ben-lebus

The Influence Room Podcast- Changing the dialogue: Ben Lebus - Founder of Mob Kitchen, Content Creator and Presenter

On today’s podcast we have entrepreneur Ben Lebus, founder of MOB Kitchen. He discusses with us his journey he took to setting up his multifaceted food brand and the progression the business has taken over the years.


Overview

The idea behind Ben’s business, Mob Kitchen, came about whilst studying at University. During his second year at Edinburgh, Ben took a real interest in cooking, not only for himself but for his friends. He found that there was no exciting space online on how to cook healthy, delicious food on a budget. As a result, he decided to set up a blog where he could upload recipes that fed his housemates for under a tenner.

Ben discusses how he took inspiration from BuzzFeeds Tasty in the way they created quick and simple recipes in video form. As he always liked ‘real, hearty, nourishing food’, Ben decided to write up loads of recipes and got two guys who had an amateur production company to shoot the videos. The content was initially on Facebook, until 2016 where he launched the platform on Instagram. He had dropped the two other guys, taught himself how to edit and moved back in with his parents.

Now he has five full time employees, and loves working with a young and inspiring team. ‘Everyone is wanting to push in the same direction’, and have complete total freedom in the content. The concept is that all recipes would feed four for under a tenner.

Since launching, the company has grown with not only just on social media, but they have also produced two cookbooks. Ben states that this was one of their biggest moments as they received press from the Mail Online and Evening Standard. Additionally, they did a mini Mob school tour to teach kids how to cook health veggie lunch wraps.

They are currently in the process of building a Mob website where they plan to drive their followers to. With a range of their own spices hopefully heading to retail and a new Mob truck that will be going around the UK, they have big plans for the future.

Five quick takeaways:

  1. I would say my one piece of advice to anyone starting a business is always listen to advice offered from friends and family and associates, but always feel free to ignore it.
  2. In this digital age, there's such a push just solely towards digital.
  3. If you live solely on Instagram and it crashes, your whole business is done.
  4. When it comes to negativity on social media, it can be controlled but will never be eliminated.
  5. It is better to see the negative issues on social media, rather than it is running underneath. Therefore, at least you are away of it and can try and address it.

If you enjoyed this episode and don’t want to miss the rest of the series, you can follow The Influence Room Podcast on Spotify and Apple iTunes podcasts.


 

Full audio transcription

- Bronagh

Hello, and welcome to The Influence Room Podcast, the show that explores what influence means from different perspectives. This week, our guest is chef and entrepreneur Ben Lebus. Ben is the founder of MOB Kitchen, a multimedia food brand that inspires a global audience to make delicious food without the price tag. We spoke to Ben ahead of our first member event, a cookery demo in collaboration with ODDBOX, to promote Ben's excellent new cookbook MOB Veggie.

In the interview, we spoke to Ben about how he got into cooking, how he grew his digital business, and what he feels makes MOB stand out in such a busy marketplace. Check out MOB Kitchen's Instagram to see a beautiful video from our fantastic event.

Hello, and welcome to The Influence Room Podcast. We are recording from a lovely building in East London. I won't say where, just in case we get in trouble for recording in here. But we've got the brilliant Ben Lebus from MOB Kitchen with us today. We're actually hosting an event with Ben nearby. So, thanks for joining us today, Ben.

- Ben Lebus

Thanks for having me.

- Bronagh

How are you?

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, good. Really excited to be here. Very excited to get cooking later, trying out all the ODDBOX things. It'll be great.

- Bronagh

Great. Well, we just wanted to talk to you today about your career, because our listeners are from background of all types, and I always go into an interview with, "Imagine that people don't know who you are and don't know the industry that you work in," and don't maybe know a bit more about how you've developed your business, MOB Kitchen. So tell us about where your passion for food came from, and then how MOB Kitchen came to be?

- Ben Lebus

Sure. So food's always been a main passion of mine. Yeah, I guess I grew up where my mates were watching Match of the Day, or the rugby or the cricket, I was, I don't know, watching Jamie at Home or Nigella or ... Actually, I don't like Nigella that much.

- Milly

Sorry Nigella.

- Ben Lebus

No, well, not the shows, I guess. I really loved seeing chefs pottering around in their kitchen. And yeah, I don't know, there's something about food and watching someone cook that I always found very comforting. And yeah, just making food growing up was just a real passion of mine. I just had a real connection with it. I loved the alchemy, almost, behind it, of having ... you've got a few different elements lying around in the fridge. It's an art, and you can put them together and you can create something delicious and beautiful for yourself or your friends and family.

- Bronagh

And your dad was a chef, is that right? Or he's a restaurateur?

- Ben Lebus

Dad wasn't a chef. Yeah, he was a restaurateur, so he did actually once ... he was once in the kitchen when the chef was ill and apparently they got the most unbelievably shocking reviews on that evening.

- Milly

So not a talent you got from him, then?

- Ben Lebus

Well, no. He's a very good home cook, but you need to have a different skillset working in a professional kitchen. Yeah, I guess speed and being organised, which are definitely not two of his traits. 

- Bronagh

Would you have spent a lot of time in the restaurant with him?

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, definitely. So my school was actually directly opposite the restaurant.

- Milly

Oh, wow.

- Ben Lebus

It started as like a yoga garden, so there were loads of yoga rooms, spa rooms, acupuncture, and there was a health food café at the front. It was annoying because it was like 15 years before its time. If this came about now, it'd be so hot. But yoga really actually wasn't that much of a thing then. Anyway, the health food café at the front was doing really well, and it just naturally and very inefficiently expanded and evolved into an Italian restaurant.

But yeah, I mean, once they really updated the kitchen and brought chefs in, in my opinion, it was ... I mean, it was just like a beautiful Italian trattoria kind of vibe. Just really homely, delicious, comforting food. And yeah, anyway, me and my friends would go there every single day and rinse it for all it was worth.

- Bronagh

Were you eating for free, then?

- Ben Lebus

We were eating free, yeah, definitely.

- Bronagh

Oh, nice.

- Milly

Of course. If you know the restaurateur.

- Bronagh

"I know the owner."

- Milly

Yeah. "Mine everyone."

- Bronagh

And then, so you went to Edinburgh to study history?

- Ben Lebus

Exactly, yeah. 

- Bronagh

And so what was your cooking routine like at university?

- Ben Lebus

First year, zero cooking. We were in shared accommodation, there was one microwave in a shared kitchen, so absolutely nothing. And then, I was very excited in our second year, moving into a house with my mates for the first time, being able to cook for the first time without being under the watchful eye of my mum and dad. And I was really excited about that prospect, went to a big supermarket on our first day back and bought all the herbs and spices and store cupboard essentials, that kind of thing.

I guess it was at that point where definitely the two guys that were in my house, Chester and Paddy, who massively resent being included in the book in this manner, but-

- Milly

Shout out in this, then.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah. And they basically couldn't cook, and they, I don't know, weren't excited about getting involved in cooking and experimenting. They also, interestingly, weren't going to jamieoliver.com or BBC Good Food, the spaces that I was naturally drawn to and was aware of, being a foodie. And the state of their cooking was disgraceful. It was pesto pasta, bacon sarnies, six, seven nights a week. 

And yeah, I felt I was really leading the dinner parties or whatever, when we would try new or different things. But it became clear at that point, I think, to me, that there wasn't really any cool, young, exciting space for students online that showed them how to cook healthy, delicious food on a budget. The student cookbooks that were out there when I was at university are just like depressing. Baked beans on toast, a horrible, warm, muddy-looking photograph of some spaghetti bolognese. It's disgusting, gross, not exciting.And yeah, kind of responding to that, I started up a little blog in my second year, and I called it Y Chef. So I was going to be the chef of Y generation.

- Milly

Oh, I see. 

- Ben Lebus

And I think it probably got about four views in total. But I uploaded like five recipes that would feed me and my housemates, so there were five of us, for under a tenner. And that's really where that idea began, wanting to create some delicious recipes on a budget. And that was in a written up, blog format on Tumblr.

- Bronagh

And then, so how long did you keep the blog up for? Is that something that progressed into now what is a multimedia platform, or did you say, "Oh God, this blog's not going anywhere"?

- Ben Lebus

No, no. I definitely sacked it in. I've always been ... I didn't ever feel terrifically motivated by university work. I'm not an academic. I can write an essay, but it didn't really get me going. And I've always been a person that's needed, I guess, like a little project going on on the sides. Ever since the age of like 13, if I didn't have an interesting email in my inbox, it would bum me out.

So I was always trying different things. I guess I had this blog. It didn't really work out. I mean, it just didn't really get any eyeballs. I didn't really create it with the-

- Milly

Intention of that?

- Ben Lebus

... idea in mind that I was going to become some big star. And yeah, I actually ran a pop-up gallery event with young artists. So that was a thing I was really into at university. But anyway, when I got into my fourth year, the pop-up gallery that I ran with my mate was called Parade, and then that flopped and didn't really go anywhere. 

And in my fourth year, when I was writing my dissertation, there was that massive explosion in those overhead viral food videos, as pioneered by BuzzFeed's Tasty. And I loved them and thought they were incredibly captivating and could see that my generation were really penned into this super quick form recipe content. Screw watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall talking about how to slow-roast a lamb for 15 minutes. No one's got the time if they're not massively into food. What people want to see is a dish being made from start to finish in a minute.

And they're amassing these billions of views, and I was addicted to these videos. But I also felt underwhelmed by how much of the recipe content seemed to revolve around food porn. It didn't really have the end in mind, or not that I saw, of actually getting people to go and cook the recipes. In reality, who's going and cooking some deep-fried cinnamon donut roll-up crap? No one.

- Milly

I mean, as much as we'd like to.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, exactly. But-

- Bronagh

Have you always been into healthy eating? Would you say you've always approached food from a healthy perspective?

- Ben Lebus

I don't know. I've got to watch what I eat, or else I become a bit tubby. I used to be a bit of a-

- Milly

Don't we all?

- Ben Lebus

... I used to be a bit of a chubster, yeah. No, we don't. Like, my two brothers can eat four bowls of pasta a day and they are stick thin.

- Bronagh

Damn those guys.

- Milly

Honestly, my brother eats anything he wants, he'll still stay the same.

- Ben Lebus

 It's ridiculous.

- Milly

I'm waiting for the day that he-

- Bronagh

We ignore them.

- Milly

... just gains all weight. And I'm like-

- Ben Lebus

I guess I've always been a ... I've had to watch what I eat, and I can't overload. I guess not so much healthy food, really. It's more ... I don't know, like a butternut squash lasagna. Or it's like real, hearty, nourishing food.

- Bronagh

Natural ingredients.

- Ben Lebus

Not Hemsley + Hemsley, goji berries. It's like-

- Milly

Yeah, just good for you. 

- Bronagh

Stuff you can get at a supermarket.

- Ben Lebus

Exactly.

- Bronagh

So, then, tell me about the starting process? Did you pick up a camera? Were you always good with a camera? I think a lot of people-

- Ben Lebus

No.

- Bronagh

... have the-

- Ben Lebus

Shit.

- Bronagh

... aspiration to start these channels, and I know that probably the first videos you put up aren't always the best. What was the first couple of months of creating-

- Ben Lebus

Well, so, I basically had this idea when I was watching these videos. I had the Y Chef blog from two years before. I saw these videos and I thought, "I'm going to partner them together." There are literally notes on my phone that I sometimes go through saying like, "Got this idea. Partner Y Chef videos with overhead food format. We need to see coins going up alongside the ingredients," stuff like that.

So yeah, it was really this idea of combining those two things, and wanting to creating, yeah, basically overhead recipe videos with the end in mind to get students cooking delicious food on a budget. So yeah, I'm crap with a camera. There were two guys, though, who I was at university with who had an amateur production company. I wrote up 30 recipes and I offered them £600 to come to my parents' house when we graduated, so in July 2016, to film all of these recipes.

But we were like really ... Yeah, we were free-styling it, because there's no rule at all. No one's telling you, "This is how you make an overhead food video." But I think we did a really good job. I look back on them now and they're not anywhere near the standard that I would ever allow to be uploaded onto the platform now, but they were ... Like, they were cool, and we had these ... At the start of every video ... So all the recipes would feed four for under a tenner. And at the start of every video, we'd lay out the ingredients, and coins would appear in stock motion above the ingredients, showing exactly how much ... Which was quite a neat idea and quite unique.

- Bronagh

It's a nice take away.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, exactly.

- Bronagh

What platform ... Was that for Instagram, or was that for Facebook? 

- Milly

Or YouTube?

- Ben Lebus

That was for Facebook. I think if I'd had more of an awareness of the fact that there were influencers on Instagram, I probably wouldn't have felt so cocky about the fact that I had this brilliant idea. I literally was not on Instagram at all at that point. So in 2016, it was still ... I feel in 2016, Instagram was still like uploading an upside down black and white photograph of a Christmas tree.

- Milly

Retro.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, exactly. Really getting into those filters. 

- Milly

Everyone was testing it out then.

- Ben Lebus

Exactly. You know, Alice Liveing, all these ... Joe Wicks. I don't know if Joe Wicks was even ... He must have been, yeah. I just didn't have a clue about it.

- Bronagh

Which is fine. Everyone progresses at different points.

- Ben Lebus

Although, yeah, it just feels slightly short-sighted and naïve. What was true, though, is that on Facebook, there wasn't really anything doing that. And Facebook was a platform that I knew how to build. Facebook was the platform that I knew best. I guess the real advantage of building a platform on Facebook is you can really activate your friendship circles to help you share the content. And if your 10 mates share the content onto their newsfeeds, then all of their friends are seeing it and you can have this outward spiral effect, which you can't on Instagram. Definitely, then, when you couldn't share stories or anything, it was really difficult to share content.

So anyway, we shot these recipe videos and spent the summer coming up with the brand name and that kind of thing. And then, in October, launched the channel, and yeah, I guess, through virtue of it being on Facebook, I found it easier than I probably would've done on Instagram to get that content shared out there and that kind of thing.

- Bronagh

So you launched that in 2016, is that right?

- Ben Lebus

So I launched the platform, yeah, October 2016.

- Bronagh

And were you working alongside that, or did you decide to jump straight into it, "I'm going to do this full-time"?

- Milly

At first?

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, no, I went for it. I graduated. I went traveling for about a month and a half with my mate. And the guys that I was working with at the beginning dropped the ball on the editing, which was disappointing. So I taught myself how to edit, parted ways with them, and yeah. I very arrogantly thought, "This was the best content ever, I'm going to have a million followers overnight, the moment I launch it."

So I moved back in with Mum and Dad, and had this very grandiose idea that I was going to become a megastar overnight, which, obviously, didn't happen. So I then spent ... Well, I don't know, three years struggling, and still am, to get it anywhere meaningful, I guess.

- Bronagh

What does meaningful, what does that look like to you? Because I always find in the content creator space, a lot of it, you're self-made. You have to balance lots of different roles. You're not just front of camera, you're often doing the edit, you're doing the marketing, you're doing the PR, you're doing sales. And I think a lot of people don't give themselves enough credit for what they've built?

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, sure.

- Bronagh

So I think that's interesting that you say-

- Ben Lebus

Yeah. I do keep telling myself that, what's the point in which you're able to sit down and just stop looking at when that next milestone is, stop looking at when that next number is. The depressing thing about having a business that, a lot of which is run through Instagram, is you're very aware that, should you get to X number of followers or whatever, you're going to get more money, or your business is going to be bigger. You're going to get more opportunities.

So there's that constant strive for something that you don't have. And then the moment you get it, literally-

- Milly

It just pushes up again?

- Ben Lebus

... it just pushes up again. And actually, if I could look back now, probably after the first few weeks, when I realised I wasn't going to have a million followers overnight, it was going to be a long, slippery road, if I could see where I was now then, I would be really happy at that point back then and be like, "Surely this is just a real picture of success. There are four of you working. Four of us working full-time, we have our own studio with all of our own equipment. Like, total creative freedom every day to come into the studio and do whatever we want, which is just like the most epic-

- Milly

Incredible, yeah.

- Ben Lebus

.. thing ever. The books, it's amazing being able to work with a young team every day and just come in and we're all wanting to push and work in the same direction, and we just have the complete freedom to do that. So yeah, no, I definitely do sit back and feel happy and content with where I am. But I guess, I don't know, maybe that's just human nature.

- Bronagh

Well, I think when you're the founder of something, you're always going to strive for the next thing. 

- Ben Lebus

Absolutely.

- Bronagh

I think it's just taking time to, in a sort of-

- Milly

Enjoy the moment.

- Bronagh

Yeah. And be kind to yourself. Business is hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. And it is very hard to-

- Ben Lebus

I wonder if it's like a competitive thing as well, though. Because I am ... I think you naturally have to be quite competitive. You have to be very competitive, I think, if you want to build a successful business. You want to be the best. I don't know if Jamie is sitting down, being like-

- Milly

"I've done it."

- Ben Lebus

... "I've got to ..." No, no. Yeah, but maybe he is doing that. Or if he's thinking, "I've got to get to that next thing. I've got ..." I would hope that he's not. I'd love to hear him say that, so at least we know that if you get to a certain point, there's going to be some rest at the end.

- Milly

You hope.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah.

- Bronagh

People always say getting to number one, whilst you might think that being number one is the best feeling in the world, then it's like, where do you have to go from there? Once you become-

- Milly

Or how do you sustain it?

- Bronagh

Yeah. So I think it's trying ... Whilst numbers are-

- Ben Lebus

You maintain, yeah.

- Bronagh

Yeah. Whilst numbers are important, it's always about looking at the bigger picture. Because, I mean, look, Jamie is one of the biggest ... Jamie Oliver is one of the biggest food talent in the world, but he's had a lot of shit thrown at him, and a lot of responsibility and look at all the restaurants having to close. So it's almost ... I think if you're going to get into this business, you have to be tough. You have to-

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, definitely. You definitely have to have a thick skin, yeah.

- Milly

Thick skin.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah. You should see some of the shit that we get tagged in on Twitter. I mean, it's like-

- Milly

Really?

- Bronagh

And because it's such an open forum for criticism. When you-

- Ben Lebus

I have a tweet, actually, that I ...

- Bronagh

Oh, tell us.

- Milly

Oh goodness.

- Bronagh

Is this a recent one?

- Milly

Are we ready?

- Ben Lebus

This is one that came through ... A content that does very well on our platform at the moment is like self-deprecating tweets or posts that we get sent. This one was, "The bloke from MOB Kitchen has the most irritating voice," sorry listeners, "But at the same time, I can't get enough of it." So, I know.

-Milly

What a back-handed compliment.

- Ben Lebus

Thank you so much.

- Milly

"But also, I don't like you."

- Bronagh

I know you'll always hone in on the negative. It's like really, it's a frustrating part of human nature that we're all-

- Milly

We are prone to do it. It's like the negative, because you're like, "Oh, but I'm not quite there yet." That's the negative aspect, but you've got to this point.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

- Milly

So where does the change in that mindset happen?

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, I don't know. Well, definitely, I think in terms of the criticism and things, I think you just become, you definitely just become used to it. And like things at the beginning that would hurt, or that would ... Weirdly, at the beginning, a lot of the flack that I would get or a lot of the negative trolling or whatever came from friends of friends of friends. People who I didn't know, but-

- Milly

Kind of knew of them?

- Ben Lebus

Yeah. And I don't know what that is. I wouldn't say it's like a ... I don't know. It's something about ... It's just something about people putting themselves out there that some people sometimes hate on, which is so depressing.

- Bronagh

I know. It's kind of like, where's the love, guys?

- Milly

Share the love, people.

- Ben Lebus

It's the most depressing thing in the world, yeah.

- Bronagh

Do you think that platforms do enough to support creators? I just wonder. I know that they're putting more legislation in place to stop really intense negativity, but I just wonder if there's more that-

- Ben Lebus

There's nothing that can be done. How do you do it? I read this awful ... I was on Greta Thunberg's Instagram. I mean, she gets destroyed. And then this other girl, who is also like a climate activist, I can't remember her name. But I went on her page, and her feed is just like ... Actually, she's Jewish, and it's like antisemitic through loads of these posts. So I don't know. Yeah, I mean, it's very difficult, I guess. 

- Bronagh

We spoke about that in a previous interview, and I think what is really upsetting is how social media can highlight huge societal problems.

- Ben Lebus

Absolutely, yeah.

- Bronagh

And actually, that people are not afraid. I mean, you just think, "God, have we not moved on?" How many people out there still have a problem with a female role model, or with certain ... It's frustrating because-

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, it's depressing. Absolutely.

- Bronagh

Social media goes in full circle. Sometimes it's great, it's bringing more diverse voices into the mix. But then it'll bring in issues that are important as well.

- Ben Lebus

So I guess on the flip side it's better to see the issue, I would say, than to just have it running underneath. And so, at least you can become aware of it and you can try and address it. Whereas if you don't have the forums where people are talking, then it's not that it doesn't exist, it's just that it's not as apparent. And that is almost where it's more dangerous, because then you've got, I don't know, whatever, things like Brexit or Trump, where no one really knew that that was going to happen, and then because there was just like forgotten voice that people weren't hearing, suddenly two of the biggest shit shows in the last decade have happened.

- Bronagh

Have managed to emerge.

- Milly

One thing that came up on my social media recently, that LADbible posted, was the whole thing with UEFA and the Bulgaria match. And it was showing the people. And I spoke to a few friends and they said how it's difficult, because you want that to be known that those people are so disgusting that they're saying those things and doing those things, but then also, do you want to give them the stage where they're getting that press? It's like that challenge of both, because social media then gives you that platform, and it also takes it away.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, that's difficult. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. You would hope the extent of the negative attention that they're getting would be that they're not going to be sitting there being like, "Yes. It's a win."

- Milly

Like a deterrent, yeah.

- Bronagh

Time in the sun. So who would you say are your ... Do you have a business mentor, or do you have certain people that have been really influential in your career? How have you grown as an entrepreneur?

- Ben Lebus

Yeah. My dad's a very pragmatic man, so he set up a ... So he had the restaurant. It never really took off. I think it was the best restaurant in the world, but it wasn't uber famous or whatever.

- Milly

All that free stuff he was giving you.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, yeah.

- Milly

Running them down.

- Ben Lebus

So actually, at the beginning of MOB Kitchen, he was terrified. He was like, "You've graduated from Edinburgh with a first class degree in history. You've got law or the City or something you can get involved in there, but you're moving back home and you're starting a foodie venture that I literally can't understand." So he actually tried to almost dissuade me from doing it.

But I guess that once he saw the ... I don't know. Once he saw that the business was coming in, he saw the sense in it, he could understand it from that point. He's been amazing as a more pragmatic, measured response to things that come in. So whenever money comes in, I want to throw it at anything. He brings a very different viewpoint and standpoint, which is really important. 

And I guess that's mainly the ... I would say my one piece of advice to anyone starting a business is always listen to advice offered from friends and family and associates, but always feel free to ignore it. So I think 95% of people at the beginning of MOB Kitchen said MOB Kitchen was a bad name and that I shouldn't use it. And I feel like, today, now, MOB Kitchen, the name, is like one of our biggest strengths.

- Milly

Where did that come from?

- Ben Lebus

So I was going to call it Z Chef, after being Y Chef-

- Bronagh

Oh, we're going back to that.

- Ben Lebus

... it was going to be Z Chef. 

- Milly

Stick with our roots.

- Ben Lebus

Mum literally a day before launching, Mum was like, "It sounds like some kind of weird Lebanese restaurant." So we literally sat in the car, I remember it really clearly. We sat in the car for like 20 minutes, spit-balling ideas. And we had this idea of wanting to create a name that was quite incorporative. So rather than it being about like one person, it being a kitchen, a group of people. We were thinking about People's Kitchen, and that was taken. And yeah, I just played around with the word "people" and got to "mob". 

It was weird, though, because now I say the word "mob" 2000 times a day, but before MOB Kitchen, the only time I'd really heard that word was like, I don't know, when I was studying Storming of the Bastille in 1789. 

- Bronagh

I always think of mob mentality as well. 

- Ben Lebus

Mob mentality, yeah. 

- Milly

Whenever there's a riot.

- Ben Lebus

Exactly. But quite hard-line, aggressive, war like connotations. Not a group of hungry students. And it did actually take me a while, probably like five or six months, to start referring to the MOB. We called them the MOB. 

- Milly

Your people?

- Ben Lebus

We were saying at the beginning like "guys" or whatever. And actually, a lot of the people that we work with come in, either influencers or chefs or whatever, and they're like, "We're so jealous that you've got a word that you can use to describe-"

- Milly

For your followers, yeah.

- Ben Lebus

Because it's horrible, "followers". Or like, "gang" or like-

- Milly

A gang.

- Ben Lebus

... I don't know, like "friends". 

- Milly

We don't want that.

- Bronagh

Yeah. So we mentioned at the beginning that we're doing an event later on, and this is to celebrate your second book. So tell us a little bit about the book. Is it with Pavilion?

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, Pavilion. So Pavilion, great, amazing indie publisher. They produce beautiful books. And they showed faith in me right from the beginning. And yeah, we've produced two books now. The first was feeding four for under a tenner, meat and veggie recipes. The second one that came out in July this year is just veggie recipes, 60 recipes, all feeding four for under a tenner.

A thing that I love the most about the book was that music's been a really key part of our platform, so all of the music in our videos is provided by up-and-coming bands and musicians.

- Bronagh

Oh, amazing.

- Milly

That's such a nice idea.

- Ben Lebus

And I hate cooking without music. I think it's really depressing. So I really wanted to find a way to get the music into the books. And we had these really attractive Spotify codes put in so every recipe has its own track and every chapter has its own playlist. And yeah. I'm unbelievably proud of it. And it's also really nice having something in the real world. It definitely added quite a lot of legitimacy to the platform, to have a product being sold in Waterstones and Boots and all that kind of thing.

So yeah, it's been amazing. The whole book side of the business has been brilliant. And the first one was a national bestseller. It's sold 50 thousand copies to date. And the second one, the MOB Veggie, has now sold about 25 thousand copies.

- Bronagh

Amazing.

- Milly

Amazing. You're already halfway there.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, exactly. 

- Bronagh

That's why I always find it really interesting when people have big digital platforms, how there's still something really that cements your career when you've got a-

- Milly

Tangible.

- Bronagh

... physical product. 

- Ben Lebus

I know. It's interesting. Well, it's funny, I think, yeah. In this digital age, there's such a push just solely towards digital. But like, actually, some of our biggest moments have either been when the book's been published or the first big bit of press that we got. We got two bits of press in the same week from the Evening Standard and the Mail Online. I thought the Mail Online was going to be the biggie. We got a few followers from it. The Evening Standard one, it came out and that evening I had like 100 emails from-

- Bronagh

Amazing.

- Ben Lebus

... literary agents, publishers. So I guess, yeah, it definitely shows that those offline areas are definitely not dead.

- Milly

I think people want a book. Like, these days. Kindles are great, and things like that, but I think people want a physical copy in their hand. Like it becomes like a tradition.

- Ben Lebus

Definitely.

- Milly

It's like going back to when you saw your mum and dad cook and things like that, and they were opening their recipes, writing things in.

- Ben Lebus

See, I wonder how much, though ... I wonder if our generation feel that. But I don't know. Like the generation that grow up with iPads-

- Milly

After us.

- Ben Lebus

... in their hands from four years old, are they going to want the book? I don't know.

- Bronagh

And what you were saying before about the business that you got off the back of the article, I think it's about marrying the two. I think it's about understanding digital, knowing its value, but also that there's so much heritage in traditional practices, and they've been going for such a long time because it's all built on relationships. I think it's about embracing that both sides can be really good for your business because, like we've seen with some platforms, they can completely change their business model. And then if you're so dependent on ... Like, I say this a lot to people who solely rely on Instagram. Yes, have a good Instagram presence, but don't make that your sole ...

- Ben Lebus

Yeah. The biggest amount of money we've spent to date, we're building a massive MOB website where people are going to be able to have profiles and save recipes, comment on recipes. We're going to really drive our following over to there. And we're creating a different business, actually, under MOB, which is going to be a kind of like social media, recipe photo-sharing app-

- Milly

Wow.

- Ben Lebus

... which we're really excited about. Yeah. But with exactly that idea in mind, that having a ... I don't know what, yeah.

- Bronagh

I think it's ownership.

- Ben Lebus

If Instagram crashes, your whole business is done.

- Milly

Gone, yeah.

- Bronagh

Whilst, yes, you own the profile that you've created, you don't own that platform.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, exactly. No, not at all. Yeah.

- Bronagh

And you have to bear in mind that ... Because I see a lot of creators that get really frustrated, and yes, I'm sure it must be very frustrating. But I just think it's a little bit naïve to look at it from that perspective, because Instagram was initially created as a sharing platform. And yes, they have moved it more into a very ... You can monetize things now. But I just think you have to open your eyes, look at all the other opportunities out there. The people who have lasted the longest in business, like Jamie, for an example. Jamie is everywhere.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Definitely.

- Bronagh

I'm sure he works really, really hard. It's about knowing that one type of demographic, they might not even ... Instagram might not even be their thing anymore. You can't-

- Milly

Pocket yourself into one area.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, exactly. Even now, we did a mini MOB school tour at the end of the summer term this year, where we went around 15 schools around outer London, and one in Liverpool, actually, and taught the leaving year group how to cook a healthy veggie lunch wrap. And one of the girls who we did the course with sent us an email and she was like, "You need to get on TikTok."

- Milly

Oh my goodness, yeah.

- Ben Lebus

It's like, "Oh my God."

- Milly

That's the new one.

- Bronagh

Another one.

- Ben Lebus

I know, yeah.

- Milly

"Not again."

- Ben Lebus

Literally.

- Bronagh

I tried to use it the other night. I haven't-

- Milly

I don't understand how.

- Ben Lebus

It's the thing. Everyone's going to be on it. I think they've got over a billion users. Pinterest sent us an email saying, "Can you please join Pinterest and set up a-"

- Milly

Pinterest is huge now. People love it.

- Ben Lebus

But I don't use it ever. Snapchat. The one that I'm really proud of that we've got is a subreddit. So we've got a subreddit with like 35 thousand subs, and we post our recipes as GIFs onto it, and then we share those GIFs into another subreddit called Gif Recipes that has one and a half million followers. 

So all of our recipe GIFs get millions of views, literally, because things really go viral on Reddit. And yeah, a lot of the time, when we ... Well, I don't know. When I get like stopped or whatever and people come up and talk to me about MOB, loads of them see us through Reddit, which is quite nice.

- Bronagh

How big is your team? Is there somebody in your team that focuses on managing all the channels, or is it kind of everybody mucks in?

- Ben Lebus

Yeah. I guess it's a real start-up vibe at the moment. Everyone's part of it. But Alice is our head of comms, and so she's most on managing the Facebook, the Instagram, the Pinterest, all of that kind of thing. So yeah.

- Bronagh

Cool.

- Ben Lebus

But yeah, no. There are five of us full-time now.

- Milly

Wow. It's grown so quickly.

- Bronagh

I know. It must be quite exciting when the next new person joins on?

- Ben Lebus

It's amazing, yeah. 

- Bronagh

I know at the Influence Room, I mean, we're similar. We're a start-up business. And every time a new person comes into the office, Alex and Tanya, who are the founders, they go, "This is it. Oh my God, it's more people."

- Milly

"Welcome, new baby."

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, exactly. No, yeah, it's super exciting. It feels very fresh and just, yeah, dynamic. It's just growing and changing.

- Milly

You get something new, don't you?

- Ben Lebus

Exactly.

- Milly

Every time someone new comes on board.

- Ben Lebus

Exactly.

- Milly

Well, I just wanted to finish up with a little ... I don't know if Rob will be embarrassed if I say this, but when we spoke to Rob Eades the other week on the podcast, he said that you're one of his biggest influences.

- Ben Lebus

Oh really? Oh cool.

- Bronagh

And you've been really influential in his career.

- Ben Lebus

Oh wow. Great.

- Bronagh

And I just wonder, because we talked about who your influences are, and I just think that must be so nice to hear that you're inspiring other people?

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, yeah, yeah. No-

- Milly

Within a similar field as well, which is amazing.

- Ben Lebus

That's very sweet of him to say. I love his work as well. 

- Milly

Share the love, see? This is what we mean.

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, exactly. I think Jamie's a massive idol. I have followed him throughout my life, and I think what he's done to food and brought it to the masses in the UK is just absolutely amazing. So I'd really say he is ... There's a guy called Telltale Food, do you know him?

- Milly

Yeah.

- Bronagh

I haven't heard of him.

- Ben Lebus

He was a friend of mine, friends of friends, that kind of thing. But he's got this beautiful Instagram account, and he's all about, he moved and set up a farm outside of London, and his content is stunning. Beautiful, beautiful food photographs. 

- Milly

Write him down.

- Ben Lebus

I guess I'm moving more into the business side, but I have an obsessive fixation on the way food photographs look and are presented and the videos and everything. Like, if you ask anyone in the team, I think they all realise that that's why the platform is where it is today. But it's also, they find it infuriating because it's like the most minuscule little details I focus on and will pick up on. And so I really appreciate when someone is putting out just flawless content, and his-

- Milly

Because you know how much it takes-

- Ben Lebus

Yeah, exactly.

- Milly

... to get to that point?

- Ben Lebus

So yeah. A variety. And I also love when you have a lot of ... We have a lot of smaller, student foodie pages that follow us, and I love seeing what they do, because it really ... Seeing actual students ... I'm 27 now, so I haven't been at university for three years. But seeing students at university cooking really delicious, creative things, and I take real inspiration from that as well. So yeah.

- Bronagh

And for anyone that's maybe not on your channels already, where can we find your work and where should we look out for you?

- Ben Lebus

So yeah. On Instagram, on Facebook, on Pinterest, Twitter, Reddit.

- Milly

Watch TikTok.

- Ben Lebus

On our website. Yeah, watch TikTok, coming soon. We've got our books, which you can buy in all good bookshops. And we've just developed a range of spice blends which we're hoping to get into retail. We've got our new MOB truck that's going to be driving around the UK, so that should be there. And yeah. So all over the place.

- Bronagh

Brilliant. Well, thanks very much, Ben.

- Ben Lebus

All right. Thank you.

- Bronagh

And we're looking forward to the event later on. We'll be sharing some stuff on our Instagram. So thanks for listening.

- Ben Lebus

Cheers.

- Bronagh

Thank you so much for listening to the Influence Room Podcast. If you want to learn more about the site, you can follow us on Instagram @theinfluenceroom, and check out our website. And become a member, if you're not already. We are really excited to hear about what you're doing, what you're passionate about, the stories you want to tell, and become part of the Contra Economy.