SpareRoom Stories: Flippin' good flatmates
Living with other people naturally means a lot of sharing. You're sharing space, sharing stories of your day, and quite often sharing food too.
But when Ella and Sophie found each other on SpareRoom, they never would have imagined that their combined interest in food and healthy living would lead them to start a business together too...
From their shared kitchen, Griddle was born – a range of better-for-you, frozen bakery products, created from scratch by the former flatmates. The range started with pancakes and now includes toaster waffles, and are soon to launch croissants.
So just how did flatsharing lead to flipping pancakes? We chatted with the girls to get the whole story
So first of all – how did you come across SpareRoom in the first place?
Sophie: I'd been living in other rooms for a while (that I'd found on the site), but got to a place where I wanted to do my own thing and live somewhere I was really happy with. I decided to find my own place and then find a flatmate for it on SpareRoom – I felt I'd get more control over who I lived with, and could be a little more picky.
And that's when Ella came along! I got it down to two people. The other person was pretty headstrong and I knew she'd be a safe choice, even if we wouldn't necessarily be friends. But then Ella came in like a whirlwind! She came in with LOADS of peanut butter in tow (owing to her job at Pip & Nut), and I just thought 'Well this could be interesting...'
Ella: I'm a couple of years younger, so I was just starting out in London when I moved in. My first job was at Pip & Nut, back in the very early days. I wasn't earning much and couldn't really afford to live in London, but there you go. After a few months of sleeping on my friends' sofas I realised I'd outstayed my welcome, so I got on SpareRoom and sussed out the kind of area I wanted to be in. That's when Sophie's place came up.
Did you feel like you clicked when you met each other?
S: There must have been something. I wouldn't have chosen Ella if I hadn't got on with her!
E: When I went over to see the flat, we ended up chatting for ages – having a cup of tea, and really getting on. Then I sealed the deal with some Pip & Nut... literally just grabbed it out my bag and said 'If you give me the room I can give you a constant supply of nut butter!'
S: We have a lot in common. We're both really interested in food, and had both done a lot of work in that industry. It just meshed really well straight away.
So how did living together lead to your business idea?
S: I was training for a half marathon, and was always experimenting in the kitchen to fuel myself. At the time, protein pancakes were blowing up on Instagram and so these became a staple in my diet!
E: Our flat was open plan, so we hung out in the kitchen a lot too and loved to host, especially big brunches with friends. We’d always make some form of pancakes or waffles, but always from scratch as we couldn’t find any decent options in the supermarkets. In fact the more we looked into it, it became apparent that the bakery category in supermarkets was calling out for some innovation, prioritizing health, taste and convenience.
S: We'd never looked for an idea, or even discussed starting a business. We basically just had the idea, noticed an opportunity and decided to test the concept to see if it would work.
What's actually in them (if it's not a secret)?
E: No secrets! All of our ingredients are on the back of the packet. We wanted to use real ingredients that people understand, no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.
S: As soon as you start adding preservatives, the lovely texture and taste is totally lost. You lose that fresh and 'home kitchen' feel. Every product we bring out, we really spend a lot of time getting it right and making sure that not only does it taste great, but that it is nutritionally balanced as well.
Sounds like you've definitely nailed it now. Have you had any low points while starting your business?
Both: Pancake Day!
E: We had to make 1500 pancakes in 3 days for a sampling event (this was back in the early days before we had a manufacturing site).
S: We did solid 12 hour shifts, where I was mixing and Ella was just standing in the kitchen flipping away.
E: It was the middle of February, freezing cold and raining. We hired a catering kitchen and it was really industrial. We were basically standing outside because the only 'door' was one of those made from strips of plastic.
S: That was the worst day ever.
Do you still like pancakes?!
Both: Only when they're given to us!
So you were living together, then ended up working together – did you reach a point where you decided to go your separate ways because you were spending so much time together?
E: We had a year and a half living together in total, and Griddle was born in the last 6 months of it. The business definitely made work constant. We couldn't really relax – we'd put movies on and just talk through them.
S: Our living room was covered in cork boards and inspiration. The whole flat was completely Griddle-fied! But it's not like we hit a point or had an argument. We just realised how serious we both were about the business and decided this was the next step. We needed to think of our sanity too!
E: Plus I was moving in with my boyfriend, so it was quite a natural separation.
S: We've honestly never really argued. If you can stand in a kitchen for 24 hours together cooking pancakes, you can survive anything! It's a pretty testing relationship.
E: I'd struggle to work with some of my other best friends I think, but with Sophie it's just worked. Doing a startup is your whole life. I know any job can be stressful, but with a startup there's so much riding on it. We've been lucky to manage our relationship under so much stress – it says a lot that we've not lost it with each other!
S: We've been through the whole journey together. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and when we're not on our best form.
What were your best moments living together?
S: I've got memories that stick out of us sitting on the floor, brainstorming business names for HOURS before landing on Griddle. Not sure that counts though!
E: We've had lots of dinner parties...well, as big as possible in a small flat. Lots of fun times cramming six people around a tiny table!
S: We know each other's friends and do hang out a bit, but when we lived together it was nice to have our own groups for times when we didn't want to think about work.
Were there any testing or tough moments as flatmates?
E: I'm really messy.
S: But I'm a neat freak – we're two extremes!
E: We had a strict cleaning rota that I definitely missed a few times, and there were some texts about it...
Is it strange not living together now?
S: It's been good for the business really. We've managed to build everything now without relying on being together 24/7, which has removed a lot of stress. It's made us communicate a lot more, which we definitely took for granted in the flat.
We've got SpareRoom stats that show most people actually prefer living with a stranger rather than people they already know. Do you agree?
S: London is quite funny because it's so fragmented. Everyone goes about their day and doesn't talk to strangers, so ultimately it seems easier to live with someone you know already. But living with someone new just opens up so many doors.
E: If we hadn't met, we wouldn't be doing Griddle now. Life would be totally different...
S: People did think I was mad for leaving my job to start a business with the girl that moved in a few months ago, but I just went with it. And here we are!
How do you see Griddle growing?
Our ultimate goal is for Griddle to become a household name, found in every freezer up and down the country.
We’re growing our range and our team at the moment, winning new stockists and expanding internationally so it’s a really exciting time!
Griddle’s range of products can be found in the freezer aisles at Ocado, Morrisons, Whole Foods, Gorillas App, Dunnes Stores (Ireland) and a number of independent stores throughout the UK.