Women In Business Q&A: Flo Gibson, Head of Food and Brand, Gousto

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Gousto

Flo Gibson is the Head of Food and Brand at Gousto. She joined the company in its first year of trading in 2013 as an intern on the food team. Since then she has developed the food strategy in a customer focused way, while the company has scaled in excess of 200x. Flo has a talented team supporting her from recipe developers, to product managers who are responsible for constantly improving Gousto's food offering. Flo's background is food focused, having worked in the industry for over a decade. She has recently taken on responsibility of the brand team at Gousto as her next adventure.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was chatting with one of my oldest mates about school and how much that has contributed to who we are now. We went to an all girls school, it was a tiny school down in Cornwall, more akin to St. Trinian's than St Paul's. We wore brown shoes, brown kilts, brown jumpers and brown blazers. We were a mix of tomboys, sports girls, and geeks and nerds, we didn't conform to your normal young woman stereotypes. The other local schools mocked us, they called our school 'Virgin Megastores' and nick named the us 'the Brown Cows'. But I can honestly say I do not remember a day or a moment where I cared about what they thought.

I feel this is where my first awareness of team mentality developed and how important it is. As a group of people who trusted one another we knew that we needn't feel insecure or question ourselves in the light of other people's judgement.

Becoming a leader, to me, is a sum of hundreds upon hundred of different interactions like this. And it is then how you learn and develop from them. In my mind it all comes down to people and being able to interact with them in a true and compelling way. I treat people the way that I wish to be treated, and that goes from our customers, to suppliers, from the newest intern on our team, Hannah, to my boss, Ricardo. I have a huge respect for all and try and ensure I maintain that at all times. All sounds a bit of a cliche, but it is true. And that is something that has been passed on to me from my parents.

Another aspect is learning to be flexible and resilient, knowing how to adjust to different situations and ever evolving environments. Our CEO Timo has always been a great role model for that, there is always a way around a challenge, you might have just not found the right pathway yet.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Gousto?
A huge part of my work ethic and how much I love working came from my first job. It was in a small ice cream parlour, on the beach. The first summer I worked there it was boiling - every day the sun was shinning and the beach was packed. There were people everywhere and they all wanted ice cream. We went into work everyday knowing that it was going to be crazy busy, and that we would not stop scooping ice cream until the sun went into the sea and people became more concerned with beers than rum and raisin. We would be on our feet for over 10 hours at a time, at least six days a week, but we all loved it. There was such camaraderie and teamwork, fun and recognition and thanks for the hard work that the team would have done anything to support one anther and to make sure that we sold as many extra flakes as possible. This is something that I hope I manage to make my team feel here at Gousto.

Over the next five or so years we expanded the ice cream parlour to a juice bar and cafe - seeing something grow and be a success was so satisfying. I guess that is when I got hooked on growing businesses. It was super hard work, but super fun and so varied, which are all things that I carry forward with me.

I studied biology at university, but in my final year I realised didn't want that to become my career. Amazing subject, but me in a lab everyday doing the same experiment over and over again was never gonna stick. I left uni, got into the hospitality industry again and my love of food grew even more and that is when I knew that I had to make it into my career, but I wanted to try something outside of the restaurant industry. I had such a fire in my belly to do this that while I was away travelling in South America I was trawling the internet to find an internship in a food-focused start up. I knew I had to start at the bottom and would work my socks off make my way up in the company. Not succeeding in this never even entered my head, do my own determination has driven me through everything at Gousto.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Gousto?
Everything at Gousto has been a highlight, I love coming into work everyday, and I think that is something quite special. When I look back and think about everything the team has achieved that makes you feel pretty rad. There are so many highlights from when my first recipe went out to customers, hiring the first person onto my team, installing a proper kitchen for the recipe developers (it used to be a tiny electric oven in the office by our desks), to launching the marketplace and being the first recipe kit to sell wine, to our first TV advert being broadcast. However, all of these highlights have of course been met with challenges, very rarely do things come easily, but that is because we set our standards extremely high. We have a lot to achieve and if doing that was easy then we wouldn't have set our goals high enough.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
As a kid, I road a BMX and I collected insects. My mum, single handedly, ran a caravan site for holidaymakers with a local late night music venue that she set up to give local bands someplace to showcase their talent. Tough job for a single mum with two little girls to look after. But it meant we had loads of space and opportunity for adventures. I have been brought up with a strong set of women around me, my mum, my grandmother, the list goes on. There has never been anything that I would not have been able to do because I was a girl.

The best advice that I would give women is not to even question how being a woman might affect your success. There are aspects of the food industry that are of course a bit outdated (as with a lot of industries). However, I would encourage woman to teach the people around them about what has to change, communicate and not be afraid to speak up. Support one another and each other voices. I have an amazing network of women around me, within and outside of work, and I would have not got as far as I have without them.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Find a job you love. And be part of a team whose company you enjoy. We are all going to have to work for longer in our lives than ever, and you will spend more time with the people you work with than you would your family, so you better make sure you love 'em.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Family and friends are a huge thing for me. I make sure that I see them a lot. I am from Cornwall so often I will drive down there on a Friday after work for the weekend. For me personally it is really important to get out of London, I need to be able to see the sea every now and then. When I am in London I love going out and trying new places to eat. I try and do a number of different activities, I still love cooking as much as possible or stealing my friend's dog to take for a walk. It chops and changes.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Although the UK is progressive compared to many countries, there are massive issues in the workplace like maternity leave, and new mothers returning for work, and the glass ceiling at management level. It's also easy to forget that small discriminations that take place all the time that chip away at you. Being told you are not smiling enough, not necessarily having your opinion listened to first time, being spoken over, being pigeoned holed as the catty woman. Making light of it all is a coping mechanism, however I would advise woman to speak up if they find themselves in any of these situations. A lot of male and female co-workers alike do not realise that they are doing it until they are told. There is a lot of progress to make and we will do this a lot quicker if we deal with issues head on.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
There have been a few people, especially some strong women, in my working life who have come in for short amounts of time but left a lasting impressions. Even just in our short interactions, they have been really useful and I have taken forward with me parts of their way of thinking or being. I wish that I had been able to experience mentorship in a more of a lasting manner but I never found the right person. I 100 percent encourage people to mentor people and start passing on knowledge. We need to ensure that in business we are starting to build up mentorship channels for woman like have been built up for men in style of the 'old boys club'.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Michelle Obama, she has just got it down. Her moral compass seems to be finely tuned, and this is something that really resonates with me. Not only this but she is working out how she needs to be communicating with the public. It comes down to the fact that she is dressing really well, which people love to follow, she is getting on the right TV programmes to engage with people and to help her communicate with the masses more effectively. That is inspiring to me.

In addition to this the work that she is doing through her 'lets move!' campaign is so important. It is no wonder that in our world of clever marketing people are confused about what they should be eating or how much they should be exercising. She is focusing on getting getting kids eating vegetables and exercising, sounds simple doesn't it, I believe we should all be doing more to support this.

What do you want Gousto to accomplish in the next year?
Within the next year I want Gousto to help a lot more people. At Gousto we our aim is to help people make life a little bit better, easier and more natural. Getting people cooking from scratch it such a huge and important thing - obesity and diabetes increasing in this country correlates with the proliferations of processed foods. The more people we can get cooking from scratch again the better! Not only this but what I love about Gousto is that in society we are putting more pressures on ourselves than ever, to have the perfect family, to get the next promotion, to make your instragram feed as funny as possible.

Gousto can help with that just by giving you back a little bit of your free time, or a little bit more headspace that you might not have felt you could had have before. All just by giving you one less thing to think about like meal planning for your family, or not having to go to the supermarket after work. I want to get as many people as possible experiencing this over the next year. And this means that we will have as many people as possible celebrating food, because that is what we do at Gousto, and it brings us a lot of joy.