Eugenie Dronneau deliciously draws out vowels and consonants as she shares her passion for her business, FoodKarma. Since its launch in March 2020, the food-rescuing platform has been helping restaurants, supermarkets, and local producers in the UAE reduce their food waste. Meanwhile, its customers can save dirhams and the planet by getting that same food for a discounted rate. Dronneau’s appetite for the subject is insatiable as she describes her first steps into the world of technology, the learning curves and successes, and the impacts of launching a business in the time of COVID-19.
Eugenie Dronneau is a wife to Philip, a partner at a successful law firm and mother to five-year-old Aedan. The couple welcomed their second son, Maverick amidst the madness of the world turning upside down. A fledgling business and a new born seems exhausting, but Dronneau is thriving.
Dronneau has pivoted throughout her life. She was a professional showjumper, Emirates crew member, and a renowned consultant in the UAE’s food and beverage industry. She is also a wife, mother and tech CEO. At 43, she describes a certain reticence in launching herself into a new career. However, her insights into the restaurant sector gave her a front-row seat to the issues surrounding wastage. Rather than merely sympathise, she used her innate tenacity to face the problem and find an answer.
In this edition of Seize The Day, Charley Larcombe speaks to Eugenie Dronneau on sourcing solutions, juggling a young family, and her mantra of cultivating perseverance.
Despite owning a tech company, I am old-fashioned and write my daily to-do list with a pen and paper each morning. It’s a mixture of ideas that come to me during the night, issues to discuss with the team, meetings to check off. I find it so useful to have it all written down.
I sit down for an early breakfast with the children every day. My husband and I love to work, but we always prioritise family time. The boys are at an age where they change so quickly and I don’t want to miss a moment. It takes strict scheduling to make sure I’m there to pick them up from school. This usually means I’m back on my laptop in the evenings, but Philip and I make it work. We are also incredibly privileged to have help at home with our nanny, who makes the work-life balance possible.
A non-negotiable for me in the morning is my game of padel. I love to get my heart-rate up and burn calories, and a quick game just starts my day fresh.
At 10 a.m. it’s a Zoom call with FoodKarma’s tech team. As with many companies nowadays, we are based all around the world. However, having this one point of connection each day is so important. We go over any issues overnight, bugs needing addressing, and any ideas I am keen to integrate.
I do not come from a tech background. To begin with, I found being surrounded by young entrepreneurs who were so clued into this world of AI and apps so intimidating. However, I have always believed in the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone. I saw an issue with the lack of education and ethical production in the food and beverage industry and worked hard to see how we can all do our bit to help. I have always been eco-conscious so it’s important for me to be part of the solution.
Naturally running, your own business means there is no 9-to-5. I’m often working late, but I love it! To wind down, Philip and I open a nice bottle of wine and watch something on Netflix when we’re in Dubai; if we’re in the South of France, where I’m from, then we’re probably out celebrating with friends. I also turn to padel—I am obsessed! I think it is so important to find your “thing,” a hobby that takes you away from your worries. A great sweat by playing padel enables me to step back and return more clear-headed at work and with my family.
Work and Career
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. When I was younger, I was a professional showjumper; it was my absolute dream, riding, being competitive. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be and I was left without a degree and no real plan as to what to do with my life. One morning I drove a friend to an interview with Emirates… and walked out with a job and relocated to Dubai.
Meeting my mentor, Duncan Fraser-Smith, an innovator in the hotel and restaurant scene kick-started my career in the food and beverage industry. I joined his company, The Cutting Edge Agency as a consultant, working closely with many of the UAE’s top chefs, brands, hotels and developers on their Middle East expansion. I could see first-hand the issues the industry was—and is still—facing and the colossal waste. It is shocking. Food produced should be food consumed!
My family owned and operated restaurants and bars in south east France and Paris; food is in my blood! Plus, I was consumed with the idea of solving this food waste issue. But the idea was just that; an idea. It took four years of development, research, education, and a very generous Valentine’s gift from Philip who was one of my early investors to make FoodKarma a reality. Philip has a long history of working in the tech industry so his advice has been invaluable—and it has meant that we have had the opportunity to work together on this incredible adventure in our family’s life.
Launching during the time of COVID-19 was obviously challenging. Of course, we had difficulties in running a start-up. but These struggles also take place throughout the restaurant sector. It was such a hard time for so many people in so many ways. On the flip side, there were also promising opportunities and some good outcomes. It was inspiring to see how people came together, pivoted in their careers, or threw themselves into a new chapter.
Success for me is achieving what you set out to do; having that idea and following through. I have been fortunate to have the support of some brilliant people. It is amazing to have them believe in you—especially when you are doubting yourself. That insecurity has actually proved invaluable as it makes me stop and REEVALUATE. it enables us to evolve where and when we need to.
Travel and Work-Life Balance
Organisation, organisation, organisation. It is my number one rule in order to be stress-free—or rather have less stresswhen travelling as a family. I am a bit of a control freak so I pack for everyone. When we first flew with Aedan, it was like a travelling circus or a gypsy caravan. But now I am more efficient; the packing is minimal, but still super organised.
Always give yourself an extra 30 minutes per kid. Children love to throw something into the mix when you don’t have a second to spare. It used to drive Philip mad when we would arrive at the airport so early, but it’s much more peaceful sitting in the lounge with a glass of champagne, doing a little work than running through the departure gate.
I am one of those annoying people who, once their body leans over a certain angle, falls asleep! I can usually beat jet lag because I can sleep anywhere. Plus, I used to live in Spain and got very into the siesta lifestyle; 30 minute power naps are really amazing.
In this new normal, are there even work trips anymore?! I haven’t been away for business in so long, but New York and London were always my favourites. They both have so much vital energy; I always feel so empowered when I’m there.
The smell of rosemary and lavender transport me to the South of France or to Corsica. These places are so special and live in my heart. I always feel extra relaxed when I’m there, sitting with friends, looking down the coast. A magical part of the world.
My ideal “DayAway” would look like this: Again it would involve a game of padel! When I retired from showjumping I hugely missed the competitive aspect. I am so happy that I have found it in this new sport. I love to sweat and feel that energy—I’m not really the Eat, Pray, Love type. Then, it would be on to a long lunch at a beach club with our family and friends. it feels so good to really let your hair down.
Choose the people you surround yourself with wisely. This applies to both your work and personal life. Having positive, supportive people around you makes all the difference. I couldn’t do this without Duncan or Philip who have offered advice during the lows and kept me grounded in the highs.
“Cultivate perseverance.” This is such a valuable skill. I had no experience in the tech field and no degree. Plus, I am 43 in an industry full of super young individuals. But I have just kept working and pushing—you can do it, but you have to persist.