In this episode, Legislate meets Heather Mitchell from Nommm, the sustainable food app that allows consumers to value climate impact alongside nutritional value. Heather shares her experience building Nommm and navigating contracts and trademarks as an early stage entrepreneur.
Listen to the episode below:
And why you should always read contracts before you sign them
And why it's important to explain contracts
And how to overcome red tape in contract negotiations
And how to your protect your IP as an early stage founder
Charles Brecque: Welcome to the Legislate podcast, a place learn about the latest insights and trends in property technology, business, building, and contract drafting. Today, I'm excited to have Heather Mitchell on the show. The founder of Nommm a sustainable food app that allows consumers to value climate impact alongside nutritional value.
As well as valuing climate impact, Nommm hosts a sustainable recipe portal to assist the transition into green eating. Heather welcome to the show. Would you like to introduce yourself and share a bit more about Nommm?
Heather Mitchell: Yeah. Thank you for having me as well. Of course. My name is Heather. And yeah, I am the founder of Nommm. I like to say that we provide climate impacts labels across the food industry. But you're completely right. Of course we do also offer that climate impact information and make it easily accessible. Like at home as well through our app. I guess our USP is the fact that all our labels are digital, which for us just breaks down again, another barrier because of course it's a long process to get things like labels printed into marketing on brands and things like that. So this way we offer those food companies to host those labels on our app and then their customers can then become our users and access it really easily. Yeah, we founded it last October now and we're currently in beta testing, so we're just over a year old. But yeah, it's going well.
Charles Brecque: Congratulations. And since launching last October, what's been your favourite moment so far?
Heather Mitchell: You know, as a startup, it's interesting that your whole thing is for people who can't afford lawyers, that's definitely us and me. I think because we have so many people helping me we launched with the store Best Foods. So we launched our labels into their grocery stores.
And we went to a really nice launch event where I actually was able to for the first time to, take a step back and see my team members actually, explaining it to customers and just chatting about it. And of course you had that weird disassociation moment where you're like, oh, this is nice to see people interacting.
And I'm just watching it happen. And it makes you feel a bit like, oh, maybe I actually did something, actually came into fruition. So yeah, definitely. That was probably one of my favorite moments. Just actually watching people be like, oh, what's this about? And I was like, oh, I love that there's just genuine interest in it.
Charles Brecque: I can definitely relate to seeing users or people interact with your product. It's always a special moment also because you don't know how they will react and when you see them react positively it's quite a nice feeling. And so you mentioned grocery stores. Do you partner with them? How do you get those labels out there and into the hands of consumers?
Heather Mitchell: Yeah. So of course we work over a variety of different businesses across the food industry. So for this store, for example, they are organic grocers and they've got four or five schools across the Southwest, and they also have cafes and they wanted to work with us because they know their production line so closely, which of course enables us to get more finite results for them. So they have cafes in their stores and they asked us to develop low impact recipes for their cafe and for them to share with their customers at home because they offer things like food pick up boxes and recipe boxes. So we developed a low climate impact menu for them and provided those labels as well. And just because naturally when we work with people, they also want to have something low climate impact to show off, which is great. Cause, that's an additional value as well for us to offer them.
Charles Brecque: And since you've been at this for almost a year. What do you wish you'd known before starting?
Heather Mitchell: To be honest with you, one of the main things I always say is that when I was first starting because I studied politics, I didn't have a business background. I went into environmental policy and then decided that this was a passion of mine. But of course I was fresh out of uni and didn't really have any kind of specific network of business people.
And I didn't know anything about the startup world, and I found that a lot of founders were not entirely open that actually it is really difficult. And at the start you don't have any money and you have to build that network from scratch. And I found that a lot of people who had already raised money or something were not giving me the full story from when they first started from those days, where you're sat being like, how can I get around these obstacles? So I think that I wish I would've known that everybody found it incredibly hard who's founded a company and people sometimes act along the lines that it just all happened, but it didn't.
So if you're somebody out there thinking of starting something you're not the only one. Definitely everybody, we've all gone through those moments where it's like, how the hell am I going to make this work? And a lot of us have come out the other side.
Charles Brecque: Yeah, I think startups are definitely much harder than they sound.
And I also feel that if, as an entrepreneur, if before becoming an entrepreneur, you really appreciated how hard things would be, then there would be less entrepreneurs. Maybe it's a good thing then that we don't know the full story before jumping on board. You've been around for one year. What's the plan for the next three?
Heather Mitchell: The plan is to keep collaborating. We've got some really exciting partnerships and trials. Of course the food industry is a huge industry, which is really good for us. We also want to get into that educational sector as well. A lot of what we do, and the reason why we show metrics that go beyond carbon is what I always say is mainly to try and penetrate those areas of society and people who a lot of the time goes over people's heads and they're not even really sure how to relate to that. And so what we're really trying to do is break down those measurements to actually connect with people in their language. So a lot of people connect with the climate and environmentalism, because they're really interested in deforestation, or they're really interested in looking at freshwater usage and things like that, I find that combining it all into one metric is missing that engagement with people you're missing that engagement touchpoint.
So I guess yeah, going into that educational side of things as well, we want to become that trusted source of climate impact information for the food industry. That's the goal.
Charles Brecque: And how do you engage with those communities where maybe a certain lifestyle or a certain way of eating goes against what you're measuring and tracking or how would you go about it if you haven't got there yet?
Heather Mitchell: Yeah. I think that's why I say we're trying to do trials in different educational centers. So we're trying to target a lot of younger people as well. Like in, around the school age and around in schooling resources and stuff. Because I do feel that if education is a start point, isn't it to actually gain engaged in certain things like climate change. But I also think just in my personal network anyway I don't have a background of, necessarily climate or scientific networking. So for me, A lot of the people that we're trialing and testing and speaking to, and just continually having conversations with people who are outside of that kind of bubble or outside of the startup bubble.
Cause I think, when you work in it every day you use words like green tech, prop tech, ed tech, and it's so normal because we're talking about it everyday, but most people yeah, are a bit like what's that. So I think just ensuring that our beta testing and stuff is incorporating lots of different groups of people. Because in order to fight against climate change, we can't just have the people who already know about it. We need to branch out into other groups as well. So collaboration is the one way that we want to do that. We're looking for a diverse range of partnerships. That aren't necessarily just centered around. Specifically food, just partnering with people to get that message across.
Charles Brecque: And in terms of beta testing, how far are your tests going or what are the next steps for perhaps national roll out or in more stores and groceries?
Heather Mitchell: Yeah, so we released beta about two weeks ago. So what we're really doing at the minute is we're testing the delivery of communication. So whether an app is the best way to deliver those labels, that data information. And so we're testing out from a specific area, but then also testing out the emotional reaction to the labels.
So within that we're trying to do these trials and in the new year we want to roll out with a few other stores and restaurants that we were speaking to. So we want to kind of branch out across the UK cause we started this business in Bristol. So at the minute , Southwest is where we have established ourselves. I've recently moved to London in hope to bring that into London.
Cause I think it's such a great space for it as well. And then yeah, the plan is to kind of branch out throughout the UK. That's what we've been focusing on, but now I've got a bit more space to look at acquiring new partnerships and businesses that I can't talk about.
Charles Brecque: Yeah good luck. So as a founder of a new company and with a beta product what are the key contracts that you interact with the most.
Heather Mitchell: To be honest with you. Terms of service contracts with the companies that we have sold the service to. And that was something interesting to navigate. And then of course, because we're a start up naturally, you're not taking people on straightaway for salary, things like that. So I very much had to navigate myself around allotment of shares and equity based contracts.
Something that I, of course, hadn't had a lot of experience with. And before not necessarily contracts, but even things from applying to trademarks and looking at patents and all this stuff is a bit of a minefield if you don't have a legal background,
Charles Brecque: Yeah, protecting your intellectual property as a founder is key.
Especially in the early stages, it's pretty much the whole value of the business is tied to that. That's key. And so with those contracts how did you navigate that map? Did someone help you or did you have a mentor or did you know a solicitor? How did you navigate that?
Heather Mitchell: Of course everybody will say, Seedlegals, which are great and they do offer some great resources and stuff, but it's still an upfront 350 pound 400 pound payment for that service. Like I'd been working a job the whole time I was starting the business.
It was a little bit like, Ooh, maybe I could try to get some help elsewhere. I'm on a few accelerator courses, so they always help a lot with things like resources. They've got a big bank of things like that. And then I had a mentor who helped me who put me in contact with a solicitor who didn't work completely solely on it.
They would just advise you on what they suggest you should do. But everybody is very vague so I ended up talking to another startup that I knew. I got some of their templates for a similar company, still, there's always a needle in the back of my head that makes me worried. Have I missed something out? There's only so much you can really truly understand without paying sometimes for a solicitor to go through it all, but yeah, as your whole business is solving it's extortionate and it's not always what you've got time to do.
Charles Brecque: Yeah. I think especially when it comes to templates or when it comes to borrowing templates from other sources it's very difficult to know the full history of that template or, why certain clauses were removed or why certain clauses were inserted?
And that's definitely something at Legislate that we try to do is ask questions to the user in terms of what it is they're trying to create wherever it's an employment contract consulting agreement or any other form of agreement. And then we will tailor an agreement based on those answers so that every single time the contract is bespoke to your requirements and our legal team ensures that all the terms are up to date so that you don't need to worry about having an out of date clause. But I can definitely relate with the journey especially in the early days.
Heather Mitchell: Yeah. And I think, the whole trademark patent stuff is just another ball, a whole other ball game. And it's infuriating.
I'm a more than capable person, very intelligent, all this stuff that I would be happy and confident to say, but I have zero knowledge about a lot of things like that. And it's almost you only know what you know, in the day, unless you've studied it. There's always going to be little things that can catch you out.
And yeah, I guess it's a bit stressful when you're just trying to rely on, hopefully having friends who know a little bit more than that, or brothers or sisters that got into that kind of business.
Charles Brecque: For sure. We secured a patent in the US for our approach to modeling contracts, but really one of the key reasons we were able to do that is because our chief legal officer who is a qualified sister and is also a qualified patent attorney in the U S.
And so she definitely helped us navigate. And it also has helped us even from a strategic perspective, why did we apply in the U S first? It's because they have an accelerated program, which gets you a review in one year, and then you can with international patent treaties obtain patents in all the other jurisdictions.
And because you've got that precedence in the US, it should in theory, make it a bit easier,
Heather Mitchell: that's a really good strategy
Charles Brecque: yeah. So I'm conscious that we've already taken a lot of your time. So I'm going to ask the closing question. We ask all our guests.
So if you're being sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you?
Heather Mitchell: What would impress me? I guess we're quite time poor individuals. Definitely like an electronic signing device is always very good. I very much want the main features highlighted when I get on the contract, because there's always whatever contract being sent, depending on the person there's always a good five or six key places that I want to be looking at first.
And I want to make sure that because that's deemed as the most important maybe for that specific relationship or contract. And they're the things. So I don't know. I guess more of a digital way to like skip and scroll and just quickly get to where I'm needing to look at first. And then of course, just being able to sign it quickly and then.
Almost like a e-signatures type of way. That's just using tech to make that process super smooth. And maybe even a little bios about the contract. I'm always Googling the name of a contract, just thinking I've never heard of it that way before.
I've never heard of that specific contract within that arena. So maybe even, your service could offer like a little quick definition of what this contract is before you actually go into that. There's just a few ideas.
Charles Brecque: I think the bio of the contract is definitely something right now that we show the creator of the contract before they create it. But it's not something that would be thought of giving to the person on the other side until they actually complete it. So we do follow up when the contract's completed with a bio, but that's a good point. And on the other aspects that you mentioned around presenting the contract terms and, highlighting the important ones from the beginning, that's something that we do, and we're also in the process of introducing a visual representation of concepts, which are present in the contract, but not explicitly. So things like responsibilities and obligations. Those are terms which require some form of interpretation and by the person reading it. And so we're surfacing them in a visual form to hopefully improve, general understandings or contracts and and make the whole experience
Heather Mitchell: I think that's good because I would honestly say that most founders you'll find aren't like initially, or even throughout. Everybody we're all learning because yes we're very confident and assured in our own industry, even that doesn't mean that we are in the entire startup world.
So I do feel that a lot of us are trying to learn as we go along. And it would be useful too. Almost see yourselves as educating founders as well as they go along. Because I think people assume that founders just because you are very good in the niche that you are, that you certainly can do all this other business stuff that goes with it.
But a lot of founders. are learning the business steps as they go. So I think that you guys establishing yourselves as an educator as well would be cool.
Charles Brecque: Yeah. I'm definitely learning as I'm going. Education is a core part of what we do to acquire new users, but we could definitely do more to educate our existing users.
Thank you very much Heather for that very unique response around the bios of contracts. We will add it to our roadmap and thanks very much for sharing about Nommm and and best of luck with the rest of your beta rollout and UK expansion.
Heather Mitchell: Yeah. You as well. Thank you so much for having me. Good luck.
Charles Brecque: Thank you. Bye-bye.