And more advice from Mark Samuel, CEO of IWON Organics, a protein and fiber snack company that makes bold, flavor-infused snacks from plant-based proteins like peas, beans and brown rice. IWON (I'm Winning on Nutrition) is focused on healthy snacking and successful, long-term eating habits. IWON's snacks can be found in over 4,000 stores nationwide.
1. There is nothing easy about entrepreneurship!
It's a cruel world. You are going to get punched in the face all the time. There is much misguided information out there for would-be entrepreneurs. Most don't understand how difficult it is to be successful. I have been doing this for 16+ years, and I am still striving for success. I am positioned well at IWON Organics because of our purpose, mission and fantastic products, plus a career that should help avoid early pitfalls, many unseasoned entrepreneurs haven't encountered. But it will be a difficult journey nonetheless. There are no guarantees in this type of business. None.
2. Unless you have a proven track record, funding is difficult.
We are sort of in a bubble, with a lot of money being invested in food and beverage. VC and Equity Companies know that for every home run, they'll have multiple failures. But the homeruns generate huge ROI's. We see that those companies are often interested in investing millions of dollars in people who have a significant track record. However, there are a lot more people like me who start companies, ones who may be new to the terrain (category), and if that's the case, it's a lot harder to raise significant capital. Most entrepreneurs need to get through the first hurdle of starting a business to lay a foundation for growth. Keep the budgets tight, prove out sales and duplicate the process. From there, that can generate buzz. Generally, the first step is reaching out to friends and family for funding. Once your business is sustainable and growing, you can go out and raise outside capital.
3. Don't go wide on distribution.
For food and beverage distribution, you can't go wide. It is cliche "an inch wide and a mile deep," but that is very true. If you have budget constraints, you have to take your product regionally. I first took my product to 10 or 15 stores-a mix of gyms, natural grocery stores, and conventional grocery stores. You get in front of people, and you will get immediate feedback. If people buy your product and then reorder, you have potential. And then you can move from 10 stores to 20, and so on. With retailers, you will need to do demos and promotions. The retailer needs to see that the consumer will come back and buy the product, both on promotion, and full price. Velocity is key in this business.
Direct to consumer is 20% of our sales. We have seen month over month growth in that vertical. DTC is essential because retail is challenging and will continue to over time. We have amazing retail partners, and so long you establish a win-win scenario, retail can be a vibrant source of your business. But DTC should be taken very serious. That number is of interest to investors as well. If you are going to grow your business substantially, investors want to see the DTC component of your company.
4. Don't miss the opportunity to use your existing customers to promote your product!
We started our ambassador program because of my prior experience in health and fitness. That industry is heavy in influencer marketing. I was able to carry my knowledge to IWON. Ambassadors are key, but how you manage the program is equally as important. We have close to 600-700 influencers, all of whom I know. You need to be aware of how you are treating the partners that you are bringing on, how you are reaching out to them, why you are choosing them, and how you are communicating with them. You need a plan. Our ambassadors are fans of our snacks, they eat our snacks, their families eat our snacks. That's important. Hugely important.