A Montreal native hailing from a long line of entrepreneurs, Neil Cuggy currently serves as President and Chief Operating Officer of Goodfood Market Corp., the Canadian meal kit delivery company he co-founded in 2014. Goodfood delivers personalized ingredients and recipe cards to subscribers each week in order for them to prepare unique meals at home. The experience is designed for members to learn new recipes, discover new ingredients, save on prep time and reduce waste. In June 2017, Mr. Cuggy and his partners took the entity public, where it continues to be one of the largest and fastest-growing businesses in the nascent $130-billion sector. Today, Goodfood remains the first and only publicly traded subscription meal kit company in Canada. Prior to Goodfood, Mr. Cuggy co-founded and led MTL Capital, a privately-held investment firm, as well as served on the Investment Banking division of RBC Capital Markets, working on several marquee transactions. Mr. Cuggy holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Honours Investment Management from McGill University, where he graduated with first class distinction.
In this interview with Kerr Financial Group, Mr. Cuggy opens up about his career as a young entrepreneur, the role investing has played in his life, his relationship with risk, and more.
You spent the first chapter of your career in the corporate world of investment banking. Have you always envisioned you would eventually become an entrepreneur, or was there a particular moment or event that changed your course, leading you to co-found MTL Capital, followed by Goodfood?
I come from a long line of entrepreneurs. My father, mother and grandparents were all entrepreneurs so it was natural for me to take the leap. There is never really a good time to start a business, you can always have more experience, more money, a better personal situation, you just have to do it! I was fortunate to have two great partners in Jonathan Ferrari and Raffi Krikorian, by my side since day one, we really encouraged each other to launch the business and we continue to push each other today.
Hailing from a long line of entrepreneurs, you have likely been exposed to risk-taking from an early age. How has this influenced the role investing has played in your life, as well as your relationship with risk? When you think about risk in a business/financial context, do you perceive it as opportunity or uncertainty? Has your risk tolerance in business increased or decreased since co-founding Goodfood?
We really didn’t see starting a business as taking a risk. When we started Goodfood we had certain goals in mind that we were certain we wanted to achieve but we remained flexible on the way we would get there. This flexibility allowed us to try different business models, price points, delivery methods and let the client choose what they like. We still use this method today, we would prefer to launch lots of small ideas at the same time, within one central thesis, and see what our clients fall in love with.
Who has been the most influential individual to your career? What lesson(s) has he or she taught you about investing in and owning a business?
My family and business partners are huge inspirations, we are constantly pushing each other to think bigger, move faster and do more for our members. We have also been heavily influenced by Warren Buffett for his overall business success but also by his ability to cut through everything and simplify decisions. He also has a massive pension for taking action, most people sit on their hands and watch opportunities pass them by.
What has been the best moment of your career thus far?
Every day is completely different and extremely challenging. Our team is changing the way Canadians eat, it’s amazing to be disrupting such a massive ($130bn) industry. Breaking through $100m of sales was a great accomplishment, but it’s only the beginning.
What has been the toughest moment you’ve experienced in business thus far? What did it teach you about yourself? Can you share a business and/or investing experience where you would have handled things differently had you been given a second chance?
Because we are at the forefront of grocery e-commerce in Canada we have had to educate not only consumers, but all of our suppliers on why they should be doing business with us. I never thought when we started the business that we would have to pitch suppliers for us to give them money. I would have liked to start investing in automation at an earlier stage of the business. The payback can be a matter of weeks and it significantly expands our gross margins. Over the last six months we had to play catch-up but now we have a clear plan to invest in automation to bring us to 45%+ gross margins which is unheard of in the food industry.
Entrepreneurs are known for being voracious readers. Are there any books or publications on your reading list pertaining to business or investing that you can recommend us?
Yes! I love Call me Ted by Ted Turner (CNN) and Shoe Dog by Phil Knight (Nike)
Finally, defining success can vary significantly from person to person. Business leaders who we can all agree are successful have different ways of thinking about what success means to them – from gaining wealth and financial independence, to achieving influence and impact, to, in the words of Maya Angelou “liking yourself, what you do, and how you do it.” How do you define success? What do you do to remain on its trajectory?
I used to think success was a place, either a sales number, number of employees, cash in the bank account, but in running Goodfood over the past years it is very clear that in order to be successful you have to love the process. I love running Goodfood because it brings together my passion for food, technology and data. We feel very blessed that we are able to have such a large impact on shaping the future of how Canadians are eating at home. With almost 1,000 employees and 89,000 members across the country we’ve come a long way from starting the business in our apartment four years ago. Every day is different and the pace of change is exhilarating. We always joke that a month at Goodfood is like a year in any other business. You come in on Monday and 20 new people and thousands of new members have joined. It’s also really amazing to see our team grow and evolve, we have people who started portioning rice that are now running teams of hundreds of people or buying large amounts of produce from our farmers. It’s really rewarding to work with such a driven and passionate team.
As told by Neil Cuggy to Kerr Financial Group.