IN CONVERSATION WITH MARK CUDDIGAN | MANAGING DIRECTOR, ELLA’S KITCHEN

As part of the Roofspace launch at Brand Potential recently, we facilitated an informal Q&A session with 3 market disruptors. In the second of a series of extracts from these conversations, we captured some of the thoughts from Mark Cuddigan at Ella’s Kitchen on how the brand continues to innovate and disrupt the baby food category.

 

BIOG: Mark Cuddigan | Managing Director, Ella’s Kitchen

As both an entrepreneur, and now as the MD of high growth baby food brand Ella’s Kitchen, Mark builds brands with purpose. An early adopter and advocate of B Corp certification, Mark is passionate about using brands as a force for good whilst driving growth.

 

Mark, we’re interested in hearing more about disrupting a category. Obviously Ella’s has played that role in the babyfood category. How do you keep that disruption going?

It’s interesting, you look at a lot of big companies and how they go about achieving innovation. A lot of them tend to generate these new revenue streams by buying smaller companies and I was thinking about this the other day; why do big companies stop innovating? I think it’s because the stakes get higher. So, if you make a mistake in a big company the numbers are much much bigger and people get scared. I’m sure we’ve all worked in businesses where you have that sort of blame culture and I think that just ruins innovation, stifles it too early, so nobody takes a risk on anything and on it goes.

I obsess about it at Ella’s, because we are an entrepreneurial company started by Paul Lindley and I don’t want to lose that sort of spirit and culture, so we apply three principles:

The first one is to allow mistakes, I think everybody, (I hope everybody) at Ella’s realises that they can make mistakes and no one is going to come around and point at them.

Number two, not many people think they are really creative and I think that is absolute rubbish. If you have the right tools and permission, I think anyone can be creative. That’s why “thinking differently” is one of our five values. Everyone thinks Steve Jobs just came up with everything himself, but he didn’t. I’m sure we all know the story about him going to Xerox and seeing the mouse and thinking ‘well, maybe we could use that for something else’ – he was just really good at connecting the dots from other places. There are lots of different ways of how we can all be innovative and creative and I think we should allow people to explore that.

The third thing I am really passionate about is autonomy. In a recent conversation where I was asked “what do you do?” and I replied ‘I am the MD of Ella’s Kitchen’, the response was ‘oh that must be exhausting, making all those decisions all of the time’. But I don’t make any of the decisions at Ella’s. Instead I just support people to make the decision that they believe is right. And reminding them that there is no blame game.

 

Can that level of automony be daunting for a team? It’s still about providing leadership…

There’s a brilliant book that I’d recommend to anybody, by David Marquet, called Turn the Ship Around. It’s the story of how a naval commander pushed autonomy through his ship and ripped up the rule book.

His crew were originally the bottom of the entire US naval history, it was the worst ship. He devolved responsibility and decision making to those to whom it really mattered and whose day-to-day lives were being affected by decisions.

18 months after he took over, they got the highest marks ever recorded, not just in the North Atlantic fleet or American nuclear submarines, they got the highest mark ever. He sums up the story like this: ‘if you come across my submarine you wouldn’t stand a chance, because you’ve got 142 people thinking, actively, passionately doing what they should be doing, I shouldn’t be telling someone how to fix the generator’.

 

So let’s just touch on innovation. In terms of having a strong core brand then innovating out into new categories, new sectors and new audiences what are you looking for?

I think there’s probably three things. First one is to question – is there a consumer need that’s not being met, so is there a gap in the market? The second one is doing something better than what is out there. The third and least attractive is doing it cheaper. The first one is the most exciting, finding something that is not being done but there is a genuine consumer need, consumers might not know there’s a need. That’s what we’re aiming for. Continuously doing something new.

 

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