In the kickoff of the Straight Talk for Entrepreneurs speaker series, hosted by the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, MOD Pizza co-founders Scott and Ally Svenson regaled their unexpected journey to entrepreneurship.
The Svensons, married high school sweethearts who met while students at Seattle-adjacent Bellevue High School, stumbled onto their first new venture — co-founding Seattle Coffee Company in 1994 — after moving to London as fresh college graduates. Surprised by the lack of coffee options beyond instant coffee mixes, the Svensons were compelled to start their own coffee company after failing to convince Starbucks to expand into the UK. Over the next three years, Seattle Coffee Company expanded to 65 company-owned stores. In 1998, Starbucks bought out Seattle Coffee Company and the Svensons became executives within the company. Scott became president of Starbucks UK, and subsequently Starbucks Europe, while Ally became the director of communications and brand development.
Over the next decade, the Svensons turned their attention to another business — cafe chain Carluccio’s — which they helped develop and launch. Then, after moving back to the United States, they launched MOD Pizza in 2008 after sensing a need for more fast casual dining.
Launching their business as the recession hit sharply impacted their business model, Ally says. The pricing structure, hiring policies and wage structure were all defined by the Svensons sensing a need to provide to those impacted by the recession. The Svensons wanted to price their food at a point where people would feel comfortable buying it and hire people at a more livable wage.
The Svensons highlight social consciousness as a huge pillar of MOD Pizza’s business model and point to being genuine as a major part of any modern brand’s development. They started Seattle Coffee Company as Seattleites in London genuinely wanting good coffee, helped launch Carluccio’s after seeing that its founding family was the “real deal,” and found a need for fast casual pizza after Ally had trouble finding a place she’d want to eat at with their four sons.
For stumbling into entrepreneurship, the Svensons have certainly found their stride after a series of successful businesses.
The Straight Talk for Entrepreneurs series brings prominent entrepreneurs to campus to talk about the real story behind their journey into entrepreneurship, including the good, the bad and the ugly. Stay tuned for more information about upcoming speakers in the quarterly series.
Read coverage of this event from UW student newspaper The Daily here.