Are entrepreneurs born or made?

At just 32 My Food Bag founder Cecilia Robinson is already a serial entrepreneur, so she seems like the right person to ask.

"I always get that question," she says when we sit down for a chat amidst the hustle and bustle of the food delivery company's Parnell head office.

"I think you are born with it ... and then life determines whether you go down that track. You get to these crossroads and either you use your entrepreneurial juices and do it, or you might decide not to and go a more conservative route."


My Food Bag - a grocery delivery service and menu planner designed to take the hassle out of daily dinners - has become something of a cultural phenomenon.

In less than five years it has grown from just an idea to be the third-largest food retailer in the country - after the two big supermarket chains.

It has more than 50,000 customers, revenue of around $135 million and - unlike many fast growing startups - it is already profitable, Robinson says.

While the brand has fast become a household name, Robinson herself is considerably less so than her business partners - Ex-Telecom chief executive Theresa Gattung and popular celebrity chef Nadia Lim.

In less than five years My Food Bag founder Cecilia Robinson has taken the startup from just an idea to being the third-largest food retailer in the country. Photo / Jason Oxenham
In less than five years My Food Bag founder Cecilia Robinson has taken the startup from just an idea to being the third-largest food retailer in the country. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Robinson took the plunge into the business world at just 21, setting up Au Pair Link, an online recruitment service for nannies, before moving on to My Food Bag, now one of New Zealand's fastest growing consumer companies.

"I would say the catalyst of my entrepreneurship was meeting my husband James. It was us coming together," she says.

The pair have complimentary styles, she says.

"I'm the doer. I go and do stuff and make it happen. And then he makes sure that it happens well."


Having left her home in Sweden to nanny in the US, she ventured down to New Zealand to visit her brother who was working here.

He introduced her to his friend and workmate James who, somewhat fatefully, worked for Telecom - several rungs below Gattung on the corporate ladder.

"I met him the first night I arrived in New Zealand and he really had these ideas around financial freedom and having choice and doing things you love."

"He was a corporate guy, working for Telecom. He had a marketing background and the degree and a comprehensive IT background."

"So the way that we split our business is reflective of that. He looks after the IT and finance and marketing. I do our people and development kitchen and customer love team."

In fact Robinson did try to take the straighter path and was doing a law degree when she decided to give her own business a try.

But a year into her stay here she noticed we still didn't have any decent agencies for international nannies.

James encouraged her to go for it so she set up a her own online agency.

"I was studying law at Auckland University and working full time so starting Au pair Link as a bit of a stretch to start with."

"But it took off and we had a mentor that said you can either go to school and go the normal path ... or you can ditch it all for Au pair Link so I dropped out of school."

Later she found another mentor in Gattung, who would join the Au Pair Link board and eventually back her when she came up with the My Food Bag idea.

"I was nine month's pregnant and I'd just gone maternity leave from Au pair Link. I spent a few days at home cooking and ironing. Doing everything you are meant to do ... and he [her son Tom] was late," Robinson says.

"I had seen the concept in Sweden, so I said: I'm just going write up the business plan. I clicked save on the business plan on Thursday the 9th of August at about 8pm. By midnight I was in labour and the next day we had Tom ... so I kind of say they are twins."

About a month later, with Tom in a stroller, she and James presented the plan to the Au Pair link board.

"Afterwards Theresa took me aside and tapped me on the shoulder and said: This is why I've been part of Au Pair link this whole time. I've been waiting for an opportunity to do something else with you guys. I'm in."

They decided they needed a chef and a face for the business and found the perfect combination in Lim who came on board as a founding partner with her husband Carlos.

"We always aspired to be big. We knew we had a winner on our hands," she says. "We felt that really strongly but I think it has accelerated faster than we thought."

The My Food Bag Head Office in Parnell is everything you'd hope it would be - part tech start-up, part-restaurant kitchen.

Nadia Lim is there circulating around the office chatting to staff.

The chefs are busy in the development kitchen slicing, dicing and sizzling prototypes recipes.

At a nearby desk a huddle of hip-looking young workers have their heads down proofreading the weeks menu's.

"Our development team just had their weekly meeting," Robinson says. "So we had Nadia and Anton [Leyland] our head of recipe development, 20 chefs, recipe developers and recipe testers in one room, just planning out the menu."

Anyone who has subscribed to the My Food Bag service will appreciate the complexity of putting together different meals day in day out and then sourcing and delivering it all around the country.

My Food Bag, despite the name, is more than just a food company. It is a complex network of customers, suppliers and delivery people. It shares the disruptive traits of an Uber or Airbnb

"Do we see ourselves as a tech startup? Absolutely," she says. Do we see ourselves as a food startup? Absolutely."

"There is a shift in consumer behaviour, in how we want to make choices about day to day life ... My Food Bag fits that category."

"So its a pretty big deal," Robinson says of the menu selection process. "They do it every week."

"That's why the development kitchen is in the office and so close to us. As a family we are on the family bag so its nice to be able to try the other products at work."

Making things work for the family is key for Robinson both on a personal level and as core principle of what she is trying to do with My Food Bag.

She now has two children, Tom (4) and Leila (10 months).

A new baby and a thriving business has really brought home the importance of a work-life balance, something she wants to share with all her staff.

"Until she was about six months I was at home and I just organised it so that while she was sleeping I'd dash out to work - we live just three minutes down the road - and then I'd work for two hours and dash back."

"So I'd be in here for two hours and do the same thing for the afternoon sleep ... and then at night I'd use that time."

The key is just being flexible about it, she says.

"My team doesn't see me until 9am and I'm normally out by 3.30. And that's just so that I can pick them up from kindy and see them. It's not like I'm not working. I still have my things with me."

She's so passionate about creating a family-friendly environment that My Food Bag has offered staff an additional 18 weeks' paid parental leave on top of the 18 weeks provided by Government.

My Food Bag has been so successful that last year it attracted the attention of local private equity investor Waterman Capital.

Robinson can't talk about details of the deal but there has been speculation it put a value of around $120 million on the company - with Waterman taking a controlling stake.

Whatever the exact numbers, it must have been quite a payday.

But is it money or something more that drives her?

"It's both. Money is an important part because you want to create a sustainable business, if you're not profitable how are you going to stay in business?" Robinson says.

"But I also think its about creating something bigger than yourself."

"Look at My Food Bag. We're delivering one million meals a month and changing the way New Zealand eats. That's really powerful."