Put your money where your mouth is…

Our Business of Food Panel

Venturing Hoyas just wrapped up another huge event this week — our first FOOD focused event: The Business of Food. We again garnered a strong crowd at WeWork SoHo West for an allstar panel to discuss the intersection of entrepreneurship, venture, and FOOD. The panelists included:

Our awesome panel (names are left to right)
  • Philip David Crouse — CEO and Founder of Tiny Kitchen Brands and the brand Cup & Compass. @drinkcnc
  • Luke Holden — Founder and President of Luke’s Lobster, Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Cape Seafood LLC. @Luke_Holden
  • Brian Ballan — co-Founder of A&B American Style. @ABAmericanStyle
  • Benjamin McKean — Co-Founder & CEO of Hungryroot; former Co-Founder & CEO of Savored (acquired by Groupon) @benjaminmckean

and our effervescent moderator:

Interlude: Acknowledgement of Greatness

Now before we dive in to some of the lessons learned from our panelists, I feel the need to mention that I met a great entrepreneur at our event — Sam Metzger.

You may not know his name offhand, but chances are that you know a brand which Sam helped make famous — The Chipwich. I personally spent plenty of $$$$ on these between swim and dive team practice.

I was fortunate enough to talk to Sam for quite some time prior to the panel — and this man has seen a lot. He first brought food to you in the form of the frozen ice cream chipwich — a business scaled one ice cream cart at a time. But this man will not rest on his laurels… this time around he’s going digital having founded dcuisine — providing meals that are all natural, seasonally prepared, and flash frozen for your at home eating convenience. Just wow.

Back to business: Lessons from our panel

Our twitter hashtag of #VHFood was busy… but below are a few highlights from the panel including a couple reading recommendations.

On why the Food business:

As a Maine native, Luke had been pretty disappointed in the lobster cuisine he’d experience in NYC… and he made it his mission to source, deliver, and prepare better.

Ben McKean admitted that going to Georgetown did not really prepare him for life in the food business. Fortunately he really enjoyed building his first business “Savored” which showed him how deeply people connect to food.

On scaling:

Ben noted how hard physical locations are and that even partnering for *distribution* is challenging.

Luke’s business started constrained to physical brick & mortar establishments, but he’s excited about the scalability presented by ecommerce and grocery partnerships.

Philip noted that sales in any channel requires relationships — the hardest part is the initial sale. As an entrepreneur you have to weigh the pros and cons of each channel.

Philip continued with a look back on Cup & Compass’s initial pivot — they moved from standard dilution delivery to partners, such as Dos Toros, to a concentrated delivery method. Fortunately Philip’s backers believed in his ability to execute at least as much as his product.

Now the funding he gets is to scale the business with inventory.

On buzzwords in the Food Business:

Luke noted the growing importance of Traceability to Luke’s Lobster. Ben agreed that Traceability is growing in importance compared to Organic. And Brian noted the importance of understanding industry lingo but that a business can’t be built around buzzwords.

On Social Media in their businesses:

The panelists agreed that ratings, such as Yelp, do help them solve customer service issues quickly, but that they’d rather focus on the heavier engagement that comes from properties like instagram.

Luke brought up a story where a Yelp reviewer commented that a particular seat in a restaurant had been unpleasant because the front door was not closed quickly enough despite a cold winter blast coming through. Luke read the review, went to the store, watched as the host opened and closed the door for guests and agreed with the reviewer. A few minutes later a modification to the host’s behavior remedied the problem and Luke invited the Yelper back in to try a meal on the house.

On being an entrepreneur:

Luke pointed out that those who say “I want to work for myself” are just not getting it…

Ben agreed saying that they spend a lot of energy focused on the customer. His company is still in pilot phase so he really focuses on every piece of feedback.

On the business model:

Philip noted the importance of not just pivoting, but thriving after a successful move.

Ben spoke about looking into the big partner, such as Whole Foods, distribution partner model. He said that a lot of startups feel they can hang their hat on getting that large initial contract. But he pointed to what he found as a better model — build the company, grow your loyal consumer base, and allow the big partner to come to you. It effectively changes the negotiation dynamic.

Reading recommendations:

Brian was nice enough to throw us a small homework assignment:

  • Mission in a Bottle — the story of Honest Tea
  • The Method Method

Then we wrapped up with some food, drinks, and mingling… but I must mention our fantastic dessert sponsor — Limanjar Dulceria. One of the founders, Joaquin Ormeno, spoke about the Peruvian background of their e-commerce dessert company that is just now getting off the ground. Check them out — simply delicious.

This event was a lot of fun — seeing so many people connect on such an interesting topic. Thanks so much to everyone who came out to join us and a special thanks to the Venturing Hoyas team and our panelists!

The Venturing Hoyas board and our panel with (from left to right) Ellie Wheeler, Philip David Crouse, Joe Rizk, Luke Holden, Brian Ballan, Ben McKean, Michele Di Pietro, me, Tiffany Yu

Check out upcoming events at www.scotttaylorhoward.com/events and as always, feel free to reach out via @sthoward.