Yuppiechef South Africa’s most loved online kitchen and homeware brand, is celebrating its 10th birthday. From modest beginnings in the front lounge of co-founder Andrew Smith’s Cape Town home with a product range of just 12 items and only 200 orders in the first year; the business has grown, to now offer more than 6000 products from over 400 local and international brands, shipping to 5 countries in Southern Africa, a staff compliment of 85 and is acclaimed as one of South Africa’s most successful e-commerce businesses today. Smith says, “The last ten years have been an exciting ride, but have also taught us many valuable lessons.”
With six consecutive ‘best e-commerce store of the year’ awards in the bag you would assume that the online retailer has learnt a thing or two about successfully running an online operation. However some of the lessons and insights which Smith shares may just surprise you.
“Right from the beginning we knew that we had a tendency to over complicate things, but even with this admission of guilt we still insisted on building everything in-house,” says Smith. “As a result, the entire business, including our collective effort of over 700 000 hand-written and personal cards to Yuppiechef customers and all of our world-class tech systems, is entirely hand-built in South Africa. This obviously means that Yuppiechef is a proudly South African creation, but it’s not the most efficient or cost effective way to scale a business.”
“In many respects the Yuppiechef brand is a labour of love that has become one of South Africa’s most loved companies, but the downside of that is that you lose critical control over your own asset, and it can constrain your freedom to experiment with it at will. As an example, a few years ago we made slight tweaks to the shade of pink that we use in our visual branding and had a surprising amount of resistance internally to the change. That’s because the Yuppiechef brand is personal - people have taken ownership of it,” he adds.
Shane Dryden, also a co-founder of Yuppiechef, reflects on his experience over the past ten years: “In the beginning, I think we assumed that it was going to be a lot easier than what it turned out to be. We wrongly assumed that we could build a substantial business with a fairly limited staff compliment. There was one planning document from the early days that estimated that the business, as it grew, could get by with just one full-time marketing specialist, which quickly became a clearly unreasonable expectation. We soon realised that you need to surround yourself with talented and passionate people if you want to create something remarkable.”
Shane also reminisces that the founders used to be quite modest about their achievements and he reveals a certain sense of regret about not being a bit more confident in their earlier approach to doing business.
“We assumed that because we were a small business based in South Africa that certain things on the international stage would be ‘off-limits’ to us. That may just be a mindset which is pervasive with South African entrepreneurs in general, but it’s so not true. It took us a little while to realise that and shake off that mantle,” adds Dryden.
Andrew Smith concludes by saying, “After ten years we look back at our journey and ask, ‘Why did we do it that way?’ The truth is that you cannot plot your success on a timeline and simply pick and choose the events that you think made the most positive contribution. Understanding how magic really works is elusive and perhaps everything that we’ve done in the last decade has had an invaluable impact.”
The future of Yuppiechef looks equally as bright as the reflection of its past. With a compelling range of affordable own-brand products created from years of experience listening to what their customers want, the next decade looks full of positive growth for the business and the community that eagerly rallies around it.
The decade’s long, proudly South African entrepreneurial story continues; Yuppiechef.com celebrates 10 years of business success this August.