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TheEmployable interviews Graze Co-Founder, Ben Jones

Since its’ launch in 2009, Graze has been completely transforming the snacking habits of thousands of people all across the UK. With its’ hand picked, nutritionally balanced snack boxes it has created a “healthy eating by post” revolution.

Ever “hungry” though to find out what exactly inspires and drives entrepreneurs, TheEmployable were delighted when Graze Co-Founder Ben Jones agreed to answer some of our questions.

Hi Ben, firstly can you give us a bit of background about yourself and your career history prior to starting Graze?

After leaving University in 2004 I worked in the City as a head-hunter (finding qualified accounts in practice and moving them into industry) and then a Market Research company as a project manager before starting a business with two friends.  It was our first ‘grown up’ venture (being childhood friends) and  was a Design Consultancy that specialised in Industrial Design, Brand Communications and Digital Media (we called it TCJ – Thompson Charles Jones). We ran it together for two years before passing it on to chase the dream that was graze.com together.

So how exactly did the idea for Graze actually come about?

We were constantly tempted by snacks at work.  Whether it was passing the biscuits round in the morning or even worse someone turning up with a bag of doughnuts in the afternoon, we couldn’t escape them.  We needed snacks that tasted delicious and didn’t make us feel guilty afterwards. So we started mixing our own snacks together using the tastiest ingredients nature had to offer. When other people told us they thought the snacks tasted really good was a good idea we got really excited because we realised there might be a business in this.  So we set about working out how we could send our snacks to anyone in the UK who wanted them. The Royal Mail seemed obvious so we started posting snacks to each other to see what happened.  It was a lot of fun because we never new what would turn up until we opened the box and it was hilarious watching each other try all the weird and wonderful creations inside.  We ended up looking forward to the postman coming with our surprises so much it was obvious that this should be the way to send our snacks. So we took a deep breath, quit our jobs, built the graze kitchen and graze.com was born. We now spend our time making graze boxes even better with new recipes that taste delicious and we have a lot of fun doing it.

What were the biggest issues you faced initially when trying to get the business off the ground?  I would imagine at the outset people may have thought it couldn’t work – after all food….in the post is not exactly a match made in heaven! How did you deal with any early critics of the idea?

We are proud to say that we were the only company in the world that has sent fresh cut fruit through the post to thousands of people (without using any artificial additives to help).  It was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done but it was worth it because it taught us to challenge the norm and in turn gave us the confidence to do everything ourselves.  From creating recipes, sourcing and buying ingredients, packing all the food, making all the boxes, building the website, designing the packaging we’ve always done it all.  The ‘Kitchen’ part wasn’t in the original plan but the more we investigated how to send fresh cut fruit to people the more we realised we’re going to have to do this ourselves. We were constantly told it wasn’t possible by industry experts.  We used to hear things like “it’s never been done before” and “it can’t be done”.  We always struggled to accept this because at the time we didn’t know much about the world of fresh fruit and we never got an answer that put us off when we questioned why? When you haven’t been put off by former experiences, teachers, industry norms or the questions you ask, it becomes very easy to challenge the norm and take on what seems impossible.
As we chipped away, it turned out there wasn’t one particular thing that would make it possible, it was going to be loads of little things that would all add up to make it happen.  From sourcing the freshest fruit in the world to developing special packaging and building a special room to cut and pack the fruit in it was a fantastic adventure. We stopped sending people fruit when we struggled to consistently find the best possible fruit.  Our fruit had to be perfect every time and we wouldn’t settle for less.  This coupled with the popularity of other products in our range meant we should focus on other things.  It was a big decision to stop and looking back it was the right one.

How important do you feel it is for a new business to create and build its’ Social Media presence?

It’s not important at the start, if the product is good enough people will build it for you.  Don’t waste time, you know you’ve got a good product when it sells itself through word of mouth on social networks. It a great way to test if you’re onto something.

We are doing this interview of course as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week. What are your thoughts on the “Entrepreneurs are Born and not Made “debate?

Some people are born to take risks, the more you try and teach it you get bogged down in the theory and get worried about the myth of the practical.  Some people place to much emphasis on research/logic instead of just getting on and doing it, this becomes stronger as we grow older as we assess risk differently, and have more responsibility and in turn become more risk adverse.

The jobs market as we know is extremely tough at the moment, so more people are creating their own jobs by creating their own startups. What advice would you give to someone who may be at the moment thinking about doing just that?

Surround yourself with great people, don’t be scared of mistakes and start tomorrow.

Now, back to Graze – can you tell us about your excellent Graze School of Farming. Was that always intended to be part of the original business plan?

It was always part of the plan, but at the start we donated to the Rainforest Alliance while setting it up. Our school of farming is based in Kabubbu, a village in the heart of rural Uganda.  Its about 20km North of the capital, Kampala. Students are taught how to grow, maintain and then harvest fruit from their own trees. The school teaches them about the different types of trees, the nutritional value of the fruits, how to plant correctly, irrigation and disease control. When they graduate we provide the students with tools and 12 fruit trees of their choice and the support to getting going. They can choose to grow avocados, lemons, mangoes, oranges, paw paws or sweet bananas. We want the school to invigorate what is a poor rural area by improving nutrition, increasing productivity from the land and empower the locals by providing a source of income. Every single penny goes straight to the school so it’s well worth donating. Since 2010 we’ve donated £41,865.

The Graze product range always seems to be growing. Are there any new additions planned  that you can tell us about? Anything new coming up for Christmas, for example?

More dips, some amazing new exotic dried fruits we’ve found, ‘the graze light box’ and a top secret project you’ll see the results of next year….

Finally, what are the future plans for Graze?

There are so many different things we could do, so many ideas, watch this space.

So why not try it out today – visit Graze.com and get your first box for half price.

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