#innovationissue Innovators: Cecilia Robinson

Having come across the concept of home-delivered meals on a trip back to her homeland Sweden in 2010, Cecilia Robinson and her husband James knew the idea would work in New Zealand. In its fourth year of business, Cecilia’s company My Food Bag now boasts an annual turnover of $134 million across both New Zealand and Australia.

Can you talk a bit about your childhood, were there people then that were influential in your drive for success?
I’m from Stockholm and I lived there for the first 20 years of my life, so that’s quite a different background, normal family, both parents were working and I have an older brother. I think not in my early life; my dad was really inspirational for me as a child but probably more of the mentors I’ve had have came later in life.

Who are some of those mentors now?
I would say Theresa Gattung was a mentor for me at the start of my career... Lee Mathias who is the deputy chair of the Auckland District Health Board, she spent a lot of time with us.

Has leadership always been really natural for you?
I think it always has been, yeah. I mean in terms of that side of things it’s something you know you have at an earlier age often and leadership has always been appealing to me.

Where do you draw inspiration from?
The majority of my inspiration comes straight from the customers, really looking at our customers and seeing how things are done and seeing what they want and who they really are at the heart of the business. I look to my team, to my husband.

Do you have days where it’s hard to get out of bed, and how do you stay motivated?
I don’t think I ever have days when I’m down. I’m definitely a glass-half-full person. If your team sees you’re down it doesn’t really have the best impact. For me it’s just being really aware of how I’m feeling and making sure that I’m leading positively from the front.

Do you have something that stands out to you as a great achievement so far?
For me it’s about changing lives, having an idea and executing that - putting that into tens of thousands of people’s lives every week is really powerful.

Do you think they’re specific qualities that make a leader?
Well, something that’s important to us at My Food Bag is finding reasons to say ‘yes’ instead of reasons to say ‘no’. For us it’s really important that we’re working together, that we’re collaborative, that we all have the same values, that we’re all on the same page, and then being the person that can lead the team through the harder times.

Were you surprised at all by the success of My Food Bag? 
I guess yes and no, it’s probably grown quicker than we expected it to but, you know, we believed, we always believed that it was going to be successful and we put everything that we could behind it. So no I wouldn’t say I was surprised but I would definitely say it accelerated and took off very quick.

Were there many challenges along the way?
I think New Zealand is a really great place to start a business, you can take an idea to market here and a lot of people will know about it really fast. It’s definitely not a negative starting in New Zealand, we’ve had heaps of challenges along the way, but it’s just about how you review that and how you move forward. I think a challenge is just another thing you need to work through and get to the end of. If you give it a week, or two weeks or a month, you don’t even think about it, it’s about being able to resolve the challenge and being solution focused.

What's your advice for anyone trying to get an idea off the ground?
I think an idea is really nothing until you do something with it. Lots of people have ideas but fewer people do something with them, so you need to start somewhere. If you want to start an idea you need to start truly looking at it and exploring that idea and understanding what the bene ts are and what the challenges are going to be and what you need to do to overcome them. People think that success happens overnight but in actual fact it doesn’t and for us it’s been a 10-year entrepreneurial journey.