This Female-Led Company Is the Etsy for Chefs and Restaurants
Ellis McCue, CEO of Territory Foods, a platform that delivers bespoke food experiences.
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
I’m Ellis McCue, CEO of Territory Foods. Territory is a female-led fresh food platform that offers a new take on the food preparation and distribution industry. I became CEO in 2019 after being with the company for less than two years. I’m responsible for Territory’s overall vision and strategy and am currently leading the company through rapid growth.
Think of Territory as an Etsy for chefs and restaurants. We create bespoke food experiences that empower our customers to live a healthier life through nutritious and flavorful food, all crafted by a community of established chefs and prolific restaurants. To date, we’re partnering with over 40 local chefs and restaurants, such as Cafe Gratitude, Founding Farmers, and Gracias Madre.
What inspired you to choose the business model for your product?
Coming to Territory in the late 2010s, I saw there was a host of commercial diets; paleo, primal, Whole30, keto, and the plant-based trend was making waves. The issue wasn't directly about the diets but the lack of information provided to the customer about how these approaches would impact their health. At the same time, across the board, we saw a concerning increase in obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and cancer.
At this time, the new and emerging world of direct-to-consumer (D2C) food trends (meal kits, restaurant platforms, prepared meals) presented us with the right business model — I guess you could say this was our "aha moment." When Territory launched in 2011, we were the first-ever chef-to-consumer delivery platform. We took the extra step to develop the data-backed curation for our customers to build individualized plans that serve preferences, lifestyles, and fitness needs. This was a game-changer for the market because we enabled our customers to make the small, sustainable changes in their health that ladder up to the more significant systemic changes in our world.
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What pointers would you give entrepreneurs who are looking for funding?
1. Your competitor landscape is a critical part of your pitch. Many people fall into the trap of saying, “we don’t have any competitors,” and therefore omit this section. Competition is a good thing. Think Microsoft/Apple, Samsung/Apple, Google/Apple — these brands fuel the tech game and keep things innovative, fresh, and attractive. Know your landscape inside out, don’t slate your competitors, build on their success. Visualize your marketplace and in a way that is easy to digest. Think of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, for example.
2. Finding the right investor for your business isn’t just about the money. It would help if you found someone that truly believes in your vision. It’s important to remember that you’re not only raising money - you’re raising “capital,” and that is counsel, access, and a sounding board to get you through the most significant challenges ahead. Everyone says, “do your research,” and this is true - but it’s so you understand the real benefit of the investment and can speak to it in a meaningful way.
3. There are various options out there, so it’s essential to understand the differences to choose the right firm/investor for your business. Do you need a giant network? Expertise and talent? More money? Your best bet is to pick apart your business dynamics and look for someone interested in that - are you a platform software? A consumer product? A company with a mission? Investors can be more than a checkbook - they are industry veterans, seasoned business leaders. Target funds that align with a pillar of your business, and you’re more likely to raise capital and also be able to leverage them for expertise.
4. Prepare to be derailed - bring your passion, what you do for your customers, and the five points of your business that are powerful, and then watch the faces around the table or Zoom screen to see what resonates. Keep it short, but be descriptive. Investors want to be excited; they want to believe in your vision as much as you do. Most of the time, they want to give you money.
5. Whatever the outcome, whether you receive funding or another meeting or even rejection, make sure you look for areas to improve. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, and make sure you take it on board when you pitch another investor — these folks know what they’re talking about! Getting under the skin of the “nos” is as important as getting to yes. Keep in mind that each investor pitch is a learning experience.
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What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
The hustle. You can't teach it. You can only ignite it. And it’s up to you to continue fanning the flames. You're either born with the entrepreneur spark — to grind it out and get your hands dirty, to wear 50 hats, to fail fast and pick yourself up, to innovate, to hear 100 no's before you hear a yes - or you're not, and that's OK. Not everyone has to be an entrepreneur — there are many paths to success, and finding your own with your goalpost is enormous.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
The boss says “go”, the leader says “let’s go” - Harry Selfridge
This quote represents the simple shift in mindset that builds a team. I fundamentally believe that people and culture are the secrets to success. Individual passion - the intrinsic motivation that drives you to solve a problem and gives you the hit of endorphins when you do - is critical for high-growth businesses. As a leader, I believe my job is to serve my community and drive growth, returns, enterprise value while creating a thriving and sustainable organization where people love to work. A considerable part of that is a part of the team, not just the team leader.