A long shot: How Grind grew on instinct and reaction

David Abrahamovitch is the founder of Grind, a thriving café business at the heart of London’s coffee scene. Since opening up their first café in Shoreditch in 2011, Grind has expanded across the city and added cocktails and food to their menus. 

With a wealth of experience on creating a great culture and building a buzzing hospitality business, we’re delighted to welcome Abrahamovitch to The Pitch judging panel this year.

We caught up with him to chat about the startup challenges he faced and what makes a perfect pitch.

The challenges of growth across multiple locations

I intended to do one café and only ever have one café. I originally wanted it to be coffee and wine. But when we started to evolve, it was based on instinct and reaction. Coffee became cocktails, which became food. We have 11 sites now, a retail arm selling Nespresso pods and we’re about to open franchise cafés in airports.

None of this was planned. If you look at someone who has a big plan and is slowly rolling it out, we’re at the opposite end of the spectrum. 

Our challenges? Everything imaginable. It was really hard to get our first location in Shoreditch open. After that, we realised we didn’t have the right systems or processes in place every couple of openings. It was painful to open our fourth location and our eighth and ninth locations felt painful too.

We realised we didn’t have the right systems or processes in place every couple of openings

It’s about trying to match central resource to the amount you’ve got going on. You could always have more people supporting the rest of the business. We’ve got 20 people in the central team now and have a director for each department. But scaling up with a handful of people was challenging.

We’ve done three rounds of crowdfunding. When it’s used in the right way, crowdfunding can be absolutely amazing. Grind is an example of a business that’s well suited to crowdfunding. It has given our customers a chance to invest, acquired us new customers and increased our recognition. 

If you want to raise through crowdfunding, you should be terrified of failure. There are some crazy valuations, which can be a bit dangerous. Crowdfunding is very public, so make sure you’re ready.

Building Grind’s brand and culture

I’ve focused on building a brand since day one. We invested more heavily in design than other businesses. Our strong social media presence stems from us putting design at the heart of everything and being good at what we do. We’ve made a conscious effort to build a brand – not just a chain – and build something that people love.

Building a team really is the magic bullet. There’s a huge amount of energy put into every part of the process. There’s recruitment, onboarding, how much they’re paid, what they get to wear, who their boss is – we want them to be engaged in Grind and the products we’re selling.

We’ve made a conscious effort to build a brand, not just a chain

We like to grow people in the business as much as possible. Of our 10 general managers, only one joined as a general manager. Other people joined and got promoted. It’s all about building that culture. When you’ve got a number of different locations, you can’t see everything. You have to build a culture where people want to work hard and enjoy what they do.

It’s about finding the right people and letting them have fun. Grind has a good culture in its DNA, so we let our staff get on with it. We never wanted to micromanage. 

What to include in a startup pitch

It’s important to back yourself. As you start getting more exposure, you’re going to get a million bits of advice on what you should do. You’ve got to develop the ability to listen and filter out the good bits from the bad. Back your own decisions. If you try to please everyone and follow every bit of advice, you’ll lose sight of what you want to become. 

Be able to talk confidently about numbers in your pitch. There needs to be a bit about you, a bit about the business and a bit about your numbers. Everyone knows that businesses probably aren’t going to hit their numbers exactly, but demonstrate your understanding.

Ideas are cheap. Execution is everything. Everyone has a thousand ideas and very few people build businesses where they can successfully exit. Why you? Why are you going to be the person who’s going to solve this problem? Convince me how that’s going to be you.

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Kat Haylock
Kat is the lead writer at Inkwell, the company behind The Pitch. She’s worked with small businesses for the last six years, championing Britain’s startup scene and anyone who has snacks.

Applications for The Pitch 2024 are open!

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The competition is completely free to enter so if you’re a UK-based startup who has been trading for 4 years or less then why not maximise your potential? 

Submit your application today to be in with a chance to win.

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