Growth lessons from three iconic UK businesses

In partnership with Business Leader, we recently welcomed over 30 CEOs, founders, CFOs, and leaders to our Soho office for an inspiring breakfast event. The panel discussed the hurdles and triumphs of scaling high-growth businesses and featured industry leaders and OakNorth customers, Nisha Katona of Mowgli Street Food, Matthew Mills of Deliciously Ella, and Tom Rayner of Total Fitness 

They shared some fantastic insights into the challenges they faced, how they overcame them, and the growth strategies that have driven their success. The session offered invaluable lessons for anyone looking to navigate the complexities of growing a mid-sized business. So, let’s get into it. 

Mowgli Street Food 

Nisha Katona is a powerhouse of an entrepreneur who, after working as a child protection barrister for 20 years, decided to try her hand at writing an Indian cookbook. Frustrated by the lack of authentic Indian home cooking on the high street, she took the leap headfirst into the food industry in 2014 and hasn’t looked back since. 

With no playbook, Nisha’s passion for Indian cooking and storytelling became the cornerstone of Mowgli Street Food’s brand. Today, the business is preparing to open its 27th site and has become an institution known for its exceptional quality and authenticity.  

Nisha’s biggest lesson for growth? Recognising the need for guidance, she sought mentorship and investment, bringing on experienced professionals she could relate to. It was vital to her that the people she surrounded herself with hadn’t just experienced success but had also endured more challenging times. 

Over the last decade, the business has expanded rapidly, opening 5-7 new sites annually, with each site employing around 60 people. Nisha is passionate about going beyond the bottom line, with each new restaurant deciding on a local charity to support. Despite the growth, she maintains the independence and authenticity of each restaurant, ensuring that the essence of Mowgli Street Food remains intact. 

Deliciously Ella 

After starting as a blog in 2012, Deliciously Ella has become a household name, stocked in over 10,000 shops across the UK and Europe with over 98 million food products sold to date.  

In 2015, their first book, Deliciously Ella, became the UK’s best-selling debut cookbook ever, spending eight weeks at number 1 on Amazon. That same year, founder Ella met Matthew, they got engaged, and he joined the business as CEO.  

The business now features a central London restaurant (described as a true vegan gem), an app with over 2,000 recipes and a substantial subscriber base, as well as plant-based food products that they manufacture and sell. 

But, as to be expected, scaling the business presented challenges, as did managing growth during the macroeconomic shocks of COVID-19 and Brexit.  

Matthew’s take on growth: Deliciously Ella’s diversified business model has been crucial in building resilience against market fluctuations.  

A family-owned business, Matthew and Ella Mills focus on sustainable, profitable growth rather than merely chasing revenue. They adapt their strategies to market conditions, maintaining flexibility to navigate economic changes effectively. The brand’s strength and popularity are leveraged to attract top talent and engage a loyal customer base, which has been vital to their continued success. 

Total Fitness 

Tom Rayner transitioned from life in corporate restructuring at one of the Big Four to join Total Fitness as its CFO back in 2017. Similarly to Deliciously Ella and Mowgli Street Food, COVID-19 was also one of the biggest challenges Tom and the Total Fitness team faced. Zero revenue for 11 months posed a severe threat to the business. 

Tom credits Total Fitness’s incredible growth to its people and culture. Just before 2020 and newly under the leadership of CEO Sophie Lawler, the business transformed its culture. While private equity backing provided the necessary financial support to weather the challenges posed by the pandemic, communication was key to employee engagement. Keeping all employees informed and involved in the company’s strategy was crucial to their growth.  

These days, prioritising people is embedded in the overall strategy of Total Fitness. They also now rely heavily on data to manage decisions around price increases to maintain member engagement. With a robust strategy in place, the company has expanded its footprint to 15 sites across Northern England. 

Summary 

The experiences of our customers, Mowgli Street Food, Deliciously Ella, and Total Fitness underscore key lessons in passion, resilience, leadership, and strategic growth. Each leader has shown that overcoming challenges requires a deep commitment to the business’s vision, a willingness to adapt, and a focus on building strong, engaged teams.  

If you’re seeking business banking or funding solutions to support your growth, get in touch with us today.  

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