1) What is your backstory?
I’ve been fortunate to gain a broad range of professional skills since entering the private sector after serving as a Navy SEAL. Since leaving the military, I have worked at IBM, two prior start-ups, a consulting firm, and, most recently, I spent ten years working at a marketing company specializing in enhanced consumer engagement experiences.
I joined Snacktops in 2015 at the time of its incorporation, because based on my experience working with retailers, I immediately saw how Snacktops’ customizable technology could allow it to address a unique need for a broad range of potential customers in the foodservice industry. After I joined, we began a series of operational tests that soon proved the real-world potential of Snacktops’ technology and business model.
Snacktops was built around a suite of solutions and ideas of making it easier to carry your food and beverage in one hand with a focus on the 91% of people that snack daily. Our portfolio’s breadth allows us to deliver something unique for 11 different channels.
Based on a customer’s objectives, we may provide a different type of package for a Quick Serve restaurant vs a Convenience Store chain vs a National Coffee Shop chain. As an example, Snacktops’ solution for Auntie Anne’s Candy Lemonade Mixer (lemonade with either Swedish Fish or Sour Patch Kids on top) is completely different than our hot drink solutions for coffee shops (think coffee with a muffin snapped on top with a ribbon straw).
2) What problems will your idea solve and how will it improve our lives?
People have changed from eating three main meals a day to now snacking throughout the day. The food service industry now looks at eating periods by what is called “day-parts,” and there are five to seven snacking “day-parts.” The industry knows that 91% of people will snack at least once during one of those day-parts every day. The industry has been good about pairing items together such as yogurt and granola in a flip cup or cheese and salami paired together, but ultimately consumers were not buying more but rather switching from one food item to the other.
We learned through consumer testing that if we paired a snack with a beverage with Snacktops packaging, both beverage and snack/food sales increased. The consumer stopped switching products and just added an item to what they were purchasing. We also learned that Snacktops could be used as a category-accelerator or category-creator. An executive during a recent conversation said gleefully to me, “You are adding revenue to a significant number of (our) customer transactions. I knew the idea was going to be good. I did not realize this good.”
3) What has been the biggest challenge in your entrepreneurial journey and how have you been able to overcome it?
The biggest challenge at big or small companies is keeping people on the bus through the entire journey. I have always been fortunate to be surrounded by great people. This issue at times is market dynamics. At times, either the company/business unit does not scale as quickly as planned or the market simply shifts, which results in not having the financial resources to keep everyone on the bus for the entire journey. This time we are solving it through the gig economy and my network.
I am now able to work with the great people from my past. I outsource almost everything from patent work, marketing, finance, etc., which allows me to have top-tier people that I trust at a fraction of the cost. It is also less disruptive to their lives. Business, at times, is like riding a roller coaster, and sometimes the end of the track is still being built feverishly with the hope it is completed before the car gets to the end.
4) What advice would you give to a prospective entrepreneur?
I would tell each entrepreneur something different based on where they are on their journey. Yesterday I was speaking with a transitioning Special Operations veteran who is going through a program called The Honor Foundation. I had four points:
- Know the language of your customer. If they run a chain of liquor stores, coffee shops, or distribution warehouses, understand and speak well enough so you can bring value to the conversation.
- If you want to start something in an industry where you have limited experience, go work for someone else to learn. (see point “1”)
- Work the problem: Do not quit. Work the problem all the way to the end. Solutions pop up that you would not have seen if you had quit two steps earlier. I used to tell BUD/S students going through SEAL training/qualification: “If you start quitting now, when do you stop? … and … if you start quitting when do you stop … don’t start the habit.”
- Do the things early that you cannot do later as the company grows. For me, that was visiting every location when Snacktops started. I was visiting locations in New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan, Florida, Las Vegas, and others to understand what was really happening. You “understand” when you observe vs making assumptions. (From my military days, “you get what you inspect vs expect.”)
5) What does the future hold? How will you scale your company?
Great things. Do the right thing and everything will be better than “OK.” Snacktops’ processes were built to scale. Now we simply produce more of what we have already done and tested. All the site visits I did during the first two years are paying dividends now. For me, hang on… the fuse has been lit. (Have fun; hang on; the roller coaster track has been completed and tested.)