Gousto’s chief technology officer talks customer-led innovation, a more flexible offer and ‘hacking around and discovering things’

Blue totes packed with fresh produce whizz overhead, en route to huge metal towers where they are grabbed, shifted, and sorted by robots. Finally, they are served up to human pickers, who take items from the totes and pack them into red boxes.

At the other end of the facility – the size of five football pitches – filled boxes stream down roller tracks to be stacked on to pallets, ready for collection and delivery. Each box contains the combination of ingredients required for each recipient’s pick of the 100 recipes available that week.

While most visitors to Gousto’s Warrington facility see an intricate and highly automated operation, the company’s chief technology officer Shaun Pearce sees opportunity for improvement. Opportunity to optimise, speed up, further automate, and make even more accurate and efficient.

That vision extends beyond the factory. “There’s just so much to go after,” Pearce says. “There’s a huge amount of diversity in the problems you’re solving; one minute I’m talking with a team about conversion optimisation within our checkout pipelines, and then we’re doing something on optimisation within a factory, and the next we’re talking about recipe recommendations.”

Shaun Pearce Gousto

“There’s just so much to go after”

Gousto has certainly come a long way since being founded by former investment bankers Timo Boldt and James Carter in 2012. After leaving Dragons’ Den empty-handed in 2013, they soon secured the backing of Unilever, BGF, SoftBank, and fitness guru Joe Wicks. The company then doubled demand during covid to hit ‘unicorn’ status, with a valuation of $1.7bn.

In his nine years at Gousto, Pearce has seen plenty of change himself. This fast-paced nature is part of why he joined from Amazon’s cloud computing arm AWS, where he was “exposed to a whole bunch of different companies”, including Tesco and Ocado.


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He was most taken by the “startup mentality” of smaller players like Just Eat  – namely, “the way you saw innovation happening so quickly” with “a relatively small group of people really focused on a very well-defined customer problem, and just working day in, day out to try and solve that problem”.

So in 2015, he took the “leap of faith” to join Gousto. Pearce recalls he “could see the value of the product as it was, but also what it could be – plus the role that technology data needed to play”.

The brief early on was to scale the tech “and scale it quickly”. At that point, he led a team of three. That number’s now closer to 300 and the end customer is guiding every advancement. The overriding goal is, quite simply, to secure more of them.

Name: Shaun Pearce

Age: 41

First job: Working in a hotel kitchen, mainly doing the unglamorous jobs like chopping parsley, peeling potatoes and washing up. I wanted to be a chef – a little bit of me still does

What you do in your free time: I’m a podcast addict. Current favourites: Leading with Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart; Desert Island Discs (a classic); and 13 Minutes to the Moon (re-listening, one of my favourites)

What are you reading at the moment? Space by Tim Peake (I’m a space geek!) and Determined: Life Without Free Will by Robert Sapolsky

Favourite recipe from Gousto: Crispy Mushroom Dal With Coriander Chutney. But it changes often, with so many great new recipes

Best bit of advice received: Prioritise passion and purpose in what you do

Business mentor: Timo is one of the best role models – I’ve watched him as CEO go from managing a team of 15 people to managing the organisation it is today. He’s had a very strong vision right from the beginning about what Gousto was going to be. He’s a fantastic character and person to get to know

Never leave home without: Shoes

“All of our product development is based on reach,” Pearce says. “We’re constantly looking at things that are preventing us from reaching a particular customer.”

Indeed, even though recipe boxes broadened their reach to entirely new demographics during Covid, Pearce has “a very strong belief that the product could be infinitely more mainstream than it is now”.

“My mindset is, there’s no reason we can’t really change an industry and get most people to think differently about what cooking and eating at home is.”

That means common criticisms of recipe boxes – that they require too much forethought, are inflexible and too limited in their range – have to be answered.

For Pearce, Gousto is closer to those solutions than its rivals. “We offer double the choice and half the lead time of other competitors,” he says. Boxes can now cater for individuals, couples, and so on up to five people, and can be received at adjustable frequency.

The company is also working to shorten the time between ordering and receiving boxes. “The goal is to compress all that time away as much as possible, so we can give customers the most time to pick, and it gets fulfilled right away. Immediacy is important,” Pearce says.

Gousto warehouse IMG_1278

Each box contains the combination of ingredients required for each recipient’s pick of the 100 recipes available that week.

Personal development

The relentlessly steep learning curve has helped Pearce in his own development. “Gousto has been my MBA,” he says. “Every six months I’ve had a different job. Every six months you look up and realise the size of the challenge has changed in terms of customer volume and the complexity of the problem, but also in terms of the size of the team and leading it. You have to be ultra-aware of your own development journey.”

As a manager, it’s also important to keep the team focused while allowing room for innovation. At Gousto every other Friday is ‘Tech 10%’ – a day for “ground-up innovation” not just among software engineers but other business functions too. “We put our work to the side that we do 90% of the time, and the teams can work on projects they feel are valuable,” Pearce explains. It’s a time to “hack around and discover things”.

The approach has already birthed new ways of testing and deploying software, early developments in the recipe recommendation engine, and Gousto’s white-label subscription box tech. But tech aside, Pearce ultimately attributes the success of Gousto to its people. “They love solving customer problems. They’re very creative. And they’re full of great ideas,” he says.

As such, he’s confident in its future prospects. “I know full well that the Gousto proposition of tomorrow will be unrecognisable from what it is today, and there’s an impatience about getting there,” he says. “I can be impatient and want to get there even sooner, too. The reality is it takes time sometimes. But we always solve problems in the end.

“There is a real evident energy when you talk to people within Gousto, which is where we want to be. We’re not there yet, but there’s a clear path to get there.”