So, how do you take the humble coconut and turn it into a global business with a turnover of more than $3.6million?
The founder of Cocofina, Jacob Thundil established the business in 2005 and two years later Manisha Solanki came on board, acquiring a 50 per cent stake in the business. Today, Cocofina has 32 products, all based around coconut. We caught up with Manisha to find out how she became involved in the business, and what it’s like running a multi-million-pound company.
She decided to move to London after spotting Cocofina in 2007 at the SIAL trade show in Paris where she had been working as an intern for the UK Department of Trade and Industry.
From intern to acquiring a 50% stake in the business? How did she do it?
“I started working at Cocofina as an intern and acquired the shares in Cocofina by volunteering to pay for it from my savings. While my peers were buying a house I decided to invest in Cocofina and I don’t regret it one bit.”
What specific qualities was the founder looking for?
“Jacob Thundil the founder and Chief Nut at Cocofina said he wanted to hire someone who would complement his skills and make up for the skills gap in the company at the time. Jacob says I am driven, detailed, organised and intelligent, and through our selection/recruitment process we’ve made Cocofina into a lean and formidable team.”
Today, Cocofina is sold in 28 countries and has won seven Great Taste Awards from The Guild of Fine Food in 2015.
No doubt a factor in Cocofina’s success is the high profile investment they’ve secured. In August 2016 Manisha and Jacob struck a deal on popular BBC programme Dragons’ Den with two multi-millionaire investors Sarah Willingham and Nick Jenkins for £75,000 for 10% equity each with an option to buy back 5% from each investor.
So, what was it like going on Dragons’ Den?
“I am a private person and didn’t expect to be on Dragons’ Den! It was stressful but when you have been involved in the business from day one, it’s not that hard to address the questions, especially when you have your counterpart alongside you who is able to handle the non-operational questions. In the end, I was glad I was involved in the making of the history of Cocofina.”
Manisha lives and works in Eastcote and heads the Operations team including logistics, finance, warehousing and inventory planning. We asked her to describe a typical day.
“If the sun is shining my commute is my gym workout as I enjoy the 30-minute walk to work and arrive at 10am on the dot. I am a night owl so I start my day at 10am but it could end any time between 7-9pm. Before I get to work I would have caught up with my emails and marked the urgent ones I need to deal with. I have my team meeting to discuss priorities and discuss any urgent issues to do with out of stock issues or any changes we have to make to forecasts. After my team meeting, the next two hours are spent on issues that require immediate attention. I take a quick break for lunch then the afternoon is spent catching up with emails, reviewing accounts and reports and then after 5pm I plan for my next working day.”
In such a high-profile role, we wondered if she’d encountered any challenges, particularly as a result of being a woman?
“At Cocofina I have not felt any down sides of being a woman. I think how your colleagues treat you is mirrored by outsiders. We have a culture that values skills over anything else so I guess I have been lucky.”
With such a wide range of products, we wondered if she was partial to one in particular?
“I love all the products but my favourite product is the new pineapple snack bar since it reminds me of having a refreshing cocktail.”