“The thing that I loved about all of the Disney Princesses, wasn’t the bit where they got the guy, the thing that really excited me about them was this – Jasmine wanted to escape the Palace Walls, Ariel just wanted to explore a New World… They wanted to do something new. They weren’t happy with their status quo and they wanted to change it”
The 2016 HHH interview series spotlights female entrepreneurs in the health & wellness industry! I’ve always been incredibly inspired by women who choose to make their mark on society by entering leadership roles or building up a business empire. For all intents & purposes… women who kick MAJOR butt! This month, we’re featuring the founder of “Love to Eat It“, Sahar Aman!
Interview with Sahar: Foodies, Lady Bosses & Disney Princesses
Sahar & I have actually known each other for about a year now, initially meeting in a Toronto-based, Food & Nutrition Blogger meet-up group. I’d always admired Sahar’s ability to take the most beautiful food photography for her online wellness blog, The Quirky Princess, so when I found out that Sahar had created an Instagram based start-up company dedicated solely to delicious, gorgeous looking recipes… I knew immediately that I wanted to check it out!
I met with Sahar for our interview on International Women’s Day, which seemed rather fitting considering that this years’ interview series is celebrating female entrepreneurs & their accomplishments in the wellness industry. At the time of our interview, “Love to Eat It” had been in the works for about one year. The way in which it functions is that users sign-up for “Love to Eat It“, follow their Instagram account & then any food picture that users “like” will have the recipe sent directly to their email, creating your own, unique online cookbook. Amazing right?! Read on for more on “Love to Eat It“!
Part 1: How it all works…
“The journey that I’ve gone on, I mean FI really shaped me, because it creates more than startups, it creates founders.”
B: Explain what “Love to Eat It” is and how it works for everyone.
S: Sure, yeah. “Love to Eat It” is basically a solution for food bloggers and foodies who are on Instagram. The way it came about, like many food bloggers that would use Instagram, I would use it to grow my audience for my blog and community, but the other reason I’d use Instagram was as a user. I found that I would see so many delicious recipes, but I’d forget about them. So I would take screen shots of those recipes and then I’d organize them in my own mobile cloud. I realized that if this is happening to my users then this is probably happening to the millions of users and other food bloggers, so I wanted to solve this and that’s kind of how “Love to Eat It” was born.“Love to Eat It” is a platform, which does exactly that – it solves a problem for foodies and food bloggers.
B: Take us through a step-by-step process of how you got to where you are, with “Love to Eat It” today.
S: I should tell you a little bit about how our team came together. Last year in February I had this idea, and my husband is an associate producer on Dragons’ Den for CBC, and he and a friend of mine were at his place and they were discussing ideas. I said, “You know these are both really terrible ideas, here I’ve got a good one”. I pitched this to them, and I really saw that there was a gap in the market because you have stuff like, “Like to Know” for fashion bloggers, but there wasn’t really anything for food bloggers. So they said that they were going to do some research into this.
They did some initial research and felt like this had a chance, a real chance and that it could be something really good for food bloggers, users and the foodies. So we brought on our CTO, and we’re all friends, the guys have known each other since they were kids basically. I’d been working with our CTO Zee for a while now for my blog, so it felt really natural for me to reach out to him and get him to look into the specifics of how we would access Instagram’s API and whether we would get the functionality that we would need. So that was our first step, validating that we could do that.
Then I think it was around May or June that our CFO heard of Founder Institute. So we went along to an informative meeting, it was really great and all four of us applied. That’s how committed they all were, but then I didn’t get in and the three of them did! So there’s this huge drama!
** Editor’s Note: Founder Institute is a curriculum for entrepreneurs, providing them with mentorship, networking and structure required for a start-up.
B: Why wouldn’t they let you in?!
S: Well you have to do a test, and you have to do this form with lots of questions. I don’t think I’ve ever been really good on paper. I’ve always found that in examinations or any of these kinds of things that I’ve never really fared very well. But I didn’t get in. Ilona, who was a director of FI at the time, called up Ahmed wanting to understand why we had all applied as a team. So then Ahmed explained that it was really my idea. So she really fought for me. She really fought for me to get into FI.
The first day at FI, I was completely like, “what am I doing here?” I had no idea if I could even get through this. I was petrified! I was so scared. It’s really scary because you’re in a room full of people and they’re talking about SAS and pivoting and MVPs, and they have these crazy ideas. You hear all of these ideas, and I just wanted to help food bloggers. Which seems like such a small idea in comparison to everything that they’re trying to do. So you feel very meek, I suppose. And of course, I wasn’t even sure if I was really supposed to get in. I just got lucky! Then we pitched.
I was even terrified of pitching. What happens at FI is every week, you have CEOs and founders from the industry who have all had start-ups or are affiliated with start-ups, and they give presentations on different topics. So the first seminar was about “your idea”, and I was too scared to pitch. It was actually Ahmed, my husband, who was supposed to be pitching and then two of the mentors had stood up to give their presentation on validating our ideas. Then somewhere, something clicked for me and I knew exactly what I needed to pitch. So I went to Ahmed, and I said, “listen, you’re not going to pitch, I’m going to pitch“, even though he’d been up all night practicing! I just had to do this!
B: And you don’t know what that “click” was?
S: Yeah something just clicked; it really just clicked for me. I was like, “I know exactly how I need to explain this“. What happens in these pitches is that they hold up numbers; so it’s out of 5; you either score 1 or 2, there’s no 3, or 4 or 5. I get up and pitch in the quietest voice ever, no one else in the room heard me, but the mentors did, and two of them put up a 4 out of 5, I was so taken aback. I thought, “hang on a second!“ Afterwards we went to a shawarma shop, and we all sort of said said, “Alright, let’s do this. Let’s stick with FI and let’s see this through“.
B: That must have been such a good feeling, because at first you weren’t even going to pitch!
S: Yes. The journey that I’ve gone on, I mean FI really shaped me, because it creates more than startups, it creates founders. I hadn’t had any experience running something like this before, and there are still days where I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and I’m rocking with fear, but I think FI gave me confidence. Because it takes you through the steps. Week 1 is about validating your idea; so you pitch your idea, you have to do a customer survey research – over one weekend, pretty much -, and you need over 250 people to respond to you. I remember we’d be out in the streets and we would attack the people who were queuing up outside of UncleTetsu’s, because it had just opened, and we would get our responses from there. We would send it out to absolutely everyone.
Then you have to go through several different exercises, naming exercises, figuring out the right name, you go through business revenue model, then positioning, then marketing and branding. So you make the mistakes that you really need to make, because a lot of people have good ideas, but if we hadn’t done FI then we wouldn’t have gotten that boost that we really needed.
B: Were there any obstacles that you guys had to face, and how did you overcome them?
S: Overcome them? Sleepless nights and coffee! No, but seriously a support network. You need your support network, like food bloggers in Toronto, mentors, our own friends who are in start-ups, or who are involved in startups. I think it’s your support network. Have you seen the movie, The Martian?
B: Yes, I have! I love that movie.
S: So you know at the end where Matt Damon is explaining how he survived on Mars? – and this is nothing like that – but it sort of feels like that! It does feel like that. So you know when he says, “you just solve one problem, after the other, and if you solve enough problems, you eventually get there”? I think that’s kind of the approach I’m taking now, because when I think about trying to get millions of users on board to our platform, it get’s a bit overwhelming. However, when I just think about problem solving, and the problems that I have today… I feel like we’ll get there.
Part 2: Collaborations & Support
“I know that our vision is to get the world eating better, and food bloggers are the ones creating those recipes, it’s just how do we get those recipes into the hands of more people.”
B: You collaborate with several food bloggers on “Love to Eat It” and you yourself used to be a food blogger, so how has social media changed the whole blogging industry?
S: Oh gosh. So I remember years ago when I was just blogging randomly, which is what everyone really did, I think in 2006 or something… so it was almost 10 years ago! I would pen random thoughts, and I think it was only really when I got on social media, I was really late to things like Twitter and Instagram, because I didn’t really understand what it was or how necessary it was. It was only really when I got on there and I started to take pictures of my food and record the recipes that I realized this is actually a space where you can share something. Social media platforms have helped blogging become a serious business, because there are now all of these places to share content, build communities and an audience for your content.
B: I noticed that on your website, you mentioned that in order to pursue Love To Eat It, you had to hang up your journalism and blogging hat. Was that difficult for you?
S: I still maintain my blog because I love it. The thing is, I never really kicked off the business properly, because when this idea came to me (Love to Eat It), I was beginning to blog professionally like working with brands and what not. But I just think, I wouldn’t have the time to blog as well as do this, because even though it’s still just the early days, it’s crazy. It’s been crazy. Especially because we took “Love to Eat It” through Founder Institute and it was really, really intense. So I just found that I didn’t have the time.
I will always have the blog because I love the community and I want to stay connected to the community, and there are some brands that I absolutely love still and I love collaborating with them. But I think that it’s moved into much more of a hobby. I don’t want to say hobby though because it feeds into my profession, but it’s not really my main focus. “Love to Eat It” is my main focus now.
B: You’ve mentioned your mentors. What’s the best advice that you’ve been given from one of your mentors?
S: For any young start-up, you need a network. So anyone who wants to get into business, or has an idea for a startup, know early on that it’s your network that’s going to help you immensely… and it’s helped us so much. Just pulling together 250 people for a survey… I mean how do you do that?! And also your team, I should have mentioned them a bit earlier! The team that you build, that’s a really big part. I don’t think, well I know I couldn’t have done this by myself.
Toronto is a great place for any person who has an idea, because I think that everyone in Toronto is really, really good, and really, really supportive. I think, for me, the lady bosses who I have met have been such a huge part of why I am even doing this. You know just the idea of working with them, and building a community all over the world, and somehow being able to connect with all of them really excites me.
B: What is so important to you, in terms of helping food bloggers and giving them a voice?
S: A few years ago, I was getting married. And like any bride, I wanted to look fabulous on my wedding day. So I’d research and google “green smoothies”… and I’d never had a green smoothie before! But I came across, Honestly Healthy’s web
I believe that food bloggers can really get people cooking and eating better. They already have! I know that our vision is to get the world eating better, and food bloggers are the ones creating those recipes, it’s just how do we get those recipes into the hands of more people. I really think that food bloggers can get the world cooking and eating better.
B: How do you select the food bloggers that you collaborate with?
S: The ones that we collaborate with right now, they’re actually people who I’ve met through the Food and Nutrition Blogger group; so they’re my friends. When I first started doing some initial research into the idea and I shared it with these food bloggers, they were excited about it. And we needed some help optimizing our platform, so we asked if we could have access to their recipes and if we could share them [on Love To Eat It]. We also never share the whole recipe, because the actual idea is to continue to push traffic to the food bloggers’ website; I want to promote bloggers, I want to promote their beautiful recipes. I haven’t necessarily picked them, but we’re open to all food bloggers. So whoever wants to come on board, and connect with their users beyond Instagram, then please do sign up!
B: And how are the food bloggers finding it? Are they finding that this collaboration is benefiting them?
S: Yes! What we’ve found, is that people on our platform, (we have a modest user base), but seen some really good early adoption where our users have been cooking recipes and they’ve been sharing them. It’s not many right now, but it’s the “happy moment”.
B: Have you had that moment over the past year, where you’ve ever thought to yourself, “this is so worth it”?
S: Yeah. You have it in strange moments. You have that moment, when you experience the highs, but for me I get it during the strangest moments. The other day I was buying groceries, and I called up my CTO and I said, “I’m so happy that you’re doing this with us”. You kind of experience it randomly. You’re doing something that you really love, and you’re happy doing it. Usually when I can work at home in my pajamas! [laughter]
B: Did always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
S: No! Well maybe when I was really young, when I was stealing my mom’s makeup and applying her mascara – poking my eye with it- and I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if hair mascara existed?! And then a couple of years ago, it came out. Then I’d watch Dragon’s Den with my parents, and I think deep down everyone wants to do something amazing. But no, never. My whole journey was always about film, I wanted to make film. I trained at film school, I studied film my whole life, I worked in movies, I did that forever. I don’t know, I just realized that movies weren’t right for me. It was strange how this all happened. I’ve always been really passionate about food, I’d always think oh I’d have a restaurant or oh I’d have a cookbook – you know all of those typical things. I never really thought I’d be an entrepreneur, no. But my parents said that I always had this sense for business.
Being an entreprenuer reminds me of being in movies. You have to hustle, you’ve got to work really hard, and al ot of the time when I have to deal with the day-to-day of a startup, it reminds me of working on movies.
B: How long had you been blogging for?
S: Like officially in a food capacity?
S: I think last year was like a year. Just one year.
Part 3: Tips & Tricks with Sahar
“…support other women, and men too. It’s about supporting each other.”
B: I wanted to know, what great advice can you give for anyone who’s wanting to create a startup?
S: It’s horribly British of me, but I probably hate giving advice! There’s always someone online who’s going to sue you and now that I’m in North America that’s very likely [laughing]! Legal! Make sure you have good legal representation! That’s the advice I have!
B: That’s a good one though, it’s true!
S: Yeah! You can quote that! Make sure that you have all of your legal together. Hmmm, advice. I think support other women, and men too. It’s about supporting each other. One of the things that makes me really strong, is the network that I have here. It’s human also, to feel a little bit envious of others, you know there’s always someone from our cohort who will get into a pitch that we didn’t get into. But everyone has a separate journey, so it’s about supporting each other. We want to be the generation that supports each other.
B: You have beautiful food photography, what would be your top three food photography tips to share with everyone?
S: Natural light, DLSR, but if not then I think iPhone’s, they’re pretty good. But definitely natural light, never underestimate the power of golden hour, colour on your plate… vegetables look really pretty! Oh, have fun with it! I love pictures that tell stories. But definitely natural light, times 3!
B: Are there any food trends that you see for 2016?
S: Apparently insects!
S: I feel like this is going to be a big thing! Hmmm trends. You now I read so many articles about this, so I hear crickets and insect protein… not sure if I can hop on board with that one. I think the trend it’s more about an approach to eating. I think that’s what’s changing. OH sushi burritos and poke bowls!! I think they’re going to be big too!
B: With Love to Eat It, will you be embracing trends?
S: I think our thing is, we don’t want people to eat less, we just want them to cook more at home. We think that the first step to eating well and better, is eating at home. We also really believe in balance, we love our kale smoothies as much as we love our chocolate chip cookies! We want to create our own trends, with cool and interesting categories for our users. One category that we’re working on now is “Yeah, Baby” – which gives you a sense to where this is going!
B: What are three tips that you could give our readers to drive traffic to their own blogs?
S: Pinterest, of course, I know there’s other forums, but I think Pinterest, use the YOAST SEO plugin – that’s a good one – take good pictures, and valuable content.
Part 4: Odds & Ends
“The vision, I want this to be a thriving community of food bloggers and foodies who have connected with each other.
B: Have you seen anything else like Love To Eat It out there?
S: Well here’s the thing, they say if you’ve had the idea, then chances are there’s probably someone else out there who’s had the same idea too. We haven’t come across anything like ours yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we did down the line. And I haven’t really talked about it, but when you “like” one of our pictures, you’ll get the little recipe teaser to your inbox but you can also buildup your own online cookbook. So you’ll have an online cookbook at the touch of your hands and you can filter your recipes.
B: So how does it work exactly, when you tap the photo, how does the recipe get delivered to your inbox?
S: That’s because we’re using Instagram’s API. So Instagram has an API for developers, and all it is, is when you “like” a picture and it’s affiliated with us, and the code that we’ve embedded into it, then we’ll just know to send you an email.
B: Where do you see this going in 5 years?
S: Okay do you want the reality or the dream?
B: Let’s do both!
S: So the reality is, that in 5 years we’re still around. I don’t really know where it’ll be. I have a vision.
B: Tell us the vision!
S: The vision, I want this to be a thriving community of food bloggers and foodies who have connected with each other. I don’t know how that will be, I don’t know where Instagram will be, I don’t know where food bloggers will be, you know? But what I see this becoming in 5 years is a thriving community of food bloggers and foodies. That’s really what I want this to be.
B: So let’s talk Instagram then, because Love to Eat It is based on that platform. How do you see that changing over five years? Do you think it’ll still be around? Or will we have another platform that we haven’t even dreamed of yet?
S: Oh God. I don’t know actually! Well it’s been a while, I think 2012 or 2011. I hope it’s still around. I’m not sure where it will go, I think that people are still trying to figure it out exactly where Instagram will go.
B: What is a typical day in the life of your team?
S: Wake up, obviously [laughter], I get straight onto Facebook and then schedule the posts, which recipe we’ll put up… And then whatever we’ve got on during the day, really. So right now, we’re applying to a ton of different things. For Zee it’s very different, for me it’s very different. Every day is different. You wake up, you have a plan, and most of the time you can stick to the plan, but then something will happen and you need to address that. It really depends on what’s coming up as well. No day is the same.
B: So you work with your husband everyday. What’s the best thing about working with your husband?
S: The best thing is that you’re working with your partner in crime. We met while working together, we met on a film, so we’ve always had this. I think that you grow together. If I’d been doing on my own accord, then he wouldn’t be able to relate to what I’m doing. The fact that we’re doing this together, we’re able to grow together. We don’t ever really fight. It’s hard to distinguish though when are you founders together and when are you’re a couple. But I think that’s normal. I wouldn’t do it without him though. I like his work ethic. And we’re very different as well. I’m the impulsive one, I like to jump straight in and he’s the very thoughtful one. So it works well.
B: And how about the other two? What role do they play?
S: Ali is someone who I’d been turning to for advice for a while now – and they’re probably going to kill me for saying this, it’s better to ask them! Hmm, Ali is very analytical, very sharp. He’s probably the most intelligent person I know. And he won’t agree with me! He’s real, and he thinks about things in a way that I probably couldn’t. If you write this he’ll be very embarrassed. But they’re all very intelligent! Zee and I butt heads in a get good way. And I heard early on that if your CEO and CTO get on in a good way then you have a serious problem. So Zee and I butt heads in a good way.
B: The term “lady bosses” has totally exploded. What is your definition of lady boss?
S: That’s interesting. My definition of “lady boss” is a woman who empowers herself and has aspirations. Someone who just wants to go for it.
B: Aside from being a lady boss yourself, what’s one weird, quirky fact that people would want to know about you?
S: I do ballet! That’s kind of how I wind down! That’s not quirky. A weird quirky fact? I’m trying to give you a good one, because there’s a lot of them! I guess I am really quirky. Maybe that’s what it is, the fact that I’m a Quirky Princess! So when I was growing up, I loved all the Disney Films. I loved all the Disney Princesses. But the thing that I loved about all of the Disney Princesses, wasn’t the bit where they got the guy, the thing that really excited me about them was this – Jasmine wanted to escape the Palace Walls, Ariel just wanted to explore a New World, and I think that was really exciting. I loved that aspect of adventure that all of the Disney Princesses had. I loved that about them. They wanted to do something new. They weren’t happy with their status quo and they wanted to change it, and they empowered themselves to go and change it. I mean I don’t agree with Ariel giving up her entire identity to be with a guy!
B: Yeah, like giving up her voice!
S: Yeah, that’s messed up! [laughter] But before then, before she even met Erik. Her curiosity for forks, and pipes and all these random objects was so fascinating to me! So I guess I’m a Quirky Princess in my own way.
Thank-you so much for sharing your story with us Sahar!
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