Friends Paz and Morag have used their branding know-how and a mutual love of chocolate to set up Bad Brownie – the unruly rebellious cousin of the humble chocolate brownie . Theirs is a story of successful brand development which was literally created at the kitchen table. We talk to co-founder Paz and find out how within a couple of years, Bad Brownie has gone from a single market stall in Camden to several across London’s key markets. And how their gourmet brownies and the Bad Brownie brand has caught the eye of Selfridges; Pret a Manger; local and national press; and even a Dragon from the Den -Touker Suleyman.
Why we think Paz rocks:
In 2015, they were asked to take part in Dragon’s Den (it aired in 2016) when a producer found them at their Maltby Street market stall. They are one of only 200 companies to have won an investment since the programme started when several thousands have applied.
Sanzen Digital’s interview with Paz Sarmah, Bad Brownie
SD: What made you decide to set up Bad Brownie?
Paz: I always wanted to set up a company but I never got round to it or had that big idea or the bravery to do it. But it was when I left my last agency, Bloom, to figure out what I wanted to do – that I went through an exercise of self-discovery to find out what my skills set were, what was I good at, what did I enjoy and what it would be useful for.
I realised that being my own boss would allow me to do a lot of things I loved – copy writing, photography, organise things, interact with people and I concluded that the only job that could do all of that was a job I had to make up myself! And then I met Morag for dinner one evening and we discovered we were wanting the same thing as she was already looking into setting up a microbrewery with someone else.
SD: Why Brownies?
Paz: Morag and I are both foodies and had a mutual love of chocolate. While at Brandhouse we actually worked on a contract with Mars – Morag on Galaxy and me on Minstrels and Malteasers!
From the outset we knew we wanted to focus on one product with different flavours – so we considered lots of options: popcorn, choux pastry, eclairs – but brownies seemed to have the most resonance. Because neither of us are trained bakers or were those kids who grew up baking and so we concluded – well you can’t go wrong with brownies surely! And it hadn’t at the time been done before – perhaps a few companies but no one with any stand out really – so we went for it.
SD: How have you used branding to differentiate Bad Brownies?
Paz: We simply positioned our brownies to be the really dark naughty side to the really good but boring brownie. On hindsight we put a lot of thought into stuff that most small businesses got away with not doing. But we got hung up on little things like: let’s do a naming brainstorm, let’s do a positioning exercise and work out our key USPs. We could have got away with not doing any of this but it has actually (of course) seen us in good stead.
And it actually started as ‘Bad Ass Brownie’, but people didn’t really get the imagery and logo that went with it. So about a year and half later we embarked on a re-identity project with my old designer colleague at Bloom and we removed ‘ass’ and came up with our ‘Bad’ stamp. It can now be easily translated to lots of things and also it’s honest about the fact that our brownies are really bad by nature; they are packed full of butter and so are a very indulgent treat – and we want to celebrate this!
SD: How have you found working in a partnership?
Paz: What we quickly realised is that everything we knew about each other as friends was completely different when it came to work! We thought it would be a perfect partnership because we got on as friends but actually when it came down to it we had completely opposite points of view and even to this day we’re learning how to smooth over stuff we disagree on. But ultimately, we both know it’s because we’re passionate about what is best for the company so we’ve learned the art of compromise – and are still learning!
We’re kind of complementary but it took us a while to get to that. I’m gut reaction led and Morag is like ‘well you may be right but let’s put some numbers to it so we can see if it can work’. She is thankfully more cautious and I’m the opposite – so we tend to end up in the middle.
“A lot of (market) traders struggle because they’re unable to let go and trust someone else to help the business grow. The problem when you do this is that you’re limiting the business; because it can only grow as much as you can grow and as far as your exhaustion holds out”
SD: What has been your biggest challenge as an SME and how have you met that challenge?
Paz: The biggest challenge is always budget – and making tough decisions based on what is the appropriate thing to do and spend money on even though we might really want something else. So it’s about what is best for the business at that particular time and pursuing that route instead of another which may make our lives easier.
Staffing has also been a lot more difficult than we thought because, for a small business like ours, every single person we hire is integral to the business and we didn’t know how to interview. An interview would go well and we thought what’s the point of getting references – and now of course we look back and think how could we have been so naive! Another early mistake we made was that we didn’t let go of people when we needed to – we tried to make things work – but actually when you’re a small company you just haven’t got the time or resource to do that – we need staff to perform well from the get go. Now that we have more people, they train with other staff on the job and they are a fantastic team.
We can’t help but ask a few questions about digital marketing…
SD: What role does digital marketing play in the success of your business?
Paz: Digital marketing has been crucial in getting our brand to the place it is now. Luckily we have an amazing product that tastes great and at the same time looks great. We have tried to leverage this through interesting and exciting photos which we post across social media platforms, especially Instagram. Instagram is made for amazing photography and people love to like and share photos of great food which we have been lucky to have been part of.
SD: How much of the digital marketing do you outsource or do in house?
Paz: We do everything in house for the moment. We have a fantastic sales and marketing exec, Bridget, who does a brilliant job with our social media. She is based on site so she can take some lovely photos of the brownies being made, or the team getting on with their work; and this I feel gives our social media authenticity.
SD: What’s the most exciting thing in the horizon for Bad Brownie?
Paz: Even after 4 years there is still so much for us to do and explore – our mission is world domination by brownie and so far we have made a decent start but only in London. While we’ve fed thousands of people our brownies there’s millions more out there – and getting to those others is the exciting part now.
SD: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who are starting out or wanting to grow?
Paz: The most important thing we’ve found so far is in being as flexible as possible. It’s valuable to plan things out and analyse pros and cons carefully but ultimately it’s important to not become so fixed in the pursuance of a set course of action that potential opportunities en route are disregarded. We always said yes first and then started to think of how to actually do it – meaning we were able to embrace opportunities and grow quickly. Had we spent too long analysing those opportunities, we may have found ourselves paralyzed by the unknowns and potential mishaps.
Also a lot of market traders struggle because they’re unable to let go and trust someone else to help the business grow. The problem when you do this is that you’re limiting the business; because it can only grow as much as you can grow and as far as your exhaustion holds out.
SD: What can you tell us about yourself that we wouldn’t get from your resume?
Paz: I have a dog who thinks she’s my owner.
End of Interview.
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