Community//

“Persistence.” With Jason Goodman

Persistence. Sometimes, despite the world’s best efforts, things will go your way. You’ll get featured in a prestigious digital publication, a major production run will go off without a hitch, or you’ll get a great review from an influential person. None of this happens if you quit.“Work hard enough to get lucky” is a quote that I love. […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Persistence. Sometimes, despite the world’s best efforts, things will go your way. You’ll get featured in a prestigious digital publication, a major production run will go off without a hitch, or you’ll get a great review from an influential person. None of this happens if you quit.

“Work hard enough to get lucky” is a quote that I love. Nothing great can happen if you stop, and as long as you can see even a tiny sliver of a solution to the problems you’re facing…keep going.

If you have a great product that needs to exist, you owe it to the world, to the team, to your investors, and to yourself to persist. Who knows, you might just get lucky enough to change the way people eat for the next decade or more.

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 Jason Goodman.

Jason has a background in biology and work experience in small biotech startups and large pharmaceutical companies. He’s experienced in project and people management, product development, and is finishing his Ph.D. in food science at Cornell with a concentration in Taste Biology. He co-founded Antithesis Foods, which makes Grabanzos, in 2017 to make better-for-you food that tastes great.

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 whole life I’ve been very into making things. As a kid, I played with food constantly…mostly in the kitchen sink. I combined tons of different ingredients, making ‘concoctions’ of mixed sodas, foods, and sometimes really weird things….like I mixed 100 skittles with sprite. Very colorful…very sweet…not great for your teeth.

As I got older I got very interested in health and how different things you ate or did could affect how you felt. This led me to get a background in biological science and eventually to go to graduate school to learn how to make food.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

Grabanzos came from a product development class at Cornell. We all made different versions of ‘healthy’ products and someone made a chickpea cookie. It fell apart, but I knew a little bit about working with chickpeas from being a huge hummus fan. I did some finagling and was able to get it to stick together and crunch really well. We covered them in chocolate and couldn’t’ stop eating them! The nutrition facts were great and we thought..hmmm…we really might have something here.

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?

We ordered a huge lot of flavorings that we thought would last us about 3 years. Really big multi-gallon jug. I think we said out loud “This is going to last forever”. Literally 10 minutes later we dropped it on the floor and it was gone forever. I cleaned up the jug and taped it together and now it’s a “Unrealistic Expectations” trophy. We learned to lower our expectations and assume everything will fail.

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?

When you experiment with your first formulations, use the ingredients you’re going to scale the formulation with. It is a huge error to formulate with ‘retail’ versions of ingredients. Often-times the ingredients you buy at the local grocery store are not going to be the ones you use to make 5,000 lbs of your product. Look for a local ingredient distributor. This will save a ton of reformulating time down the road. These ingredients are absolutely going to act differently.

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?

Google the competition and make sure you’re actually making something different. If it was ‘easy’ to make, it’s going to be easy for someone else to make too. Then go make the smallest amount of it that you can and see if people will give you money for it (not just your friends). If so…go forth and conquer!

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?

If you have problems taking an idea and making a business out of it, find a co-founder that will help you. All a business is is taking ideas and translating them into products and services. Your idea will need 1,000 other ideas along the way + great execution to become a business.

If you aren’t good at the translation piece, that’s okay, just be honest with yourself and find someone that is amazing at translating ideas, and maybe not as great at generating them.

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?

Do it on your own first. You may not even know what questions you want to ask the consultants, so it will be frustrating (read: expensive) for you, and for them. Most of these things you can figure out from googling, reading books, talking to friendly experts, and experimenting.

When you run into a real wall, that’s great! That means you’re doing something new and will have good questions to ask consultants.

I do think consultants are useful on the scale-up side of things. They can tell you what machines exist to do your thing at large volumes that you may have never heard of.

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

I would always start by bootstrapping, see if you have something that people will pay you for, then decide how big you want to get and how fast you want to get there.

If you raise VC, you have to understand what they are looking for out of the business and how fast you’re going to have to run and for how long.

This is a different life you’ll have to live than if you grow based on revenue and taking on debt.

Even though it gets written about a ton, most businesses never raise VC, so even though it seems like the default option, it’s not.

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?

This is vastly different for each type of product and category that folks will be in. I would recommend asking local food entrepreneurs in your specific space how they have navigated these issues. Because we’re making physical goods, a lot of the supply chain questions can only be answered by local folks. Even finding a great warehouse that has a forklift that you can use is a hard thing, but local food entrepreneurs are the best resources for this.

As far as patents, most food companies protect their IP as a trade secret and typically do not patent formulations. Remember that patenting requires disclosure, so folks can see all your secrets. It’s also hard to know when another company is infringing on your patent, so the utility of these is lower than in other industries, in my opinion. Always consult an IP attorney for your specific situation.

Finding good manufacturers and distributors is constantly a challenge and again is a local thing and specific to your industry. If you can find one that answers emails and phone calls rapidly and consistently, hold on to them!

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.)

  1. A team

Every person has strengths, and those often come with a corresponding weakness. In order to build a strong company, which can make an amazing product, you need to get multiple people together whose strengths buttress each other’s weaknesses. While I might be great at quickly coming up with a new formulation that is ‘pretty good’…I am terrible at optimizing and running well controlled experiments to get them to amazing. While this is a good skill to have, you need to have teammates who are good at getting projects to be amazing. Make sure you understand what you’re bad at and build a great team (and get a great co-founder) to help.

You should also build external teams and network with organizations that help startups thrive. We were lucky enough to work with the folks at our college’s entrepreneurial program and the Techstars X BlackStone LaunchpadLift program. Mentorship and connections through here have helped us raise capital, meet production partners, and place us in new retailers.

You cannot build a successful food business (or really anything) alone.

2. A reason to exist

Why is this food, product, and brand different? Why do you exist? Why are you better than the 1,000 other options for your food category?

Everyone has a kitchen, everyone has a recipe, and everyone has ideas. Make sure yours is different. It sounds cliche, but if you don’t have a key differentiator in your product, you should stop immediately. A story is not a key differentiator…unless you have a ton of capital to tell that story.

Most crunchy snacks are made with wheat, potatoes, corn, or rice. These are delicious, but don’t offer much more than great taste and texture. We exist because we can make things crunchy with more protein, a lot more fiber, and with fewer calories in a delicious way. Most people don’t get enough fiber, because they don’t eat enough vegetables. Not a problem anymore because they can eat Grabanzos!

3. A financial model

Imagine you’re exploring a forest but didn’t bring a map (or phone). The sun is on its way down and you want to head home….but do you go left, right, turn around, or is this trail a loop? What’s the right decision?

Building a company without a financial model is the same. Before you make any decisions, you need to understand how it affects how much cash you have, how much product you might have to produce, and how much money you’ll have left. Build this in excel and use it to forecast your decisions.

What does my customer life-time value need to be if I want to spend $7 on a shipping box for an amazing unboxing experience? If I produce 80,000 cases of product and sell through them in 12 months instead of 6 months, will the company still be alive?

You can only know this if you’ve done the work to model it out.

4. A backup plan

As Mike Tyson said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. This is what it feels like to run a food company. Repeated mouth-punches. Packaging is delayed? Major suppliers changed the format that they sell an ingredient in? Our minimum production run is now 10 times higher than before? That machine we optimized our process in for 8 months is discontinued? We can find a replacement machine, but the new one is too tall for the manufacturer so we have to co-invest to build a production space?

There’s a global pandemic?
Very few of your plans are going to work out the way you expected. That doesn’t mean don’t plan, but it means have a couple of back-up plans in case the primary plan doesn’t work out, because most of the time, it will not.

5. Persistence

Sometimes, despite the world’s best efforts, things will go your way. You’ll get featured in a prestigious digital publication, a major production run will go off without a hitch, or you’ll get a great review from an influential person.

None of this happens if you quit.

“Work hard enough to get lucky” is a quote that I love. Nothing great can happen if you stop, and as long as you can see even a tiny sliver of a solution to the problems you’re facing…keep going.

If you have a great product that needs to exist, you owe it to the world, to the team, to your investors, and to yourself to persist. Who knows, you might just get lucky enough to change the way people eat for the next decade or more.

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

Read a ton, listen to podcasts, talk to your friends. Everyone eats so there’s a ton of customer discovery opportunities.

Try to get a sense of what problems people in different groups have with their current food options. Do runners need something that is easier to digest? Are people living more sedentary lifestyles because of Covid, does that mean eating habits change? Understand the problems that people are facing, then build the solutions with a new food product.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’m interested in entrepreneurship because people spend a ton of time at work and that time should be incredibly meaningful and well spent. I hope we’re building a company where everyone is spending that time on challenging, difficult projects, that they are proud of being a part of. I think the mission of the company is profound; we don’t think people are going to eat better unless better for you food tastes better. This is a really hard problem to solve, especially while keeping the price of this food low so that it’s broadly accessible.

So if we can make food better, and make work better, I think we’ll have made the world a better place.

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.

If I could inspire a movement…read less social media and more long books. The most meaningful work in the world is really hard and it takes a lot of focused attention. It’s hard to do that when you’re checking social media all the time. We all have the ability to be world class at something…you can’t find that thing unless you go try a bunch of stuff. So go out and try things.

We are very blessed that 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, 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.

Hahahah, I respect @ryan_caldbeck former CEO of Circleup a ton. He has a bunch of deep business insight in the CPG world, and more importantly, is not afraid to be personally vulnerable and deeply candid in public.

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

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Author Guy Kawasaki Shares Some Of The Lessons He Learned Working With Steve Jobs

by Jason Hartman
Community//

Jason Wojo Shares Insight On Beating Stress, Pushing Through Obstacles, And Building Successful Habits.

by Somto Ike
Community//

The Key To Overcoming Self-Doubt

by Myla Saavedra

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.