In the Company of Mavericks

Jeremy McKeown has fascinating conversations with entrepreneurs who dared to be different.

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December 16, 2021

Angus Thirwell of Hotel Chocolat

Hotel Chocolat Co-founder and CEO Angus Thirwell delivers a masterclass in how to develop a customer-led business. We begin with a chat about Angu's early life and the evolution of the Hotel Chocolat brand. Angus talks about the benefits of being a founder-led business which has among other things allowed Hotel Chocolat to build long term sustainable growth by doing the right things and not just the easy things. Armed with a long term strategic ambition to deliver pleasure by chocolate, Angus reveals a real passion for his product and the brand. Angus Thirwell Ben McKeown In The Company of Mavericks IntoFergus

The Episode Timeline:
1.11 - 3.51 Introduction to Angus's early life as an entrepreneur and son of Mr Whippee taking him to The West Indies as a 3-year-old. This was followed by boarding school back in the UK.
3.52 - 5.40  School Film Society initiative with a subscription model and the missed opportunity to start Netflix
5.40 - 6.49  Music and lyrics. Fergus singer-songwriter.   
6.50 - 10.52 From selling technology in France to meeting co-founder Peter Harrison and the formation of The Mint Marketing Company.
10.53 - 12.21  Being led to chocolate by their customers
12.22 -  16.43 The journey from B2B to B2C and challenging suppliers to be more creative. Discovering the gift-ability of chocolate with the Chocogram led to the discovery of the Tasting Club, a key tenet of today's innovative culture in Hotel Chocolat.
16.44 - 19.33 The difference between innovation and novelty. Looking for 10 out of 10 chocolates that excite customer tribes. Black Forest Gateaux drinking chocolate reappears from the 1970s.
19.34 - 23.21 Opening the first shops as a lesson in capital discipline but involved a new overarching brand to draw together Chocolate Express and The Tasting Club. The seductive appeal of chocolat and the delight of a hotel. A new world for consumers to discover the brand.  23.22 - 26.02 Manufacturing and the benefits of vertical integration including better IP protection.
26.03 - 27.59 The spat with Waitrose and the importance of long term properly invested business in control of its own destiny. Doing the right things not just the easy things.
28.00 -  33.03 Overseas expansion and its challenges. A long hard road, a decade in and only just starting to bear fruit. Understanding local consumer preferences. Multiple ways of growing in new markets.
33.04 - 35.36 The pandemic bringing out the best in Hotel Chocolat and the lessons from COVID. Adapting to the new order the benefits of integration and the use of creativity to discover new opportunities. Pledge to keep the Hotel Chocolat family together and keep the chocolat flowing.     
35.37 - 37.59 The development of subscription revenues. The win-win of a hotel Chocolat family supply subscription model. The podster re-cycling coffee maker.
38.00 - 39.20   Impact of supply chain issues and inflationary pressure. Using scale economies and other methods to mitigate cost pressures, but one thing customers require is a continued focus on quality.
39.21 - 42.15 Public listing and retention of independence. Importance of access to capital and the dilutive effect on the founders. Responsibility to maintain the long term provenance of the brand and its values. Has facilitated the funding of profitable growth. Less recourse to external capital in future will enable the business to develop on its long term growth trajectory undisturbed by outside influence.
42.16 - 43.26  The importance of being a founder-led company. In particular the competitive advantage of long term management tenure.
43.27 - 45.59 The 10-year vision for Hotel Chocolat. Pleasure through chocolate. Originality, Authenticity and Ethics are the 3 key pillars of growth. Evolution not revolution is the key. Widening the brand to encompass more categories. 
46.00 - 47.05 The biggest risk to growth is the maintenance of quality and not having too many balls in the air at any one time. The key CEO role is to prioritise projects to maintain quality and grow sustainably.
47.06 - 48.56 New treats to look forward to. The velvetiser is a core product. Coffee ranges and matcha drinks and biscuits of the gods, among others.
48.57 - 50.38 What have you changed your mind about since starting Hotel Chocolat? The big lesson is getting and retaining the best quality people possible. Amazing what can be achieved with a high calibre high performing team.
50.39 - 51.02 Thank you and goodbye. 

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