Interviews

EarlyBird takes on Graze with a "festival in a box" that is hitting the right notes

9 min read

04 September 2015

Snack subscription service EarlyBird is returning to Crowdcube to help its business take flight, so Real Business quizzed co-founder Oliver Pugh on progress to date.

Shoreditch-based snacks firm EarlyBird has returned to crowdfunding platform Crowdcube to help more UK customers enjoy the pleasures of a “festival in a box” and unearth unknown musicians into the big time.

The group, launched last June and which provides a subscription snack service, is aiming to raise £300,000 in a Crowdcube campaign which went live on September 3. It is offering 15.79 per cent equity.

Co-founder and chief executive Oliver Pugh said the raise, which follows a £125,000 crowdfunding campaign last October giving up 22.9 per cent equity, will help the company make a significant step-change in its operations.

“We’re looking to scale things up a bit,” he said. “[We’re looking to] improve our brand awareness, customer acquisition, customer service, move new offices and hire an A&R man from the music industry to help us showcase more talent.”

Perhaps it’s best to first explain why a firm with delicious sounding offerings such as Pineapple Cosmo and Rockabilly Nuts is offering tracks as well as snacks.

Pugh launched EarlyBird with friend Jamie Trinder in his dad’s garage in Northampton. At the time Pugh ran an events business and Trinder ran a tech operation and they both enjoyed receiving a Graze snack box in the post every week.

“After a while we thought it got mundane and boring and that snack box offerings didn’t engage with their consumers enough,” recalled Pugh. “We thought we could do it better and I wrote a story about how a young man in a garage had devised this great new idea of sending ‘festivals in a box’ through the post with healthy snacks and art and music from new talent.”

Pugh sent his business plan to a number of brand agencies. One, Saffron Brand Consultancy, liked it so much it invited Pugh in for a chat and agreed to help launch and develop it for a five per cent stake.

“It was a crazy time,” Pugh laughed. “It felt like what it must feel like to sign a record deal. Crazy.”

Since then the company has grown steadily, developing over 80 different snacks and delivering over 10,000 TasteBoxes to customers so far. Its 2,000 active customers, which have soared from 300 back in June, subscribe to EarlyBird and can receive their boxes weekly or fortnightly.

The boxes priced at £4.50 contain five snacks, one for each day of the week, and EB tea.

“Our customers tend to be in the 18-35 year-old range, of which around 70 per cent are women,” Pugh explained. “They are everywhere from Guernsey to the Scottish Highlands. They work in offices, or are at home or students in university halls. They love the snacks and think our boxes are cool.”

Getting the service right was aided by the raise from its first crowdfunding campaign.
As well as helping it set up its own factory operation in Derbyshire the cash was spent on a beta programme to discover customers’ likes and dislikes.

“We sent out 6,000 boxes between December and March,” Pugh recalled. “We got lots of positives to our idea but regarding dislikes we discovered that we needed to better label the snacks so customers knew what they were eating. Also we had a problem with exploding peanut butter dips. They didn’t survive in the post but we’ll try and revive the idea as with bananas it is very tasty!”

As well as snacks the boxes contain artwork from previously unknown artists and music which subscribers can download from EB Studios.

Customers find a download code on a music ticket in the box and then log on to EB Studios to listen to the chosen tune. EB Studios encourages musicians of all genres to get in contact if they want their music heard.

As Pugh explained, he hopes to develop this concept with the new Crowdcube cash.
“We want to hire the A&R man and find our own talents and music and get some recording sessions done,” he said.

It’s all about developing the customer service side of the business which Pugh thinks is essential for any new firm to embrace.

“I think that the new breed of entrepreneurs understand that if you don’t focus on the customers then you just won’t succeed. I’m not sure that was the case a few years ago,” he said. “We are constantly making improvements.”

That means hiring an extra body to help its present chief technical officer devise algorithms to deduce the favourite snacks of their customers both at present and in the future.

“We create a lot of value through having that IP. We want to know what our customers want before they even know,” he said.

Read more about businesses growing using Crowdcube:

Regarding improving brand awareness, the group is already handing out vouchers and flyers outside London tube stations and intends to have a noticeable presence at next year’s big summer music festivals.

In recognition of the difficulty of maintaining great customer service as companies grow, EarlyBird is also looking to employ a third so-called “customer hero”.

“Having happy customers is our number one priority. Our heroes ensure that they feel they are being looked after and getting the attention they deserve,” Pugh explains. “If they have any problems they can email me directly. I want this to be an open business for our customers and I want that to be ingrained as we grow.”

It is looking at developing more targeted snacks such as high protein gym boxes and tea boxes.

Regarding challenges Pugh, 28, said the biggest is learning how to be a leader. Despite an obvious confidence and garrulousness, he said entrepreneurs are rarely born but made.

“I really want to get the best out of people. I want to be amazing at people management and have a happy workplace. You learn those skills from looking at other leaders and being exposed to them. People say Steve Jobs was a born leader but remember he was fired by Apple. He learned and got better,” he said. “When you recruit you also have to find those people who connect with your core values. A lot of people want to join a crazy, fun startup like ours but you have to get it right.”

Pugh is focused on making his company the number one in the business, including international growth. “There’s always potential for that. The obvious expansion would be into the US but we’d also like to look at Europe as well,” he said.

But he is also mapping out his own future. “The plan is to exit EarlyBird in three to five years, ensuring that the buyer will stick to our values and keep our core staff,” he said. “I’d like to be a mentor or angel investor to young entrepreneurs and give something back. My advice at the moment? If you have an idea and it feels right then just do it. Make that first call.”