Natasha Buttigieg and Danielle Lebon are the co-founders of Co-lab Pantry, a platform built to connect and bring people from all areas of hospitality together in one place, for convenient consumer purchasing.
Natasha is an experienced marketing and comms do-er, dabbling in e-commerce, events and the hospitality industry. She began her world in e-commerce after running a small sustainable toothbrush company, Got Wood TB in 2014 which found itself featured amongst the pages of Vogue, Herald Sun and Home Beautiful. Working with Reece Bathrooms, The Block and Urban Outfitters, Natasha successfully expanded Got Wood TB globally, finding her way into logistics, branding and marketing.
Danielle is a designer by background and has a love and passion for community, food and innovation.
Her journey started over 10 years ago when she began a double degree in Communication Design and Business (Marketing). She studied abroad and freelanced through the course to build up her experience, network and clientele. She then worked client-side, agency-side and went on to run her own businesses working with over 300 brands including the likes of Mecca, 400 Gradi, Nique, Frank Body and many others in a vast range of industries - architecture, fashion, beauty, hospitality, education, health, floristry, etc. both locally and globally.
Co-lab Pantry began as an emotional project when the pandemic initially started. Natasha and Danielle felt for the hospitality industry and wanted to do something to help, however quickly realised that there was a gap in the market and a long-term want and need for chef-created ingredients in consumers kitchens.
They started asking restaurants lots of questions and their idea evolved into something much more streamlined so that it would be easy for restaurants to adapt back to dine-in service whilst having this additional revenue stream that could sit alongside their current business model.
Co-lab Pantry introduces products, ready-made meals, confectionary, beverages & experiences from the best restaurants, cafe’s, bars and producers. They’ve created an e-commerce store to centralise all; bringing foodies across Australia to a one-stop shop and content hub.
We chatted to Natasha and Danielle recently about their journey so far.
When you initially started Co-lab Pantry, what hurdles did you face?
Our business first started as an initiative to help, which meant we weren’t prepared for the substantial growth we experienced in such a short period of time and needed to adapt quickly. We were faced with many hurdles and had to problem-solve on our feet. The fast growth meant we weren’t able to plan ahead, put systems in place and find resources that were needed. We ran out of space within the first few weeks and had to secure a warehouse with cold-storage facilities within 2 days, we had a very large amount of orders to process with just the three of us to manage, equipment breakdowns that needed to be resolved within minutes – it was very overwhelming. We learnt a lot about each other and about ourselves when working under immense pressure.
Who or what was integral to you overcoming these hurdles?
Learning to focus on one thing at a time. We started to adjust hurdles in order of priority in order to tackle them. Some things were crucially urgent, and some could wait – we had to teach ourselves the difference between what we thought was urgent and what really was urgent to be able to manage it all. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the chaos so we had to train our minds to focus so that we could find solutions.
The other integral part is having a good team. We are really lucky we work so well together. Leaning on and trusting each other is vital – it also teaches us that sometimes it’s necessary to let go of control, which is often difficult to do.
What do you enjoy most being an entrepreneur?
- Having the sky as the limit – the ability to continue to achieve new heights.
- The diverse network of people you meet.
- The broad range of skills you adopt.
- The challenge, constant growth and learning.
What has been the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
The biggest mistake would be not planning through all the finer details before launching the business. It’s difficult to plan when there is so much of it that you learn in the first few months of running. I think it’s important to get as much of that data as you can before you actually launch so that you can better plan your processes and margins. That way, you have a solid foundation to begin with.
What do you believe was the best decision you made in business?
To always be value-driven and morally focused. All of our decisions are heavily based on our values, which make decision-making much easier and less regrettable. If one of us doesn’t feel comfortable with something, we don’t do it – values are the most important thing to us. It’s enabled us to work with incredible people, form great partnerships and build a business we’re proud of.
Outsource the skill or learn the skill?
Outsource the skill. We’ve always been people that are happy to do anything and everything - work all hours of the night, teach ourselves every program, listen to podcasts, and skill up in all areas in order to cover every role.
Outsourcing is so much more beneficial. When you outsource to someone, they are focused on that area and they are going to do a much better job. They already have the skills and can achieve so much more than if you’re teaching yourself and spreading yourself thinly across all areas. It allows you to focus on the things that you’re good at so the business can thrive.
How do you handle doubt?
Surrounding yourself with people that believe in you and believe in what you’re doing. Leaning into them when you’re unsure is always really encouraging. As business partners, we lean into each other a lot, we support each other and can often understand and relate on a different level. Venting to friends, family and other people in business helps give you different perspective and belief in yourself again.
How do you make the most of your day? Any tips?
Making a list for the day the night before so that you can get stuck into your day from the get-go in a clear and focused manner. Taking calls and responding to emails in blocks of time avoids distractions and disruption to productivity.
Do you have a business app you can’t live without?
Business app we can’t live without is Microsoft To Do. We love writing lists and the noise and it makes when you tick things off is magic!