Today we hear from Edd, the co-founder of Graze. The healthy snack company was established by 7 friends who wanted to “show off health’s more pleasurable side” in 2008. Since then they have grown to a team of more than 200. Creating a thriving company culture between mates is easy. Scaling it, however, is not. Find out how Graze kept their budding culture alive as the number of employees skyrocketed.
In about 200 words, could you tell us the origin story of Graze?
In 2007, Our Co-Founder Graham had a lightbulb moment as he was sitting in an industrial estate in Acton at his previous job. He was bored of the limited healthy options available in the vending machine, and came to the conclusion that there was a huge gap between what was accessible at work and the appetite for guilt-free snacking. So combining his knowledge of technology and distribution, he resolved there must be a way to solve this problem and disrupt the market.
And so Graze was born; Graham rallied together a group of mates with the shared vision of making healthy food exciting, using technology to beat the traditional means of selling snacks.
Initially, it was through testing and combining all the great ingredients that we could mix together that lead us down the path of making innovative snacks.
Through multiple tests, trials and iterations, we created recipes that would go on to become our customers’ favourites. One flagship product in particular, The Graze ‘Jaffa Cake’ became wildly popular and a creation we’re still very proud of to this day; using wholesome ingredients like orange infused raisins, hazelnuts and dark chocolate- an interesting take on a familiar concept.
There’s always been a sense of innovation and entrepreneurship instilled in the business. The original founders were energetic, had lots of opinions, and were motivated to solve things very quickly. We’ve always been very honest with each other. We have good, heated debates, but we’re always friends at the end. Graze moves quickly, and we’re proud of our culture of innovation. Our fundamental drive to move quickly came from the founding members.
What core values/objectives have remained constant throughout your growth?
There are a few core values that we’ve developed and nurtured over time (pioneering, curious, commercial, resilient, helpful), however, there’s one cultural value that I believe dates back to the early founding days is one – and it’s one I’m really proud of — there are very few egos. I think this manifests itself in people who are not only helpful, but willing to admit when they’ve made mistakes. There’s no blame-culture – if something goes wrong the immediate response is “how do we all work together to resolve this” rather than any time spent finger-pointing or dwelling on the past.
“Resilient” was born from examples in the early days where a lot of what we were trying to do was labelled as ‘impossible’ by industry experts. And yet, time and time again we found that if you tried hard enough and took a shot at it anyway, ultimately we often proved them wrong. I think this attitude is still recognisable in the team.
What role do you feel your story and value system have played in creating a great company culture at Graze; what are the effects that you’ve perceived?
We’re lucky that a lot of people are friends here. A lot of people get on really well, and many are of a similar mindset – which helps, but is certainly not essential.
Our values steer much of our decision-making. For example, in annual review sessions, we refer to each of our values as checkpoints, and question; did this person exhibit these things? Likewise, in interviews, we use our values as a basis for culture fit hiring.
Being “Helpful” is one of our core values, and actually came out of feedback from new starters. An overwhelming sentiment from new starters was that “everyone at graze is so helpful”. It got us thinking that work isn’t like this everywhere, and that this is a value that we should celebrate.
We also champion “Resilience”. We want to try new things; if it doesn’t work, we pick ourselves up and brush off. We don’t dwell on our mistakes, we look to the future. There are a number of stories where things have gone seriously wrong. It takes an important character trait to be ok with it and carry on.
Have you faced any difficulties or resistance staying true to your original vision as you’ve expanded globally and adopted new business practices?
Bringing Graze to the US presented a lot of opportunities, and a lot of challenges too. Thankfully, we were able to move one of our senior managers from the UK operation (who had been with us for 18 months) over to New York permanently. In that way, the stateside business originated as more of an extension of the company in the UK, rather than a separate business.
We maintain a sense of collective culture by having monthly, all hands on deck, check ins with both offices. Staff will gather in their respective conference rooms to riff off about the business and everything current in our community.
We also take all of our staff on holiday once a year, which gives us a chance to unite the company and have some fun.
It’s also important to us that we have consistency across the offices, in terms of the look and feel of our environments, and the technology we use.
We’ve worked really hard to build the organizational structure so that it doesn’t feel like two companies trying to do the same thing.
Central to this is that our technology and product development teams are controlled centrally. Different people might be on site, but none of these functions work in silos.
At Graze, we truly believe in the Importance of our brand identity and how it informs the culture of our company. That’s why it so important that we have a Consistent master brand that works globally, not just in the UK.
Of course, with any expansion you face change, and often that entails certain compromises. While fundamentally, we feel we’ve stuck to our values, we are prepared to change to what globally makes sense. We’re being open-minded to the US audience.
Ultimately, the brand definition, what it stands for, that’s what makes our culture. It informs everything from our tone of voice to the products we create.
What advice would you give other organizations to help them retain their original vision/overall goals as they scale?
Foremost, work hard from the outset to define that vision. Define it, debate it, particularly among the senior team. Flush out all the niggles that people have with it.
If there are elements of the vision that people don’t believe in, that will permeate out into the product.
The vision has to be something that we all really buy into.
And we all do; as a result we can defend it internally and externally.
Spend as long as it takes out of the office to work on it.
If you really believe it, the people you hire will believe it, as will the people they hire, and so on.
But don’t be afraid to change it. If it comes to a point where it’s not valuable anymore, even though the original founding team may want to hold onto it, you need to acknowledge those necessary changes and debate it with people within the organization.