Lessons from a startup that was sold for $140M!
Advice from Scott Norton, Co-Founder of Sir Kensington's.
Sir Kensington’s is an American food company with headquarters in New York City. It was founded by Mark Ramadan and Scott Norton in 2010. The company produces Non-GMO Project Verified condiments including ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and Fabanaise, a vegan mayo. In April, 2017, Unilever announced its acquisition of Sir Kensington's. The company remains independently led and managed as a wholly owned subsidiary.
1. Don't underestimate how hard it is to change people's behavior.
You think that because something is logically better, someone might move to that as a solution. But, consumers, customers, and citizens have so much inertia based on their habits because the way that the human brain works. It is not constantly assessing every new opportunity in depth, it is only assessing what breaks through which is a high priority at the time. Everything else is noise. That comes to habits, and that comes to brands. Take smoking for example. If people were logical, nobody would smoke. Smoking is getting more and more less popular. Since the science came out, it's been 30 or 40 years to get smoking to its lowest point ever now. We are talking about a very ingrained behavior.
When we started, we set out to be dramatically different. We wanted to be noticed. We wanted people to see that our product is better and do a double-take when walking down the grocery aisle. If Heinz is plastic, then we are going to be glass. If Heinz is smooth, then we are going to be chunky. If Heinz is Americana, then we are going to be English. If Heinz is squeezed as a product, we will use a wide-mouthed jar like a European preserve or a marmalade. People love that story. They love the story of the outsider. They love something that is different and is making a statement. But, people may love that story, but functionally they don't want to dip a spoon in ketchup. They just want to squeeze it on their hot dog or burger. They just want precision and plastic which isn't breakable. You can give it to kids who are the biggest consumers of ketchup. I can easily tell you a story why our glass wide-mouthed jars are the right thing for the market. But, that requires a hidden behavioral change. And now, we are the leading natural condiment brand and have succeeded in that respect. It is squeezable ketchup in a plastic bottle. We still have that English Sir Kensington's character, with its integrity and charm. But, we didn't need to be different in asking consumers to change their behavior too much. You need to be able to rely on your intuition and have it proved wrong through failure. You need to educate your intuition. That is the whole entrepreneurial process. It is failure that grows you.
2. Don't just sell, create relationships.
From those relationships empathize to understand people's business problems and solve those business problems if you want to get the sale.
In our entrepreneurial journey, growth meant sales. Direct person to person sales. Especially when it comes to selling to restaurants, rather than selling to grocery stores where the consumer sees your product. On the restaurant side, we sell to the chefs and the owners. That's about 30% of our business. We put resources there because it creates awareness and creates this flywheel of growth. People see it in restaurants and go buy it in stores. I was not a salesperson. Hearing no that may not necessarily be a no was foreign to me. We would talk to these people about the benefit of the product. No one would call us back. They liked the ketchup. They said they were interested, but they never called us back. We slowly realized that we needed to be way more relationship driven. We needed to connect and build trust with the customer before selling the product. We were the product, not that the product was the product. We needed to solve their problems and hear their problems as customers, not just make them players in our strategy.
3. Do not think, as an entrepreneur, that the business is all about you.
You may have been the first domino to fall over and get everything in motion, but the sooner you realize you are not the star player, the better. It is your team that is going to ultimately deliver the results. It is your team that is on the front line with customers and suppliers. You go at the beginning being sales, being marketing, being fundraising, being the vision, being the voice. Being all those things. But, once you get people in those spots, you have to seed responsibility to them. You have to recognize that your secret ingredient is people. Since we have leaned into that value, we have been far more successful than we have ever been. We are a much better place to work and to attract and retain talent. We have learned from others in our field that we need to give our employees the ability to allow them to get where they want to go in their career. They need to see the impact of their work and to gain skills to become leaders in their own right.