Bad Brownie Company
Have you got a secret longing to start up your own business? Maybe you've got a passion you'd like to turn into a money earner, or a grand invention that deserves to see the light of day?
We spoke to Paz and Morag, the geniuses behind the Bad Brownie Company (and our old candidates) to find out how they went from account handling in agencies to running their own business and winning the title of The Best Brownie in London!
Hello guys! First things first, let’s go back to the beginning...how did you meet each other?
We met whilst working together at Brandhouse, the branding agency in London, way back in 2009. We sat next to each other and used to take cheeky hot chocolate breaks as frequently as it was polite to do so! Our boss labelled us the ‘evil twins’ as we had so much fun together getting up to mischief!
How did you know it was time to take the plunge and start up your own business?
A few years after we worked together, we caught up over dinner and realised that we had both been thinking about starting up our own business and that it made much more sense to do it together. We had both moved from one job to another in the previous few years and thought the reason for this was that the role within the company wasn’t right for us. Actually it was the fact that we wanted to work for ourselves that was making us unhappy.
'We wanted [...] to bring a contemporary and refreshingly straightforward approach to baking – no doilies or artisanal wooden countertops for us.'
Did your previous knowledge of the branding world help with the Bad Brownie Company?
It helped tremendously and hindered massively too! It helped because we knew who we were targeting, and that a strong brand was key to standing out amongst the competition. In fact in the markets there are very few strong brands as everything is so food related. We had to make our food part of our branded offer and have a Bad Brownie ‘look’ so that it was recognisable from photos without the brand. We wanted to create a brand that was modern and differentiated from others out there and to bring a contemporary and refreshingly straightforward approach to baking – no doilies or artisanal wooden countertops for us.
However, too much branding knowledge meant that we have a tendency to get a bit obsessive about things which aren’t quite so important in a small company. We are very particular about the brand and what we want it to convey, which means we sometimes forget to focus on more immediate things. The problem of having too much knowledge and analysing everything too much!
Would you say there are transferable skills?
Running a business is so varied that I imagine there will be transferable skills regardless of what industry someone worked in before, or in what capacity.
For us the most transferable skill is the ability to look at things from a logical approach. With a lot of the branding world we had to take what we were given and then dissect it into what was relevant and what wasn’t; what was important and what was not, to try and get to a core idea or principle. Whether that was analysing a client brief for the designers or whether it was analysing an identity for a strategic review, the principle is the same – to sort the information quickly and coherently into a hierarchy. That is invaluable to us on a day to day basis when we are trying to make decisions on all manner of things at Bad Brownie.
The other really important and useful skill from our account management days is the ability to plan projects effectively including tasks, budgets and timings. This is something we see so many people who want to start their own business lacking. They want to do something but are unsure what to do, how to start or when to do it. Whereas, breaking things down into steps and making a project out of starting a business really helped us move forward and address each challenge individually and appropriately in a logical manner.
How did you divide up the work? Who does what?
For the first few years we did everything together! We were both involved in all aspects of the business – because we were far too precious to not be involved and we didn’t know who was better suited to what. Now, we have our own areas that we look after – either because one is much more comfortable doing something than the other, or simply that one person dislikes it more than the other! Occasionally it comes down to skillset but these are broadly few and far between. For example, Paz looks after all things technical which Morag doesn’t even attempt to (or care to) get involved in such as IT stuff, programs and photo retouching etc. Morag however, generously looks after all HR and accountancy functions as she hates it less than Paz who can’t stand it!
However a lot of what we do is together since we have completely different perspectives on things. For example, Morag has a ridiculously sensitive palate where she can taste things that shouldn’t be tasted and I have a much more blunt palate. While initially this meant we never agreed on flavours and how heavily flavoured something had to be, now we realise that we are both right and that a compromise between the two of us is a good level to please the most amount of people who may buy our brownies. Similarly when it comes to decision making, Morag and I approach things very differently. While it can be frustrating for both of us, it does mean that we are able to consider things in more detail and account for things that one person alone would have missed.
'We realised rapidly that we had to push ourselves on social media from the start as that was the future of marketing and certainly where all the latest food trends are talked about and seen.'
You guys are really busy on social media – whose job is that?
Very kind of you to say so! Paz historically managed all the social media himself (flamboyant character!) and now oversees a marketing exec or assistant who manages it on a day to day basis. We realised rapidly that we had to push ourselves on social media from the start as that was the future of marketing and certainly where all the latest food trends are talked about and seen. The markets we are at are all heavily talked about on social media and to not have a strong presence would be detrimental.
Also our product lends itself to social media due to being so visual so it was a highly rewarding area to learn about as small actions yielded strong results. However, prior to Bad Brownie neither of us had a Twitter or Instagram account which we used and didn’t know our handles from our hashtags. It was certainly a deep dive that had to happen very quickly.
Bad Brownies are on markets, at events, online - how important is tone of voice to your brand?
Tone of voice is an important part of our brand identity and one we have struggled with the most. Our tone of voice is almost exclusively used on social media and this has been handled by various people over the years meaning each person has their own slant on it. While we may want to have a brand tone of voice, it is almost impossible to remove any of the personalities of the people managing the account at the time - brand tone of voice is great in theory but when we are so small the brand tone gets diluted by the author’s tone.
Also we realised that our ideal ‘no-nonsense’ tone of voice was a potential barrier to the wide spectrum of people who buy our brownies and engage with the brand so we had to moderate it slightly to accommodate everyone we wanted it to and not alienate potential customers. It is something all brands go through and it is still a work in progress for us. Brewdog and Innocent have absolutely nailed their tone of voice and it is something we are very much working on every day.
'Yes it is a big decision to quit a job and start a company but it needs a leap of faith at some stage and that may as well happen as soon as possible.'
What advice would you give to someone who wants to breakaway and do their own thing?
Don’t over think it and don’t wait. The worst thing is to always overthink the problems and challenges and get hung up on all the pitfalls. It is easy to convince yourself that you need to consider everything before starting but that can lead to procrastination and you may never have that perfect idea you are waiting for. It isn’t just about the idea but it is about the execution and how you do it. There are lots of other brownie companies out there but we do it our way and we are proud of that. Yes it is a big decision to quit a job and start a company but it needs a leap of faith at some stage and that may as well happen as soon as possible.
From a practical point of view you are rarely likely to be worse off for having been brave enough to start your own business. If it succeeds then you follow it through but if it doesn’t and you decide to go back into employment, the experience of having set up your own business will only add richness to your profile and help you stand out with potential employers.
So what are you guys up to now and what are your future Bad Brownie plans?
That would be telling! One thing we have learnt (the hard way) is that it’s sometimes best not say too much. Which has been hard for Paz especially who likes to talk a lot and overshare. Things move so quickly, and often out of one’s control, so we tend not to say anything until it is in the bag. Otherwise it may never happen and everyone is then expecting it.
It is not from a desire to be wilfully secretive but more from a practical perspective where so many plates are always spinning but only a few will bear fruit and there is no point talking about things that are not confirmed. However you can rest assured that all plans involve developing new and exciting flavours and products as well as following our dream of world domination by brownie!
If you could be any brownie which one would you be?
Paz would be our Eton mess brownie which is completely bonkers as it has fruit, chocolate chips, meringue, fruit gels and chocolate ganache inside and on top – it’s extremely over the top and very bright but definitely delicious!
Morag would be our salted caramel – understated and classy with a glamorous golden shimmer on top and made of several complementary layers which work together harmoniously.
If this has got you salivating, you can find the Bad Brownie Company at various markets across London - follow what they're up to (and definitely don't spend hours at work browsing the absolute FEAST of brownie photos) here.