Interview: Simon Kahil - CEO of Pepperleaf

Published on
October 21, 2021

Every Saturday morning, I receive a delivery of fresh fruit & veg, red meat & fish, meal recipe cards and a health magazine to top it all off. I’m a Gen-Y business owner that works long hours but also socialises excessively – therefore the most precious commodity to me is time.

When I’m at home, I find that it takes longer for me to decide what I’m going to cook, than it does to cook the dish itself. Pepperleaf, the new subscription based, weekly meal delivery service is an absolute godsend and most importantly, it solves this massive first world problem for me… when I’m not at café, bar or restaurant, that is.

I reached out to the founder and CEO of Pepperleaf and was lucky enough to steal some of his previous time for an interview.

Noel Tiufino: Have you always wanted to run your own business?

Simon Kahil: I think not running my own business has never fit with me. I have had ‘real’ jobs before my early mid-life crisis, but it never suited and I always felt like the work experience kid that didn’t go home.

NT: Do you feel more comfortable now that you’re running your own business?

SK: A lot more, yeah. Much happier. Leaving corporate jobs was a very, very good thing for me. Not to say it’s good for everyone, but I felt an enormous relief from getting out and doing something I love, and in fact, that’s probably the key to it – doing something I love rather than something I’m forced to do.

NT: You were a tennis coach prior to this. Now that you’ve started your own business, tell me – do you feel more like the coach or the student?

SK: The student, actually. I’ve got this very strong sense that you should defer to people that know more on a given subject than you. I give the company direction and I’ve got very strong opinions on everything, but if someone knows more in a given field than me, I defer to them.

NT: We touched on this before, but if you will, tell me a little more about the transition from employee to employer.

SK: Without sounding like a megalomaniac, it’s about having control over your destiny and wanting to pursue a vision rather than implementing someone else’s vision, as good as that vision may be. I’ve had experience working with people where I just didn’t buy into their vision and I think that caused a real internal dissonance. I found it quite stressful, wanting to do one thing; having strong opinions about doing one thing, but having to do another, and that might be a personality flaw but having the ability to author your own vision is a very, very satisfying thing.

NT: Agreed. So now about your business – Pepperleaf, can I please have the elevator pitch?

SK: We are a meal kit delivery service. We’re asking customers to do everything in a whole new way, to shop differently – we are very much a lifestyle product. We try to give back time to people who are time-poor.

You’ve worked long hours, Noel, but you still have answer the question, “what’s for dinner tonight?” and we like to think we help answer that question – we give people back a bit of the time they have to spend planning meals and shopping. We also have a philosophy on supporting artisan food producers. You won’t find anything in your delivery that you can go and find at Coles or Woolworths.

We support small, local producers. It [the food] is not from factory farms, it’s not from enormous dairy companies… Noel, you asked for an elevator pitch, this has turned into a monologue!

NT: Ha ha! That’s alright.

SK: … so we’re trying to do things a bit differently.

NT: I love it – I’m a big fan of the concept. So what is your vision for Pepperleaf?

SK: To be huge! We have ambitious targets but our vision for Pepperleaf is to stay true to our ideals – I’ll give you an example. We have an opportunity. We could expand into Brisbane tomorrow. There is the infrastructure in place to do that. However we won’t because it compromises on the freshness of the produce. It has to spend an extra day in transit. It’ll be capital-intensive but we would rather start up an operation in Queensland, when we can deliver fresh and local.

We can get to Sydney and Adelaide [from Melbourne] overnight, and that’s not a stretch for the produce, but if we start selling to Brisbane customers now, we compromise on freshness. So while we grow, we want to keep revisiting why we’re doing this – stay true to the ideals, use small local producers and all the other things that I’ve spent a lot of time boring you about. Stay true to that while we expand, that’s my vision for it.

NT: That’s a great vision, definitely one to be proud of.  So we’re on to the most fun part of the interview, bookkeeping and accounting.

SK: Right. Stop, Noel.

NT: Ha ha! I recall a conversation we had a while ago about accounting software for your business – why Xero?

SK: I’d seen MYOB in its old incarnation in my wife’s business and I felt like its tentacles were pretty strong [in that] it locked her into some ways of doing things.

I just wanted information to be accessible. We’re not financial experts so we want it to be accessible, easy to understand, and not just spreadsheets. Xero certainly is super accessible. You just check in.

NT: Xero just checks all those boxes for you?

SK: Yeah, absolutely it does, and we can manipulate it however we want and look at reports.

NT: How often do you aim to review your financials?

SK: We like to keep a pretty good eye on it – we look at key metrics every week.

NT: And what are those metrics?

SK: Subscriber numbers, churn, so they’re all revenue measures, and then the cost obviously. What’s the saying? Revenue is vanity and profit is sanity.

NT: … and cash is reality.

SK: Exactly right, and that’s why you’re paying for coffee Noel.

NT: Ha ha, I already did! How important is your relationship with your accountants and why?

SK: Very important. Going back to what I said about deferring to people who are experts, we don’t have that expertise and we’d be foolish to try and do things that we can’t do when they’re that important.

NT: If you were to wind back the clock to the inception of Pepperleaf with the knowledge that you have now, what changes would make, so as to give advice to people who are currently starting out?

SK: What it looks like now is so different. There’s not a thing, apart from the core proposition that it’s going to be food and delivery on a subscription basis that looks the same.

We were willing to make anything change along the way. Not in the ‘whatever way the wind blows’ kind of way but I think if you’re too dogmatic about your idea, you’re going to miss opportunities to learn and change and be armed better information. So, back to your question about my advice – to be open to change and to keep your eyes open for opportunities.

NT: That’s great advice! Anything else for entrepreneurs starting out?

SK: I’m a big fan of gut instincts, and I think we’ve developed those gut instincts over a millennia and to disclaim them now would seem foolish. Going on gut instinct but being open to change and advice, I think that’s a nice blend of skills to have.

NT: Great, well thank you very much for your time and all the best with Pepperleaf!

SK: Thank you, Noel. I appreciate your time.

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