Female Disruptors: Larissa Russell and Fiona Lee are shaking up modern food distribution

I had the pleasure to interview Larissa Russell and Fiona Lee founders of Pod Foods. Pod Foods is a software company that is…

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I had the pleasure to interview Larissa Russell and Fiona Lee founders of Pod Foods. Pod Foods is a software company that is disintermediating the grocery supply chain to make good food affordable. In a year, we onboarded over 200 emerging food brands and distributed over 70% of them to grocery stores in the Bay Area.

Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?

We met 4 years ago and started a cookie company after a successful Kickstarter campaign where we achieved 800% of our fundraising goal. We continued to sell our cookies nationwide through online channels, local snack distributors and food service clients. As we expanded, we realized the challenges of retail and food distribution and saw the opportunity to become a new-age food distributor that enables brands to grow into retail stores.

Why did you found your company?

We realized we couldn’t afford our own cookies in grocery stores. It wasn’t because they were so expensive to make, it was because we couldn’t afford distribution and distributing ourselves was operationally cumbersome. We weren’t the only ones — so many good food makers we knew were struggling to reach the shelves despite growing consumer demand for their products, and changes within large grocery stores were making it more and more challenging. We knew the distribution problem needed to be solved to accommodate rapid changes in the industry, so we stopped making cookies and decided to solve it.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Food distribution has largely remained the same since the 1940s with massive warehousing and inefficient transportation of products. We created a bidirectional enterprise software solution leveraging shared resources to enable the distribution of products from manufacturer to store. With our process, retailers have access to thousands of emerging and local brands at 10 times lower operational costs and brands have access to retailers at 20% lower cost. These cost savings are passed down to consumers, allowing food to be fresh, natural and affordable.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

We have had many mentors, but our primary advisors to-date have been Nitin Pachisia and Manan Mehta at Unshackled Ventures, a tech VC focused on immigrant founders. They believed in us from the start, invested at the conception of the idea and have continued to be great partners to us.

How are you going to shake things up next?

We are continuing to grow throughout the Bay Area, onboarding more stores and more food manufacturers as we further develop our software. Our intention is to meet the industry where it is and speak to our customers in a language they understand so that we can affect change.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“Nobody’s going to believe in you as two nontechnical female co-founders.” Unfortunately, it’s largely accurate, but it set expectations straight about how hard we would have to work and how much more we have to prove in order to have people backing us at an early stage.

“This industry doesn’t think much of amazon.com. You can’t force tech on people.” Definitely true and has affected our business development.

“At any point of time, you’re in control.” We heard this at a panel event and it is a good reminder for us not to rely on any event or anyone and keep our focus on growing the business.

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

We like to keep the content a secret between founders 🙂 The most influential people we’ve heard from have many years of experience in the food industry and pass on their wisdom through stories told. You can’t google their experiences.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

  • Bill Gates (invested in Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods)
  • Kimbal Musk
  • Demi Moore (invested in Thrive Market)
  • Kathleen King! (founder of Tate’s cookies)
  • Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk (founders of AirBnB)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio (he invested in Hippeas and Runa)

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Originally published at medium.com

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