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All Fired Up

All Fired Up

Kristian Tapaninaho and Darina Garland took their love for pizza and transformed it into a market-leading global business.

It started simple enough: Kristian Tapaninaho wanted to make the best at-home pizza he could.

Running a London-based global education business with his wife, Darina Garland, Tapaninaho had become obsessed with pizza-making and trying to make restaurant-quality pies. And while he improved at selecting ingredients and mastering techniques, one obstacle remained: his kitchen oven.

“I thought, ‘My pizzas are good, but they’re not great,’” he recalls. Most types of pizza require higher temperatures than a domestic oven can deliver. This is especially true for Neapolitan-style pizza which, in order to be called Neapolitan pizza, has to be cooked at close to 900°F.

Unable to get the temperatures he needed, Tapaninaho looked at buying a wood-fired brick oven, but he found them to be either too expensive or too bulky to fit in the couple’s garden. Seeing this as an opportunity to revolutionize home pizza-making, Tapaninaho and Garland used their creative problem-solving abilities to build an at-home pizza oven that was both affordable and high quality.

The couple created products like the Ooni Karu (pictured) to help home cooks make better pizzas.

The result was the Ooni, a petite, carbon-steel, half-moon-shaped oven that’s been hailed as a category creator and game-changer in the outdoor cooking market. Since launching in 2012, the company has reached 400% year-over-year growth and more than $130 million in revenue. Ernst & Young named the company “One to Watch” at its 2020 UK Entrepreneur of the Year Awards with WIRED magazine naming its flagship model, the Ooni Pro, “Best Pizza Oven” of 2020.

Bootstrapped by the couple and with help from a Kickstarter campaign, Ooni has become a household name among pizza enthusiasts thanks to its design, price point (ovens start at $299) and portability, Garland says. The company has also benefited from being a direct-to-customer, primarily online business, though they’re also sold at Selfridges in the UK. “Being an e-commerce business, we’re not limited by geography,” she says. “We’ve been able to scale up in the U.S., where there is a massive consumer market with big buying power.”

That demand required Tapaninaho and Garland to scale up quickly after the ovens first hit the market. The couple moved Ooni Limited’s base of operations from London to Broxburn, located between Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland. “It’s a great location for an outdoor cooking product company,” Tapaninaho says.

As Ooni grew to more than 150 employees with offices in the U.S., Germany and China, the couple realized they should continue to focus on their company’s culture, much like how they raised their at-home pizza game. “Because we had an education business before, we’re very much focused on empowering staff,” Garland says.

As part of this focus on people, Ooni recently raised its base salary to more than 45% higher than the national average for a living wage in the UK and gave all staff a 10% wage increase, and 1% of its annual revenue is donated to social and environmental causes. “Culture is the one constant you’re able to build, and it’s absolutely central to Ooni’s future,” Tapaninaho says.

As they scaled up, the couple discovered Vistage through a joint program with The Hunter Foundation, a Scottish-based nonprofit that works with ambitious, growth-driven companies. Soon, both Tapaninaho and Garland joined Vistage, looking to their peers for fresh perspectives and expertise.

Our Vistage group wants to stretch us as leaders.
Darina Garland
Kristian Tapaninaho and Darina Garland, photos courtesy of Ooni Limited

“It helps us identify gaps,” Garland says. “We also love it that the group has such a growth mindset. Currently, our biggest focus is selling to the U.S., and not once has anyone said, ‘You’re doing great already.’ They understand the ambition, and they want to stretch us as leaders.”

While the global pandemic forced the company to shift operations to remote working, Ooni saw a profitable year in 2020 as many found themselves at home and, like Tapaninaho, hankering for a quality slice of pepperoni pizza. The couple plans to continue their scaling efforts and see their passion for cooking blossom even further.

“In 20 years’ time, we want to wake up happy with what we built,” Tapaninaho says.

Passion Play
The Unbeaten Path

Kristian Tapaninaho wanted to create an affordable, portable, at-home pizza oven that produced restaurant-quality pies.

Result

Alongside wife Darina Garland, the couple designed, built and launched Ooni Pizza Ovens, now considered one of the fastest-growing companies in the UK.

Darina’s key takeaways
1
Treat your customers as backers. They’re partners who want you to win because, by default, they do too. They’re on the same side as you!
2
Hire and live by your values — and don’t be swayed by experience if the values don’t fit.
3
Don’t go too wide. Choose a very focused focus, and focus!
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