By Georgiana Scott, Investigations Correspondent
A recipe for success! As the University of Bristol celebrates 'Start-up Week', Edd Read talks about his journey from socialising in Hiatt Baker and having BBQs on The Downs to inventing the future of healthy snacking and tech-based childcare.
‘When you were a student, would you have subscribed to Graze?’ Following a brief laugh, Graze co-founder and UoB alumni Edd Read replied ‘No, probably not. It would have been too expensive and one of the reasons people subscribe is to improve their diet and that wasn’t my main priority at University.’
That is exactly what I thought, but it would be an understatement to say I just changed my mind once the little green box flew through my letterbox.
My housemates, like me intrigued, gathered around the dining room table to witness its grand opening. Personalised, colourful, filled with innovative snacks and best described by Edd, it was ‘like receiving a present or gift in the post’. It is safe to say I am now a loyal subscriber, and conducting this interview continues to cost me approximately £3.81/fortnight.
With three of my friends now also enjoying their Graze subscriptions, I was able to wrap my head around how this start-up snowballed into a global company turning over £75.8million per annum (2017).
However, something that was made apparent when speaking with Edd, was that the group of co-founders behind the company were equally as impressive as the concept itself. Edd, for example, despite being a newly fleged UoB graduate when tasked with the web development of Graze, was already armed with years of coding and web development experience.
‘My Grandad initially got me involved in coding. He was a nuclear research engineer and was just amazing. I remember going to his house when I was growing up and he taught me the basics (of coding) and one thing led to another!’ It gave Edd the foundations to start his own web development company while studying Engineering Maths and also found UoB’s Entrepreneurs society.
'I don’t like it when people hide their idea away. Talk to loads of people, get loads of thoughts and build on it!'Edd Read, co-founder of Graze and Tiney.co
At the height of the 2008 financial crisis, Graze boldly went where no snacking company had ventured before, launching a website where subscribers received healthy snacks delivered directly to their door. Despite the recession, it was a phenomenal success.
Edd explained that ‘the economic slump meant boxes had to be reduced from £10 to £3, giving the product a mass market appeal’. Graze anticipated the nation's need for healthy snacks, and its newfound affordability meant sales soared and subscribers exponentially increased.
Cool, relaxed and casual in a sunny-yellow sweatshirt, Edd emphasised that ‘it was a really exciting start-up for those first 5/6 years, really similar fun-minded people, all a bit out of control at times.’
I was curious as to whether amid all the ‘fun’, the original co-founders had preserved their friendship. It is certainly not uncommon for relationships to crack under the pressure of a successful business.
However, Edd assured me this was not the case; ‘We had an amazing relationship, there were lots of strong opinions and although we had arguments, we always managed to put it behind us and at the end of the day we ensured our friendships were maintained and it would never get personal.’
'Experienced leaders and managers don’t necessarily need to be the ones that are right all the time, it’s about how they foster opinions and encourage good debate.’Edd Read
The year 2012 saw a dramatic restrucuturing of Graze as the majority stake was sold to US investment firm ‘Carlyle’. While Edd acknowledged the take-over as a learning curve, I wondered if he regretted relinquishing any control to outside board members.
After pausing for thought - he eloquently responded, ‘Experienced leaders and managers don’t necessarily need to be the ones that are right all the time, it’s about how they foster opinions and encourage good debate.’ He added, ‘The highest-paid person in the room is often the one everyone listens to, and the takeover was a good lesson that that shouldn't always be the case.'
Ultimately, after 10 years at Graze, Edd said he was starting to, ‘crave the early stages of a business.'
Having revolutionised the healthy snacking industry through technology, Edd is now striving to do the same in the education sector through his latest venture - a tech-based childcare company.
'‘Looking into this world and seeing there is so much opportunity to make a difference. I felt that this time, I wanted to do something that had more of a social impact.’Edd Read
Like an Airbnb for infant daycare services, Tiney.co works with independent childcare providers who run small nurseries from their home. Using an App, Edd described how ‘they can manage their business, find clients (parents) and put a level of brand and trust over the whole thing.’
He continued, ‘Looking into this world and seeing there is so much opportunity to make a difference. I felt that this time I wanted to do something that had more of a social impact.’
Working with Brett Wigdortz OBE, founder of educational charity ‘TeachFirst’, the entrepreneurial pair are bringing froward all their previous experiences into this new undertaking. ‘Both Brett and I have both made loads of mistakes along the way. What’s nice is realising all the things we previously wanted to do differently and now being able to put them into practice.’
After starting two successful businesses from scratch, what advice does the once Hiatt Baker resident and Wine and Cheese society member have for UoB students aspiring to follow in his footsteps?
Edd recommends, ‘I encourage anyone to look at the start-up world when looking for jobs, as there are fewer people in start-up companies, less people in supporting roles and you have to do a bit of everything to make an impact and I think that's just great fun. You see loads, you learn loads and you develop a lot quicker as a result.
Another bit of advice I have is just talking to people about your idea. I don’t like it when people hide their idea away and think that they need to keep it confidential. The other way around is so much more valuable, which is talk to loads of people, get loads of thoughts and build on it. Take up offers of introductions and go for coffee with them, and just keep building on it!’
To wrap up the interview which had actually felt more like an enjoyable conversation with a fellow University student - well, perhaps one doing a PhD, I asked Edd to describe himself in three words. ‘"Geek", deep down I am definitely a bit of a geek. "Rebel", I like to challenge the status quo, and "faffy", my girlfriend says I faff a lot.' Humble words from someone considered to be one of UoB’s most successful entrepreneurs.
Thank you for the interview Edd, and good luck with your new company.
Featured image: Epigram / Georgiana Scott
Are you a budding Entrepreneur or interested in starting your own business? You can find a range of talks and workshops for UoB's 'Start-up Week' here!