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This is Capitalism: Up Close, Inspired, Explained

Nov 2, 2017

It was Ally Svenson’s desire to find a good cup of coffee in London that made an entrepreneur of Scott Svenson, her husband. Each of their three companies has been genuinely successful, but their most recent one may turn out to be legendary — maybe as big as the fast casual restaurants it was modeled after, Chipotle and Panera — only in the pizza category; a fresh, on-demand, artisan-style, six-minute pizza. But there’s more to the story of the fastest-growing restaurant company in the U.S. in 2016, Mod Pizza, as they named it. Ask the many employees with special needs, including the former felons, who’ve been given a second chance as members of the Mod Squad. As Ally Svensen said when they were planning it, the world doesn’t need another soulless pizza chain.


Key Takeaways:

[1:16] Ally and Scott started three companies. In each case, the company they started was something they ultimately felt called to do. They almost felt like they couldn’t not do it. They weren’t looking for a business opportunity, but they saw a need.

[1:35] Their first venture was a coffee shop. Ally had longed for a Starbucks-style experience in London, where they lived. There was nothing comparable at the time.

[1:51] Starbucks was in the U.S. and had just expanded to Japan. Scott and Ally saw a need that they felt had to be filled by someone. After talking about it for four years, they started Seattle Coffee Company.

[2:08] Scott had been Deputy Chief Executive of a public healthcare company, CrestaCare. When he told the Chairman what he was going to do, an intervention was arranged, because Scott was thought to be having a breakdown. He went off anyway and started the coffee shop, which he says was a fabulous experience.

[2:55] That was the first step: jumping from a traditional career to starting a business as husband and wife and as best friends. It was scary, exhilarating, and exciting. They had some smart people helping them but it took five months to come up with a name. They defaulted to Seattle Coffee Company, and that was one of their best decisions.

[4:11] Scott suspected that Starbucks was looking at the UK, so after their three proof-of-concept stores were successful, Scott and Ally opened 65 locations in 22 months in the UK. Before Seattle Coffee Company went public, Starbucks asked for a meeting. They met with Starbucks president, Orin Smith, and others and made a deal.

[6:15] Scott and Ally had been inspired by Starbucks. They were prepared to compete with them, but they loved the idea of collaborating with them instead. Starbucks had made them the offer they couldn’t refuse.

[6:32] Seattle Coffee Company lasted for about three years in the UK. When Starbucks bought them, they were in the UK, South Africa, SE Asia, and the Middle East. Their partners in SE Asia and the Middle East joined Starbucks. Starbucks allowed the partners in South Africa to keep the name if they stayed only in South Africa.

[7:32] Scott and Ally walked into the transaction assuming Starbucks had it all figured out. When they got inside, they saw Starbucks suffered the same challenges they did, even though Seattle Coffee Company was much smaller. Howard Schultz asked them to keep a UK style to the store, but eventually, the momentum of Starbucks overcame it.

[10:10] When Scott and Ally moved back to Seattle, they wanted to bring the style of London with them. The name of Mod Pizza comes from the British Mod style of ‘60s music, but it can also stand for Made On Demand, modernized, or modify.

[11:20] Their campaign is Spreading Modness, and their 5,800 employees are the Mod Squad. By the end of 2017, they will have just over 290 stores. Spreading Modness is about doing the right thing.

[11:50] Scott and Ally knew they needed to embed within the business a meaning or a purpose for themselves that was more than just opening stores and creating value. They reflected back at moments of happiness in their careers. Those moments came when they had had an opportunity to make a positive impact in someone else’s life.

[12:39] They decided to see if they could fill Mod Pizza with opportunities to impact lives. It’s been a challenge and their most rewarding professional accomplishment. Their older boys have worked there, under people from tougher backgrounds. The impact that those people have had on their boys has been unbelievable, and has changed their views.

[13:27] Scott and Ally set a direction for the company and hired people they trusted and who were as good or better than they were at doing what needed to be done. Their employees have brought the business to life. Strong cultures defend themselves. As people entered the company, and it benefited them, they became its defenders.

[14:09] To repeat, the Mod Pizza definition of spreading modness — the ripple effect of doing the right thing.


Mentioned in This Episode:

Scott Svenson on LinkedIn

Mod Pizza

Seattle Coffee Company (South Africa)


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