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The Business of Food

by Jennifer Barney


Vaguest of plans
2-min read
I was reading a piece in The New Yorker where a member of an organized political group likened their leadership tactics to an old South Park episode in which “underpants gnomes steal people’s underpants and hoard them in a subterranean lair. The gnomes claim to be doing this in order to make money, but when asked they can muster only the vaguest of plans. (“Phase 1: Collect underpants. Phase 2: ? Phase 3: Profit.”)”
Being successful in business is about filling in for Phase 2. As a startup you might be doing a lot of underpants collecting – building your product and testing in market – but where to go from there is not obvious. You may have a clear vision of how you want this journey to end – and you might even have a list of strategic acquirers. But getting from Phase 1 to Phase 3 and living to tell the story will require assistance. 
Phase 2: ?
The growth stage, which for the purposes of this post I’ll call Phase 2, can be wrought with uncertainty and the vaguest of plans. There is a tremendous amount of resources out there to guide founders on how to grow their brands – podcasts, industry news, newsletters, classes, accelerators, incubators etc., and those can be very helpful, yet also overwhelming. It takes a lot of time to consume all the information and sometimes the help is not specific enough to your particular situation. 
The growth plan should lay out funding, team building, go-to-market strategy, and product offerings. For example, it will answer for:
  • should I take debt or give equity?
  • should I enter foodservice and retail at the same time?
  • Should I expand my product line up with new flavors or new pack sizes?
  • Should I look for a new copacker?
Do not randomly try things to see what sticks and call that your plan. Do not accept opportunities just because they showed up (“Walmart wants to bring us in!”). Set your course and use KPIs to evaluate and pivot. 
De-risking Phase 2
Look, you’re no dummy. You will figure this out. Having a good plan doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work, but that it has been de-risked. What I mean by that is you’ve collected all available advice and guidance and made an informed plan. Where to get the best advice is through veterans who are active and ensconced in the industry. 
Advisors help you accelerate
Not only do advisors help you de-risk, they help you accelerate your learning. By providing guidance and access to their network they are putting in motion now what might have taken you exponentially longer to find.
What if I can’t attract a good advisor? 
Regardless of if you have a formal advisor, making friends with food industry leaders is a must-do as part of the community you are building around your brand. 
More on this next week.

All my best,
When co-founders need couples therapy - WIRED 
“In investor-speak, it's about exits,” but founders usually have different guiding lights. “Is this a stepping stone to like, do something else? Is this your life's work?”. Eric Friedman, a former founder and investor, developed a tool last year called Tapestry to guide cofounders through their individual strengths, weaknesses, and reasons for creating a company together.
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