What better way to celebrate National Pizza Day than to savour the entrepreneurial success of two people who have disrupted the wood-fired oven market worldwide?
Kristian Tapaninaho launched Uuni – Finnish for ‘oven’, and a nod to his Finnish heritage – in 2011, when his quest to infuse homemade pizzas with that authentic Italian flavour began. Only a wood-fired oven would do.
Dismayed at expensive and cumbersome products on the market, Kristian created his own brand of cost-effective, portable wood-fired ovens, and Uuni was born.
Now firmly a family-run business, with Kristian joined by wife Darina, Uuni has grown strongly to achieve a worldwide following, with 200+% growth in 2015 and 300+% in 2016.
Kristian, Darina, and their two boys recently relocated from London to Edinburgh, where the entrepreneurs balance business with a busy family life and time with friends. This lifestyle underpins the success of the Uuni brand championed at uuni.net, where followers can socialise, share recipes and enjoy fantastic food.
Kristian and Darina ended last year on yet another high when they won Family Business Entrepreneur for Scotland and Northern Ireland at the Royal Bank of Scotland Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2017.
We caught up with Darina to hear more about the remarkable story of Uuni and to discover their recipe for entrepreneurial success.
What was the inspiration behind Uuni?
In 2011 Kristian was happy; we had just had our first little boy and we had a creative education company. But despite all this, he had a problem. Kristian got into making pizzas but was frustrated because the pizzas were good but not great.
He knew that to take his pizzas to the next level he needed a wood-fired oven. These very large installations were upwards of £1,500, and we could afford neither the money nor space. Kristian couldn’t believe there wasn’t a small, affordable wood-fired oven on the market, so being the practical Finn that he is, he decided to make one. After much prototyping and testing, Uuni, the world’s first portable wood-fired oven, was born. And it was great!
What makes Uuni so unique?
Uuni runs on wood pellets or gas, so it takes just ten minutes to reach 500˚C and you can cook a pizza in only 60 seconds. Uuni is also great value at just £199.
As well as pizza, flatbreads and naan, it’s excellent for roast fish, steak, vegetables, and gives food a beautiful subtle wood-fired flavour. It’s fully portable too, so you can easily take it to a friend’s, to the beach, camping or to festivals.
What’s the best thing about working with family? Has the experience brought your family together?
Uuni’s purpose is to connect people with exceptional food experiences. We have such a strong culture and connection which we think has come from great relationships in our family and friendship groups.
Kristian and I are husband and wife, and my brother is our Head of Sales. Our good friend is our CFO and his brother is our UX Manager. We have other team members who have brought friends into the core Uuni team.
Of course, we have team members who were not relations or friends previously, but we’re a close group and only hire A-grade players who are values-driven and passionate about food and community.
Did you always intend to be entrepreneurs?
We had worked for other people previously and learned a lot, but since 2007 we’ve had Suklaa (our education company) and haven’t looked back since. We’re strong believers in building your own future, so that fits entrepreneur’s lifestyle.
What’s your biggest motivation to succeed?
I think the biggest motivator is our Uuni community of global users. They’re so passionate and it’s important to us that we continue to deliver on our goals.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned since launching Uuni?
Always trust your gut when hiring and making big strategic decisions. And be authentic.
What are your hopes for the future?
We have high hopes of being one of the top five outdoor cooking brands in the world by the end of 2020. We have a fantastic product roadmap and hiring strategy to make this happen. We are purpose-driven and aim to continue to connect people through exceptional food experiences and be faithful to that ethos.
What was it like to win Family Business Entrepreneur of the Year for Scotland and Northern Ireland?
It was great. It was so flattering to receive the recognition, especially when surrounded by such a strong network of exceptional businesses. I think anyone running their own business is in a privileged position to be able to design a company that they can be proud of. Working with family and friends and the wider Uuni team is an incredible experience!
It’s National Pizza Day, so we have to ask: What’s your favourite topping? Pineapple on pizza?
I’ve recently turned vegan, so I’m testing out all the vegan cheese options. Some are better than others. I love surprising toppings like edible flowers! My absolute favourite topping on pizza is jalapeño though. Pineapple on pizza? I wouldn’t say no!