OONI Pizza Ovens: ‘We didn’t disrupt this market; we created it’

Pizza oven maker Ooni’s year-on-year growth is turbo-charged, but the stat that most exhilarates co- founder and co-ceo Darina Garland is not directly related to revenue at all. The number that makes her happiest is the company’s Employee Net Promoter Score, which is a whopping 74. The global average eNPS – a measure of employee engagement – is 12, with anything above 30 regarded as outstanding. So 74 is an outlier that proves that Ooni’s team absolutely loves working there.

Part of the attraction is the company’s remarkable origin story. The Edinburgh-based business began in 2012 after Darina and her husband Kristian Tapaninaho got into pizza-making at home. The problem was that their domestic oven just could not replicate authentic Neapolitan pizzas. So Kristian decided to build a pizza oven himself. Working with a local welder, he made one about the size of a carry-on suitcase – the first-ever Ooni oven. His creation cooked pizzas to crisp, puffy Neapolitan-style pizzas in under two minutes. “Allowing customers to make great pizzas at home has been our focus ever since,” says Darina.

It’s a satisfying story, a cool sector and a compelling mission, and it makes the Ooni team feel good.

“People, our team included, love the magic of making a 60-second pizza,” says Darina. “But what they really care about are those magic moments spent with family and friends. That gives us a genuine reason for existing.”

The company’s jaw-dropping growth and pioneering approach also make the Ooni crew happy – a busy ship is a contented ship. Darina says: “We didn’t disrupt this market; we created it. And we were perfectly positioned for lockdown. Making pizza at home is accessible and fun, restaurants were closed and everyone was looking for good food.”

But with lockdown firmly behind us, Ooni’s growth is continuing apace. So this is no flash in the pan.

“There are all sorts of angles for us that are nothing to do with the pandemic,” says Darina. “Lockdown helped us to do what we were doing anyway – attracting new shoppers to stores and playing into the idea that your garden or yard is another room in your house. The past two years have hugely accelerated our growth but have also taught us masses about our customers. That knowledge has enabled us to focus our marketing a bit more. We now know that our consumers really like to geek out – they love the details of sourdough, fermentation and dough hydration levels.

“There’s so much more to come. And ultimately, whatever’s going on, people will always want great food and amazing experiences at home, so we’re hugely excited about where the business can go.”

Overseas is definitely somewhere that Ooni can go — in fact, it’s already there with offices in Austin, Texas, Bonn, Germany and Shanghai, China. Darina says: “Ever since our first Kickstarter campaign when we raised our first £7,500, we’ve had a global customer base. The States is obviously an important market for us because they understand year-round outdoor cooking.”

She continues: “We have a chief marketing officer in our Austin office, and both there and in Germany we have really experienced senior salespeople with local knowledge. If you want to crack other countries, you need to actually be there. Our Australian office opens later this year, and we have remote teams developing the brand across Europe and the Nordics too.”

So global expansion beckons, which is another reason why Ooni’s team are so excited to work for this ambitious young company. But let’s return to that incredible eNPS number. If Darina had to name one thing that’s pushed employee engagement levels so high, what would it be?
She believes the key word is ‘empowerment’. Before launching Ooni, Darina and Kristian worked in education, helping teachers to rediscover their spark. This experience taught them about what makes people thrive at work and has helped them to build a friendly, open, supportive environment.

“From the beginning, we’ve empowered new starters,” says Darina. “We ask them to tell us if they spot anything that makes them think ‘why’. There might be a better way to do things that we haven’t yet thought of. We want fresh eyes on the business to shift our processes and help us to grow. We listen, talk often, and invest in the culture and the team. Ultimately, the team knows they’ve got power, which is important. People want to feel connected to a purpose, be actively listened to and have autonomy to help scale things.”

And employee engagement doesn’t just help revenue growth, it’s essential for it, argues Darina. Because a satisfied, enthusiastic team makes recruitment easier and the management process less onerous. The natural byproduct is growth.

She says: “The war for talent is getting tougher. Now there’s such employee power to vote with their feet. Brexit has not helped and there’s a shortage of good people. To grow, you have to really nurture your staff. Your eNPS is absolutely worth investing in. We’re in a great place right now, but we’d never take our score for granted. It’s fragile, and you should work on it just as much as your revenue.”

So, we should watch its US development closely, and we shouldn’t expect its eNPS to drop any time soon. Darina and her team will do everything in their power to keep growing at home and abroad, and they will continue to focus on employee engagement because that’s the bedrock on which the company’s growth is built.

Ooni began as a simple pizza-making solution, but it’s become so much more than that. Today, Darina and her team regard it as a place where employees can learn and develop, forge friendships, find job satisfaction, and even achieve happiness. And that ‘more than just a business’ approach is the secret ingredient underpinning this company’s outstanding growth.

Disclaimer: The statements made by our interviewees are an expression of their own views and opinions and in no way reflect FEBE Ventures’ views or opinions, nor are such views or opinions endorsed or supported by us.