Greater success in signing new customers. And actually paradoxically, learning more about one another personal lives, as our zoom calls and virtually happy hours are seen through the households we all live in (pets, kids, art on the walls, music in the background, etc.)
As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Douglas Stone, Founder and Executive Chairman of Forager1 Inc.
David Douglas Stone is a successful serial tech entrepreneur, a Mass High Tech All Star, Prepaid Executive Leader of the Year, and a Maine Business Person of the Year (2012). David was the co-founding CEO of CashStar, which is one of New England’s most successful tech companies, employing 120+ in Portland, Maine and with gross transaction volume of 2 BN dollars.
David has raised in excess of 40mm dollars in capital and has one 250mm dollars exit under his belt, returning 3.75x to investors. He has been quoted in Wired, USA Today, Fortune, among others. His passion now is to make locally sourced food more widely available to all.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I am a serial tech entrepreneur who has founded, co-founded, CEO’d, and worked for 11 different start-ups ranging from search, to digital health and payments. I’ve also led my start-ups to ¼ of a Billion dollars in successful exits.
After 5+ years of creating and scaling CashStar and working 70–80 hrs a week and living on airplanes, I stepped aside and decided to take a break. I was burnt out!
I decided to take a 79 day around the world ‘walk about’. I planned, trained, walked, biked, and swam, over 37,786 miles through 4 continents and 14 countries. I stayed with friends, acquaintances, cousins, friends of friends, so that I could experience the world through their eyes. The difference between a tourist and traveler is that a tourist doesn’t know where they’ve been and a traveler doesn’t know where they are going.
On my round the globe trip and as a market intuitive, I noticed several trends emerging around food consumption which I witnessed as a father of 5 living in the farm rich state of Maine.
I also became much more acutely aware of the abuse and destruction we were causing our planet by our over-built and over-reliance on the large agricultural-food industry complex in which a handful of companies control 80% of the food we consume.
Thus, I began to think about how we could rebuild our once vibrant and sustainable local food system. When I looked at the local food market and the supply chain, I saw many challenges and barriers — mainly that only 3% of all our food was sourced locally, and that on average we imported 95% of the food we produce and export 95%. I couldn’t understand why. This led me to start Forager as a way to solve this problem.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Early on after we launched, I had planned a business trip with my sales director pretty far north just as a big storm was approaching. Our desire to close a deal with potential sales prospects kept us moving forward but with towns losing power and downed trees we quickly realized this was an exercise in futility. None of the retailers we planned to meet with had power and often had to turn around as roads closed around us. After a few days dodging downed trees, driving 500 miles and no sleep we came back dejected and exhausted. Lesson learned — no matter how much you want to go the extra mile for your venture, sometimes it’s wiser to postpone and take a step back when the elements are working against you, and fight another day.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
A while back I read Peggy Noonan’s book on “What I Saw at The Revolution” in which she shares her experiences as Ronald Regan and George Bush’s speech writer. Her big takeaway was in speech writing, don’t disregard your first draft and don’t worry if it’s not very good. Keep at it, iterate, improve, re-iterate and 9 out of 10 times you will come up with something really good and compelling. Start-ups are like this — the perfect is the enemy of the good. Keep at it, don’t give up, learn, iterate, improve, reiterate and you will have success.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
We are a mission based venture that seeks to make locally sourced food more widely available to everyone. My vision for Forager is to build the largest network of qualified and reliable local suppliers so that any grocer, retailer, restaurant, non profit or institution can find and purchase local food anywhere, anytime from any device. This is our tagline — Local Food Anywhere.
I envision a future where we have a much more vibrant and reliable local food system and economy, where consumers can have affordable and easy access year-round to healthy, locally grown and produced food. And where we invest in farms that use regenerative practices to rebuild our soils and reduce our carbon impact and create a much healthier community and planet.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Yes! Focus on creating and building value for your customers, and never stop. If you do this well, your venture will be a success.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
While I love time with the family, the pandemic means extra family members living at home. Two of my kids came back to Maine from NYC on March 8th. We experienced all of the challenges of losing your privacy, living in close quarters, and dealing with anxiety boil overs which have made it a very stressful and difficult living situation.
None of this is easy for any of us, and many have more substantive challenges. Frankly, I think I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but with time I am doing better. The best ideas I’ve learned:
- Try to stay calm and reduce anxiety and stress — your family will follow your lead
- Understand your kids don’t want to be living with their parents, particularly if they are in their late 20’s — so be kind and patient and give them space, don’t judge them too harshly
- Be creative — do things with them you wished you had the time to do when they were younger — play games, watch movies together, tell stories, help others
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Being apart and virtual makes many things much harder. While some may like working from home and having more flexibility, for me as a creative and gregarious type, I’ve found it hard. At Forager, we’ve instituted virtual Friday afternoon happy hours regularly, virtual Tuesday lunches and a socially distanced off-site retreat at my house.
By doing these things we’ve seen:
- Greater collaboration and teamwork .
- Less isolation leading to a more upbeat and positive attitudes, which rub off on our customers, recruiting efforts and investors
- Greater success in signing new customers. And actually paradoxically, learning more about one another personal lives, as our zoom calls and virtually happy hours are seen through the households we all live in (pets, kids, art on the walls, music in the background, etc.)
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We all need to work very hard at this.
- Build safe pods of close family members and friends so one can get together
- Stay away from hot spots
- Create fun family events — games, popcorn and old classic movies, walks, cooking together, reading to young ones, telling stories
- Be frank, but optimistic about the future
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
While it seems obviously, more digital will become the norm (I for one am taking virtual piano lessons and loving the fact I can do that from home). As an entrepreneur, I think that working from home and living remotely will change so many facets of our lives.
- Most anything digital or moving that way (entertainment, commerce, healthcare, work, school, even play); and new innovative combinations of virtual and physical not yet imagined (e.g. Take a cruise alone and have your partner join virtually on some excursions or in your cabin, do a virtual check in and screening and then a physical visit with your Doctor)
- On the flip side and more counter-intuitive, somewhat of a backlash against all things tech (less Zoom, less device-ing) towards more real interactions, more authenticity and stronger more intimate relationships with fewer people
- Pent up demand for travel, which will be different in many forms (e.g. trips to single destinations and longer stays, more rentals, rather than hotels, choosing safety over convenience and price)
- Food — a strong drive towards healthier, fresher, more local, more transparency
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
At Forager the biggest thing we are seeing is that consumers are seeking to eat healthier, more nutritious and fresher food. Consumers also want more transparency and authenticity now more than ever driven both by the pandemic and the horrific political environment.
Our experience working directly with grocers has shown us first hand just how much the pandemic has forced families to take a long hard at their overall health and diet. I think people will continue to cook more at home and be more strategic about grocery shopping as they figure out this new norm of shopping. Small neighborhood grocery and specialty food retailers (butchers, bakers, fishmongers) will make a strong comeback as consumers increasingly want a transparent relationship with the people they buy from. They also will do more to support their local communities and buy more local.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
I think we are very well positioned for the new economy to come. Currently, we’re looking to expand to all four corners of the US, taking what we are currently doing and putting it on steroids. The demand for healthy local food is off the charts. Recently, we added 200 new farms and artisanal suppliers during the Covid crisis as many farms lost the majority of their business. We are now operating in 9 states from Maine to Iowa to New Mexico.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Focus on Gen Z, these kids are the future! They care more about our environment, inequality and our communities than any other generation in recent times. Create opportunities and businesses that resonate with them. They really care about impact, and working for companies that are trying to make a difference or at least are practicing conscientious capitalism.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is this one by Mark Twain.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
This is my mantra for taking big risks and starting 4 companies.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!