Smile- The more I smile, to more people want to try my product; the grumpier I look, the more people run away. It is that simple. I spend most days in stores offering samples of my product, and I can tell if I am not smiling because people walk right around me as if I weren’t even there!
Passion- You need to be able to show someone your passion within 10 seconds after meeting them. After that…the passion meter really starts to drop. If you can’t sell passion then you can’t sell anything. It’s the only product you can give away and still make a profit.
Asa part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kyle Fiasconaro.
Brewer’s Crackers is a sustainable, up-cycling cracker company with a mission of fighting food waste. They use spent grains from craft breweries that would otherwise make its way into our already overcrowded landfills which emit tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. In just over a year, Brewer’s Crackers has rescued over 100,000 pounds of grain. Not only are Brewer’s Crackers good for the environment, but they are also rich with protein, fiber and other nutrients. Find out more at www.brewerscrackers.com
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”?
Igrew up the youngest of four kids in Long Island, NY. Some of the best memories of my childhood are of running around my grandfather’s garden or climbing bags of flour stacked to the ceiling in my father’s bagel store. I think growing up in both of those environments has influenced me in some way to become an entrepreneur and to also care about food sourcing and food waste. At a young age, I was drawn to distance running and always enjoyed being alone and in control of what direction I wanted to go. Food was always available but never taken for granted. Grandparents on both sides of the family taught me about sustainability and up-cycling through composting for the garden and reusing anything that we could. I remember my grandmother would save her bread crumbs in a kitchen drawer and my grandfather would ripen green tomatoes in the basement all fall. I do not remember any time that we didn’t lick our plates clean at dinner.
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 as a cook, and, when biking to work one day in Brooklyn, New York, I rode past a brewery and witnessed thousands of pounds of spent brewers grains being thrown out right outside of an adjacent bakery. The smell of both the fresh high quality grain and the bakery next door led me to rack my mind for what could be done to use that amazing product that was the base for that great beer. It took about five blocks to figure it out, and when I got to the kitchen I immediately started making crackers for an appetizer. That restaurant had an open style kitchen, and I was able to watch the table as servers told them what I did to make those crackers. It was seeing people’s reaction that made me feel even more excited to continue making them. It was a similar feeling that you get when you grow your own food or find a mushroom in the wild. I knew if I could share that moment with people we could create something big. What started out as a small appetizer grew into a mission.
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?
A funny mistake I made was when my first guerila marketing campaign didn’t exactly work out as I had planned. When Brewer’s Crackers first started, I would pick up grain from the brewery with my bicycle that I affixed a rickshaw-style cart to. As I started gaining more wholesale accounts I used this cart to deliver the crackers and samples to new stores. My big idea was to print signs to attach to the cart so that people would see that I was a real company. I would ride this bike to work and park it right in the middle of the intersection with my logo all over it! This wasn’t enough for me. I bought some battery powered lights, and after spending many hours stringing the lights through approximately 400 holes in the borders of the sign, I put the lights all along the cart so when I drove around it would light up the street. Just as I was ready to show off my my shiny new vehicle I decided to trim the zip ties. By accident I ended up cutting the wires connected to the batteries. In that moment, my excitement was deflated. It took a while to fix but taught me a good lesson. Slow down, and most problems can be fixed.
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?
I believe that people tend to think they need more….more flavors, more money, more space, more swag. Staying within yourself can be an amazing way to grow. Many companies try and jump right into buying machinery, renting a location, hiring a staff and making the product themselves while taking on an enormous amount of debt. To avoid falling into that, it is important to grow your business organically so you’re not over extending yourself. I started out making crackers in my own kitchen until I gained enough accounts to move to a deli after hours. From there I began baking at a communal kitchen until I grew large enough to use a co-manufacturer. To this day it is still just my brother and I running the company, and we haven’t had to sacrifice giving up any equity or use crowdfunding like some of our competitors because of how we are growing responsibly.
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?
Don’t wait, do it now. Put it on paper. That is when it will start to be real. Have goals that can be reached almost immediately, and speak to anyone that will listen to you. Even if they don’t listen, just keep talking out your ideas. The more you say what you need to do, the more it will make sense, and you’ll figure it out. All the information you need to get is usually right around the corner or a phone call away.
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 think you have a good idea, try and find a similar business that most relates to what you are doing. Give that person a call or look to see how they operate. If it took them 15 years to get to where they are, don’t expect to be there in one year. I think expectations are a huge hurdle. You need to know if you want the business to be your life, or just be a part of your life.
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?
Sometimes you are striking out, and you don’t even know it. That is the best part about doing it on your own. I think I learned more while striking out than when things were going great. As long as you are paying someone they are probably going to tell you that you’re doing great. I think this could be dangerous. Sometimes you need to take a pitch to the head to wake yourself up.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
Gleaning as much as you can through the network you have will save time money and will allow you to grow at the right pace. If you can’t express to your mother in-law how you want your website to look, then maybe you are not ready to engage a design firm. I always believed that if you need the money that badly, then either it wasn’t supposed to happen or you are not working hard enough. Money won’t fix every problem if you don’t know what to do with it, The kid with the fanciest shoes doesn’t always run the fastest.
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?
I think that building your personal brand is your best “patent” nobody can ever be you and “you” is your best tool. Many people get caught up in proprietary technology or trademarks and patents, but at the end of the day authenticity is proprietary. Manufacturers are a business, so finding one that is the same mind set as you is a good decision. Customers drive retail, and retail drives distributors. If you understand that you will have no problem. Using one store to leverage the next to the next to the next will create a demand. Focusing on the individual relationships with retailers and customers will be an amazing asset at every stage of growth. At the end of the day we all go home, kick off our shoes, reflect on our days and think about the people we have interacted with. I think being a person that made someone happy and having him say, “that guy was pretty awesome,” is a good start.
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.)
- Smile- The more I smile, to more people want to try my product; the grumpier I look, the more people run away. It is that simple. I spend most days in stores offering samples of my product, and I can tell if I am not smiling because people walk right around me as if I weren’t even there!
- Sweat- Nobody wants to pay someone that they think is going to be drinking a cocktail on the beach in a few hours. If you work for them, they will work for you, and if you are a small food line you need more people out there fighting for you and with you!
- Fear- Everyday I wake up I am afraid. I am afraid that that, if I don’t go out there are make a move, someone else will steal my idea and my business. Fear is what keeps me up at night. Bills will come and go but that notion that someone else is trying to do something similar or take my spot on the shelf really keeps my “head on a swivel.”
- Passion- You need to be able to show someone your passion within 10 seconds after meeting them. After that…the passion meter really starts to drop. If you can’t sell passion then you can’t sell anything. It’s the only product you can give away and still make a profit.
- Patience- By far the hardest and most important thing you need is patience. We all want to build the biggest and best brand, but it will never happen quickly. That being said, patience can also be a crutch, so taking action is an important part of being patient. Your time will never be wasted if you are learning.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
I like to think about a product like a band. Some bands might not be the most mainstream or have the most albums sold but their fans are the biggest die hard fans in the world and will do anything to help that band survive. I want those fans, and I want to be that product. I think creating a product that touches on values and ideas while still delivering a need is the key. You want to keep your “tribe” engaged.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I hope to have educated people about food waste enough so that they will be stewards of the fight against it. By teaching children and parents about food waste through Brewer’s Crackers, I believe they can spread the idea across generations. Having a future generation want to solve our problems isn’t the most glamorous idea, but it sure is effective. I feel that growing up in the Reduce Reuse Recycle generation of the 80’s it has always had a lasting effect on me. Our Up-cycling ethos can be the war cry of the next generation.
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.
Our movement is all about thinking about others, from the hard work that goes into the growing and maintaining crops, to the delivery drivers, brewer’s and bakers. We want to teach people that the value of food is not only based on the cost of a product. Its real value is based on the amount of lives it impacts. We hope to show people that foods that are whole and nutritious are a part of a much bigger picture and that real people are behind it. I believe Up-cycling is a missing part of our food system on a daily basis. Using a simple product like a cracker makes fighting food waste so much more relatable to the people that effect change — the consumer! There are so many kinds of consumers, and not all people are ready to jump into the world of food waste. But showing all people that you don’t need to do much to effect change is powerful.
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.
I would love to share a meal and chat with TOMS Founder, Blake Mycoskie. I really admire his business model and the culture of giving back that he has created, along with the importance he puts on sustainability. For some time now, he has been doing exactly what I am trying to accomplish at Brewer’s Crackers. Blake has developed a mission at TOMS that is directly aligned with what we are also trying to achieve. I would love to know more about how he was able to grow his business while also spreading his message of giving back. I would also share with Blake our goals of raising awareness about the importance of up-cycling in the fight against food waste and how we hope to use our up-cycling to fight hunger in our community. During the meal, I would seek his advice on how to stay true to this mission while also being profitable. Helping the environment, raising awareness about food waste and fighting hunger are all important to us but we can’t do those things if we are not in business.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.