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Robert Jakobi: From dorm room startup to Metcalfe MD

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This was backed up by a Santander report, which estimated that 80,000 UK university students already run a business by the time they graduate. 

As revealed in a our 5 famous dorm room startups article, Michael Dell started upgrading computers in the labs of the university he attended. He later applied for a vendor license so he could win bids on contracts. This was the foundation upon which tech company Dell was created.

Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who started Facebook after writing a program called Facemash from his Harvard dorm room, have all gone through the same process.

Adding his name to a list of famous entrepreneurs, Robert Jakobi was no different.

“I believe there has never been a better time to be a young entrepreneur,” he suggested. “Nowadays, with technology at our fingertips, you have the resources to start your own business, which would have been impossible 30 years ago. The sheer amount of information we have access to online today has made it much easier.

“My journey began in senior year at the University of Pennsylvania,” Jakobi explained. “I realised there was a gap to be exploited by selling healthy snacks to the cinemas. There were a number of great Japanese restaurants in Philadelphia. This inspired me to launch dry roasted edamame coated in chocolate and yoghurt as a mainstream snack.

“More and more people are taking responsibility for what they put in their bodies,” he stated as the reason why he chose to delve into the healthy snack sector.

“Years ago no one bothered to check the back of a pack for calories or artificial ingredients. They just ate what was available. Times have changed. People now realise that they need to be eating healthily and affordably without sacrificing on taste and quality.”  

After graduating in 2007, Jakobi joined Barclays Capital in New York as an analyst, before returning to London a year later. In a previous interview, he stated: “The thing I hated about Wall Street was these large corporations, the politics, the hierarchy. Having been around very likeminded, entrepreneurial people at university, I started my own company, and it happened to be a food snacks company.”

He launched his snack brand under the brand name Pod Bites.

“I had taken inspiration for the brand name from Pod restaurant in Philadelphia and I managed to secure listings in Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges,” Jakobi added.

“Keen to have the range stocked in itsu and Pret [a Manger], I approached the founder, Julian Metcalfe, directly. I finally managed to get a meeting after months of persistence and it was in this meeting that Julian asked me to come and run Metcalfe’s Food Company.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Metcalfe’s Food Company makes affordable, healthy food under the itsu grocery and Metcalfe’s skinny brands, and delivers annual sales of over £10,000,000. 

This is quite a success story given the recent boom in the UK healthy snacking industry. 

“These days it’s hard to tell the difference between the ‘snacks’ and ‘healthy snacks’ industry because almost everyone is putting health claims on the front of their packs. Companies have to find ways to convince their customers that their products are healthy. There is less and less room in the UK market for brands that give no thought to what their products do to the people that eat them.”

He also explained that an increasing amount of products that only existed in health food stores a few years back are now being sold in supermarkets. This is partially the reason why companies are willing to think outside of the box when coming up with new ideas. 

Read more about the food industry:

“This is down to the British public becoming more adventurous with what they are willing to try and more conscious of the health benefits of what they are eating,” Jakobi said.

“But we’re really going places. We have been very lucky with the growth we have experienced over the last few years. We hope to build on this growth with our current expansion into Europe with the Metcalfe’s skinny range and the launch of itsu in early 2016 (both restaurants and the grocery) in New York. We have lots of new products in the pipeline so I’m sure 2015 is going to be an exciting year!”

Having previously studied in the US, Jakobi is the right man to pursue growth in America.

“The snack business in America is unlike anywhere else in the world. It’s simply enormous and many consider it to be the holy grail. The range of products and innovation is amazing so for a snacks business there really is no greater stage than the American market. However, we know it’s going to take a huge amount of work to make it work over there.”

There are always going to be small things that need to be tailored to the American consumer. According to Jakobi: “These are the kind of things we are going to have to learn and change along the way. We are always first to market with new products, which is very important in the snacking business. I think that attribute will be paramount in our US launch.”

He is adamant, however, that the Metcalfe’s Food Company will not need to change its focus for the US.

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