Growing up as the child of two nutritionists, Emna Everard picked up a passion for both healthy living and self-employment, finding it much more appealing than the traditional corporate lifestyle. “I really liked this way of living,” she says.
In September 2016, Everard, who is in her 20s, launched Kazidomi, a Brussels, Belgium-based company, which sells organic foods throughout Europe online and has been certified as a B Corp. Armed with a BA and Master’s degree in business engineering from Solvay Brussels School and a Master’s degree in business administration and management from National Taiwan University, she serves as “fondatrice” and CEO of the fast-growing firm.
Everard started out offering 350 products that would appeal to people who needed convenient access to specialty health food products and now sells about 1,500. “People have way more dietary requirements than in the past,” she says.
The site, part of the HEC Incubator in Paris, picked up traction quickly, and Everard soon went from running a tiny one-person business to employing 50 people at Kazidomi. In 2019, the company brought in €1.9 million (about USD 2.2 million), according to Everard.
Here’s how she transformed the business from a one-woman operation to a scaleup in record time.
Make the most of your startup capital. Everard started the business with €6,500 (USD 7,578), saved from a lifetime of holiday and birthday gifts. “In Belgium, if you want to legally launch a company, you have to have a minimum amount,” says Everard, who also had to fill out paperwork with a notary to make everything official. She used €5,500 to pay for inventory and stretched the rest of the money for eight months.
Don’t be afraid to ask for volunteers. Everard initially started taking coding classes to build the site herself but, realizing it would take way too much time, asked her teacher to help her, as a volunteer. “It was hard to go to someone and say, ‘Would you like to work for me?—but I don’t have any money,” she says.
To her surprise, he helped her for two months, building the first version of the site. In her first year in business, she hit €40,000 (about USD 47,000). “I was still really building each block,” she says. “We only had a few customers.”
Prioritize referrals. Without much money to spend on advertising, Everard reached out to Instagram influencers and bloggers, offering them commissions if they brought her customers, providing each with vouchers to track where sales were coming from. She did the same with her customers. “It really helped at the beginning,” she says.
To spread the word more, Everard hired someone to do marketing and communication, paying the salary out of cash flow. “I never spent any money without having revenue at the same time.”
By 2018, she hit €1.6 million (USD 1.8 million), and by 2019 €3.6 million ($4.2 million), she says.
Two years after she founded the business, her boyfriend, Alain Etienne, joined her as co-founder. He had been working at a corporate consultancy, she says, but he wanted to be part of something more personally meaningful. He now handles HR and finance.
Rustle up outside capital. Given the high cost of buying inventory, Everard knew she could not fund the growth of the store singlehandedly. She began networking and found an angel investor who was willing to invest €60,000 (USD 69,949).
Besides helping her expand inventory, the cash infusion enabled her to launch a new business model. Looking for a way to sell healthy food at attractive prices, Everard introduced a membership model, similar to Thrive market. Members pay €80 (USD 93) to join and in exchange get access to discounted prices.
Noticing that coconut milk was her best-selling product, Everard decided to start manufacturing it herself, under the company’s brand. She reached out directly to producers to find out how to do that. With that product launched, she’d ultimately like to expand the company’s brand to at least 150 products and very likely more.
Having capital also helped her to begin to customize the website. “We want someone who is eating paleo and at the same time vegan and lactose-intolerant to type it and have access to products that really fit his health,” she says. She also wants to introduce automatic shipments.
Everard has racked up awards along the way. She was Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 in TOP MANAGEMENT Europe and selected for the 50 Most Inspiring Women in Belgian Tech.
With most of Kazidomi’s customers concentrated in Belgium and France, Everard is moving ahead on plans to build her presence in the Dutch market. She’s got an ambitious goal to meet: “We want to make healthy products affordable to everyone,” she says.