Originally aired on March 6 @ 6:30 AM - 7:00 AM EDT
This week is Cloudflare's Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, featuring dozens entrepreneurs from across the tech industry and beyond!
This session features Nicholas McCulloch, founder of Provenance Hub. Nick has spent 25 years working in e-commerce, consulting worldwide as well as founding and building a number of his own businesses. Curious and creative, his latest venture, Provenance Hub, combines his passion for working with small artisanal independent businesses with his belief in the power of ‘raw authenticity’, and his love for food and travel. Provenance Hub champions the importance of provenance within the food chain, advocating for better consumer understanding of the origins, and methods of production, of what they eat. Provenance Hub assists producers by sharing their stories and their passions.
to find the rest of these featured conversations — and tune in all week for more! Founder Spotlight hub Hi everyone, my name is Alina Ha and I'm Strategic Customer Success Manager at Cloudflare based in London and welcome to our Founder Spotlight. It's a week featuring the human stories behind diverse startup founders, their life experiences perspective, the origin stories of their startup and the path they took to get there where they are today. And today I'm joined by amazing Nick McCulloch and founder for Providence Hub. Thank you for tuning in for our show. Hi Nick, how are you? Hey Alina, thanks for having me, nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. Thank you Nick for taking your time and I think just to kick off our conversation, could you please give us a very brief story, what your startup does? Okay so Providence Hub, what I mean, I'll give you a longer answer if that's okay. So we're an online store and we offer consumers our curated selection of the best tasting, Providence assured foods from our community of artisanal and independent growers and producers from across the UK and Europe. That's incredible and I actually was on your website and I am a new customer so I think your selection is great. Excellent, thank you. When we were talking like we were talking about your startup adventure right like and I know that you're very passionate about your partners like who are growers and producers and can you tell me about how far you came along with you know like your partners right like going forward with Providence Hub? What was your startup adventure? Okay so here's the thing, the Providence Hub started as kind of a passion project more than anything in that through 2014 to 2016 I watched two or three friends kind of drop out of the normal rat race and go and do really quite specialist things. Some of them creative, some of them growing, producing, whatever and what just struck me was they were very quickly producing award-winning olive oil or you know really achieving great success in what they were doing but as very small artisanal independent producers, often single category, it was really difficult for them to effectively sell their product you know performance marketing cost per click is incredibly expensive and you know then they would sell through retail so wholesale into retail partners and then their product just sits on a shell but what you're never getting is any of the story, the story behind it and you know I believe people by people certainly I know with our producers I like to think that whilst we offer a you know a great service a great platform to tell their story you know they believe in what we do, what I believe in and we have very similar ideas about you know foods and they should be produced etc so Providence Hub came around from kind of that. My hatred I guess as well are brands, brands that when you scratch you know one level below the surface there's really not much there you know there's a lot of greenwashing going on and yeah I guess I'm a big fan of I think is it Mamie Clyde's No Logo you know that's always stuck with me for the last 20-25 years whenever it was written and food is all about experience it's about journeys there's stories to be told and so for Providence Hub the idea is that you know we are we're offering a curated selection we're not one of the number of marketplaces out there you know we're actively seeking the best tasting foods that we can find from independent producers we're curating them so if we find a great honey producer we're probably not going to go and specifically look for another one you know we're looking for a broad category range and it's about building community you know a community of our consumers when we when we introduce a new grower or producer to the Providence Hub site we see gradually our existing customers coming back and trying the products and then adding them to their monthly orders you just you can just feel it growing and then likewise with our producer our grower community they're now meeting with each other and discussing things and as we move into 2022 finally hopefully touch wood having come out of lockdown in July here in the UK there's so much more that we will be doing with producers together with collaborations and that's really when Providence Hub starts to have this whole much greater identity and feel and actually some of the storytelling that we have planned really starts to come alive so we started this year I think with with eight or nine producers we're ending the year on about 15 16 in the UK we know that there are probably on our important list there's about 55 60 that are on our must-haves that's in England and then we've got 15 or so in Wales and there's about 25 in Scotland and you know through 2022 that's really where we'll be going but we're in no hurry you know I'm very passionate that for me Providence is about authenticity and you know I believe if you look at a product if you look at a brand you understand you know if it's got raw authenticity you know that it's just real you know there's no fluff there's no marketing nonsense there's no need to scratch below the surface because what you see is what you get and I think as a business and the beliefs with the team the small team of people I have around working working on Providence Hub and in Providence Hub you know we all get that you know very quickly it's funny through this year we've spoken to a number of producers who initially we thought were right on mark for for us and to join the community and within three or four minutes of a proper meeting or whatever we've just realized we've looked at each other and gone no that's that's they're not for us this they're very good at what they do but that authenticity just isn't there. This is so refreshing to hear and also I think you know we hear a lot of brands that starting to you know like be more creative you know like crafted right like or exclusive but I think taking like high street brand right like it's still not enough and I think having Providence Hub like creating more people and giving them a platform to you know like tell their story is very important because my family they're coming from food industry right like and I know that it's so much work like it's just so much work behind the scenes and you know you know always have a like an ability to tell this right like the story and get to the like people who using your products right. You know and the people's stories are amazing you know when I the bit I've created my ideal job I spend my day talking to growers and producers those already in our community I absolutely adore all of them you know really specialist Sarah and Dale at Bermondsey Street Fees, Tony and Tim at Hobros you know just so many of them and they're all they're all so passionate about what they do and they're all so definitive that it has to be done right and it's a pleasure to work with you know it's you know as I say I've created the my dream job I really have you know I love my days I bounce up in the morning because I know I've got a lovely day dealing with lovely people selling real genuine authentic food it's you know it's perfect. That's great you mentioned about you know you about lockdown and I wanted to and I know like as a business owner last year like two years actually probably were the hardest right like to make sure you keep up with everything and like also making sure you mentally there can you just tell me what kind of adjustment personally and professionally you had to make during those times? Okay so we were all ready to go live with a big bang or or really open our doors and start a proper rollout in March 2020 which obviously was at a time when all of a sudden everything went into a lockdown now that because of the way we work you know everything we do is provenance assured so where we're making a claim or producers making a claim about a product we check all the proof points you know we everything that we're looking for is that authenticity and that means that we meet with everybody so the moment that travel was restricted meetings were restricted kind of growing the business community came to a halt and yes we picked up a few new producers through the middle part of 2020 but it's really only been since July this year that we've been out there and been able to do the things that we wanted to do now obviously from a business perspective you know we could have pivoted we could have pivoted very easy and gone oh no it's okay we'll just change what we do a little bit we don't have to meet them we don't have to you know we're not going to go into the the stories aren't quite so important but actually that wouldn't work for us because then we just we would have become just one of another online food stores and that's not what we're about it is about the storytelling so I think from that perspective it's slowed us down considerably over the last 18 months but it's also had some knock-on benefit we've because everything has been much slower I think we've everybody involved in the present provenance hub project has this kind of better understanding now of where it's going to build its unique little USPs and the collaboration things the collaborations between producers that will kick off from March next year that are already in play they're really exciting for me and they're not something that we ever had in the mix and so it's you know just going a bit slower has given us a bit of time to really refine our messaging and refine what we're going to do I mean conversely there was you know there were two things that have affected my business over the last 18 months there's been COVID and the other one is Brexit and you know before Brexit we were we were very neatly positioned in that we would be able to facilitate producer sales across the whole of the EU to the UK into Europe European you know there just wasn't that differentiation the disastrous trade deal that was done and not wanting to get political but that disastrous trade deal that was done overnight at the end of you know the end of December 2020 brought all of our European business to a halt either European producers that we were working with shipping into the UK or UK producers shipping into Europe and even us here in England or in Scotland or in Wales trying to ship into Northern Ireland is is impossible at the moment and you know so that's that's a challenge but from the back of that and you know we've had a year where we've lost out from the sales we could have had in the growth we've refined what we're doing we've stepped back and we've gone okay so we're not now looking at it just being a consumer proposition we're looking at it from our grower and producer community from our community proposition so what do they need and what they really need is a great fulfillment service so let's provide that for them let's assist them in moving product between the UK and Europe and Europe and the UK in a cost-effective way and then fulfilling orders and you know that again it's a big piece of work that we've had to do and it's taken all year to get right and finally you know all being well with Omnicrom I'll go over into Europe in January and sign the sign of the final bits that need to be done and we'll have that up and running and we'll be in Europe again but you know there's been a number of challenges and without COVID I guess getting in the way it would have given us an opportunity to sort that out sooner in a way what I've never understood with Brexit is the was the desire at the end of 2020 to run straight into it when so many businesses had had so many so many other things to cope with they hadn't been able to properly plan and nobody knew the extent to which the deal that was done was going to be as hard of Brexit as it was. Yeah I think it's also you know like you I was listening to you and you do talk like a real entrepreneur like you know finding a light you know in impossible positions and being agile and I think there is a very famous saying right like entrepreneurs always on the edge of like complete happiness or you know like being a really deepest depression all the time like depending on what time of day you are right and it's constant. Yeah and forgive my language I mean I'm you know I'm a believer before you think you're insane just make sure you're not surrounded by assholes you know it's you know I do kind of live my life like that in that I know that sometimes when I'm very passionate about something people will be looking at me as though really Nick you know is this what you want to be doing and you know I do have to you know yeah it's that euphoria of a great idea to the depression of oh my gosh I can't make this happen as I want. Yeah and I know that you're very passionate not only about your growers and producers but about your small team and I think you know getting where you are you know like and all the plans for 2022 can't be done you know by yourself can you give me can you tell me a little bit more about your small team and how did you get together to create the company? Okay so here's the thing I'm 45 I've spent the last 25 years either working for myself working on projects with other people consulting in a number of different industries and a number of different businesses but around two things e -commerce and communities you know they're the two things that I whilst I'm a jack-of -all-and-master-of-none if I'm a master of anything it's probably e-commerce and a little bit of community management and understanding community and along the way I've been really fortunate to work with, work for, manage some really interesting very special unique people and Provenance Hub I think is the first opportunity where I've been able to bring all but one of the team of a small team there's six of us but all but one has not been somebody that I've worked with worked for or whatever in the past and that's an absolute delight because I'm not working with strangers I'm working with people that know me on a personal level and probably are able to say look you know what Nick I think you should park that right now but also know me well enough that if it's one of those things that could float if I lead it in the right way and I'm just passionate it's one of those things I really believe in so I'm going to hop, skip and dance and scream from the rooftops then they know what I can do so they'll support that and I think that's really important in a team you know you've got to have I think in small businesses or in businesses you know we're all we're entirely self-funded as well which gives us a unique opposition because I'm not answerable to anybody except myself and that's a lovely position to be in now I will want to retain that for as long as possible but I know based on the projections of where we'll be at the end of next year we're going to have to look externally for investment but you know it's a great opportunity to be in at the moment as we nurture and stroke the provenance hub animal and you know take it from being an input to that sort of mature you know the sort of teenage years and then yeah and then it will and then we can unleash it but at that stage hopefully it will have taught and learned everything that we've done we've nurtured it with. You know like it's kind of you make me feel think about that with this kind of passion and right type of leadership you will be able to keep this you know like really nice humble like friendly environment and I think like even looking at Cloudflare I think the reason why like most of the you know like I personally I love working here because it's all about people around me and how carefully we are choosing who comes in because you know like you can create lots of great things but if it's internally you don't feel comfortable to work with people that's you know like removes the whole point of it and talking about culture can you give me example of like that illustrates your company culture and this is something you want to take away you know for many years forward. Do you know I will always come back to authenticity I'll always come back to the number of times that we'll finish a call we'll finish we'll drive away from meeting with x y z producer and whoever I've taken with me will just look each other and go that's a no and we just know that it's a no and and you know don't get me wrong this isn't these aren't random producers or growers that we know nothing about everything that we do starts with best tasting you know so before we've even spoken to them we'll have we'll have we'll have found that food we'll have tried it and we'll think it's quite special then we'll have done some research online to understand a bit more about what it is they're saying about themselves and where the authenticity the provenance story will come from you know so we do quite a bit before we actually physically go out and meet with them but I and I shouldn't I shouldn't enjoy it but in in a in a sick sort of way I'm always I'm quite pleased that whoever I've taken with me we can just look each other and go no they're not right they're not for us and it's great and the thing is as well they're a very difficult follow-on call because the the conversation goes we love what you do we love your food we but you're not for us you know they're some of the hardest calls to actually make and so so what's the one thing whether if if I weren't in the business that I would want the business still to be doing in 10, 15, 20, 25 years it would be have that absolute passion for rural authenticity and everybody that's in the business empowered to be able to go do you know what they're not right for us. Yeah I think I agree with you I think it's just by the end of a day right like because you're looking them as looking at them as a part of your team you need to make sure they are the people you can work and share good and bad moments right like and that will be by your side no matter what because it's a partnership that you get going into. Yeah you know the partnerships we have with our growing produce growing and producers they're not short term you know the the value of provenance hub the consumer the consumer value our USP is in the quality of our the foods so you know that the the the greater the diversity and the greater the quality of everybody that we bring in the stronger the community is and you know I'm always conscious of that it's really strange we've built this sort of quasi store community with with you know two custom two type we've got consumers who are purchasing foods we've got um growers and producers who are part of a community you know we're servicing so many different people in so many different ways and that's actually what keeps it fun because you know we're not just this come and buy a product from us today it's really great it's really great tasting you know there's so much that we've got to share and tell and talk about. That's great um so you know like everyone I hope you will have a book about yourself but if you can give us a first glimpse of where did you grow you know can you tell us where did all this started and uh give us a little bit of a perspective of you growing up and how you you growing up affected of starting this startup. Oh okay I mean I had a I was I had a fairly privileged upbringing I went to preparatory school uh just outside Reading called the oratory prep school then I went to a boarding school that was Bradfield you know it's kind of not an unpleasant experience but I would say I would say a public school experience that you wouldn't get if you were at either of those places today um I think that you know I'm not sure what I take away from that really um I guess there's a belief really I think if there's anything that I was taught through that type of education when it's a belief in self in that you can achieve what you want to achieve you know the question I have has is I'm more I've always been one of those who will do the certainly with exams you know if I needed to be I'd get a B if I needed to see I'd get a B a C I was never really going to push myself beyond that um but also actually I think what I did take away from the experience of not being at home during term time and then being home during the holidays is that holidays were always really special and I was really fortunate in the Easter holidays we'd always go to Devon and we'd do English countryside or we'd go to Scotland and then summer holidays would be island hopping in Greece or travel around Europe and you know I guess all of those happy memories revolve around travel and food you know my two favorite things are travel and food and always have been and I'm not a great chef so I'm never going to you know my love of food didn't turn me into a chef or a cook I'm a terrible cook um but that provenance hub kind of feeds on those and those stories you know the memories that we have my memories of childhood all revolve around travel and food and when provenance hub was a germ of an idea you know 2015 going into 2016 and and you know you're molding it in my head trying to squeeze out what was this thing that what was this thing that I was thinking I I would say you know the lovely way that the smells and tastes remind you of places and foods that's kind of where it was it for me it was a journey and we were talking about journey when we started the proposition was around personal journeys with food and and and and that's something that we're going to explore more with next next year 2022 through the marketing and promotion um activities that we've got planned but yeah I'm going to zip it there because I'll say too much um and there's some great stuff to come in 2022. What is your comfort food like you know what would be the ultimate comfort food for you? Okay so I'm and I'm going to plug a product here now it's it's unbelievable so I'm I'm vegetarian um and last year we started working with Tim and Tony um of Hobros and they make I think it's called a deluxe vegan chili sauce and it's it's a I guess it's a veg a vegan uh version of a XO sauce so it's like this huge flavor bomb chili flavor bomb but it's really subtle and it's sort of 30 seconds on the palette you're getting it just comes from nowhere I am completely addicted by it and I will just boil up some pasta stir a couple of teaspoons of that in scrape some cheese on top and just hoover it all up in about three seconds flat that's my go-to comfort food at the moment. Oh that sounds lovely uh well for me I think one of uh comfort food would be um honey on bread and I actually purchased the honey from your shop and I hopefully this will be like similar to what I had in my childhood. Yeah I mean you know the honey so so we've got two types of honey we've got one from Cornwall which will be um Tregothnan or you've got the Bermondsey Street bees here so so just quickly note again passionate about producers and their stories you're talking a single origin honey so there's no blending we know exactly where it's come from exactly where the hives were and the Bermondsey Street you know multi-multi award-winning we're so fortunate I'm so fortunate with the relationships that we've built in such a short period of time with our grocery producers so bang on you will love it love it. Okay we have um around four minutes left and I have a really important question to ask you um so knowing like now at this moment you know your path and how did you get here right like and you kind of know your uh present uh future plans what would you tell yourself or advise yourself um when you started your company? I would say it's probably to myself I would say however passionate you are and however much you believe that relationship that deal that sale that you're chasing at a time yeah there are those opportunities that sometimes because they're so hard it feels as though you're trudging through syrup you're you're pushing so hard against the wall the customer the supplier whomever it is is really difficult to work with sometimes you just need to step back and walk away because just trust yourself and trust the universe to deliver and that may sound a bit spiritual but you know I'm a big believer in just trust just trust the universe deliver if that's just proving too hard it's because it's not meant to be it's not right and normally I've always found just around the corner from nowhere comes the ideal partner opportunity sale whatever that you were actually hoping to create with the other one that was proving so difficult and that you were pushing endlessly against and getting nowhere with so I think it would be that just just have faith let the universe deliver. I agree with you and I think a lot of the time we ignore our intuition like you it's just we don't learn how to listen to ourselves a lot but I agree with you a lot of the time when you were like I was personally in cross paths and something just wouldn't happen like and as soon as I just let go things just fall into places and things come up and just definitely the spirit. In a previous life I used to manage sales teams and it was always the case that when a salesperson hadn't hit their target they would find it really really hard the moment they'd hit target they could just keep selling and selling and selling and selling because all of a sudden they didn't need to they were just more so you know just just more easy and more relaxed with it and you know I think that's a really good analogy because it's like do you know if it's proving too hard just move up move on you know that it's it's not meant to be. I agree so we have one minute to go is there anything else you want to address to the audience from yourself? No not really Alina I mean thank you ever so much for giving me half an hour I can't believe half an hour's gone so quickly just to waffle on and chat aimlessly about Providence Hub today it's been an absolute treat it's a delight to be the first the first interview this week for your your Founders Spotlight Week and of course I should say you know actually what you know the two things that Cloudfair are doing for us the two most important things security and speed um you know and and the user experience uh you know the the proved quite tricky initially until we started working with you guys um to get right is is you know it's great it's great to know that whilst I might be out in a field discussing growing techniques with a producer I know that in the background the site's just working and it's fast and it's safe and it's secure so yeah thank uh this is you know like honey to our ears um but thank you so much for your time and I agree you know we are like you know all our projects here in Cloudfair are designed to help everyone right like to make sure they focus on what they're good at making uh creating businesses you know working with others and uh creating new jobs for people around them and uh just innovating and um I was on your website I advise everyone to check it out provenance hub and um also we will we are hosting uh this week a lot of great founders and please check out our founder spotlights um timetable and schedule we have like timetable for all the regions across the world and uh yes thank you so much for being with us and thank you Nick again speak to you soon thanks ever so much take care have a great week bye