Entrepreneur Series – Interview with Gem Misa of Cauli Rice

August 3, 2016

We get to know Gem Misa, experienced crowd funding extraordinaire and founder of the world’s first long life, microwave ready-made Cauliflower Rice. It contains 75% fewer calories than rice, pasta or potatoes and is 1 of your 5 a day. Global Patent & International Trademark protected. Winning numerous awards including Richard Branson’s ‘Pitch to Rich UK’ and the Top 100 UK Start Ups 2016 we find out what it takes to leave the corporate world and start your own business. 

  1. What led you to the UK?

Originally I’m from the Philippines where I started my career with Unilever. Unilever gave me incredible opportunities to travel and I moved to South Africa and then on to the head office in London. It was meant to be temporary but then I met my husband, who is English, and that kind of changed the plan! We got married and I wanted a different change in pace and lifestyle. As a global brand manager I was travelling every 2 weeks in a month, which was great for a while but the novelty soon wore off and I needed a change in scenery. I left in 2008 and decided to have a go at setting up my own business!


  1. Why cauliflower rice?

It started out because we would regularly make cauliflower rice for dinner as a healthier option. By making it fresh, it can add 20 minutes on top of your cooking time and it can be messy. We couldn’t believe there wasn’t anything out there to make this more convenient and the idea of ‘Cauli Rice’ was born.


  1. Was there an ‘A ha’ moment when you just knew you had to leave the corporate world? If so, what was it?

No, not really, it was more organic; I always knew I wanted to create something new. Unilever was great in showing me the ropes in terms of my understanding of marketing and brand management but I was itching to start my own business.  We did have an ‘A Ha’ moment with cauliflower rice which came about 4 years after leaving corporate life, where we wondered why this product isn’t in the market place and whether we could make it.


  1. You’re a successful business woman and have a young family. What are your top tips to get the best of both worlds?

I think being an entrepreneur actually helps with trying to balance a family life and run a business because of the flexibility. Right now, during my daughter’s school holidays, I’m able to work in Asia and visit my family.  I’m still able to do all the work that I need to do but we are not tied down by a 9 – 5 schedule or being in the UK. However, I would say it is A LOT more work to set up your own business than working for a company but the flexibility makes it easier.


  1. What’s it like working with your husband?

We really didn’t plan on it! At first we said we would NEVER work together as we are polar opposites.  He would occasionally help on some projects and we would find that we were pleasantly surprised at the outcome. The results were better than anything we could have done on our own and made us realise we can work as a team. The downside is that it can be hard to switch off at home but this is outweighed by the perks!


  1. With well-known food bloggers and cooks promoting Cauli Rice in their recipes, has it helped at all?

All the work that food bloggers are doing has really helped. We were expecting that it would be a lot more work to educate people on Cauli Rice and its benefits but thanks to the awareness built by food bloggers, so many people were already aware of the homemade version of the product that we didn’t have to educate people as much.


  1. You’ve raised money via crowd funding three times now; what lessons did you learn on your second and third time round?

We’ve raised over £2 million now with Cauli Rice across three rounds of crowdfunding. We’ve learnt that the second and third round were much harder than the first time! Investors are able to benchmark against your sales data and performance, comparing that to your first business plan. For us, our strong sales performance from early on had helped a lot in the 2nd and 3rd round of funding, which is proof that the product is being well received.


  1. Do you have any tips for those budding entrepreneurs wanting to raise money via crowdfunding? Do’s and don’ts…

Our biggest tips would probably be around how to manage your crowd of investors.

What our investors like about us is that we are transparent. I would say ‘do’ make sure to keep clear lines of communication, to be honest and transparent.  If there is a delay or challenge, make sure you communicate it and you’ll find investors will be a lot more supportive if they understand the issues and challenges you might be going through.

The other end of the stick is ‘don’t’ spend all your time trying to accommodate your investors. We deal with this by releasing a monthly newsletter to all our investors. It includes updates on our progress, our challenges and big wins.  We find they are very happy with this and it means we can use our time more effectively.


  1. Founding a small business with a limited marketing budget, what’s been your best channel of promotion?

Business competitions have been really helpful. We were one of the top three finalists in Richard Branson’s ‘Pitch to Rich’ business competition which gave us free media exposure in national magazines and on social media. We also used business competitions to maximise advertising opportunities – Although we didn’t win the top prize, we did win a £50k advertising campaign through Virgin Media Business. We wanted to maximise this amazing opportunity so we partnered with an outdoors company who agreed to match this £50k if we spent it through their media channels. This meant we were able to fund a £100k billboard campaign across all the supermarkets we were launching in. The business competition coupled with a bit of creative thinking meant we were able to really maximise limited resources.

Social media is another channel that’s really helped on a limited budget. We’ve had a great response from people using the #caulirice combined with photos of their dishes on Twitter and Instagram.  We ‘re-post’ what our followers upload, which is great because it’s not a ‘hard sell’, it’s more like a referral.


  1. What social media channels do you use and what channels do you have the most engagement?

The three platforms we use are Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

  1. Twitter is great for early adopters, people who are bloggers, journalists, as well as stores and retailers. We find that Twitter is more of our ‘Business to Business’ channel, which connects us to food & media professionals.
  2. On Facebook, we’ve found that the audience is older compared to the other platforms. We tailor our content to match this and post more about the health benefits, the nutritional content and how it can help with diet and disease. This platform is great for targeted advertising, but can be quite expensive cost per hit.
  3. The most engagement we have is through Instagram. It’s made us realise how much larger our target market is more than just dieters. We began seeing Instagram posts from body builders, personal trainers, the gluten free community and diabetics who were all buying Cauli Rice for various reasons from Weight management to its surprisingly low glycemic index.


  1. Have you tried branching into other territories? If so have there been any related challenges you’ve had to overcome?

We’ve always seen Cauli Rice as a global brand which is why we worked on getting a global patent on our technology. We believe Cauli-rice addresses a global need due to rising obesity and diabetes levels. We’ve had so much interest from around the world and already ship to several countries in Europe. The next market we want to break is the US. It’s very like the UK with high levels of diabetes and obesity. People are starting to realise that they need to cut down on carbohydrates, especially with the increased inactivity the majority of jobs and lifestyles now entail. In the US, they only stock fresh and frozen versions of cauliflower rice with no long life options. The challenges will be ensuring we have the right funding to support expansion into key markets.


  1. Do you ever worry that Cauli-rice is just another ‘food fad’ or do you think it’s here to stay? If so, why?

I do worry about it yes.  However, the rate of sales in super markets is encouraging. We are trying to market to those people who our health benefits appeal to.

Diseases like diabetes and celiac disease are on the rise, as well as the need to prevent it. People will need to manage these illnesses through their diet and Cauli-rice offers an easy and convenient way to do this.


  1. Jumping ship from the corporate bandwagon, was it a shock to the system starting your own business or have you taken it in your stride?

It was a complete shock [laughs]. I had a fantastic job with Unliever with lots of benefits. Although it was comfortable, I started seeing that it was time for me to do something new. Venturing into entrepreneurship wasn’t easy – in fact I had quite a few failures to start with. I had a pre-made salad business that was showing early signs of success through listings in London’s top food halls, but I saw that it was never going to be scalable. However, we came out from the experience learning that people loved our all natural, preservative free salad dressings – which we realised could be mass produced and scaled up. We took what we learned from the first business and started ‘Righteous’ and we were able to get our dressings into over 600 retailers, including Costco Canada. While running Righteous we realised that we had a great brand but were competing with hundreds of other salad dressings. This is what inspired us to look for something truly innovative with no competition, and led us to Cauli Rice.


  1. When it’s all got a bit tough and you’ve had to ‘dig deep’, what three things have kept you motivated?
  1. Knowing we have a unique and relevant product and that can improve people’s health. This is a really big motivator.
  2. Celebrating the wins – you have days when nothing is working, it’s such a roller coaster, but the highs feel amazing and really helps you push forward.
  3. My husband who is also my partner in the business. It is a personal goal of ours to see Cauli Rice succeed so we want to see this through together. I think the support of loved ones and family help push you through.


  1. You’re among the winners of the Virgin StartUp Food entrepreneur competition, what opportunities does that bring Cauli Rice? Is it a game changer?

It has helped as it came at the perfect time. It wasn’t a game changer but it helped amplify and create excitement to our product which was critical to that particular launch, especially with our social media engagement and following.


  1. What was it like pitching to Richard Branson?

It was really thrilling, and it was great to pitch to a great panel of entrepreneurs that we look up to. Richard Branson was such a nice guy and it was amazing to know that your product and idea was being acknowledged by one of you business heroes.


  1. Where do you see Cauli Rice in five years?

We would love to see Cauli Rice available in key markets all around the world and also available in different flavours, pack formats and in different channels like food service.


  1. Were you able to get any small business support from the government?

The UK government is very supportive of small businesses. We were able to obtain a grant that helped us with our patent, as well as R&D tax credits. It’s definitely worthwhile researching what support you can get. We also got a £200,000 agri-tech grant from Innovate UK, a government funded group, because we are supporting UK farmers.


  1. Who inspired you growing up?

My grandmother was a house wife with 8 children. When my grandfather passed away my grandmother started a basket making business, which turned into a flourishing enterprise trading in Asia and the USA and exported all over the world. She was someone I looked up to as a strong and determined individual. She needed to feed her kids and came up with way to do so!


  1. What are your three top tips for an aspirational food entrepreneur?
  1. Don’t EVER compromise on the quality on the product as that’s what gets people to come back.
  2. For those that are just starting, go beyond your friends and family for feedback. Go to food fairs and weekend markets. Work with retailers – we used Whole Foods and were able to get lots of feedback to help us to modify and improve the product.
  3. Make prototypes and take them to supermarkets buyers to check their level of interest in your product to try and get orders before you start producing. This can dramatically reduce the risk of producing too much stock.


  1. What’s your favourite recipe with Cauli-rice?

Cauli-rice is fantastic with beef stews and curries. If you look at our website we have a recipe for beef rendang which is great.


  1. If you could spend time with one person in history, who would it be?

Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop because she cared about the impact on others in starting a business. She was such a big inspiration for us because of her drive to create something that would make a positive impact to the environment and the small groups of people she worked with in sourcing her ingredients.



Quick fire!

  1. What’s your morning routine?

Getting my six-year-old ready for school and we scoot/walk/bike through Battersea park and drop her off to school. We walk to the office which is nearby. It’s nice to spend time with my daughter as well as get focus from the fresh air and exercise.


  1. What or who are you most grateful for?

My family and my supportive husband, both in personal and business life.


  1. If you lived on a desert island, what three things could you not live without?


  1. A packet of Cauli-rice [laughs]
  2. Laptop
  3. Tooth brush and sun screen!


  1. What’s your favourite book?

I just read a biography of Elon Musk – my current favourite book of the moment – ‘Elon Musk – Inventing the Future’.


  1. What did you want to be when you ‘grew up’

Maybe a doctor…. but I realised I can’t deal with doing the same thing each day. Even as a child I ended up doing entrepreneurial things. I used to get my books together and started leasing them like a library. Let’s just say my mother wasn’t surprised when I did go down the entrepreneur path!





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