We caught up with female founder Elena Leeming from platform AirCook For You, to discuss the inspiration behind her business, dealing with COVID and the one piece of advice she would give.
Tell us all about AirCook For You.
AirCook For You is Culinary Experiences at Home & Private Chef Hire platform. We unite bakers, home cooks, chefs and foodies. You can use it to find a home cook, private chef or you can join an upcoming event (in person or online).
What was the inspiration behind creating AirCook For You?
I was a marketing consultant and dealt with a lot of clients back in 2017/2018 and I helped them launch and grow their businesses and brands. It was time to try something myself, so I started to search for an idea that I could turn into a start-up/website/service. One day I was going to bed and it all came to me. I always loved being a host and cooking and I was already contributing to a number of food blogs. When travelling I always looked for authentic experiences or home cooks to eat with and, of course, I was obsessed with cooking shows. The name sort came on the basis of it being Airbnb for food and AirCook For You was born.
I did some research and soon realised that homecooked food was gaining momentum. The rest is, sort of, history (some in the making still!).
How has COVID affected business?
We had some events planned and we sadly had to cancel those. When restrictions were lifted, we managed to host some private events outdoors. We had to re-think our offering and as a result, started to focus more on home-cooked food delivery and partnerships.
You have now created another arm for AirCook For You - Virtual Events. How do people get involved?
Yes, virtual events are one of the new offerings and to get involved, you simply need to be able to offer a foodie experience virtually. We ask anyone taking part to provide the workshop in English, as the majority of our audience are English speaking. They need to create an account with us, which is FREE, and then follow the process outlined here: https://aircookforyou.com/pages/Virtual_Events/. They can host a paid or free event.
What have been the biggest challenges in setting up a digital platform?
Development! I initially went to a web agency that I was familiar with as I handled their social media and the launch of their own retail platform. However, after many discussions, instead of building the platform in house, they outsourced it. When it was finally 90% finished, they could not integrate a payment solution, so I had to just take it off their hands. Luckily, I got a partial refund. It was hard to trust anyone then, so I reached out to an old friend who is a developer and told him about my idea. He was immediately on board as he really believed in it (and I guess believed in me too). He was our go-to guy to support the platform and make changes. I never looked back. It is really important to have people you trust around you and it helps when they have valuable skills!
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to be an entrepreneur in the food industry what would it be?
I would say build your team before you start building a product. You need to make sure when it is ready to be released that you have someone doing social media and marketing (often 2 different people), someone who is in charge of financials (my husband handles all the financials in our team), and there are hundreds of calls and emails to do as well. Before we launched I was naïve to think I could do it all, but I soon realised that it was really impossible to do it all myself and I needed to start delegating. It would have been a lot easier if I hired help from the start.
Who inspires you?
It is a hard one because I read so many autobiographies and I know nobody really started from zero in life. I guess if I had to think hard it would be Sara Blakely. I think she is an inspiration to a lot of women across many industries.
Where do you see AirCook For You in 3 years’ time?
I hope to see it succeeding outside the UK and partnering with other major foodie brands.
With all this talk of food and community, what has been your most memorable meal?
I always enjoy meals eaten in a company. I have to say it was our first ever supper club hosted by chef Paul Huddleston back in September 2019 at his restaurant Waterside Bistro in West Yorkshire. He is a brilliant chef without attitude who works really hard. Paul has since earned a number of awards and accolades from top food critics. I have been very fortunate that he agreed to be featured in our book Yorkshire on a Plate which then became a supper club. We wanted to bring locally sourced ingredients to foodies and show off how they can be used to cook modern dishes. Paul and his team not only did that, but they also sourced local Yorkshire wines for the supper club. It was a real treat.
I had a lot of compliments about the event and it is something I hope we bring back soon.
For more information visit https://aircookforyou.com/