Kristian Tapaninaho and Darina Garland launched their first Ooni oven project on Kickstarter in November 2012. The husband and wife team had the initial ambition and dream was to create a pizza oven and tools that enable people to make great pizza at home. The fundraising quickly swept past their target figure, and their brand aspiration grew bolder – to become the world’s number one outdoor pizza oven brand. In a fragmented market, they achieved that goal in 2019.
The Edinburgh-based company was already scaling up when the Covid pandemic hit, doing everything from design, sales and marketing in-house. And then Ooni really put on the burners. More than three years of planned growth happened in 12 months. Turnover in 2019 was £13.5m; in 2020, it rocketed to £55m. Ooni has become one of the world’s top five brands in outdoor cooking.
Pre-Covid, Ooni employed 53 people. Today it has 210; with 150 in Scotland as well as operations in the USA, Germany and China.
Through its Kickstarter campaign, Ooni established a global audience from the outset. The US and the UK have been the largest markets to date but Tapaninaho is particularly excited about the potential in Germany and France as well as growing interest from distributors across the rest of world, from the Middle East to Japan.
To date, the business has been able to fund its growth out of cash flow. “Having high levels of demand with customers pre-ordering products has given us the confidence to grow,” says Tapaninaho. While the company does have a blanket of IP protections in place, “our biggest protection is to keep on innovating and introducing better products to customers – and acquiring more customers who are ready to spread the good word about our products.”
It has recently arranged a revolving credit facility with Silicon Valley Bank; partly to help plan further expansion but also to provide a buffer against spiralling container costs. “It’s pretty crazy right now, but it’s not viable for container costs to stay up that high for long,” he says.
As part of Ooni’s growth and development, it has been a cohort member of several growth programmes including Scottish EDGE and the Hunter Foundation’s Scale up Scotland Leadership Programme. “Scaleup Scotland was fantastic at the time, especially for the people and other businesses that we met,” says Tapaninaho. “We were getting ready to scale up and it really helped with getting our ambitions and mindset into the right place.”
As co-CEOs, the husband and wife team are members of separate Vistage peer network groups. “It’s really valuable to have these outside conversations. Both our groups contain a number of more mature businesses and the quality of the support that we get from other executives in our group is excellent.
At present, he is looking to bring in coaches for the Ooni executive team, as well as developing an internal coaching programme. A bespoke approach to leadership development is required to match their particular needs. “We’re a bit of an outlier as a local, fast-moving ecommerce business – and there aren’t that many of our size in the UK – but we’re also a product business that designs our own product.”
He is also focused on developing Ooni’s brand as an employer. “It’s hard when you’re very small, because you don’t have enough people to tell their friends what a good employer you are. With 200 people our reputation precedes and we have really invested in that. We try to be as good an employer as possible so that we have the pick of the best people.”
So from the start of 2021, Ooni increased its minimum salary in the UK to £25,000. (It also applies pro rata to interns.) Employees are entitled to 35 days of holiday. The company has instituted a passion fund: an annual £500 for each employee which they must spend on something they are passionate about. “You can’t buy everyday items; people use it to buy tickets for sports events or Michelin-starred meals. Darina spent hers towards buying a puppy this year.”
A similar approach underpins its wider corporate activities. Ooni has planted a tree for every product it has sold (last year, for example, it planted 2m trees in Madagascar). It also gives 1% of turnover to social and environmental projects. “Creating physical products means using the earth’s resources, so it’s our responsibility not just to reduce our own carbon footprint but to make sure that we leave the world in a better place,” says Tapaninaho.
"Creating physical products means using the earth's resources, so it's our responsibility not just to reduce our own carbon footprint but to make sure that we leave the world in a better place."
Kristian Tapaninaho, Co-CEO, Ooni
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