63: When Terrible == Awesome - Edd Read, Founder CTO Graze & Tiney.co
Edd Read is a self confessed geek and lover of engineering solutions to problems. He was the Founder and CTO of the hugely successful Graze.com who revolutionised healthy snacking across the UK and US. He is now the founder and CTO of Tiney.co who are working to shake up the early childcare industry.
This is a fascinating conversation into the mind of an innovator and doer. We cover a lot of ground and learn about Edd’s story as well as some brilliant life lessons along the way:
Why study Engineering Maths at Bristol University
His Grandfathers work in Nuclear Weapons
How the founders of Graze found each other
The biggest failures and turn arounds that Graze had
Finding innovative ideas
Creating a viral campaign that explodes your business
Working with retailers
Creating a logistics operation that didn’t fail for ten years
Lessons learnt hiring and what employee’s and employers should look for
How to find the right priorities in your work
The benefits and pitfalls of consulting
Disrupting the childcare industry
Edd and his projects:
- Twitter @Eddr - Nice handle!
- Tiney.co - His new company disrupting childcare in London and then the world
1. Don’t let failures get you down
We all experience failures and sometimes it seems like the worst thing has hap- pened. But actually if you can zoom out of your momentary pains and look at the bigger picture it probably isn’t that bad. And it might actually be the best thing that could happen to you in the long term. So instead of getting depressed you should get excited to the unknown doors that a failure opens up. The worst thing you can do is let it defeat you
2. Have a process
It’s nice to be relaxed and let people be creative, but when you are growing a business this leads to and actually stifles peoples ability to innovate when there is no process to make their ideas happen or work properly with others. Every new thing that comes up make a process for it. It doesn’t have to be the right process straight away, Use feedback to optimise, but put something in place straight away or deal with the consequences.
3. Spend time with your users
If Graze hadn’t worked closely with their customers in the early days they wouldn’t have noticed the opportunity for the referral scheme that exploded their brand across the UK. Who knows where they’d be today if they hadn’t noticed this opportunity. spend time with your customers and get to know them. Observe their first interactions with your brand and products and make the moment special.
2:00 - Life story in 4 mins
Grew up as a geek in a family of medics. His Grandad was a big factor in bringing out geek side
Studied Engineering maths at Bristol Uni
Met other graze founders whilst he was building websites
built Graze for 10 years. crazy ride and finally left 2 years ago
did a fair amount of consulting in e-commerce
Met Bret doing Tiney.co. really into education so joined that biz
6:30 - Grandad in the NWRE
Grandad was part of NWRE in Basingstoke (nuclear weapons Research) and couldn’t talk about his job much but was super clever and into cool tech things. always up for doing fun things with Edd.
7:45 - Engineering Maths
Bristol Eng Maths was the first year of the course and only 4 students. Very technical degree with a lot of skills learnt.
Computational Genomics, Machine Learning. Lots of cool stuff.
10:00 - How did you decide Founder Shares
Graham the founder saw health a big thing that people needed help with. Set up the company and established us as founders so we didn’t need to debate shares too much.
12:00 - Other Founder Skills
They had 3 techies to build things. one on front end. one on billing and one in the factory systems
Also Tom his flatmate did the branding work.
The team was a unique combination of excellent people who were all great at their thing. They didn’t always agree completely but respected each other and didn’t get caught up in any disagreements..
Graham had the ultimate control whilst
15:20 - Research and Funding
They tested sending items in post and just went for it.
Raised £1.1 m . 55 angels giving 10-20k and a VC giving £150k.
Had a few big failures:
16:20 - Bank Collapse
Lehman brothers and Bank collapse meant they had to bring the price down to keep sales. ended up being useful in the long run and making a product that was more mass market
17:45 - Royal mail strike
They were delivering fresh fruit and had innovated amazing chopping systems to preserve fruit a bit longer. A big part of their work was investing in getting high quality fruit and being able to deliver it. But with the royal mail strike the fruit was still going off so they had to stop it.
Ended up really helping in the long run as a costly faff that wasn’t that popular or helpful to consumers compared to their other innovations
21:00 - Coming to terms with being a Snack Company
22:10 - Tech for nut mixing
Went more into mixed nuts with a giant mixer.
24:30 - Sams personal medicines idea
25:00 - Screening for technical people
When hiring new talent for tech team the technical skills were not the most important as they can be learnt. The most important thing was communication. You can’t learn or be useful if you don’t communicate.
27:00 - Issues Building Tech
They didn’t make the best decisions or prepare for scale properly. They ended up with a giant monolith architecture, it ended up making on-boarding of new hires really slow and a big investment for them. and updating and maintaining a slow headache. Had to rewrite eventually and make it much more slicker and optimised, should have done this earlier in hindsight.
29:30 - Managing Issues and Processes
Treat it as an engineering problem. Everything needs to have a process. when you have a good process for reviewing what you are doing and document it and make a good process it all becomes much better. They used to like letting people have free rein but actually really stupid. You can still be creative within set rules.
When people don’t follow the process it is a sign that something is wrong with the process and it needs to be improved
32:00 - Graze taking off
They had a lot of early customers receive a box at work. this was before amazon was big and when post was not really used for stuff. It was like a present arriving and the office would be interested.
They were attentive to the experience of early users and saw this happening and realised the opportunity for a referral scheme. then the business exploded across the UK and within a few months suddenly most people had heard of it.
33:00 - Referral Schemes Thoughts
Students took at advantage and they lost money there. Otherwise, it was much cheaper to pay the small price of sending a box to a new customer vs. paying for advertising which is much higher per lead and doesn’t give such a good experience.
35:20 - Scaling Challenges
They were able to quickly keep up with the demand and never missed a delivery (until Edd’s final week) as the did really focus on engineering for scale.
Kept growing the biz over several years and expanded massively into their own factory etc.. eventually left as ten years felt like enough time to dedicate to one thing and ready for a break.
37:20 - What Edd did after leaving?
Initially just did nothing for a few months and decompressed.
Then took up consulting tech for a few days a week. Moved more into e-commerce 3 days a week but got a bit bored of it. Needed to do something due to having a mortgage etc.. but not that interested in it all.
38:30 - Consulting Woes
Didn’t enjoy just trying to influence decisions and being a politician and preferred getting hands dirty and doing things.
Put him off CTO jobs and pushed towards creating projects.
40:00 - Consulting Joys
Seeing some different views of the world and knowing what else is out there.
Good money. But risky to get locked into the high pay requirements
42:20 - Important Lessons on Career Change
Really important to decompress and not dive into the next thing.
Tried to keep things low stress and did more cycling.
Work out whats important to you and things like commuting can really effect you and should be factored into things.
45:00 - Ayuhascha
Not keen on throwing up for three days but likes open minded thinking
45:30 - Joining Tiney.co
Joined Tiney. Bret was founder of Teach First and a lot of experience in the education space. Edd really liked the proposition of Tiney and making professional childcare more accessible and transparent.
48:00 - Innovating in Childcare
Great Team and mission. Need to work out the solutions exactly and deliver on a strategy. Space moves slowly.
People don’t change childcare every week so it’s not a fast changing world.
50:00 - Lack of innovation in Childcare
People don’t like rocking the boat with innovations and if it isn’t broke don’t change things.
52:30 - Screen-time Issues for Kids
53:00 - Growth plan
Start in Islington and own it and prove the model. Once it is a smooth operation work out how to scale up.
The business is early days but very exciting times for him again.
54:15 - Earliest Memory
Playing with Grandad and hacking things