…What makes KBox special is our AI and machine learning technology that enables advanced analytics. We help kitchens find the right set of food brands for their local market, and then we future proof them by keeping them current, through a sophisticated mix of data evaluation — but without the need for a data scientist. Using our AI, we can also forecast demand for each kitchen, which in turn minimizes waste, improves staff utilization, and morale, and thus improves the profitability of each host kitchen.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Salima Vellani.
Salima Vellani is the founder and CEO of KBox global and Absurd Bird. A fascinating mix of business acumen and foodie passion, Salima used her background in strategy consulting and corporate finance to move into the restaurant space over 10 years ago and has since been a serial founder in the F&B industry. She has co-founded, invested in, opened and advised several internationally acclaimed high-end lifestyle brands including the restaurant group Bagatelle International, which as co-founder, she has helped establish 10 locations globally.
Previously Salima was a Partner at an investment advisory boutique where she was responsible for Cipriani, Nikki Beach & Resorts, Buddha Bar, MGM Resorts amongst others.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My friends always joked that I would only last in a job for 4 years before I would figure everything out, get bored and need to move on to the next thing. I love to learn and challenge myself and so over the years I have been involved in corporate finance, strategy consulting, venture, investing and then food.
I have always loved Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger’s approach to investing — read everything, all day every day, corral more and more information until patterns emerge and you’re enticed into action. It was this approach that led me into the food and hospitality industry.
Food is where my passions and skills align most neatly, but even within the food space, I have worn different hats — investor, operator, franchisor, franchisee, creator, brand builder, fine dining, lifestyle brands, casual dining, fast-casual and now virtual.
I learnt so much from my time advising, strategizing and then investing in and operating brands created by other smart and passionate entrepreneurs. This enabled me to spot trends before others saw them and in turn gave me the confidence to create my own brand, Absurd Bird, when I felt 6 years ago that premium chicken would be a hot trend. And while we were growing Absurd Bird, delivery was heating up and through a series of serendipitous events (some of which didn’t feel positive at the time to be quite honest, as is the nature of running a business), I had to pivot swiftly as casual dining changed tack.
I unconsciously took all I had learned over the years, redefined what I thought the traditional restaurant was — one brand, one location — and KBox was born.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
The food industry and the restaurant industry in particular, has been one of the few sectors that up until two years ago really looked the same as it has for the last 20 years. The quality has improved and it’s gotten fiercely competitive, but structurally and culturally, nothing has truly changed.
The reality is that most restaurants and commercial kitchens, be it in hotels, pubs, gyms, catering kitchens or supermarkets, are underutilized. The model is outdated. One very expensive location with one brand that cannot evolve as food trends change. The result is ambitious and successful food providers not being able to capitalize on the soaring delivery market. So, we’ve fixed this.
On the demand side, we’ve created a multi-cuisine range of delivery-focused food brands, so kitchens can serve more local people, more easily, with the ability to adapt swiftly to demand flux and taste changes. And on the supply side, our tech platform digitizes kitchen operations to make them efficient.
But what makes KBox special is our AI and machine learning technology that enables advanced analytics. We help kitchens find the right set of food brands for their local market, and then we future proof them by keeping them current, through a sophisticated mix of data evaluation — but without the need for a data scientist. Using our AI, we can also forecast demand for each kitchen, which in turn minimizes waste, improves staff utilization, and morale, and thus improves the profitability of each host kitchen.
The result is kitchens are busy and profitable; local consumers have access to what they fancy, and food entrepreneurs get to expand without enormous up-front investment in bricks and mortar.
This is how we are disrupting food delivery and the wider hospitality Eco-system. We’re using advanced technology to shake up the traditional economic model, for everyone’s benefit, and I’m really proud of it.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
My parents have a strong ethical disposition, and my father in particular hammered home to us as children that we need to live by 3 guiding principals: true happiness only comes from helping others; lifelong learning — use your intellect to help advance society, and be kind to others.
My father was a true risk-taking entrepreneur — he graduated from the London School of Economics and moved his young family from a town in Tanzania to Oxford where he taught and researched at Oxford University. We then moved to Vancouver, Canada where my dad felt there were more opportunities for business, and he could satisfy his entrepreneurial bug while working a full-time job. He would buy a hotel one day, a supermarket the next and a carwash in LA after a weekend trip and then care homes — all with very little capital but a lot of gumption and determination and always looking for the next venture. This all came to a halt when he decided to move into the not-for-profit world after a life-changing call from the office of the Aga Khan Development Network and he got an opportunity to move back to London to work for the Network. Literally, overnight my dad sold all his assets and dedicated his entire life to the project, and he has never looked back nor been happier.
My backers and investors in Absurd Bird, Shiraz and Nadeem Boghani come from the same ilk. They are very successful entrepreneurs who have built a multi-faceted empire and devote a large portion of their wealth to charity. They invested over £10m behind me based on my vision for Absurd Bird over a 2-hour meeting. I believe they saw in me the three principals I was taught to live by and knew I was someone they could trust. That trust continued and it is because of them that I was able to bring KBox to life.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
For me, it comes back to learning from every experience. As human beings we survive and thrive from learning, adapting and continuing to progress. Ongoing adaptation and development are as necessary for business as they are for individuals. But that development is sometimes about making small tweaks to a model or process that is working, and underlying it is a premise or offer that is standing the test of time. Wholesale change shouldn’t be an objective in itself. Disruption for me is about the scale of the required change which as long as it’s done as a result of careful consideration, informed observations and is evidence-based, will be positive.
For example with Kbox, we are shaking things up but by addressing a long-standing challenge, and for the good of all industry players. Our offer is the product of years of experience and will absolutely have a positive effect. Believe me, making change for changes sake would be too exhausting!
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
There are no failed companies only failed leaders. Not quite three words, but certainly a sentiment I keep in mind when making big business decisions. I came to create KBox because my business wasn’t in the place I’d hoped, and the entire casual dining sector was on shifting sands. Absurd Bird could have been another restaurant failure as a result of market conditions, but I refused to give up, and I refused to allow these wonderful people who backed me to be let down — I fought hard to reinvent it, and learned a lot about myself, my leadership style and my approach to business as a result.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We are only just beginning — I have so many ideas around the food ecosystem and marrying food with entertainment, fashion, retail and sports on the fun side of things.
And on the more serious side — I absolutely believe that what Hippocrates proclaimed all those years ago — Let food be thy medicine — rings true now more than ever. What we eat not only has impact on our health but on the health of our planet. Many of the challenges we face as a species, obesity, food allergies, climate change, and disease, can be addressed in some way by our relationship with animals and the food we eat.
If we can enable tens of thousands of kitchens around the world to run at the optimal level of efficiency, with zero wastage, giving them the agility to stay profitable as trends evolve then we will be in a position to transition them to healthier, greener more sustainable food offerings. We can counter the forces of the junk food operators and the beauty is in our model we don’t need to break the bank to get there. Our model is collaborative — it’s a win-win for all parties involved. What can be better than that?
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I am an avid reader and consumer of podcasts so it’s really hard to name one or even five! I’ll choose one of each.
The Ted Talk on Blue Zones blew my mind — I highly recommend it to everyone.
The term refers to 5 geographic areas where people have much lower rates of chronic disease and on average live much longer than anywhere else. The fact that whole foods, plant-based diets, meaningful connections, exercise as a way of life and solid sleeping patterns can determine how long we live and how healthily we live was articulated in such a powerful way.
How not to Die by Michael Greger — I got this book when my best friend was diagnosed with cancer — actually I got about 10 books on cancer but this one is special. Food really is medicine and when we realize that 80% of non-communicable diseases can be prevented or even in some cases reversed through food and lifestyle, it astonishes me that the medical establishment is not shouting this from every rooftop.
Both have had a deep impact on the way I live my life and the way I hope KBox can evolve in a meaningful way to impact society at large.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Honestly, if each of us devoted 10% of our time and resources to helping others and giving back no matter where we are in our lives or how much we have — the world would be a significantly kinder place. True wealth is not measured by how much money you have but how much you can inspire, educate, motivate, support and lift those in need. Now that would be a movement, I would be proud to lead.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am going to cheat again and give you two of my favourite Albert Einstein quotes which are written on placards on my desk:
You never fail until you stop trying
Try not to become a (wo)man of success. Rather become a (wo)man of value
I think those two sentiments sum up my journey so far — there have been so many times when things have gone wrong — be it a business, a partnership or a relationship — and the easiest thing at the time would have been to walk away. But when you realize it’s not always just about your own needs or personal ambitions but also about supporting those around you — that there is a bigger, higher purpose — then one simply can’t ever stop trying.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Female Disruptors: Salima Vellani of Kbox On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.