working space or mentorship, which have proven to be just as valuable.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
I co-founded our company after I graduated, so I have never been an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire. However, I can definitely say that Oxford has highest number of smart people you will ever be surrounded by, with some amazing societies, including Oxford Entrepreneurs, which can open your eyes to entrepreneurship pretty early on. I had the opportunity to join a study trip to Silicon Valley with Oxford Entrepreneurs which taught me to take entrepreneurship seriously. Plus, I met one of my co-founders thanks to Oxford.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I would tell them to read three books: Starting with Why by Simon Sinek; Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman, which is a really helpful introduction to business in general; and Zero to One by Peter Thiel.
Any last words of advice?
Before you go into entrepreneurship, you should be certain about who you are as a person. It is definitely not for everyone. While there can be many different interpretations of entrepreneurship, what they all have in common is that it is hard work, which requires a lot of sacrifices. It is a full time commitment as your life will revolve around it. Even if you manage not to work during the weekend, you will still keep thinking about it as it is your baby and just like a parent would not forget about their child, you will also never forget that you are an entrepreneur. That means that it will be difficult to go on holiday because you will not want to leave the project behind, not knowing what might happen while you are away. Therefore, you should do some soul-searching to understand what it is that is going to make you happy. I tend to think that most people are better off doing the normal thing, especially if they are looking for a life of comfort. Entrepreneurship means a lot of adversity and risks. However, if you know who you are and know what you want to do and there is nothing in this world you would rather do than that thing, and you could not do it by working for somebody else, then go for it! When you are an entrepreneur, every day is full of challenges, but also of great experiences. You are moving at 100 miles an hour, you are surrounded by passionate people, you are making a real impact and are learning so much every single day!