Next up in our series of interviews with the Hazlnut team, we sat down with Steven Edwards, COO of Hazlnut:
Thanks for joining us, Steven.
Glad to be here!
As one of the founders of Hazlnut, I’m sure the company is a big part of your life, but what hobbies do you have outside of work?
I enjoy listening to music, reading, brewing beer, and playing guitar and bass.
You have some pretty creative and artistic interests. Did your work life before Hazlnut reflect that?
Not really. I worked as a Quality Engineer for Vistakon/Vision Care and DePuy Synthes, both of which are Johnson & Johnson companies.
We spoke to Dick a few weeks ago and got a lot of insight into the founding of Hazlnut, but that’s only one side of the story. Tell us more about your role in starting the company.
Dick Sikes called me one day and said he had a coding project he was working on and wanted to know if I’d help him with it since I had a little development experience. I helped get his vision off the ground and we immediately started thinking about how we could launch it and turn it into a viable business.
While we didn’t have any direct experience in starting a business, Dick was very sharp in terms of accounting and finance and had some business acumen from his days at FSU, but the rest we just learned on the fly. Just to be clear, it was very different from what the company is today as the initial concept was centered around customer satisfaction surveys. All of the stuff we learned on our own during this venture helped define what the company would eventually become and later expanded to include a loyalty reward system and eventually morphed into online ordering. Hazlnut is the culmination of all of the hard work building out the former company idea and learning every facet of running a real business.
I’m sure that process of getting things off the ground came with all sorts of ups and downs. Any interesting stories from the early days of the company?
When we first conceived of the company, we decided to launch it at a local startup festival called One Spark. We had a big vision with lofty goals for One Spark and while we did draw very impressive crowds at our booth (in addition to some local press and placing 6th overall in the Technology category), we walked away with zero customers. We did however pilot with a local restaurant who took a shot on us and while it didn’t work out in the end, we learned a ton about ourselves and our business. This eventually set the foundation for the evolution of our company and helped propel us to where we are today. I have a lot of fond memories of that week at One Spark and it’s awesome to see how it started as an idea to now, where we have a company of 8 people and still growing.
That’s great! What has your role been at Hazlnut?
Currently my title is Chief Operations Officer. In the beginning I handled all of the customer onboarding activities, customer service interactions and new customer apps, while also heavily contributing to the User Interface for all of our products (apps, online ordering and dashboard). While I currently do a lot less of the hands on with customers, I do oversee most of the day to day activities including customer onboarding, new customer apps and customer service and while also still communicating with the bulk of our customers directly.
It definitely sounds like you had a big role in creating the customer service-focused culture at Hazlnut. Were there any mentors or experiences that helped you develop this focus on service?
I would definitely say the first thing that made me think about the customer’s needs, and to a greater extent placing the customer first, is when I first started working at Johnson & Johnson. Embedded in their DNA is the company credo. Their credo touches every single part of the company, no matter your title or position and in that credo it literally says in the first sentence: “We believe our first responsibility is to the patients, doctors and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.” In this case, patients, doctors, nurses, mothers and fathers who use their products are their customers and no matter what product they’re working on and no matter how small the task, we always had to work with that in the forefront of our minds.
This was very impactful on me and made me understand what customer experience is all about and what makes a great company. I know it’s a little cliché, but I’ve always been inspired by Steve Jobs (for what he’s accomplished in business). I’ve seen him in interviews and being quoted in various articles as saying “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.” Especially in technology, you have to start with the customer in mind. Where a lot of companies fail is when they invent a new technology and try to find a need in the market that may or may not exist.
Thanks for sharing with us today, Steven! It seems the company is in really good hands with you and Dick in charge. We’re all looking forward to watching as the company continues to grow and succeed in the future!