Growth & Customers

Use algorithms to scale your startup

Learn how cheesegeek founder Ed Hancock is using tech to improve the scalability of his business, while revolutionising the dairy industry.

Ed Hancock

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Calling all cheese lovers, this Sound Advice podcast episode is especially for you!

Ed Hancock is single-handedly revolutionising the dairy industry by offering his customers a unique cheese experience.

cheesegeek, his subscription business, uses a complex algorithm to send customers new cheeses every month, tailoring the selection to suit their specific tastes.

By integrating a high level of technology into this business model, cheesegeek is not only creating a better, more personalised customer experience. It’s also cutting down on food waste and looking at scaling up in a sustainable way.

Make sure you have your cheese and crackers ready for this episode.

Here’s what we cover:

For the love of cheese!

Bex Burn-Callander:

Ed, so wonderful to have you on the show. And so excited to talk about cheese for the next hour.

Thank you for being here.

Ed Hancock:

Thank you very much for having me.

And again, the opportunity for me to talk about cheese for an hour is absolutely delightful.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Well, maybe we’ll start with that.

So tell me about your passion for cheese. How long have you been, is it a turophile? What was the word you told me, the official term for a-

Ed Hancock:

It is.

Bex Burn-Callander:

How long have you been a turophile?

Ed Hancock:

I am officially a turophile. I’ve probably been a turophile now for over 25 years.

I mean, I may have been a turophile for even longer, but sort of unaware of it.

But the clearest memory I have was when I was 11, going to France with my parents, going to the first fine dining restaurant I’d ever been to.

And after the meal, the cheese trolley got wheeled out, and I was just blown away.

I was like, “What is this? What are all these?” I’ve never seen anything like it, I’ve never smelt anything like it, the colours, shapes, sizes.

But then the expert who was wheeling them out, his knowledge of the cheeses and the amount of information on all of them was just incredible.

And I said, “This is so much more exciting than pudding.”

And so from that moment on I became a bit of a cheese nerd, I guess.

And then I had the nickname, cheese monster, pretty much from then on through school and university. I’d always have a piece of decent cheese in the fridge no matter how skint I was.

It just became a trademark, if you lived with me, you knew there’d be cheese that shouldn’t be in the fridge, that was far too expensive for a student with no money.

It was at 11 years old, that was definitely, I think, the memory I have of that moment, the “A-ha” moment where I was like, cheese is pretty amazing.

Never forget your passions—you can always revisit them later in life

Bex Burn-Callander:

But for most of your life, it’s been a passion, but definitely something that was not entwined with your career. You went off and you did other stuff.

So how did you end up combining your day job with this passion?

Ed Hancock:

So when I was 13 years old, you went to school, you’d do your subjects, you then get to A-levels, and you get to pick a new subject, which sounded quite exciting.

I thought economics sounded exciting because it sounded a bit different.

I was bored of the subjects I’ve been doing up until then. And then you’re sort of geared towards university.

Everyone’s like, “Right, you’ve got to go to uni. Which uni do you want to go to?” It’s not like, do you want to go to uni? It’s automatically, which uni are you going to go to.

You have the careers chat, which is generally if you’ve been to the kind of school I went to, the careers chat is, “Well, your options are finance, economics, accounting, medicine.”

It’s a very small group, so everyone’s just doing the same thing.

So you don’t really have a chance to think about what else is out there. You’re living in this quite tunnel vision existence. And I was funnelled in that way.

So I went to uni, read economics, came out, went into finance. That was kind of what was expected all round and I didn’t really think about it.

So for 12-15 years in finance, cheese was my evening and weekend pastime.

When I say pastime, I mean just eating cheese or going out and exploring, trying to find new cheeses, but I was going down a very, very traditional career path.

But to answer your question, how did they loop back and intertwine?

Well, I think 10-12 years down the track and I kind of achieved what I set out to achieve quicker than I thought. So I thought, 30-40 years in the industry, but I probably got there a little bit quicker, and it gave me a chance to have a bit of a pause for reflection.

Over the years, I had been getting really into the neuroscience of decision-making, how our brains kind of dictate a lot of our emotions that we feel when we’re making decisions.

Whether that be making good decisions or bad decisions, but also that kind of spilled over into consumer behaviour and how consumers make decisions, which in turn spilled over into why great brands become great consumer brands.

So it really got me excited about understanding the DNA of great brands.

I mean, there are lots of little stories I could put in here, but I think overall to answer your question, the love of cheese has always been there. The love of great consumer brands really developed and built.

Then I just got to a point in my career where I was ready for something and the two sort of came together.

I just thought, I want to wake up on Monday morning and be super excited about my week. And that was the naive bit of me, thinking, “Oh, starting a business can be so exciting. I’ll be my own boss. I’m going to love Mondays.”

And then you realise quite quickly that actually you might enjoy your Monday mornings a bit more, but you enjoy your weekends less because you’re working on them.

That’s the background story to how I got from where I was to cheese.

And it’s a big jump. I doubt anyone’s ever done that.

Seeking out a new career before you’re forced to

Bex Burn-Callander:

But was there a tipping point, as in was there just a really bad day at the office where you were like, “I just don’t want to look at investments again,” or did you get a subscription box or something else and think, “Why can’t they get this for cheese?”

Was there a snappy kind of that’s it, I’ve reached the end of this road?

Ed Hancock:

There were three things, and they were kind of coming from different angles, but they converged at the same point.

So number one was my local cheesemonger had closed down, and I was forced to look elsewhere, and my local cheesemonger was great because I got to know them, I felt quite comfortable, and I enjoyed cheese, but knew very little about it.

Certainly not an expert in any way.

So I started having to look further afield and I started realising it’s actually quite an intimidating industry in terms of 60 cheeses laid out in front of you.

Usually when you’re buying cheese, it’s the weekend or Christmas when they’re busy, so you don’t really have time to stay and chat. It’s just not the experience that I was used to.

So then I started trying to explore delivery cheese, and it was terrible.

So I think that was one thing that got me thinking.

I think the second thing was I read a book called Where’s My Cheese, and that is a complete coincidence that the book had cheese in it.

It’s more a book about sort of thinking about your career and you as a person. And it’s about two mice and one mouse is very happy to eat his pile of cheese until it’s finished in this maze and then has no idea what to do, and he’s going to have to starve.

And the other mouse who realises this cheese is about to run out and goes searching for new cheese before it’s too late.

That sort of struck home with me. I felt that I wanted to do something before I was forced, either because I was unhappy or whatever it might be. I thought now’s the time to pre-empt that and try and look for something different to do.

The final one was I was at a wine tasting, and they had fine wines out.

The wines were incredible, but the cheese was awful.

I asked the guy there, “Where’d you get the cheese from?” And he said, “It’s from the supermarket next door.”

I just thought, “Wow, we are tasting £40 bottles of wine and the cheese is probably worth a couple of quid.”

Those were three things that really stood out in terms of things that made me think, I could probably do something better here.

Not making a decision is the worst decision you can make

Bex Burn-Callander:

And where did you start?

So you kind of thought, right, I know there’s a better way to get people really amazing, top quality, delicious cheeses, but what was the kind of step one on this journey?

How did you get the whole thing off the ground?

Ed Hancock:

The very number one step was I called one of my best friend’s wives.

She’s a graphic designer, an incredible graphic designer. And I said, “I’ve got this idea. I’m going to do cheese, but better than anyone else.”

And I’m going to get the UK excited about artisan cheese because even though it’s only four years ago, even now to be honest, there’s nearly a thousand British varieties of cheese, but people could probably only name five or six of them, if that.

So there’s just huge disconnect.

So I was like, “I’m going to get people excited about cheese. Can you bring this to life? We need this to visually look very different from just being an online cheese shop.”

So she started to bring it to life, which made it quite exciting.

So I was very fortunate to have her to drop an email to, and she put some ideas together, put the branding together and the logo.

So that sort of brought it to life.

Then beyond that, I then just ordered a massive fridge and got it delivered to my mum’s house.

There’s going to be a theme here.

So I’m a big believer in, you work through your process of making a decision, but then you’ve got to pull the trigger and make a decision. So I don’t sit on decisions for a long time. I go through my process, and then I do it because that way you learn a lot quicker.

If you make a bad decision, you learn from it.

But not making a decision is the worst thing you can do, so not doing anything. So I decided I was going to do this thing.

I got a fridge delivered to my mum’s house. It arrived on her driveway, and she looked really, really unwell. The blood drained from her face. I think it was two things.

It was one, “Oh my gosh. What are you doing with your stable career that I’d encourage you to do for your whole life?”

And number two was, “This fridge really doesn’t look like it’s going to fit through my doorway.”

So luckily it did just about fit, it chipped a bit of the paint off, which I still need to fix, but I will get round to it.

So I had the fridge, got the equipment, we put the website up, which we built for £500, which is amazing when I look back now.

Then I just really spent a lot of time on Google figuring out where to get cheese from, how to wrap it, because I didn’t know how to wrap cheese. I didn’t even know how to cut cheese, there are specific ways of cutting and breaking down a cheese, and I just learnt on the job.

When the first order came through in September 2017, I honestly thought to myself, “Why have you ordered cheese from us because I don’t know what I’m doing?”

But this lovely lady ordered some cheese, on a three-month subscription, which I’ll never forget when that order came through, and it was just learning on the job.

That’s all it was, it was learning on the job.

But it was getting the first things in place to force us to keep moving forward, onto the next step, and you just keep taking the next step until either it’s obvious it’s not going to work, or it becomes clear that it’s worth trying and taking another step.

And we always got that.

So every time we did something else or tried something different or took a step forward, we got the feedback that the customers were interested, that we were getting the traffic, we were getting orders and so you just keep going.

And that’s the very early stages of that started.

Market research doesn’t work for all businesses

Bex Burn-Callander:

Did you do a lot of market research?

I mean, did you think, because obviously you are biased, you’ve loved cheese since you were 11 years old, but how did you know that there were going to be enough people out there that wanted more than the supermarket offering?

Ed Hancock:

I have a belief, and this doesn’t apply to everyone necessarily or every business that you start or go into.

But I do have the belief that when you believe in something, and you believe it to be pioneering, and you don’t believe anyone else is doing what you’re doing—which is certainly what I feel with this.

Whether you look at the tech or the experience or what we’re trying to do for the entire industry, as opposed to just our own business.

I think sometimes it can be very hard for people to really grasp the whole scale of what you’re trying to do and so market research can be tricky, because how do you frame a question or a set of questions that adequately reflect what you are trying to achieve?

That in itself becomes a challenge and complicated.

In no way am I equating what we are doing to Apple, but if you listen to the founders of Apple speaking 30 years ago, they talk about this.

They say we didn’t really do market research.

What we did was we had an insatiable or unwavering belief that what we were doing was needed and important for society, and we just relentlessly went out and produced a product that we knew people would love.

So I get that that’s probably the minority because it seems maybe a bit reckless, but that’s how we’ve approached it.

We haven’t done lots and lots of market research.

When you don’t have a huge amount of money, there is a cost to it as well, and you don’t know whether you’ve done the market research in the right way, so it can create more questions.

So for us, we felt so sure and confident in what we were doing.

Like I said, we were drip-feeding new things all the time, and we were getting feedback.

We were getting customers coming back, and we were getting word of mouth. We could see it from where the orders were getting placed.

For example, Manchester.

We were seeing loads of orders in Manchester because clearly people were talking about us. So we just kept going, we just kept going in that way.

I’ve never really believed in investing a lot in market research. I’ve just believed in “Let’s put together an incredible product that we believe is going to change the face of cheese and let’s just not cut any corners, and we’ll learn pretty quickly if it’s not going to work.”

It takes a village to build a scalable business

Bex Burn-Callander:

You were saying ‘we’ a lot.

Is that just habit, because was it just you at that point?

Ed Hancock:

Do you know what? This is fascinating because someone else said exactly the same thing to me recently.

So the idea for this, it was me, just completely me, but I’ve always been one to draw on expertise and skills from all around me to build the business collaboratively, whether it’s building a website, whether it’s operations, logistics.

I really make an effort to ensure that it feels collaborative.

So I think that’s probably why I always use the term ‘we’, and ‘we’ at the start meant me and my mum.

Then it meant me, my mum and Amy, and then Rich, and then Annabelle who joined later.

Now, ‘we’ is easier because ‘we’ means the company and the 14 or 15 of us.

But I think that’s why I always use ‘we’ because yes, it’s my idea, I started the business, but from the very early stage it couldn’t have been done without the people that have joined us on the journey. I like ‘we’, it’s nice. It feels like a family, like a team.

The challenges of cheese—it is a living organism after all

Bex Burn-Callander:

You’ve made such a success of this in a really short time. I saw that, I think last year you turned over £1.5m. That’s amazing, that was in just four years.

That’s really interesting, that fulfilment challenge, because I didn’t realise that cheese was more specialist than maybe another type of food delivery or another type of subscription business.

Can you tell me a bit about what makes it so difficult to hand this over to someone else to package and post?

Ed Hancock:

So first of all, a piece of cheese is like a living and breathing thing.

So just to use one example, you take a one kilo wheel of Brie.

So the minute you cut into that cheese it starts to very, very slowly degrade. It’s no longer ripening. It’s now you’ve stopped the ripening process and this piece of cheese is never going to get any better. It’s actually going to start getting slightly worse on an ongoing basis.

So really what your challenge is, is to say, “I want you to be eating that cheese as soon as possible after I’ve cut it.”

That’s how you get the cheese tasting how we want it to taste, which is as it would off the cheesemaker’s maturing shelf.

So that’s the core of the challenge.

We could portion it up and store it, but it wouldn’t taste as good. But it’s like that thing I said earlier about cutting corners.

This is an example of it where we want you to taste the cheese absolutely fresh so that when you feed back, you go, “That is the best piece of Brie I’ve ever tasted.”

And so all of our processes are with that in mind, and that’s why we can’t outsource because not only is it food safety handling on the one side, on the very basic top level, but beyond that is speciality cutting down cheese and packaging it and sending it out.

So we do it ourselves and that’s the speciality of it, and that’s why we can’t really outsource to anyone else.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s absolutely fascinating. I love the idea of cheese being this living organism.

Using algorithms to create a cheesy personal touch

Bex Burn-Callander:

And you used the example there, Ed, of Brie.

Now you’d said earlier that there are a thousand different varieties, so how on earth do you decide what to put in those boxes?

And for those people that have been with you for two years, you don’t want to be giving them the same stuff all the time.

People have different preferences. I hate smoked cheese, so I would be cross if I got lots of smoke cheese.

So how do you decide what goes in? It just seems mind-boggling.

Ed Hancock:

So the starting point is, let’s say of those 1,000, we have around 200-250 that we know at any one time that people will enjoy, that we love, that at that time of the season it’s going to be good.

So on a live basis we’ve got around 250 that we’re sending out.

Now of the remaining 750 some of those are mass-produced. They don’t tick our box. Some of them we just don’t think are actually good enough, or certainly not good enough for that time of year. So from those 250, this is where the algorithms come in.

So this is where when I first set the business, I’m sitting there in front of my spreadsheet for our six subscribers, and I’m working out everything in my head.

So I’m like, right, on my spreadsheet what did they have last month? What did they have the month before?

So they’ve got to get new cheeses. What order should they be in? What’s seasonal? And it took me 45 minutes per person.

So really it was from that moment you’re thinking, well, look, this isn’t going to scale whatsoever. I built algorithms in fund management and I thought, well, really this is what an algorithm is for. It’s to automate a process that is manual.

In this case it’s getting my brain or decision-making automated through a model, and so that’s what we did.

So to answer your question of how do we decide? Well, the algorithms decide it, but the algorithms represent the decisions that I would make, or a chief specialist would make.

So that every time you order, instantaneously it runs all of these calculations to say, well, these are the cheeses you’ve had before, can’t have them again.

It’s spring, so we want to get a goat’s cheese in there. That’s got to be in slot one because you want to have that first, the order’s right.

You say, right then you can’t have a hard goat’s later because you’ve already got one goat, so you’re going to make it balanced. You can’t have these two cheeses because those are both available in the supermarket.

You don’t want to have more than one of those.

I mean, there are a lot of these parameters, and it runs these instantaneously, and that’s what decides the five cheeses you get each month. But then laid on top of that is any preferences you’ve given us.

So like you’ve just said, if you’ve ever emailed us saying, “I don’t like smoke cheese, never send it to me at all.”

On your dashboard it’s going to say, “Do not send this customer smoked cheese.”

Likewise, some customers might say, “That cheese I had last month is so good, I want that every month.”

So then that one’s got a stick in that slot, and then that also is taken into consideration.

So it’s another one of those examples where, why make it so difficult? Because every other cheese business in the world sends everyone the same five cheeses every month. It makes it so much easier. It really does.

Sometimes I dream about that. Let’s just do that.

But then I remind myself that we don’t like making things easy, but the reason is because if we’d gone down that route, then we’d be sitting here today, Bex, and I wouldn’t have a clear USP to talk to you about, because we’d just be doing what everyone else does.

We might have branded it a bit differently and have a fun tone of voice, but the decisions that we made back then have got us to this point now, three years later, where I can sit here and genuinely say that we offer a product that is unparalleled, not just within cheese, but I’d even say it’s up there with anything else in the direct-to-consumer area.

Whether you’re talking about flowers with Bloom & Wild or Gousto with ready meals, that management of subscription, the bespoke personalisation, being able to tell you that we’ve picked this cheese just for you.

All of these factors that we can now get so excited about, they started three years ago, and it’s taken that long for us to get where we are today.

So there are a lot of decisions that go in, a lot of computations, but the result is you feel like you’ve got something that’s purely unique and special to you as a subscriber.

Technology can help you to scale your business on a global level, reduce wastage and improve your service

Bex Burn-Callander:

And you wouldn’t imagine that you’re talking about cheese, that it would be such a high-tech business, but actually building a high-tech back end, starting with the algorithms, but also everything that’s then been built on top of it.

Tell me about how you’ve actually created a whole world of tech which is going to take you into even more ambitious territory in the future.

Ed Hancock:

The first big thing is scalability.

So I’ve never really set out to set up a nice business, like a family run business, that stays small. And by the way, there’s absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with that. It’s just my path wasn’t ever to set up a small business and then just tick along for a long time.

I’ve always wanted to scale, because I’ve always wanted to tackle cheese in the UK, but then beyond.

So I’ve always wanted to get artisan cheese to everyone mainstream.

So scalability is the key thing.

So what the tech enables you to do is to replicate at scale a very complex model, which is everyone getting a unique subscriber journey.

So as I mentioned earlier, you can scale it a lot easier if everyone gets the same five cheeses, but the way we do, it’s quite intensive.

And to have human beings do that would not be possible. You just have too many people having to make these decisions, and everyone getting different cheese, it’d be a nightmare. Just thinking about it actually scares me a bit.

So having the tech allows you to do this at scale, to provide this customer experience at scale.

But beyond that, it allows you to also take this model in the UK and apply it anywhere else in the world. So all you really need is a database of cheese, and each of those cheeses tagged according to its style and what it might be paired with.

That information goes in, and then it just runs it, as it runs it here, with German cheese or with Portuguese cheese or with French cheese.

And so you can have the cheesegeek experience wherever you go.

For me, that’s so exciting to think that you could, just with your cheesegeek app, travel to Portugal and order Portuguese cheese, artisan cheese, to be delivered in 24 to 48 hours, with no necessary knowledge of Portuguese cheese, or any cheese for that matter.

So it’s that incredible democratisation of artisan cheese, which the tech facilitates. It makes that possible.

But what the tech’s also done, which we didn’t actually think about when we started out, it was always just meant to be an allocation system.

But what the tech’s also done is it’s enabled us to have incredibly low stock wastage, for example.

Our tech can understand our stock all the way down to how big a piece of cheese is, and how many portions you can get out of it, based on the orders that have already come through, and based on the pipeline of subscriptions.

It’s why a subscription model is so exciting because you get that runway of visibility of demand.

So our stock system has an incredibly granular understanding of current stock, and also what we’re going to need for the next week and two weeks and three weeks.

So wastage is incredibly low. It’s a by-product of our tech.

It also means that the cheese is as fresh as it can possibly be, because cheese is coming in to go out, because the stock management’s so good.

So the tech started doing all sorts of other things. Another example of what the tech can do, which we figured out and learned, is that you can now rate every cheese that you’ve ever tried.

With that information, those ratings can then start to decide or guide our curation process for your future boxes.

So we can say, “You didn’t like these cheeses, you liked those, this gives us an idea of what you may like or where we might be testing a boundary, and we’re going to communicate that with you.”

So you feel like you’re on this journey with us. Those ratings feed in.

Another angle to those ratings is that we can feed that back to the cheesemaker.

So the cheesemaker might experiment with a new batch using a new starter culture or new process. Then what we can do is tag that batch, get customer feedback from that batch, in terms of ratings through the app, and we can cross-reference that against the baseline for previous ratings of their cheese.

So it becomes something that the cheesemaker can get value from as well.

There are more examples, but the core building of this tech has enabled it to achieve so many more things than we thought was possible initially.

Reconstructing the dairy industry

Bex Burn-Callander:

And how ambitious are you?

You said that you never wanted to build just a lifestyle business, so how big would you like this to be?

How big could it be? And where does your ambition come from?

Ed Hancock:

You’ve got to go a long way before you hit a limit on this, because if you look at the UK cheese industry, it’s £3.2bn. And then Europe’s cheese industry is around €90bn, and the US is $19bn.

We’ve had people email us from India, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, France, saying “I think this would work out here.”

So you look at the size of those collective markets, that’s exciting.

But what’s also happening is that, if you can make it work, you’re diverting milk from mass-produced cheese to artisan cheesemakers, because not all cheesemakers have their own cows.

They’re not dairy farmers.

A lot of cheesemakers are taking milk from local dairy farmers to make their cheese. So what you’re doing is, you’re not only taking a portion of the speciality cheese market, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to actually grow the pie itself, the entire pie.

We’re trying to say, if we can divert milk from mass-produced cheese, or even divert milk that goes into a carton to be sold in a supermarket at cost price almost, or sometimes as a loss-leader.

If we can divert milk to cheesemakers who then add value, and we can charge a premium because our customers appreciate the end product, then you actually start to completely reconstruct the dairy industry as a whole.

Rather than a race to the bottom on price, it becomes a virtuous cycle in terms of product quality, people willing to pay more, and everyone gets more for their work, right down to the dairy farmer.

So the scale of the ambition is huge in terms of market opportunity, but it’s also huge in terms of society.

Mindset is your magic weapon

Bex Burn-Callander:

I mean, I can imagine even an off-day, this side of what you do will get you out of bed, will get you figuring out a way through a problem, will cheer you on, basically.

And Ed, you gave me a sneak peek at one of your clever strategies that have made you successful, when you said, “I don’t take a long time about decisions. When I know something needs to happen, I get on with it.”

Can you tell me any other smart strategies that you’ve developed that you think have been absolutely key to the success of cheesegeek?

Ed Hancock:

I think the other one is really a mindset thing, because there tends to be a lot of advice that can be relatively specific, but in terms of an overall application, in terms of what we do at cheesegeek, it’s definitely mindset.

And when I say mindset, if anyone is saying to me, “I’m starting up a business,” or, “I’ve just started up a business,” the first thing I’m going to say is, “You are going to come across challenges. You’re going to come across challenges that you expected, but you’re also going to come across challenges that you had no idea to expect. Unknown unknowns, to take a term from my finance life. And there’s really not a lot you can do about unknown unknowns.”

And so your final weapon there, or line of defence, is mindset, to say, “I accept that we’re going to have problems and obstacles, and that’s exciting, because it’s an opportunity for us to fix something and provide a solution.”

A lot of the problems we’ve had, the solutions are now applications that anyone in the industry could use to make their life easier.

So that’s really cool, but you don’t get that unless you’ve got the right mindset.

Because I can honestly say a lot of the struggles we’ve had, like over the years, could have got us really down and just left us feeling a bit defeated.

We’ve had people far more experienced than us say there’s no solution to something or there’s no way around it.

Computer says no.

I think computer says no, for me, is one of the biggest things I struggle with, with my employees or with anyone I work with. It’s that mentality that this can’t be done because I can absolutely guarantee it can be done with the right mindset, and we’ve proven that.

I think connected to that, the other thing I bang on about, it drives people crazy at work, but it’s so important, it’s process.

Process is actually linked to decision-making in a big way, and it’s even slightly linked to sort of having the right mindset.

If you have a militant process in place for how decisions are made, what the culture of your business is, what the cheesegeek is all about in our case.

If you have the right process for, like I said, either decision-making, but the right process for every individual at the business, whatever their job is, this is the process, then you can trust the process. It helps you to then make a decision because you follow the process.

It also avoids unknown unknowns as much as you can because we’ve seen it so many times in the past when we’ve had big problems, it’s because there’s been a glitch in our process that we hadn’t spotted, and if we’d had the right process in place, it wouldn’t have happened.

So I think process is just being absolutely meticulous.

How are things being done? How are decisions being made? Why are we doing this? And being consistent with how you address all of those things will minimise, it won’t eradicate, but minimise those unknown unknowns.

It will also help you be confident when you make a decision to take action because, otherwise, you just can never commit to a decision. So I think that process is a big one as well.

Those are things that we use and at leadership level at cheesegeek, we all have those in place.

We’re decisive. We have meticulous processes, and we have a positive problem-solving mindset, and we try and ensure that flows through to everyone in the business, all the way through.

I think if you have those things in place, you’re going to give yourself the best possible chance.

If you can conquer Dragons’ Den, you can conquer anything

Bex Burn-Callander:

You went on Dragons’ Den, and you got investment.

Can you tell me just briefly about that experience and why you did it, what you got out of it, what you learned? All that good stuff.

Ed Hancock:

My wife had been saying for ages I should apply for Dragons’ Den, and I don’t know whether it was like imposter syndrome or you’re just never really sure if everyone else is going to think what you’re doing is as great as you do.

Are you just some crazy cheese person?

So I always just thought, I don’t know, I don’t know. Also let’s be honest national TV, I mean, very few people are like inherently up for just being on national TV, being grilled by the Dragons.

But I think January 2021 came along, and I just thought, I’m really happy to talk to anyone about this business. I think I just completely believe in what we’re doing and I think it’s so exciting, and so I just did it.

I just applied sort of slightly spontaneously. I just made a decision to do it and I just did it.

It was like a kiss the frog moment.

There’s another phrase I use, ‘kiss the frog’. It’s like you know when you’ve got a to-do list and there’s stuff on there that you just really don’t want to do. It always gets left and you just never really do it, but you can feel you’ve not done it.

It just sits there, and it’s on your mind, and you just feel like it’s a burden.

So I have a policy when you’ve got something like that on your to-do list, you just got to do it first. Very first thing you do before you do anything else is, kiss the frog.

That’s what I did that day. I woke up, and I was like, first thing I’ve got to do before I do anything else is apply for Dragons’ Den.

So it went from one thing to another. They got back to me about six weeks later.

I’d sort of forgotten about it, and I was like, oh, that’s interesting and then by June we were filming.

When I applied, Steven [Bartlett] hadn’t been announced as a Dragon, so he only got announced after I’d already been invited to go on.

For me that added another level of excitement because as a fit, he was perfect. So that was more pressure because then it was like, we’ve got to get Steven. He’s absolutely the guy that we need to get.

So yeah, we went up there. It was definitely one of the most nerve-wracking days of my life.

Rich, our COO who’s the calmest guy in the world, he never gets flustered about anything, he didn’t eat for 24 hours. I mean, he looked pale that whole time.

But once it started, you got the pitch out of the way, I could talk about this business till the cows come home, not really and pun intended there, but I just know the business inside out, and I know the opportunity.

So when they start asking questions, you then get into your stride, and then it becomes exciting.

You’re not nervous anymore. You’re just excited to share with them what you are doing, and you can sort of see that they’re starting to get excited about it, and then you just hit a stride.

Then like you said, we got the result we wanted.

Due diligence was super quick because I think we’re a bit more mature maybe than some of the businesses that go on there.

So the due diligence went through very quickly, and it all ran very smoothly, and I mean it was great experience, but definitely once in a lifetime. I don’t think I could take that level of stress too many more times.

But it makes everything else easier when I do events online or whatever it might be, interviews. I used to maybe get a bit nervous, not anymore because I’ve done Dragons’ Den, that’s the max. So everything else is fine.

But yeah, it was a great result, and we’re really happy to win.

Bex Burn-Callander:

How weird was it to watch yourself on TV?

Has the episode actually been aired now, yeah?

Ed Hancock:


Bex Burn-Callander:

Awful? No, fair enough. I’d be exactly the same.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Ed, you’ve been a phenomenal guest. I’ve loved talking to you. I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of what we could have touched on today.

There are so many amazing parts of your business and your plan and the mindset, but I’m going to have to leave it here.

Thank you so much for being here.

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Want to know more about cheesegeek and Ed Hancock?

You can find cheesegeek on their website or their Twitter.

You can also check out Ed Hancock’s LinkedIn page.

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