Delicious Cooking Made Easy – Dave Malcolm, Marley Spoon
Why did you decide to work for Marley Spoon?
After a few years of essentially working in the local start up scene in Sydney, I’d been working on a few small start-ups that hadn’t really taken off. Through that process I met some interesting people like Dan Jarosch, a successful entrepreneur who’d become a bit of a mentor to me.
When Marley Spoon’s global CEO Fabian Segel and Dan were looking for entrepreneurs to build a start-up and launch Marley Spoon in Australia, they approached me to be part of this founding team along with Rolf Weber (Dan’s partner from a previous successful ecommerce company Brands Exclusive). Because I already knew Dan to be a great entrepreneur, I was stoked to be asked to join him in building a team at Marley Spoon.
The beginning of Marley Spoon
We started in Bondi Sydney and hired a stall at the Bondi Markets where we gave away food to people in exchange for their email addresses to generate some leads. Running the stand was about testing local appetite as part of our marketing strategy.
From Bondi, we squatted in someone else’s office and then began to operate from a warehouse. It took us 16 days to go from nothing to launch. We packed the first boxes ourselves – we bought the ingredients from the local supermarket, put a recipe card in the box and then we started sending them to our friends and families and soft targets. And then it moved super-fast after that.
How different is Marley Spoon from what you've done?
I’ve had a few failed enterprises along the way. When I first got to Australia, I built a website with some other fellows called ‘whatcanido.com.au’ which was meant to be an early listings website. The idea was if you had bought tickets for an event from that website half the ticket sales would support a local charity. That kind of fell over because we had no idea what we were doing.
I also worked for Rockstar Games as PR and Head of Marketing; they are all about massive blockbuster entertainment, so the marketing approach is different.
What we do at Marley Spoon is called performance marketing; everything has a KPI chain and very strict data points to make it work. We focus on investing time in researching what will work, scale the concept and then implement. It’s all about being incredibly patient, methodical and eliminating mistakes.
In ecommerce where we are retailing the food – there are hundreds of things that can go wrong. So, it’s about applying expertise to every single area and having incredible governance around what we are doing with our investment.
We wear lots of hats and then hire people that can execute to this plan in their areas of speciality, particularly now that we are a big manufacturing business. Marley Spoon are very focussed on investing in the right people, so we hire the experts.
What excites you about working at Marley Spoon?
There are so many things that excites me about Marley Spoon; one that stands out was building something from the ground up and not knowing if it was going to succeed. We had the proof of concept from other countries but it’s still exciting building teams, working with amazing people and going from 3 people to 300 people in 3 ½ years. The excitement continues to grow especially towards our staff; ‘how can we invest in and develop high performing teams?’
The remarkable aspect about Marely Spoon is that we are doing something with purpose. The whole premise of the business is about redefining the way people engage with food; it’s all about building a sustainable supply chain for a waste free world.
We only deal with things that are sustainable and scalable and we work with Australian farmers. We also work with purpose, trying to find something that hasn’t potentially been done before or has been done and try to do it a lot better.
Has Marley Spoon's purpose been the same from day one or has it changed along the way?
Marley Spoon’s vision statement has always been ‘bringing delightful, market fresh and easy cooking back to the people while building a sustainable supply chain for a waste free world’.
The purpose has been the same from day one. It’s a very singular vision statement created by our global CEO. We have these clear value statements within the organisation which everyone adheres to and we just try and deliver on those better every day.
What were some of the challenges growing and expanding across Australia?
When we first launched in Melbourne, we were running the deliveries from the Sydney Fulfilment Centre – overnight. One of the biggest challenges was getting that right and making sure the produce arrived at the customers house as expected. The solution (and still a challenge) was then building a fulfilment centre in Melbourne and then deploying the correct amount of marketing dollars to make that work financially.
The other challenge is with food itself. It can be a very emotional product – people love brands – so sending food into someone else’s kitchen is something we focus on getting right.
We’ve also had to be careful when growing and scaling the business because the challenge is how do we make sure we are sending the right products without compromising on quality at any point.
In truth, the challenges never really end so we’ve learnt that it comes down to rigorous planning and not overreaching to areas where we would be compromising on quality.
What concept are the recipes based on?
The procurement and culinary side of the business is incredibly complicated. As a customer you just want the produce to be great and you want the meals to work.
At the beginning the concept was to have six new recipes every week but overtime, to set ourselves apart from our competitors, we lifted our game and now produce 20 new recipes every week. We have a big team of dedicated recipe writers and culinary testers. It’s a meticulous process that takes 12 weeks to complete. Every recipe is tested three times. The recipes must be sustainably priced, cooked within 30 minutes, based on six easy steps and importantly designed for people who don’t know how to cook. The recipes must be delicious, fresh and somewhat special and have a slight twist to them – meals that you wouldn’t normally cook at home.
We develop a menu we believe will appeal to most people; we provide a mix of proteins, different cuisine styles, recipes which change with season and now we have the technology and automation in place within the fulfilment centres to create recipes based on dietary requirements such as ‘no added gluten’, ‘dairy free’, and ‘vegetarian’.
We don’t want to overwhelm people, so based on their preferences, and if they are a subscriber, we only show what we think that person would like.
People use Marley Spoon to learn how to cook but also to make their life better and help eliminate the hassle of having to go to the supermarket.
How do you provide a product that suits customers whilst still remaining core to what you are doing?
We listen to our customers. When they provide feedback, when they fill out a survey, we take it all on board. We research what the trends are, we work with the seasons and the type of produce that are at the peakiest quality. We then provide this to our recipe writers whose job is to create new recipes.
We test the new recipes inhouse and provide feedback. If it’s something that the staff at Marley Spoon aren’t excited about and wouldn’t buy, then we won’t produce it.
The recipes must also hit a certain cost price because we are a value proposition – trying to save people money by not wasting all this food.
How do you ensure you are selecting the best produce?
We have a procurement team who do all the purchasing and work with local farmers; we have protein specialists, herb specialists, someone who knows about leafy greens, someone who knows about fruit. These people are the experts in their field and so they are responsible on ensuring we receive the best produce we possibly can.
We also have a Food Safety and Quality Assurance team whose job is to assess the quality before it gets through. When something arrives at one of our warehouses, it must be in temperature and in perfect condition.
All these people, every single person in the organisation contributes to the success of Marley Spoon. If someone is not on their game and we end up shipping a substandard product, the customers will let us know very fast.
Have there been times when a customer hasn't been happy with the service?
Yes absolutely. Things go wrong and so we have a dedicated customer care team who are on the phones, available all the time.
The reality is something is bound to happen. You may get a wilted bit of basil – if you are not happy with the cut of meat or an herb is missing or there has been an error and someone has put two cans of tomato in the bag instead of one. It doesn’t matter how big or small the error is, it’s still not good. People are vocal so they would call and let us know what the problem is, and even though we would reimburse them, we’ve ruined their dinner and their experience with Marley Spoon.
That’s why, all the data we get from customers we feedback into the business and act upon it.
It’s also worth noting we get great feedback from people. We’ve helped change how people see food, what they can do with it and importantly created a stress-free experience for them so they can enjoy the result.
With the cost of living rising, how do you manage the cost of ingredients without compromising on freshness and quality?
We don’t increase our costs. The cost of our boxes has been the same since day one, but the ability we have as a business is as you scale you get the benefits of scaling. We can work with bigger suppliers and get better pricing. That’s part of the procurements team to ensure they have these amazing relationships. It’s the same with suppliers who want to work with us.
We are a very price sensitive business. We don’t pass these fluctuations in food costs onto the customer. We had a drought in Australia several months ago so we knew, for example, that would drive up the price of beef in six months times, so we plan for that accordingly. It doesn’t mean we don’t sell beef, it just means we must be smarter.
These are things people don’t see. If there is a listeria outbreak on some farm with melons, we just need to make sure we are delivering on that promise and deliver to the customer’s expectation. It’s up to the business to manage the ebb and flow of the cost of quality.
We can continue to help people save money as the cost of living rises.
What makes Marley Spoon different from their competitors?
Recipe quality, ingredient quality, this strict adherence to delivering to the customer promise and we offer this array of choice that no one else does.
The ability for personalisation of menu; the menu I get every week would be different to yours based on what you choose and what we know about you as a customer, and what you have told us.
It will get to the point when we have the technology to offer you specifically what you really want to eat. In the future we aim to provide you with the perfect choice based on what you like.
What should new customers know about Marley Spoon?
We want them to know that we love cooking and Marley Spoon is about the cooking experience. We strive hard to deliver exceptionally high quality of ingredients that are sustainable, ethically sourced and of the highest quality.
We also try and educate customers that there is a better way to eating, living and cooking. A lot of care and attention goes into making it work. We only buy what we exactly need for that meal to help eliminate waste. We pack exact measurements, so food doesn’t go to waste.
What's Marley Spoon's vision for the next 12 months?
The vision is to continue delivering amazing food and incredible, delicious recipes to as many households as we consistently can. And to be a profitable, global organisation expanding our vision and experience geographically.