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A year in the life of a startup – the Raglan Coconut Yoghurt 2015 Christmas finale

At the end of 2014, Latesha Randall was a freelance journalist, writing (among other gigs) for Idealog. By the end of 2015 she was a full-time (and multi-award-winning) food manufacturer – one half of Raglan Coconut Yoghurt. As with so many of life’s critical moments, Randall’s transformation came not as a coup de foudre, but more of a “wondering what to do with a couple of extra jars of home made yoghurt” moment. She revisits the highlights of one of the toughest years of her life. 

It is so hard to believe it’s Christmas already. This year has been a crazy, intense, yoghurty-blur. To recap:

November 2014

I post a picture of a jar of my homemade coconut yoghurt on the local Raglan noticeboard and ask if anyone would like the extra couple of jars from the latest batch. Thread goes wild and Seb and I end up making yoghurt all weekend.

December 2014

Locals are knocking on our garage door to pick up their weekly coconut yoghurt fix. Starts to get a bit crazy, so we ask Whaingaroa Organic Kai (WOK), our local organic store, if they’ll stock it.

January 2015

We’re at WOK, in mix-matched jars sourced from local recycling centres. People are loving it.

February 2015

Decide to go more classy and buy new jars. Get proper labels printed and register with the Waikato District Council. Figure out all the rules, regulations, hygiene standards etc that go with running a food business.

Idealog’s editor is amused by her freelancer’s new entrepreneurial activities and asks me to start a blog.

Early March 2015

People are starting to talk about the yoghurt. Leads to a bunch of new stockists in Hamilton and some in Auckland. We are making deliveries to them in Rosie the Surf Van, using chilly bins from Briscoes.

Late March 2015

Provida Foods agrees to being our chilled delivery partner. We can scale! Farro Fresh and Moore Wilson’s want to stock. We buy a label applicator so we can finally stop sticking them all on by hand. And we launch our website.

April 2015

We’re sending yoghurt around the North Island and making first deliveries to South Island. Discover that banks aren’t particularly interested in helping new, growing businesses so start exploring other options to fund building our own kitchen.

May 2015

Launching our smaller size jar option introduces new shipping complexities and we get a bunch of breakages while we figure out better boxes.

Run our first RCY Facebook competition in the now-famous goodie crate.

June 2015

We bring a microbiologist onto the team and learn heaps about the science of yoghurt. Banks still aren’t being helpful so we launch our ‘Coconut Cookbook’ fundraiser, in collaboration with amazing Kiwi foodies. NZ icecream brand Giapo adds an icecream made with our yoghurt to their menu.

July 2015

Start doing lots of in-store tasting events in Auckland. Get into Nosh and Raeward Fresh stores. Realise that the Coconut Cookbook will never sell enough copies to fund a kitchen build so put feelers out for investors. Delivery truck has an accident and we lose 168 jars of yoghurt. Mum, Dad, brother and sister decide to move down from Dargaville and help out with the business.

August 2015

Investors come on board to help finance new kitchen, design and planning gets underway. Do all the paperwork for Foodstuffs registration. Go through several different site options for our kitchen and all the paperwork that goes with it.

September 2015

We win the Gourmet Food and the People’s Choice categories at the New Zealand Food Awards. And do a rap for our acceptance speech.

Also launch a ‘Bee Friends’ permaculture beehive sponsorship programme to gift a family a hive each month.

October 2015

Go to our first big expo, the Waikato Home Show, sell out of yoghurt the morning of the last day. Fundraise $1,775 with all our foodie friends to help the Syrian refugees.

Host the inaugural ‘Big Little Foodie Getaway’ in Raglan with 30 other food business owners. Release our RCY Muesli Bowl in collaboration with Tony Sly Pottery.

November 2015

After set-back after set-back with finding a suitable site for our kitchen (we went through three different sites, with each one falling through for reasons outside our control), the perfect one becomes available right in town and we start to make plans for moving in! The kitchen equipment arrives and installations get underway. Our label applicator stops working and we go back to hand applications for the entire month, sticking on about 1,500 labels per week.

Some random hardcore yoghurt fan in Invercargill gets our Yoghi face logo tattooed on his leg.

December 2015

This month has flown by in a fog of kitchen set-up – plumbers, electricians, air-conditioning guys, equipment tests, council meetings, test batches.

Mr Coconut has got a bunch of new gray hairs and in fact his hair has been standing up on end as if permanently electrocuted for the whole month! We had our fair share of things going wrong – like a $35,000 piece of equipment that fell over during the move in, broke and had to be repaired.

Week of Christmas 2015

But now, that’s all behind us and we’re pretty much there! It is SO exciting to have a space that’s set-up just for us with everything we need right there and plenty of storage. Our garage can finally go back to being our hang-out zone instead of the storage-over-flow zone.

After writing all of that, I feel absolutely amazed that it’s all happened in one year. It has honestly been the most nuts year of our lives. Challenging, exciting, terrifying – the whole nine yards. We’ve yelled, we’ve cried, we’ve danced around for joy, we’ve woken up in the night panicking, we’ve met the coolest food-makers ever, we’ve asked for help countless times from our long-suffering family and friends with everything from ‘we need to get a pallet load of jars off this trailer, can you push?’ to ‘the label applicator broke again, can you try repairing it’ and the classic – ‘we need something urgently picked up from Hamilton’. 

Businesses are certainly a roller coaster adventure. To all those who start one next year – good luck and may the force be with you.

And Idealog readers have been there for the whole damn thing! If you’ve been following these posts from the beginning, thanks for sharing in this with us – it’s nice to know you’re listening. If you have ever bought our yoghurt, thank you – you’re making it possible for us to create something we feel good about from the place we love most in New Zealand.

In short – you’re all awesome.

Businesses are certainly a roller coaster adventure. To all those who start one next year – good luck and may the force be with you.

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