Aaron Bullock: “You will need and endless reserve of willpower”

You will need and endless reserve of willpower. More often than not, you will overcome the obstacles in your way by sheer will alone. You will need to need little to no sleep. In order to succeed in the food business, you are going to need to work 48 hours a day and 14 days a […]

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You will need and endless reserve of willpower. More often than not, you will overcome the obstacles in your way by sheer will alone.

You will need to need little to no sleep. In order to succeed in the food business, you are going to need to work 48 hours a day and 14 days a week. Not to mention that most of the daily challenges you’ll face will keep you awake at night. You’re gonna need to be tireless.

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron Bullock, a serial entrepreneur with a proven track record for turning concepts into fully formed, successful and highly lucrative businesses. Aaron is a licensed Traditional Naturopath with a Business Analysts Certification from Harvard Business School and is the Co-Founder of Misha’s Kind Foods alongside Chef Ian Martin. He’s shown great success creating profitable businesses that generate positive financial benefit for his partners while increasing the quality of life for his customer base at a consistently fair cost.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”? Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

My business partner and longtime friend Ian Martin, who amongst his many talents is an amazing vegan chef, and I had made the decision that we wanted to work together on a project. We toiled over quite a few ideas including vegan snack chips and kid’s vegan donuts. When Ian showed up with the idea for a plant-based cheese I got it immediately! Everybody loves cheese, but cheese doesn’t love everybody. I was keenly aware of all the problems dairy poses to people and the world we live in i.e.: dairy intolerance, health consciousness, vegans can’t eat it, the impact on our environment… And, I knew we could create and sell a dairy-free product line that would satisfy even the most demanding food aficionados and, at the same time, solve many of those problems.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The first product we launched was an aged, sliceable cheese. It was fairly complicated to produce, and package and it was a bit volatile. One night, right as we were preparing for the next day’s Farmers’ market, it got the best of us. Our refrigerators failed and the cheese didn’t set up properly. Ian and I looked at each other nearly defeated… all that time, all that effort, all that money… and then, almost in unison we said “let’s sell it as spreadable cheese!” Less time, less energy, cheaper to make and package. A simpler product and in many ways, better.

What I remembered were two essential lessons I’d learned many years before… Stay flexible and adaptable, and KEEP IT SIMPLE!

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Hmmm.. I’d say the most common mistakes are not understanding the market for your product and not following the two lessons stated above: Stay adaptable and K.I.S..

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

I wholeheartedly recommend that anyone considering taking the leap into producing their own product immediately call their psychiatrist! Lol. But really, the first thing to do is to take some time excavating your own soul. This is likely to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. This kind of entrepreneurship is fraught with constant disappointments and the most intense levels of unyielding stresses. This is not for everyone. Once you’ve decided that you’re actually insane enough to dive in, learn everything you can about your product, your market, your competitors, and your customers, and then learn some more. You don’t know what you don’t know and that surely can be your downfall. After you’ve done all that, go back to your psychiatrist.

That being said, my experience in this space has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done second only to being a father.

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

This is a difficult and common challenge. My experience is that many of the most creative people tend to lack a certain business acumen. My suggestion is that they find a businessperson to partner with.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

In short, YES! Yes, they should seek out and hire a consultant in their field as soon as possible. You really don’t know what you don’t know, and this is the fastest way to safely get up to speed. My consultants make me smarter every time I speak with them, and they constantly help me save my two most important resources: time and money.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Do as much as you can with what you have before taking anyone else’s money. OPM can be very expensive, especially before you’ve created value in your company. Venture Capital can be good and is sometimes essential to the growth of a business, and it’s my perspective that VC should be approached only when necessary and only when you can present your company as a valued entity and a good partner. Focus on generating value in your company on your own, even if that means moving a little more slowly. With that hard earned value and all of the knowledge that you will have gained by the time you’re ready to engage a VC, you’ll be in a much better position to negotiate more favorable terms for yourself and you’ll be a much safer bet for your future VC partners.

Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?

These are areas where your consultants can serve you well. I do also have to say here that there is no substitute for good ol’ elbow grease. Don’t just rely on consultants or anyone else. Make sure you are out pounding the pavement learning everything you can.

What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

One of most important things, in my humble opinion, is a great team of true believers. I call my team the Dragon Slayers. We get up every morning and eat fire and there is no obstacle too big to keep us away from slaying our goals.

And, of course, you’re also going to need an amazing problem-solving product that will change the lives of a good number of people. If your terribly interesting idea is only interesting to you; it’s not a business.

You will need and endless reserve of willpower. More often than not, you will overcome the obstacles in your way by sheer will alone.

You will need to need little to no sleep. In order to succeed in the food business, you are going to need to work 48 hours a day and 14 days a week. Not to mention that most of the daily challenges you’ll face will keep you awake at night. You’re gonna need to be tireless.

Lastly, you are going to need very, very thick skin. In order to reach the rainbow of reward that creating and selling your own product can gift, there is usually a gauntlet of rejection and a fair amount of disappointment. And as much as I do believe in the importance of being flexible and adaptable, the single most important ingredient in your success will be your unflappable belief in your product.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

In truth, it’s really hard to know generally what people are going to be ‘crazy about’, however in our case, we knew we were solving a big problem. We knew that we need to deliver a plant-based cheese that actually tasted and felt like dairy cheese. If we did that, people would be crazy about it and that’s exactly what we did!

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

We set up a not-for-profit arm of our company called Misha’s Kindness, Inc. This is our giving arm that will primarily be focused on two Causes — Food Security and Education. The first project we have launched (with more to come) is a program called Feed Our Family. Feed Our Family provides farm fresh food to families in need, 52 weeks in the year. We have a goal of feeding 1,000,000 families by 2025 and 10,000,000 families by 2030.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

We worked very hard to become a Certified B Corp because we recognize the need for positive change in the world, especially from the business community. If I could inspire a movement it would be around the idea that companies are not more than the people who operate them and that every human being involved with the operating of a company or the production of product are equally valuable no matter what their job. The idea that a company could be worth Trillions, it’s CEO makes Billions and its lowest paid employees can’t even afford healthcare, education and sometimes even food is ludicrous!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if when we tag them.

I have a short list, but if I had to choose only one it would have to be Robert F. Smith. I am daily inspired not only by his tenacious and continued success, but also by his attitude toward giving and using his success to evolve the world we all live in.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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