Filipina expat Francoise Albrando Crosbie, who started baking keto bread to lose weight post-pregnancy, now owns an online bakery: Here’s how Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: UAE decade-long resident Francoise Albrando Crosbie likes to call her foray into entrepreneurship as “happenstance”.

What started as baking keto bread for herself in her home kitchen, was surprisingly followed by setting up a bakery business online, with her baked keto goods now also being stocked in a popular hypermarket chain in the UAE.

An entrepreneurial journey that began by baking keto bread at home

Around three-and-a-half years ago, Crosbie struggled to lose weight after giving birth to her son. Crosbie’s sister suggested she try the low carb keto diet, requesting her to bake an almond bread in hopes of motivating her to start baking and eating healthy.

That was the first almond bread that Crosbie had baked and since it came out well, she posted a few photos on a group on social media. Crosbie wasn’t fully prepared for what happened afterwards.

“The photos that I’d posted on social media received extremely positive response. Many new mothers like me started asking if I could bake and deliver almond breads and other keto foodstuff to them. This community of mums helped me earn my first order worth Dh600. Every week I’d receive 10-12 orders from them. I’d bake twice a week and drive around to deliver the goods.”

Lesson (#1) – Word-of-mouth marketing is very effective

Those initial photos that Crosbie had posted on a social media page created a snowball effect. In less than a month she was inundated with orders and had to bring on board a friend who baked with her. “I strongly believe that every happy customer is a gateway to a dozen more. Such is the power of word-of-mouth marketing that helps businesses gain trust, credibility and customers. As a small business this was invaluable for me.”

The delicious, soft, and fluffy white bread loaf is seen commonly in Asian bakeries.
Picture used for illustrative purposes.

Home baking turned into a business proposition

Soon enough Crosbie realised that there was a need for affordably priced keto goods in the market. “Three and a half years ago the keto movement in the UAE wasn’t as big as it is today. There weren’t many options, and it was expensive to buy low carb and sugar-free breads and other foodstuff. This also meant that we had a first-mover advantage, something that we wanted to leverage on.”

Towards the beginning of 2019 as orders kept increasing Crosbie felt it was time to take the next big step. From being a two-person show operating out of a home kitchen Crosbie rented a shared kitchen space, got a license and set up Keto Goodies Dubai.

Lesson (#2) – Start-up cost doesn’t have to be high

Crosbie invested a little over Dh30,000 to kick start her business. While she largely used personal savings to start the business, she also took a bank loan of Dh50,000 to create a runway for the business and for “rainy day sustenance.”

What is runway in terms of business expenses?
‘Runway’ refers to the amount of time a company has before it runs out of cash. If your net ‘burn rate’ is Dh10,000 a month and you have Dh100,000 in the bank, you’ve got 10 months to start generating positive cash flow. When calculating your runway, it’s important to use your net burn rate.

Brand visibility is crucial

“For any business and more so a start-up creating brand visibility is crucial,” Crosbie stated. “This may even require aligning with experts in social media marketing who have deep understanding of how algorithms work, market the brand to the right audience and drive customer engagement.” That’s why right from the beginning Crosbie decided to allocate around Dh8,000 per month for social media marketing and advertising.

Lesson (#3) – Set aside a decent marketing budget

In 2019 buying keywords and ads in the keto space was cheaper than now. As the keto movement gained steam over the years, it has also become more expensive to run ad campaigns. Currently Crosbie’s monthly marketing budget has increased to over Dh16,000 per month [double of what she spent initially].

UAE decade-long resident Francoise Albrando Crosbie likes to call her foray into entrepreneurship as “happenstance”.

Reinvest consciously to grow the business

As the brand gained customer trust the business grew. “I had to take some decisions quickly that included moving from the small to a bigger kitchen space towards the beginning of 2020 at a higher rent of Dh12,000 per month. I had to gradually increase the product range and grow the team. All this required further investments for which I ploughed back all earnings from the business, coupled with another loan of Dh150,000 [three times bigger than the last one].”

At a certain point Crosbie was approached by a prominent hypermarket chain in the UAE to stock her keto products in their stores. This was a significant inflection point for the business. While the online bakery business followed a pre-order model, embarking into the retail space required buying bigger stock. From 3 Crosbie quickly had to go up to 50 products that now includes diabetes-friendly and gluten-free ranges. This also required maintaining a forward-looking pipeline to pre-plan the range to fill the shelves. Importantly, to concentrate on the retail side of the business Crosbie aligned with another bigger kitchen to produce goods for her online bakery.

Lesson (#4) – Pivot when required but be careful

“It’s crucial to grow a business which may even require pivoting, but it needs to be done carefully.” In Crosbie’s case her brand gained significant visibility, proved to be a pandemic-proof business and gained a strong foothold in the UAE market. But in 2021 as she aligned with a bigger kitchen to handle operations for her online bakery, she started feeling as if the brand was losing its identity. “I felt as if my brand got lost in the shuffle.” That was a big moment of realisation for Crosbie. Eventually towards the end of 2021 Crosbie brought back the operations of her online bakery to her current kitchen space.

Three and a half years ago the keto movement in the UAE wasn’t as big as it is today. It used to be expensive to buy low carb and sugar-free breads.

- Francoise Albrando Crosbie

It’s not necessary to ‘go big or go home’

Having gone through many highs and some lows Crosbie doesn’t believe in the concept of ‘go big or go home’, especially if the business is self-financed. “It’s prudent to take calculated steps, leveraging the right opportunities at the right time. Having grown up in the Philippines and belonging to a middle-class family we were taught from a young age to value money, the importance of smart budgeting and savings. We were taught to buy things that we really needed not what we wanted Due to my conscious upbringing I don’t believe in making extravagant purchases.

“Even when it comes to investing to grow the business, I believe in keeping it thoughtfully conservative. Quite like sticking with the principle of buying what I need and investing where necessary and not overdo it. Investor money may well double my marketing spend, double the size of my kitchen but at every step of the way I like to think if it’s necessary at this point. But that doesn’t mean I’m not considering growth. I will constantly invest to grow the business and even knock on the doors of investors at the right time,” Crosbie concluded.