Brittany Garbutt’s exchange with Paul Bassat on building and sustaining a business empire

21 May, 2024
Brittany Garbutt’s exchange with Paul Bassat on building and sustaining a business empire | News | Pause Awards
George Hedon, founder and CEO, Pause Fest & Awards
George Hedon
21 May, 2024

In an illuminating exchange filled with raw emotion and seasoned advice, Brittany Garbutt, the energetic founder of Pretzel Australia, sat down with Paul Bassat, Co-founder of the venture capital firm Square Peg. 

Their conversation peeled back the layers of entrepreneurship—from the initial spark of a business idea to the complex realities of scaling and team management. Here’s what these two industry leaders had to say.

The Challenge of Scaling

Brittany Garbutt’s entrepreneurial journey with Pretzel Australia has been a whirlwind of high stakes and significant rewards. She started her venture at 23, single-handedly managing every aspect without any partners. “This is my baby, my life,” she disclosed at the beginning of the conversation. Currently, she’s considering a franchise model to handle the expansion challenges as her business has grown to 15 venues and nearly 300 staff.

“Foundational decisions you can’t undo. They’re the sort of doors that you walk through that you can’t come back.”

Paul Bassat, Co-Founder, Square Peg

Paul Bassat responded with empathy and highlighted common entrepreneurial hurdles. “The foundational decisions are those you can’t undo,” he noted, emphasising the importance of early choices in a business’s development.

As the discussion progressed, Brittany opened up about her tendency to control every detail of her business. Paul advised her to concentrate on several key areas:

  • Clarity of Success Definition: “Define what you want your business to achieve and be as precise as possible. You might change your mind in a year’s time, that’s absolutely fine.” he advised, encouraging Brittany to envisage Pretzel Australia’s future.
  • Pathway to Success: “Have clarity around how you’re going to get there, but how you’re going to get there is much easier once you know what success looks like,” he highlighted.
  • Sustainable Practices: Paul stressed the importance of balanced growth, “make sure you’re doing it in a way that’s sustainable and not coming at a big personal cost.”

He praised her commitment but reminded her of the need for balance: “Define what success means to you and ensure it is sustainable.”

“You have an impressive setup with 15 locations; think about what ultimate success looks like for you. Whether it’s expanding to hundreds of stores, going international, or something else, define these goals clearly. This vision will guide how you adapt and evolve your strategies.”

Culture & Team Dynamics

Brittany’s initial years at Pretzel Australia were marked by an intense work schedule—”19 hours a day, nearly every day for two years,” she admits. This relentless pace, while demonstrating her dedication, also brought significant personal sacrifices to light. She has since achieved a more sustainable rhythm: “Now, there’s a good balance—60% execution, 40% thinking. It’s working well,” she reflects.

“Shift from a role where you answer all questions to one where you define the right questions for others to answer.”

Paul Bassat, Co-Founder, Square Peg

Brittany also touched upon her early staffing decisions, which were sometimes made out of necessity rather than strategic fit. “In the beginning, it was about filling positions urgently, often without considering the long-term impact,” she explained. This approach sometimes led to hiring individuals who were not invested in the company’s success, a mistake she now recognises.

The impact of COVID-19 was another learning curve, particularly with the closure of their Chapel Street location. “We lacked a community connector in that spot, which was crucial,” she recounted.

Paul Bassat commended her achievements: “What you’ve done is extraordinary, transcending any age and experience,” he praised. He acknowledged her preference for control, which he saw as a key to her success, and then shifted the discussion to strategic growth.

“Considering fundraising?,” Paul suggested “I would separate bringing investors from building a team because you’ve got the financial resources to do it.”

Paul’s advice on team dynamics was incisive: “Ensure you have the right people with the right incentives. This alignment is essential for fostering trust and delegating effectively,” he suggested, pinpointing a critical area for Brittany’s personal and professional growth.

Personal Growth & Leadership

Brittany expressed a crucial insight during her discussion: the importance of sharing decision-making responsibilities in leadership. “It’s been mostly just me making decisions, which has made me hesitant about taking on investors. I need perspectives from those who understand the stakes as deeply as I do,” she explained, emphasising her usually solo decision-making process.

“Define what success looks like. Have clarity around how you’re going to get there, sustainably!”

Paul Bassat, Co-Founder, Square Peg

Paul Bassat introduced a relevant anecdote to illustrate his point about leadership flexibility. He shared the story of Mike and Mia Russell, the couple behind Baker Bleu in Melbourne, known for producing exceptionally fine bread. “Mike, much like you, is a perfectionist. He’s learned to step back from day-to-day baking to oversee the broader operations, essential when you’re running multiple locations,” Paul explained.

He further advised on the balance between depth and breadth in business leadership: “You’ve been deeply involved in every aspect of your business, but as you scale, this approach isn’t sustainable. A CEO needs to decide whether to be broad and oversee from a distance or be deeply involved in fewer areas. The most successful leaders often choose to broaden their scope.”

Paul’s advice underscored the transition necessary for Brittany’s growth: “Consider shifting from a role where you answer all questions to one where you define the right questions for others to answer.”

He concluded with a broader reflection on business challenges, “Not every issue requires a monumental effort like curing cancer or landing on the moon. It’s about choosing which battles are worth your time and energy, ensuring you maintain focus where it truly counts, given your impressive capacity for work and learning.”

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