Roland Horne’s approach to the pursuit of mastery is fascinating. He entered hospitality because he was a disgruntled customer. Fast forward to today, he is the founder and CEO of the Central London specialty coffee chain WatchHouse. From day one it has been the company’s vision to grow and offer great coffee to great communities.
This was a truly remarkable conversation where we find out how businesses should give more than they take. If you want to learn more about growth, then this one's for you. We discuss how Roland is trying to become a better CEO each day, how WatchHouse has built a loyal customer base – and how they are bringing specialty coffee through their app.
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Michael Tingsager: 2:53
Could you for people out there just give like you know your like elevator pitch on what who you are your background and also how you came around to build a little coffee chain?
Roland Horne: 3:04
Sure. Okay, elevator pitch 30 seconds. So I'm Roland Horne, I'm the CEO and founder of WatchHouse coffee which is a specialty coffee brand here in central London. Great to be here and definitely great to be back in the flesh and bone after COVID. And yeah, so fundamentally, our business is one in which we position ourselves to be the go-to local hero of choice within the specialty scene within central London. It's a tall order to achieve that. But we're definitely making inroads into that as the business grows, I come from I'm Irish originally country to my accent I moved here when I was quite young, and to a sort of a scrappy part of the Midlands, here in here in the UK and kind of taught me to be quite a to have dexterity and to in some ways, I think to sort of have a more holistic approach towards life. And you know, it was wasn't the easiest of childhoods, but certainly wasn't the hardest either. But I think coming down to London here to study for my degrees, I sort of started my first startup here when I was finishing my undergraduate degree in aquarium design. And so kind of got into a sort of high-end architecture.
Again, taking very holistic approaches towards what I was doing at the time, which effectively was installing big expensive aquariums in people's homes principally, very high net worth individuals. And so you know, you learn negotiation, you learn about consideration and you know, things, things that you need in business such as contracts and understanding of law and accounting, etc, all those things that you kind of come to second nature now but so this is a long elevator in but it's broken down on the high floor and yeah, so fundamentally, after aquariums I then transitioned into the property by asked, also then given an opportunity to then enter specialty and I came to it as a frustrated customer, I've said it quite a few times. But it's very much the truth. I found that the lack of empathy within the hospitality scene at that time, this is back in sort of 2010 11. At a time, when I was sort of getting more aware of hospitality within London, I found that there's a lack of empathy and sort of a chain rollout, you know, cookie-cutter, or for the, ultimately, I hate to say it, but for the money men in this world. And so I wanted to do something that was sort of best in class within my space, squaring off some of those edges.
And I should say, rounding off some of those edges, I should say, and to make sure that we could have a truly, truly great experience. And so watch us was established, or we like to say reestablished in 2014, the buildings from 1829. So we feel like we've reestablished the building until 2014. I did originally run into it with a partner. But he dropped out prior to us actually commencing the work. And so I went from being an investor, a sleepy investor to actually being an active day-to-day partner, and as I say, watch us was established in 2014. And yeah, we've now grown the business from one site in 2014. I was referred to them as houses. Now, over two nine trading houses, vertically integrated roastery. And we've got three other houses that are currently under construction on-site here in central London, and another half a dozen also in legals or under offer stage as we scaled the business. So yeah.
Michael Tingsager: 6:35
So it's full speed on you can say in the post-pandemic. Could you tell us a bit more about what really made us click when we first talked and talk was all about, you know, I mentioned in the intro as well, the purpose, the mission, vision, and the mission. And you already alluded to a bit that there must be a better way.
Roland Horne: 6:58
Yeah, I think, you know, I think it's been said a few times, from a few American academics principally about the whole group, the great reassessment, rather than great the great resignation, as it were, since the pandemic, and I'm not going to sit here today and talk too much about the pandemic. But what I would say to you, is in relation to our, ultimately our, as we refer to them, the pillars of our business. And what we're here for, is that the pandemic gave us that opportunity to really genuinely reassess what we're about. And I think what's super interesting is that if you go into business, you can go in with a sort of frustration, which is, which is my entrance, entrance into the business and into the sector, but actually having that ability to have a really good critical analysis of really what you're doing to the very basic level, and not focusing on operations, because I think people tend to do that you kind of go with what you can touch and feel, really, to start thinking about, ultimately, the culture and the people within the business and I've set it opening, I'm a very transparent person. You know, we, we didn't really do that watch out prior to the pandemic, you know, we did have a best in class mentality and mantra within the business.
And we want to be better. And I think if you asked any of my colleagues that watch as they would say that my vision as an as the primary owner of our business, and maybe we'll come on to investment later on, but the primary version of me was to be best in class and to solve some of the externalities and the problems that we saw when I entered the market. But, again, not having that ability, or maybe necessity, and to really sit back and think about what you what you're doing. And I think I was probably quite cynical about the whole notion of MMB when I was graduating from university, and people are always talking about, you see, you know, the big blue-chip company saying our people are the most important thing to our business. I remember always being super cynical about it thinking courses like your bottom lines, the most important thing and I think I was hugely ignorant, actually, because whilst it probably is a bit of healthy cynicism needed for those big statements you see on websites, the reality is that the people for us our business are absolutely, and not only the way we get to what we want to do as a business, but it's also the funniest, and the best part of our business is possibly the most challenging as well. And it's not like it's, it's super easy to manage. We've got 220 or so people that are business now. And it's difficult, managing aspirations, but it's also hugely rewarding. So I think the COVID situation allowed us to have a great reassessment really of our business and we really honed in on our ultimately what our mission vision really was for the business which has to be said he's still being evolved as we go through our growth.
Michael Tingsager: 9:43
And how do you bring that to life? Because what was really interesting you got people around the table during the pandemic because you had that time to reassess. I can remember when we had a video call, you just said we're just taking everything down from the big reassessment, if you call it that, can you talk a bit about that process and what you learned from that as the founder? Because you've been in the business for almost eight years now.Roland Horne::
Yeah, I mean, it was true it was, I, there are two stories here, there's my story, which I will give you as much as you want to hear about. And there's also the story of the business. And I think what I founded What chance I am the founder of the business and but very soon after I founded it, I brought an operations director in at that time as a barista, I'm Steph Greg, who's now on maternity leave for the next year. And she was effectively my co-founder, and she is one of life's most beautiful people. And I have historically been the so-called âBad Copâ of that relationship in terms of getting deals done and being a bit more commercial and making sure that the, you know, the necessary friction of businesses is, is undertaken in a successful way.
And whilst also being true to our morals and what we stand for, ultimately businesses about an element of healthy conflicts, and at times, you need to be able to be there for that. So it's definitely very much fell into a yin and yang situation, but actually with Steph, and moving into a fantastic part of her life. I'm a father of three, I know how amazing it is to have children.
And yeah, it allowed me an opportunity and sort of headspace actually, to go right, I need to be âyin and yangâ here in this in this situation culturally for our business. And how do I do that and we hired a somebody who came to us from a blitzscaling tech firm in the UK, who came actually as a marketing director in an interim capacity, she was introduced actually by one of our angel investors, and she name is Olivia, she's fantastic. And she came in sort of brought the Objectives and Key Results framework and we spent hours and hours sitting inside a skyscraper in central London.
And part of that deal was we got opportunities to sit upstairs in the sort of big lounges and talk about stuff and you know, OKRâs and plans , as it were, so we sort of had these ideation sessions up in the in these in these areas, and sort of sitting there talking about what matters to us. And, and so we developed our OKRs framework, and, and really what the pillars of our business were and, you know, we introduced profit into that conversation. I think the notion of motivating profit is really important, ultimately, to everything we want to do. They're passionate people. And that was ultimately the first thing that we, that we reassessed and said, right, that's the first thing that we're going to focus on. And that's, that's, that's the business and premium product was the third and exceptional places was the final. So those four pillars were significant. And they were established during this period of assessment and during COVID. So yeah, I brought people in, I've leveraged and leaned on people who have been, who complement my areas of weakness, and, and they've done the same to me.
So it's been a really great challenging, emotional at times, you know, we've had tears during that process of sort of reflecting, I think, it led me to go off and go back to school soon, I'm off now doing an MBA and exec MBA and sort of trying to learn more about the vocational parts of business and culture. And it makes you question whether you're, you know, whether you're a good person, I think, in truth, which I think is a healthy thing for anyone to do as well and, and what you what you've done good at and what you can do better at so it's been healthy, it's been healthy, but challenging time, but we've come out of it now with a framework where something that we can build upon as a business as we scale.
And as I say, with 220 or so, colleagues, you know, this is a challenging thing, right? You got to bring people into a culture and meet and that best in class is fine as a North Star, but it's not enough. So it's something that we are grappling with, and we don't always get it right. You know, we've lost some great people along the way who have gone elsewhere, and we've obviously looked at ourselves and how we can improve there. But I think, you know, we've got in the, in the pandemic as well. You know, we've got to now have the top 10 baristas in the world who've competed at the World Coffee Championships in Milan. You know, we've got at the time of speaking to you we've had three people also competing and Coffee Masters, three out of 16 and the world which is really amazing. And we've got another two people who are competing for the UK British Championships coming up soon in our business. So, you know, coming from a 266 square foot small site in 2014 with no real knowledge of specialty to having been surrounded by people like that says a lot about the sort of the vision of being best in class within our business.Michael Tingsager::
It is very interesting, that you talk about this journey of growth, you mentioned it a couple of times, and we need to, you know, make sure growth and vision mission purpose goes hand in hand, and the framework is built to take care of that growth. So what is your approach to growth? And also, you know, because she needs funding for that, I guess, and you know, and you talk about, you had angel investors, so it's not like you don't take investment is not to make a good business, better business. Talk a bit about that, and what your experience has been with that over the years.Roland Horne::
I am so because I've found a total of four businesses now in my life. And I've always sort of seeded them myself. First. And the first thing I want to say is that donation of money in business particularly within specialty coffee, and actually with hospitality generally, is, has been bastardized, right? Like, there's just so many examples of people doing things to get in to get out, you know, private, private equity money, ramping things up, and then dumping it and all sorts of stuff, and it's not gonna go away. That's just the nature of the beast. But I do think there are not enough examples of successful positive environments where businesses such as ours have taken investment from decent human beings, they happen to be venture capitalists, or work in private equity, you know, that everybody is out to try and sell you up the road.
And there is a lot of those type of characters as well, of course, but I think there are not enough examples of a positive impact in the VC space. I think, what Charles has to say is I started all the rest of my businesses myself and seeded them, as I did with watch House. And I think we had, we had, you know, first sight 2014, Second Sight 2016, I took a sabbatical in 2015, scarf and toe various coffee places in the world and get loads of inspiration and take a bit of a break. Because I started my first business at university, I hadn't really done all that whole gap year, or whatever they say. And so 2017, we opened apart physically within our second site, 2017, we opened up our third site.
And in 2018, we were then approached by an American conglomerate, who many people know, here in the UK that went and tried to offer me quite a big seven-figure cash buyout, to sell the business to them is in 2018. And I vividly remember it was sort of November late November 2018. And you know, there was a wasn't a moment of like, Absolutely not, I mean, don't get me wrong, it's someone offers you a big financial incentive for something you do consider of course you do. We're human. And so I thought about it for a few weeks and then thought this isn't, this doesn't feel right to me, there was something about this just wasn't right.
So I remember ringing at our Christmas party a couple of weeks into December, and just staring in the owner and saying, No, I've got quite a lot of exploiters back on the phone from him. They've subsequently now gone into administration and basically disappeared out of the scene. And I have to say, I'm thankful for that because I think they were in this game for the wrong reason. And, and yeah, so we then 2018 said no to, you know, big seven-figure purchase. And then yeah, we got to 2019 it was like, right, okay, I need to now, you know, if I'm gonna turn down something like that, I need to really step on the gas and really do something significant. I think. Around that time, I started to, we had our first child and I sort of came to the realization sort of mortality and all those things where, you know, we're all racing to the grave as the truth to a certain degree. And I think, really, what I wanted to do was press on and do something significant.
And so we did take an investment, we went and spoke to a couple of people. And we did a deal with a small venture capital firm called Addition Capital here in central London. For young, really nice partners. With three young partners, one of them slightly older Polwarth Mummy saying that hopefully, and, but really young outfit, they've been around for a couple of years and they back to a couple of people, they just were really good. I've met them like them immediately was like, these are good humans. And we did the deal. So we raised about just over 2 million pounds and 2019 July, and then we then bought our we invested in our Roastery and vertically integrated during that period. So we went and bought a recipe from a German roaster called Bonanza which many people will know. And we then also acquired Fernandez and Wells.
That was the end it was basically retiring and so we acquired that and reopened up what Sommerset House on February 20. And then the pandemic hit. And just prior to the pandemic, hitting edition capital came in again for another million pounds and an up valuation. And so we were very capitalized going into COVID. We just obviously opened up the Sommerset House WatchHouse, and yeah, we kind of sort of went into it quite in quite a bullish manner I guess fundamentally. And then we didn't want to harp on them but pandemic too much on this podcast today.
But I think if I was to sort of categorising or summarize my approach during the 18 months and call it off of the pandemic, it was basically quite bullish in the first third, because I felt that September 2020 would be the end of COVID. And, you know, there's gonna be some great opportunities and landlords were freaking out, and we got some great deals on offer to us. And so we were snapping up all sorts of opportunities and you know, turnover deals, Capex steals from landlords, etc. And, of course, then to September 20 coming and we had, and then it kind of went to like October and suddenly you're facing another situation of a rise and then there was my partner's actually pharmacist, so she was kind of like, Listen, you need to understand there may never be a vaccination for this and that at that point, it was like, geez, like, are we going to be living with this face masks and stuff for the rest of our lives. So then it went quite bearish internally, in terms of my outlook, and I say internally, what I mean is me personally, during this period, the business carried on working on these processes.
And then the final third was back to sort of, not as bearish as that as a bullet bullish as the first quarter or first third, but it was definitely back into the right, let's get on crack on decent, do some great stuff. And so yeah, then we opened up a couple of more sites during the lockdown, and we opened up our very street properly in August 2020. And we actually didn't make any of our staff redundant throughout that period. And we actually built our head office cost. So the orthodoxy in London at that time was to drop everything you're doing close, don't pay anybody cycle your staff. Don't stop, don't do any CAPEX expenditure. Just don't do anything, because you don't know what's happening. And you know, and some people do that we were lucky because our cost base was quite small. So we're and we're obviously capitalized. Well, so it was like, right, actually, let's, let's take a swim against the tide. And I think it served us really well.Michael Tingsager::
And you mentioned that's a really interesting overview about you know, your, the way you look at growth and how you fund it, but also how you approach the pandemic, where, you know, you swim against the tide, you do the counterintuitive when it comes to the culture already mentioned that, you know, that's something that's very, very important for you guys. And you said yourself, like, you know, there's been a lot of learning for me as well, I'm still educating myself to become a better CEO/founder, can you talk a bit about how you actually build culture and how you manage culture, because that's a beast, as you say, when you get you to get it, right, the most exciting things and most giving thing, but when it's challenging, which is for many, many people, it's not, it's not always easy, even though it looks like from the outside, they're just on top of this, they're just doing it.Roland Horne::
I think, the way we dealt with culture, I mean, I do think that I'm a decent human being, I think, I think I see other human beings who I think are also decent people, and therefore I tend to hire and work with those people. And I think that served me well, from the moment that Greg walk through our door to the moment that we hired our head of people, Jess Davis has been a great, great hire for us in terms of sort of spiritual energy towards and, you know, I guess so sort of a really strong culture within our business to, you know, to be open to the OKRs to be self-reflective about who I am as a human being as well. And the MBA, for example, as well.
So I think the point fundamentally has been about hiring great people, being really honest with yourself about what your culture isn't, and is, but I think we need to move forward not always sort of rub our backs, like, fundamentally, it's about reassessing that you're not good at what you're doing. And, and, and, or not as good as you could be, and really working hard at making that better. So during the period of the cultural side do was, you know, I mean, again, I'm full transparency here with you, like, I find it hard with trust, like, I think it's, you know, I'm I like to feel that people are together, and they're cracking on and there's like an element of amazing friction and conflict within the workplace create creatively as well. Like, I just like people being with each other.
And so like this notion of like, everyone disappears and be at home and zoom, and, you know, and yeah, it was hard for me because I was kind of like, actually hold on, what are people doing here? Like, oh, that phone call is not being answered what they up to, and all that kind of stuff. And so there was a real kind of reflection about, you know, trust really, for me personally. And I think, you know, I, as I said before, sort of leveraging people within our business and sort of leaning on them and learning from them about other elements of where I'm good. They learn from me and when I'm not the other way around. So yeah, so I think really fundamentally it was about really reassessing what I was doing culturally within our business and, and trying to learn from people around me about the best way to orientate it have not been too harsh myself here, but I think it's important to be be honest about the fact that it was a hard cultural piece for me personally, as well as for the business. But I think we've come out of it in an exceptional place.Michael Tingsager::
And I think you're right because culture comes from the way you lead the business and reflect the way you are. And what about like, you know, you talk about the growth curve, y'all now, do you see gross like, could be an enemy of that good culture you're built now. And you're scared of that, but you know, you need to do it. But you also need to balance that out with the culture and the purpose, all these three things go hand in hand?Roland Horne::
Absolutely. I think it's one of the sorts of the other half of the coin to a certain degree about taking private equity or venture capital money. There's also this notion that as you grow, you become mediocre in the special sauce that you had, or the energy you had kind of gets diluted, and then it becomes this big chain, and then it all dies and disappears. Right? And I don't, it does scare me. Because I do think that if you just look at pure on a risk-adjusted basis, like your business, visa vies what other people do in the past, you'd have to say that the correlation, there is quite, there's an obvious correlation that like you can't deny it. So history suggests that as businesses grow, they get poorer. I think I'm very happy to sort of shed light on competitors, or people in the business that we see as aspirational. I do think that James Freeman from Blue Bottle, listening to a podcast and him during lockdown actually talking about their mantra about as they grow, they want to be better.
And I think I think what's interesting is in the UK hospitality scene, there is this notion of well, as we grow, we'll be as good as we were for our first site where his view is actually as we grow, will be better than the site in the Bay Area that he started in 2002, or three, I forget the year it was now. So I think this notion of being better as you get bigger is actually really important. And I think it's something that you know that the instruments available to you the opportunities available to you to bring in ahead of people to look at your culture and how to run your, your, your people's systems within your business, or to bring in a creative director who's going to look at the creative side of your business, all those things that when you are a smaller operator, yes, you have the magic, you have the authenticity, which is the key source, as far as I'm concerned in anything and everything. But I think that what you don't have is the opportunity to double-click on things that are that take a lot of resources and time.
And actually, as you get bigger, you get more opportunity to sort of, you know, have someone look at has the best, what's the best way to do frozen coffee, which is what we're we're about to launch in one of our sites in the West End, and just off Mayfair Fairbanks Street, you know, like, how are we looking at waste and sustainability within our business? You know, our food, like how are we developing that? Well, we've got an opportunity to have a development chef now that actually works for us full time. And so there are all these amazing opportunities that you have as you grow. And I just think as long as you keep clear, and your mission is very, very, very clear. There's an opportunity to be much, much better than you were in 2014, without ending up in a form of the church building, you know, and that's I think that's an interesting thing for us to focus on as we grow.Michael Tingsager::
You talked about the people system to support the culture. Can you talk a bit about what you have done to make your people's journey unique?Roland Horne::
Yeah, I think I won't recount the names of the businesses, but I was in New York. And I've said one of them already, which is a Blue Bottle. And it was another brand that I went to and just was walking around. It was back in 2017, actually, and we were kind of wanting to I was wandering around doing, just cruising around New York, because why don't you know, everyone wants to do that. And I went to this brand. And I spoke to a barista who was there and he was Australian. And I had a chat with him and obviously being Ozzy in New York. And obviously, I was British sounding in New York, we had a bit of chat and stuff. So how's the culture? Are you getting on? He said, Oh, well, they handed me an apron yesterday. And it's my second day in the business and the space was just run badly. Yeah, it was doing trade. It had a bit of unique because it was a brand which wasn't the typical American brand. And therefore, they had a semi-successful model. But then I went to Blue Bottle and spoke to you walked into the space and there was this kind of this energy in the space the staff that was just a bit special.
So I suddenly got chatting to one of the baristas there on the side. Tell me about what's your culture like? Because did you get do you get handed an apron on day two or day one? And then you're working from day two onwards? And oh, no, absolutely not? No, we go through a full-blown induction process of the tools for an elite minimum of a week at that time. And you know, they get a full immersion into the business, and therefore, culturally, they start off from a really strong and great space. Now it's back in 2017. We are a much smaller business with three sites and are just about to open a third site. And we hadn't had any investment. We were kind of very much hand to mouth kind of operation. And I think then at that point, I was like, right when we get to the point where we can do This, which ultimately will have been yesterday as the answer to that question, but fundamentally, from a funds perspective, it was difficult for us to do it, we need to really invest in that culturally.
So we need to know that when someone comes and joins us, they don't go straight on to working with us, they do spend a lot of time theoretically learning about the culture and what it meant. So when we brought our head of people on Jess Davis, and before locked down, she went through a full module induction process of 30-60-90 days for all of our staff. And it's evolving. So we had UK breeze champion, pour us with us for 14 or 15 months. He's off now to do his own entrepreneurial activity, which is great, and we're here to support that. But he came to us and also made some comments about you know, how do you just handle things like, we give a cut bag of coffee now to all of our new starters, which is printed without their names on as a thank you. We're now evolving that process more whereby every single person who joins the business, I will personally call that person for, for a phone call prior to their first day, in more chance to have a conversation with them, which I know sounds a bit grandiose, because while you know, CEO rings you but the reality is, when you have 200 plus employees, you know, that's a lot of people a lot of time for to actually get around everybody. So actually speaking to them before they speak, come to anywhere, you know, any sort of any part of our business is a really important part as well, and just hearing about what they think and then following up with them in due course, as well.
So we give everybody brunch when they join us as well. There is a PDP plan in place so that you can go through SGA modules, coffee modules, if they're in the barista side of our business, also management training and really bringing them through into the business and sort of cultivating your rising stars. So So yeah, there's a load of things that we're doing. And we all do, we're going to do, I think bringing the whole business to a London Living Wage was a big, big part of the Great Recession. I think it was not only about culture, but it's also about economics. And I think, you know, you and I both expect if we walk into a Pret tomorrow morning and your you know, your sandwiches 15 Pence more than it was six months ago, you probably could not get to say anything, because you understand that we're now in an inflationary period. That's not even talking about Brexit or, you know, the horrific things we're seeing in Ukraine at the moment, there are a lot of headwinds in the world right now. And therefore inflationary pressures are everywhere.
And because of that great reassessment, we've managed to look and go rationally, where do we sit financially within the space and how can we invest in our people, it's fine to talk all these nice words, but now you get to put your money where your mouth is. So we brought everyone in our business up to a minimum of a London Living Wage. level. And so everybody gets a minimum living wage, plus they get a trunk service charge on top. So that was a really important part, obviously, we're going through the B-Corp process at the moment, which is a really exciting thing as well.Roland Horne::
And other things like mental health training, again, going back to that point about making sure that we are being considerate to people in our business to ensure that they are looked after and cared for when they aren't well. So there's been loads of really great things coming out of the last 18 to 24 months culturally and economically as well. So putting those prices up basically helped us, it allowed us the opportunity to go, you know how we're going to make our business actually sustainable while we're going to do it when it's charged properly. So it's slightly depressing to see people come into the market still looking to try and go in the race to the bottom. And that's a shame because I think, you know, obviously, you're from Denmark. And I think that was a great example of a place where if you pay good wages, you know, everything is done with an element of empathy. And I think that's something that resonated with me when I went to Denmark, it was actually that that feeling of actual things isn't cheap. But people live well. And they're happy. And I think there's a lot to be said about that.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah. And it's also about productivity, in principle, because if you start out thinking smarter about what you do in a business, you don't throw, for example, labour at a problem. Yeah, it's a very, very different, different approach. But that's a totally different conversation. What is to say a bit about what you talk about here and then dive into that a bit as you talk about that thing, where you send the baristas out, they're part of these World Cups and I know how hard it is to get into that for my coffee background. I think we had one or two people over our history my nine years in a coffee chain it's almost that pursuit of mastery that comes from the outside you know, the perfection you talked about at the beginning like Michael Jordan also talks about standards, you can only doesn't matter what other do, you need to beat your own standards every day or set higher ones. Can you talk a bit about that and why it's so important for you and you said you're really happy that you created an entrepreneur is another example of creating a business person?Roland Horne::
Yeah. I have to say again, they all say about Mark Zuckerberg that his skill is hiring great people. That's his skill. he surrounded himself with fantastic people.
I would not say that my ability is similar and that I see people that I die, immediately know that they will be evaluated in their respective space. And our head of coffee in this situation is a gentleman called Ryan Garrick who joined us we had, you know, we were, we weren't even weighing in shots like we were like, we were we weren't, we were not good. When we first started, like, we were honest, and we did good stuff, and we made good revenue. But we weren't in a specialty way anywhere near where we were certainly not where we are now.
But we just joined us at that point. And we didn't have a roastery, obviously, we were talking about it, and he kind of doubled down with us. And now he's, he's the Head of Coffee soon to be a Coffee Director in our business, we're restructuring as we obviously as we go. He created and he came from a sort of sports psychology background. So he created this, we wish to refer to as the Team Sky cycling approach where there was, you know, six or seven people that would be working towards competition, there'd be one person who maybe gets the lion's share of the support because that's how the team ran in terms of like Ryan being the coach, and then we'd have someone who was principally going to be the person who in the UK, besides, we've managed to have two or three people at the same time without causing to any sort of issues about conflict of interest, etc.
But, fundamentally, Ryan's created a really great career and competition, healthy competition within the coffee team. And therefore that means that yeah, creating those aspiration elements within our teams has been, has been a really important part of the culture of the business. So, you know, we get people coming to us now who approached us, because they want to be part of our competition team. And I don't know, I'm sorry, if there's someone listening to this, that can contradict me, but I hope they can, in fact, but I don't know if there's another competition team within London, doing what we're doing that, you know, we have a very, very tight-knit group of people who are focused upon mastery, as you say, there's a really good word actually. And it's not one that we really use in our business. But I think it does encapsulate what we're trying to do. We're trying to be masters of what we do. And I think that's, that's something that Ryan is particularly spearheaded.Michael Tingsager::
What about that leads us then to something, if anything that's really interesting, is also because you're growing a business. And you know, and you said that the commercial has to be right. Therefore, the standards, the operational standards have to be spot on every day, as you open and close the business or talk about you visit a brand in New York where that was not the case. And the culture is the foundation of great standards, how do you maintain them as you grow? Especially when you have like a premium product that you have?Roland Horne::
It's so hard, it's so hard? I, it's so hard, I can tell you how difficult it is to do it. And I think, you know, we've recently hired so staff's role originally in our business was Operations Director. And we very quickly realized both of us are very honest characters ourselves. We're both very reflective about our own skill sets and what we aren't good at and one of the things we haven't been strung out is that operationally as a business, you know, we don't come from, you know, a McDonald's vocational program or, you know, work for Nando's for 10 years. Like, it's just not where we come from. And so we wanted to ensure that we had that but equally, I don't want that I never wanted to bring in someone who was just because we tend to find with those operations, fantastically, commercially fantastic. And they come so well drilled, so well drilled. But are they WatchHouse? Do they want to be the best in class? Or is it more about you know, it's just not the same kind of comparable space?
And we were super fortunate to find an Operations Director by the name of Damon Khan, who had previously been, he came to us from Marks and Spencers. But prior to that, he'd been in operations at Harris Hoolel and Taylor Street Baristas before that, and he'd been in the specialty in New York. He's Australian, which is also a massive tick, obviously on the kind of specialty box. But he was an absolute game-changer for our business and came in and kind of went right what are we doing here? How do we do this? We're still working on it. Like we're still trying to get our sort of NSA and a new store opening. Team off the ground. And but operationally Yeah, it's hard. It's hard. Well, they will say on it, though, is that I tend to be probably the biggest critic of our stores, I go into them and they'll be something that's not right, whatever it may be. And luckily, the second most critical person is Damon, which is great because I reached out yeah, it's been a real revelation coming to get to know him because I often get quite frustrated when I feel that people around me don't have the same aspiration towards perfection, which is also not realistic, but it's just why I am who I am as a person and luckily, Damon very much has that. So he does most of the QC and operational training now for that for the company, and certainly in terms of standard training. He's exceptional at that.
But, um, but yeah, the difficulty of that thing I always say to myself though is when I do find it difficult at times if I go into a shop and under no point of sale is out of alignment, or the music is slightly too quiet or slightly too loud, the way I think I've come to realize is actually, people don't have the same sensitivities towards your brand as much as you do. And therefore, as long as you're doing a very, very good job across most of your facets, people will be very, very happy. And, and therefore actually take it easy on yourself a little bit.Michael Tingsager::
So like Michael Jordan said, You're in competition with yourself, not the others. And in Are you touching on the customers? Community? Yes, I would like to call them your How do you build that? Because you have some loyal customers? You know, I've noticed and talked with a couple of people that really said, yeah, that's my place.Roland Horne::
I'm glad to hear that. That's good.Michael Tingsager::
How do you build that? And how do you actually maintain that connection, especially as you grow as well?Roland Horne::
I honestly, listen, I came into this industry as a frustrated customer. I said that earlier on. I, I think if you are trying to solve that problem, honestly and authentically, I've said that word a few times, but I want to repeat it if you are opening up a hospitality brand, and you want to do something truly great, be authentic, that is what you need to do, you need to write that on top of your, on a piece of paper and put it in front of your wall and hold that out in front of you like that is the most important thing, be authentic, be honest and be true. But I would say that if you do those things, and you adhere to that, I think customers just know, I think they just realized that there is something here that's truly honest. And if you're doing a good product, and you're trying to do good food, and you're trying to do you know, the system and the or the environment, and in a good way, I think people start to realize that.
So in terms of connecting, I guess spiritually with our customer base, I think it's about making sure that when you're designing your house as we refer to them, or if you're designing any of your systems or anything you're doing if you're doing it with true empathy and authenticity, then I think people just know that intrinsically, I think in terms of more and less spiritually been more than just day to day, you know, yes, we do. You know, we obviously we have we invest a fair amount of time and effort and resource into our, into our marketing and our social media. And we connect with people, you know, I make it a principle that you know, every single House Manager has to respond to any Google review good or bad.
But it definitely the bad ones, they will roll over it very, very quickly, but also the nice ones. So if you go and click on any of our watches on Google, for example, you'll see, that every single of the 800 reviews on one of our houses would have been replied to. So there's the connectivity is very much built into the DNA of the business. And we allow our, we encourage, we definitely allow but we encourage engagement from our house managers to obviously to our customers in terms of if they want something changed. If they want to make an amendment they can do that. If there's an element of idiosyncrasies within a house, then, by all means, let's lean into that and see what we'll see where it takes us.
And then obviously, there are other things such as, obviously, we've got an app, which we use an awful lot for, for connectivity directly to customers. And, and I think now as we start to build out our direct to consumer business, which is a big part of our future, we'll have a more of a digital engagement with them as well. I mean, I've spoken previously about things such as NFTs and tokens and things like that, I think I probably come a bit more cynical about those as the last six months have gone on in terms of, we don't I don't want them to be without sounding like a pawn to a token, I don't want it to be a token thing. I want it to be something that's real and getting really engaged. So you won't be seeing you know, watch us launching NFT artworks for their walls like it's not going to happen in our business, but you may see us in the near future looking at doing you know, a coin in which it can allow people additional qualitative access to such as additional training resources or one to one training with our baristas or, and also additional benefits in terms of actually when they come into the store in terms of what they get as well.
So there are different things that we're looking at doing tons of connectivity with, with our community. We also hired just finally on this point, we actually hired a community manager as well. They have a shout out to Faye, she was a big part of the cultural piece actually of our business she kind of came in and was reluctant both externally about what our community engagement was like but also internally about what we were doing as well as she was a big part of that. Cultural evolution was a revolution it was kind of a revolution but also a revolution as well within our business over the last 18 months.Michael Tingsager::
And that's very counterintuitive you look at normal hospitality is very known in tech you have your community manager that is involved with the community YouTube is known for the story about building that you know the community from the straight-out when they cocked up some of the setups of the tech and all the heavy users just said know what the hell you're doing. And they capture that because they add a community manager that can come back with all that feedback. So if we need to change this, for sure, they're leaving us if we don't, yeah. What is your prediction for hospitality? you went in with a bit of a disgruntled customer you need this had to be better. But what is how do you see hospitality after the pandemic was a bit of a reset?Roland Horne::
I think that there's going to be, it's interesting, because obviously, so fascinating, there are so many things to talk about in that situation. I mean, in a more boring commercial way, obviously, the price of things has gone up, I think they're gonna go up. Certainly for the long, I certainly for the medium term, I think, possibly for the long term as well, I think this race to the bottom within anything other than very, very cheap brands, I think that that day is kind of over, right. One of the things I learned when I was doing a was I'm doing my MBA is like you kind of want to be at either end of the scale, you either want to be a very cheap operator that does things super well, you know, quick part, you know, buy them, buy it high in or pilot high sell it cheap operator or you want to be an operator in which you create such a diversion from your price point, your perceived and real value add that people are willing to pay.
So I think what you're gonna see here is possibly race to the bottom operators, getting more efficient, getting a bit more predatory. But being successful, I think you'll also then see a premiumisation within the space, of more local heroes really stepping up and doing something that's a bit more special and investing properly in what they're doing so, and therefore the quality will start to increase. And I don't see hospitality as anything other than going in one way, which is, in a positive way. And up, I don't see people disappearing into the Zoom-world and ever thought that this whole notion of going into a new world is a load of rubbish, as far as I'm concerned in the new world I see is Tuesdays Wednesdays, and Thursdays being the new Fridays. They are the old Fridays and Mondays and Fridays being a bit quieter, but the weekend being absolutely jam. So I think we're in a great, great space. And people humans want humans like we don't want Tech, we just don't want it. And that'll never change as far as I'm concerned. And I think as long as we position our brand in a position where we have people and connectivity, authenticity and empathy at the very center of what we do. I think we'll be in a good place.Michael Tingsager::
If you should give one advice to other leaders out there. What should that be?Roland Horne::
Yeah, I got asked that actually, recently on a panel I was on and sitting on a panel full of people and there was everyone was kind of been quite reflective about sort of the more modular parts of their, of their business. I think the real key thing for leaders out there is to be really, really, really introspective about what you actually are doing as people use that word human being it's a bit odd, because like, but I think he kind of sobers the mind about what we are doing as people like we need to assess who we are as human beings, and actually, where, what, what angle are we coming from, and everything that we do, and then start from there and go again, and it's fine to do that after 30 years of being in business, though, doesn't need to be you know, a spotty 18-year-old coming in doing that you need to in many ways you can't when you're that age. So actually having a bit of margin that are you know, mileage on the clock really helps you have a proper introspection of who you are and reflection on how you can move forward about a human being.Michael Tingsager::
Where can people find out more about you and WatchHouse Coffee?Roland Horne::
And so WatchHouse is obviously there's a usual social media channels, principally Instagram and Facebook. And you can obviously reach out to us on our website if you want to come and speak to us. I should encourage anybody who wants to learn a bit more about business if they want to reach out to me I'm happy to have a conversation with you over a coffee or even on Zoom if we have to. So preferably over a coffee if we can. And yeah, so they will be the ways of contacting us. But by all means, try and do it in person, because that's what we like.Michael Tingsager::
Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing the journey and all the great things you're doing and all the reflection.Roland Horne::
Pleasure. Thanks very much.