Keep in mind that as you try to conceive and invent, the smallest difference often makes all of the difference. This is what I look for in business these days. I look for a tiny improvement that when implemented makes all of the difference and sets your new product on fire compared to the competition. Example: Human DNA is only 1.2% different from Chimpanzee DNA, but that tiny difference makes all of the difference. Read Zero to One by Peter Thiel.
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 Jonathan I. Strietzel is an American entrepreneur, inventor, and the founder of Wine Chips.
In addition to establishing several successful companies, Jonathan is known for engineering and patenting systems and methods in telecommunications, advertising, and video gaming. Jonathan has spent the last 16 years collaborating with intelligent, creative, technical people with the goal of incubating and building ground-breaking businesses. Presently, Jonathan is knee-deep in his newest company, Wine Chips, Inc. which aims to put the couture in potato chips with its fast-growing line of specialty snacks in flavors such as Smoked Gouda, Blue Cheese and Asiago. The Huntington Beach, California-based company has built an impressive team of executive talent that includes four Master Sommeliers, one of whom is the chair of The Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas.
Jonathan launched Wine Chips with its first prototypes in early 2019 and released the product to the public at “LA Winefest” an event in Long Beach, California which generated a long line of attendees looking for a taste and far more demand than the team could keep up with. This positive feedback articulated to the Wine Chips crew that they had a winner on their hands. The business launched its e-commerce platform in the fourth quarter of 2019, as well as a targeted online advertising campaign. In 2020, Wine Chips’ first full year in business, the product was available in more than 650 stores, and online sales were driven by Facebook, Instagram and Google.
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”?
My name is Jonathan Strietzel. I grew up in Los Angeles County, specifically in the Lakewood / Long Beach communities. I was a pretty good student and loved playing baseball and soccer. Soccer became a real passion of mine, and I played through high school, stopping at the college level to focus on my entrepreneurial dreams. My entrepreneurial background is actually not in Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG,) but has been more focused on internet-based technologies. I was issued my first patents at the age of 19, and continued to build my start-up career in the technology industry until Wine Chips changed my life by accident.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
I was working on a tech problem after a long work day. I decided to open up a bottle of my favorite bottle of cheap Pinot Noir as I unwound. I was also pretty hungry, so I grabbed the nearest bag of potato chips; which happened to be a cheese-flavored chip. I had no cheese or charcuterie available in the office fridge to snack on, so having the cheesy chips nearby seemed like a lucky coincidence. To my delight, the super cheesy chips actually paired pretty well with the Pinot Noir, and that’s when ideas started to creep in. A lot of people call it the “Big Idea” moment, but I experienced it a bit differently. After 20 years of being an entrepreneur and serial inventor, I instinctively take an initial idea and quickly put it through a series of pretty thorough evaluations. The initial idea ultimately must be supported by a ton of data as well as the synthesis of that data with the flood of ideas that inevitably come following the original thought. Ultimately, it all comes together to form the final “Big Idea.” So, after the original moment of inspiration, I did a lot of investigation. I searched for every reason and rationale why this initial idea might be a big one, or alternatively, why it might not. As it turned out in this case, I’m a big believer that the Wine Chips idea is, in fact, really very big.
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?
When you’re an entrepreneur, you find yourself always thinking of one idea or another and it becomes habit to share those concepts with trusted friends and colleagues to both get feedback and ultimately improve your ideas. With Wine Chips, the reaction was something very different than what I was used to, given the highly technical nature of most of my close connections. The vast majority laughed, looked at me like I was crazy and while they were supportive, some shrugged it off as a “funny” idea, possibly even a “decent” idea but not necessarily a big one. I mean, we were talking about going from software-based technologies, patents, and computer vision algorithms to slicing potatoes and standing in front of a hot kettle for 8–16 hours at a time. Quite the contrast. I’m thinking my biggest mistake was sending one of my friends a couple of pictures of me in front of the kettle with my apron, gloves, and hair net. You can imagine how that shot went viral amongst everyone that knows me. I’m sure phrases like “We’ve just lost Jonathan,” “Yes, that’s Jonathan in the picture,” and “Yes this is a real picture” were pretty common as they passed the photos around via text message and email.
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?
Most importantly, when you start anything, you have to have the strength and conviction to get past ALL of those who doubt you or your idea. The biggest error made in any business is simple. 99.9% of people just don’t start. This is because of the feedback they get from their family and friends. A close second might be listening to the wrong advice from those who might seem like the right people, but they aren’t. Every market is different, every product is different, timing is a big variable, and trends can change rapidly — there are so many factors to consider when making day-to-day decisions about a business, it can be difficult to know whom to go to for advice and when. On the other hand, it can be tempting to rely on the opinion of someone who you think and hope is an expert because they’ve had success in a related business, even if they aren’t deep enough into your business to be able to make a sufficiently informed contribution. This can be very hard to see as an entrepreneur, and so it is an easy trap to fall into.
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?
Step 1. Read Principles by Ray Dalio. Step 2. Re-read and take notes on the book, Principles by Ray Dalio. Step 3. Read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Having faith in oneself and maintaining a constant stream of hope is paramount in the journey you are about to take. Once these steps have been completed, seek the counsel of credible, trusted people to help guide you on the amazing quest you are about to undergo.
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?
See my answer above.
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?
This is a tough question to answer. I would want to know who this “Consultant” is and I would want proof that they have been successful at conceiving and taking a product to market more than once with unusually strong results before I would even start listening.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
While I have been part of building, financing and selling a few companies, I am by no means an expert on this question, but I can share what (I think) I have learned to-date.
Bootstrap as long as you can. Be willing to learn, do the hard work and understand every aspect of your business. Know your target customers well. Understand the risks, the challenges, and the opportunities as thoroughly as you can. Understand what it will take to scale the company. Venture Capital and Private Equity are a tool that should be used for very specific reasons after you know your business well and simply need gasoline for the fire that you have already created.
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?
Grab yourself a good patent attorney. Raw ingredients, manufacturing etc… there are lots of places for small companies to start out. You’re going to be paying high prices to purchase low quantities, but as soon as you can, do your deals directly and eliminate the middlemen. If possible, do your deals directly with the original supplier. Wine Chips has found over 600 retailers just through our online marketing activities. All of these businesses and distributors are real people that buy real products personally. They saw ads for Wine Chips and reached out. PR should help with this as well if you have a compelling story. My guess is, if you have bootstrapped your venture as we discussed above, you probably have an interesting story to tell.
Here is the main question of our discussion. 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.)
I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer this question because Wine Chips is my first food line. I’m still learning. Having said that, I started to go down this path in a previous question so I’ll jot down 4 ideas that come to mind that will almost certainly be different as soon as this article is published lol:
- You need to know that the counsel you seek is the right counsel. Read and apply Principles by Ray Dalio.
- You need to keep a constant supply of faith, hope and optimism in your heart and at the top of mind at all times. You need to always remind yourself that when things can seem troubling, even overwhelming, they are not as bad as they seem. Read Factfulness by Hans Rosling, and read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
- You will need to understand people well and what motivates and drives them. Read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
- Keep in mind that as you try to conceive and invent, the smallest difference often makes all of the difference. This is what I look for in business these days. I look for a tiny improvement that when implemented makes all of the difference and sets your new product on fire compared to the competition. Example: Human DNA is only 1.2% different from Chimpanzee DNA, but that tiny difference makes all of the difference. Read Zero to One by Peter Thiel.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have not had enough success to truly affect the world in a measurable way. Perhaps one day. At a tiny level, we want Wine Chips to help — in even the smallest way — bring people together. Sharing food and drink is a unifying human activity, and if we can play even a tiny role in bringing people together, that would be wonderful.
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? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to somehow create a way to measure and communicate all of the progress and good that mankind achieves daily. Events and stories focused on by the media can be very troubling and paint a picture of negativity and despair in the world. But there are so many ways in which the condition of the world and its people are improving constantly, and I wish there were a way to disseminate the positivity of that change more prominently.
The shocking nature of negative headlines that we read daily and the stories they represent, cause us to buy the paper, read the website, or tune into the broadcast channel so that we can bear witness to the chaos. The rush of emotions that they generate can be addicting. And obviously, we need to be aware of many of these challenges. But we also need to be aware of the positives. The human race makes incredible progress and drives amazing innovation every day, and most of those things just fly under the radar.
Again, reading Factfulness by Hans Rosling should give all of its readers a new perspective on the human condition. It should give us all hope and a new way of how we view mankind.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, Venture Capital (VC) funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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 we tag them.
- Ray Dalio
- Gary Chapman
- The Dalai Lama
- Elon Musk — Wine Chips should be served in space, then on Mars. Why? Because that would be badass.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.