Food for thought: How one founder swapped numbers for nourishment

Following your passion requires discipline – and that mantra has worked pretty well for Gousto founder, Timo Boldt. Having raised £28m since its launch five years ago, Gousto is trying to make it easier for families and worker-bees who have massive todo lists and want an easy way to cook food without cutting corners: it delivers fresh ingredients and recipes to your door.

As we found out at a recent Leap 100 roundtable with Boldt, discipline is also needed to grow a successful company. Timo Boldt began his career as an analyst at Rothschilds, and by the age of 26 he was vice president of a Goldman Sachs offshoot. But in 2012 he exchanged the world of finance to follow his passion for food.

In the early days of Gousto, Boldt hired two friends he knew from Rothschilds, working constantly, including filling up the boxes personally until 5am. But this level of commitment and discipline isn’t sustainable. Gousto now sends out 500,000 meals a month and has more than 200 employees. “My leadership team is atomic, in the sense that every single person is an expert in their function,” says Boldt. “There’s almost no overlap – every single person is better than I am in every function, by miles.” Like all ambitious entrepreneurs, Boldt is hugely reliant on talent and has found the need to develop the mission and values. “Serving as a filter when making hiring decisions and underpinning performance reviews, we live and breathe our ownership values” he says. “Most important of all, we celebrate those who demonstrate these behaviours, with weekly call outs and quarterly awards.”

As the business has grown from a handful of people in London to more than 200 people across multiple sites, things have had to change in the business. Boldt has gone from being involved in the hire of all new employees to just interviewing a few, which he has found challenging. “We always have a ‘culture fit’ interview from outside the hiring department. We involve as many team members as possible in the process and encourage very open feedback about candidates.”

Boldt reflects on the change in focus over the years: “in the early days, we looked for high energy, can-do mindset and people that could solve any problem. “Today, we focus on a 10 year vision, hiring the best possible person for each role and giving them a sense of empowerment through ownership. It moves from passion and energy, to discipline and structured ownership.” Boldt distinguishes between his startup and scaleup phases at Gousto: “I’ve had two careers – the first as a founder for four years, the second as a professional chief executive.”

Many entrepreneurs fail to make this transition, but most do so because they don’t realise the different phases require a different sort of discipline and different skills. The transition from startup to scaleup wasn’t plain sailing though. Boldt describes it as a “hugely challenging journey” after his co-founder left on the way.

But he adds: “I transformed the leadership team, which meant there were some tough decisions.” Ultimately, Boldt is driven by the customers he is serving. But he admits that you can’t do this without developing new skills, giving up some control, and making tough decisions: Boldt adds: “we’re obsessed with organisational design and living by our values every day.”