The technology was also instrumental in the sale to Compass, in a way that the founders did not foresee: “The sale actually came about because we had gone to Compass and pitched them to be a customer for our software suites to digitise their canteens,” Swanton says. “We were clearly in a market that was disrupting theirs and they needed that digital innovation.
“It was the first time that someone had really seen the value in purchasing the actual software suite we had built. It was an earlier sale than we planned – we hadn’t envisioned that we would be able to exit as early as we did, or with that good an exit to a trade sale – but we thought, ‘This is exactly the sort of player we want to exit to.’ There is a lot of synergy in thinking what our product could do as part of the Compass Group.”
Of course, most founders launch businesses with the eventual aim of selling them. But often when the opportunity for a sale arises, it can be hard to let go. Given that Feedr had not planned to sell so early, was it a very difficult decision? Not as much as one might have imagined, Swanton says: “As always, there was execution risk in staying as we were and raising a funding round and not taking the sale, and it seemed like a really good opportunity, even if it was earlier than planned. It crystallised a lot of the value for us and our investors, and essentially achieved what everybody building a startup wants: to grow it and then sell it, so it was a great opportunity.”
Compass believes the acquisition will greatly help to accelerate its digital transformation and currently plans to utilise Feedr’s software to roll out to corporate clients in the UK and Ireland, then explore European expansion.
One serendipitous aspect of the acquisition that proved particularly pleasing to Swanton, who has an extensive background in the social-impact sector (including, most recently, four years as a trustee of a refugee and asylum-seeker charity, and three years working in HIV care and treatment in Swaziland), was an initiative in April 2020 to provide free Compass meals to vulnerable customers at home using Feedr’s technology. Flipping its usual business model on its head, Feedr also launched a home-delivery solution for existing customers and, as employees return to work, will deploy the technology to support social distancing through click-and-collect schemes in workplaces to eliminate queueing.
Social impact is clearly very important to Swanton. She says, “The social-impact angle that I bring to Feedr from my background is that we really want to champion food that is ‘good’ in every way – food that is good for you, food that is sustainable, food that is healthy and transparent, and food that is aware of its environmental impact, as it were.
For her, that means nothing less than, “helping to feed the world in a better way – healthier food, more awareness around food and where it comes from, and more awareness around people in developed countries. In the West, people are very disconnected to their food chains and whether our food systems will be able to feed the hungry world population as it grows. That is something I am really passionate about.”