Has the pandemic delayed any of your business or team’s ongoing projects?
Burow: If anything, it’s just accelerated existing plans for hiring and investment.
Are you still in a crisis mode, or have you gone beyond that?
Burow: Crisis mode, in a sense, yes, [because] we continue to work from home. We took quite early on a decision to not open the office until the earliest, January. I think we’ll possibly push that further back; we might see another spike post-Christmas and the new year as people gathered for the festive season. So that way of working continues.
Operationally, what we’ve seen happen in online shopping — e-commerce — is an existing trend over the last ten years be compressed, essentially in the space of just nine months.
You talked about working from home. How has productivity been impacted?
Burow: At the very beginning, people felt really rather excited. Suddenly, you don’t have to do your commute. You can be at home. You have more time to do the things you like.
Very quickly, though, what we found is that you are just jumping from video call to video call to video call. You have no interruption in your routine and the workload is such that it’s very easy, if you’re not conscious of it, to have a day that starts at whatever time in the morning and finishes at whatever time in the evening without any interruption.
And so in a perverse way, productivity actually went up in the short term. Before we then very consciously invested in making time for people to have a lunch break, and decreeing that we won’t have a meeting between 12pm and 1pm. This means encouraging people [to shape] the way they work in the day, whatever suits them. And if that means you start late because you have to bring your kids to school or if you want to have a break in the afternoon to go for a run, that’s fine.
How have you kept morale up, and have you taken steps to build people’s own resilience?
Burow: I would say that we pride ourselves on being very close to our teams, and I have catchups with probably most of my team every day. So recognition is growing that we’re very fortunate to work for a business that hasn’t had to lay off people, hasn’t had to furlough people.
Where it’s been possible, I’ve tried to bring people together in the park, just outdoors, and say, “Look, I haven’t seen you in six months. Let’s just gather and have a conversation about how we’re feeling and what are some tips and tricks that can help with your personal resilience, whether that is trying to carve out a clear separation between work at your desk from your home life or whether it’s about exercise.”
As a senior leader, I have a responsibility to live by those principles myself. So I always talk about how I’ve just been for a cycle, or I stop work at 6pm, so that people can feel the message really comes from the top, and is lived by.
And what about cash and costs?
Burow: We recently closed a funding round, so on the back of that funding round we’re now a dollar unicorn [a startup valued at $1 billion or higher], and we’re in the process of being cash generative now.
We have some natural cash conservation, because we are not in the office. Now that isn’t millions of pounds, but it does help. Some of it, we returned to our employees in the form of gifts, and vouchers, and things like that.
I think other than that, we continue to benefit from our economies of scale. So every day that goes by, we are a bigger purchaser of primarily food products, and that helps because on a unit basis, our costs decrease.
What’s your most important priority now?
Burow: We are growing tremendously. We have a fulfilment centre in Lincolnshire. We’re currently in the process of opening a second fulfilment centre just down the road. And we have plans to further expand our capacity. In the past, when we were a single entity, single fulfilment centre business, it was quite straightforward. We’re now introducing a significant level of complexity by having a multisite supply chain and operation.
I think the other one is continuing to understand how customer behaviour evolves as we come out of COVID and what that means to our long-term profitability. We’re a subscription business, so the key metric is the cost to acquire customers and how much money customers are going to spend with us during the period of their subscription with us.
Lastly is to continue to make sure that the team feels happy, and supported, and the morale is high. We’ve hired a number of people over lockdown, people that have never set foot in our office. They get sent a laptop. I smile on the screen [during meetings]. But I’ve never even met them. How much do they feel our culture? I don’t know. I’m meaning to invest in that so that we all feel part of the same family regardless of whether you joined pre- or post-lockdown and COVID.
And do you see any threats to the business, and how are you managing those?
Burow: I think we are riding some really big trends — online shopping, convenience, the desire to live more healthily — and we benefit from all of those. I think there’s always a risk that someone like an Amazon decides to chuck a lot of money at the problem and tries to build something.