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Cult London Coffee Brand Pivots during Crises, Grows 3000%

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Teddy Robinson Grind

Teddy Robinson of Grind is constantly innovating to make the business and its product more sustainable

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?

Teddy Robinson: Thanks for asking. It’s been fantastic to see London and other areas of the world make such incredible progress against COVID-19 in the last weeks and months. While things are far from over, especially internationally, the city here feels like it’s on its way back to life. 

Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Grind.

Teddy Robinson: In 2012, I got a job washing dishes at Shoreditch Grind because I needed the money and because I really fancied one of the baristas who worked there. There were only about a dozen staff back then, and I would pick up shifts around my lectures at Central Saint Martins in London. After we bought a dishwasher, I spent the next seven years as the Creative Director of Grind – almost my entire adult life – building the brand and the business before moving my focus to eCommerce, which began as a small experiment but has grown enormously in the years since.

How does Grind innovate?

Teddy Robinson: We’re constantly innovating, particularly in the ways we can make the business and its product more sustainable. We were one of the first cafés in London to move to entirely compostable paper cups – serving two million in 2019 before the pandemic – and our coffee pods for Nespresso machines are compostable too. Not only that, the refills boxes that contain them are compostable – and are delivered carbon-positive worldwide. It’s been an incredible few years for packaging and product innovation around sustainability, and we know that’s a big reason people come back to our pods over and over again.

It’s also worth saying that, as a business that began in brick-and-mortar locations rather than the ephemeral little world where so many DTC businesses begin, it’s important that, in some ways, we don’t innovate at all. I think the world is pretty sick of hearing about two guys with MBAs who wear on their sleeve that they knew nothing about the business they went into. We’ve got hundreds of staff that know everything about coffee, and we have a decade of experience serving it to people ourselves – that really counts for a lot.

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?

Teddy Robinson: It’s hard to put the effect of the pandemic on the hospitality industry in London into words, honestly. When we went into the first lockdown at the end of March last year, the industry quite literally evaporated – along with the livelihoods of almost everyone involved in it. Fortunately, we were able to move our team on furlough, and today I think the future is bright for Grind.

With our cafés closed, I pivoted a small team – made up of people previously in different roles in our high-street business – and took our direct-to-consumer business from a side-project to a full-time team, with coffee roasted in our London roastery – by the summer, we were doing something like 30x the revenue that we’d been doing before the pandemic. While it didn’t replace the restaurant business entirely, it was a vital lifeline for the business through 2020 and allowed us to bring some of the furloughed people back to work, retraining them for our production coffee roastery.

Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?

Teddy Robinson: There were certainly difficult decisions, but between the furlough program, having raised significant growth capital the previous year and our diversification into DTC meant that we were well prepared and didn’t suffer the worst of it. Preparedness or, better yet, antifragility – to borrow from Nassim Nicholas Taleb – is certainly the lesson here. We saw dozens of other businesses look to pivot in the first half of last year, but having invested in the infrastructure a year previously put us lightyears ahead and likely saved the business.

How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?

Teddy Robinson: Our days in brick-and-mortar made us, inescapably, a people business – and I think we’ve brought a lot of that to our direct-to-consumer offering. We have a small, extremely bright team who can solve problems but are people-orientated, and we put a great deal of trust in them.

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