Steven Novick is the CEO & Founder of Farmstand. Farmstand cooks & delivers fresh, fast, healthy, and affordable meals to businesses and consumers that they personalize. Their website is www.EatFarmstand.com. Steven previously built 2 billion-dollar businesses & climbed seven summits (including Everest - the very top). Beating cancer made him passionate about food and the environment, and growing up working class made him appreciate affordability and convenience, which is why he started Farmstand.
With there being so many meal delivery services out there, how is Farmstand better?
Like you said, there's certainly a tremendous amount of meal delivery services out there. And how we distinguish ourselves is really in four ways: we're affordable, we're fast, we're healthy, and we're also zero waste. So we describe the Farmstand formula as: we're $7 a meal, five minutes to heat, zero added sugar in zero ways. So it's “seven, five, zero zero”. To add a little bit more to that, we think, ultimately, we're 10 times better than the competition. Firstly, as much as we do a direct-to-consumer service, and we deliver directly to homes, what makes us highly unique is that we have large contracts with Office caterers and large institutions. But what makes us 10 times better than the competition is we're fresh, versus frozen or a meal kit. So we're ready to eat. We're 50% less expensive. We're 90% faster to cook, and we have 100% personalization. And oh, by the way, we take up 90% less fridge space than a HelloFresh would.
Love all of that. And now this is the part that I'm sure most of our listeners are going to be not super happy to hear. But you're not available in the US at the moment. Correct?
Yeah, at the moment, we're just in the UK. We cover the UK nationwide. But a contract that we've signed with a food service provider called ISS and the UK's largest bank, Barclays, that contract, although it starts in the UK, is a subscription agreement (because we’re a subscription-only business) allows us to expand into Europe and the US. And so our hope is to be in the US starting on a B2B basis as early as the first quarter of 2023.
All right, love that. I'm definitely eager to learn more about you when you’re in our territory. So you've previously built $2 billion businesses. How have you done that and what's important to get right from the very beginning?
Yeah, so prior to starting Farmstand, I co-founded an investment firm that now manages about $2 billion invested in private companies. And then prior to that, I was head of business development at a health tech business that raised about $50 million in venture capital. We scaled to $20 million in revenue, and it filed for an IPO of $650 million valuation, which in today's dollar might be about a billion dollars, and then that business was acquired. So I think the fundamental thing is like, when we started Farmstand, I think that the foundation of everything is our values, behaviors, and ultimately what you stand for as a business. In any business you start or you join, I think you have to be very values-driven. And so for us at Farmstand, that's been a real big driver. And so one of our big values that we really centered around, especially in the environment we're in, is making sure that what we're doing has zero food waste, zero packaging waste. We're a B Corp certified business, just like Patagonia or Ben and Jerry's. So these are kind of some of the things that are really important. I think that if you don't have the right foundation when you start a business, you can't grow from that.
I love that. And I agree 100% with all those. I started my business fairly young and didn't have that foundation fleshed out. But it's definitely been a core focus of mine, and something I communicate to my team and even clients – when we're talking about their marketing and their messaging – is that it comes down to what is it that you believe, that's going to help attract the type of people that align with your thinking and your philosophy?
Yeah, I think that's right, and ultimately your customers are going to follow you and get excited based on what you do. So we ultimately want people to take a stand – and take a Farmstand for that matter. So it's on affordability; you know, healthy meals shouldn't just be for the wealthy. And you ultimately want these meals to be healthy. So no added sugar is a really important thing. I mean, 73% of the US population now is overweight or obese, if you eliminate sugar, that helps a lot. And then ultimately, we all are short on time. And so you can pop our food in the microwave, and you have to be ready in three minutes, or boil some hot water and you can make that happen. In that way we kind of describe our business as a build-your-own-salad bar meets Uncle Ben's Ready Rice, because our pouches, which are our meals, are basically a base, a main, and a side, they all come separate, so you just put them in boiling hot water, and that's a really great solution. And then now with the environmental problems that we're having, and the increasing temperatures, making sure you have zero waste. So what's great about us is we have no food waste, we have no packaging waste, and after three deliveries, customers can return all the packaging to us. And we reuse that. So we effectively make a profit on the return which is great for us, for growing our business.
So I hear you've been writing a book for about five years now.
It's something that I wanted to do for a while. You read books like Shoe Dog, written by Phil Knight about Nike, and other books out there about your experience. Our business effectively started as a dark kitchen, and we were mostly a B2B play pre-COVID. So we had 12 Farmstand branded concessions inside large corporations like JP Morgan, Barclays, BlackRock, and KPMG, when COVID hit, we had to shut that entire business down. And we started completely from scratch. So the book is called Keep going. So the five things you do when things get difficult, and this is not only in work, but in life. The first thing is that you write down the list of the problems when things get difficult. The second thing is you come up with, hopefully, a set of potential solutions to those problems. The third thing you do is you, you know, ask for help. And then the fourth thing is you start executing on those things. And then the fifth thing, ideally, is that when you fix your problems you try to help other people. That's the general idea around the five things. And, you know, I think in life, it's the same thing, when you have a, you know, you have something, it's difficult, you have to really think about what the problem is and, and be rational about it and try to come up with solutions. So I think whether it's work or life, you really want to rally around, just keeping things as simple as possible, trying to be as rational as you can about it, whether it's a relationship with your partner, or with a work colleague, or it's work in general, you have to be solution-oriented. It's one of the things that we believe at Farmstand, one of our behaviors, people can talk about anything they want with us, or complain about anything they want. But ultimately, you need to find solutions to problems, not just simply complain about them.
What's the timeline to get the book wrapped up?
Well, with restarting the business from scratch in February, and the business growing, you know, more than 20% a month, you know, since we started, you know, folks right now are raising a bit more venture capital, which we just started doing. We're part of an accelerator in Milwaukee, which is how we met called generator, which is, you know, top 10 nationwide business accelerator. So we're focusing on raising capital right now, you know, and if we're here at the end of January now, it would be nice to get something out probably by next year is kind of the idea, maybe to coincide with us launching our business in the US.
Cool. Love it. All right. Well, this would be a good time to pause for a quick message from our sponsor.
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Can you share with our listeners one of your favorite networking experiences that you've had?
I think every opportunity we have, when we're walking down the street or in the park, or in a grocery store, or wherever we have an opportunity to meet people, I don't actually like the word "networking". Connecting with people is how I view it. I'm actually much more of an introvert. People have a hard time believing that because I can get up in front of large groups of people and talk, but my natural inclination is to be more of an internal person. So I think on the networking side, I think the best thing to do whenever you're reaching out to people, LinkedIn is probably the most helpful platform that's out there to help you build a business. And I think if you're genuine in your approach, and you're honest about things, I think people generally respond very well to that if you open up by trying to sell something, or super aggressive or send repeated emails, it's not going to work. So I think you're always putting yourself in the other person's shoes. So whether it's, for us in the case of trying to contact people or food service providers, or corporates, or people looking to help us, you know, that's, that's kind of how I've gone about, I guess, you know, networking or connecting with people. I think a lot of times what is super helpful, whether you're trying to raise capital, or you're trying to build your business, is getting introductions through other people. And the easiest way of getting your introductions to other people is preparing an email that's very simple, very short. And to the point, asking someone to make that introduction, it's clear what you want the reduction for, and then they can just forward that email on to other people. So I think, you know, one, you know, example of a relationship that helped get our B2B business started as we went to our first office catering relationship was with JP Morgan, and a friend of mine, Stefan happened to work there, run a division. We had a pop-up restaurant in my house before we started the business. He came over like we were doing when we had a gathering, you know, to kind of launch the business, his daughter came along, and most of our food is gluten-free. And she was like, hey, you know, Dad, wouldn't it be great if you had this at JP Morgan? So Stefan was able to make an introduction to Aramark, which was the food service provider. And then the person that worked at JP Morgan oversaw the relationship with Aramark and effectively headed food services for JP Morgan. So there's a good example of using effectively a friend and obviously the help from his daughter who liked the food, you know, proposing the idea that progressed with us, that was our first relationship with an office caterer. And that led to our second with Compass. And then the third is with ISS, which is based in Copenhagen in a very large relationship for us now.
Yeah, I love that. And then just letting being clear on what type of connections you're looking for makes it so much easier for someone to make that connection actually turn into reality.
But there's like three ways to describe people, either you're a giver or a taker, or you're kind of a bit of both, I'm definitely a giver, I don't expect anything in return. So if I happen to be talking to someone or having a chat with someone a couple days ago, looking to invest in our business, he works in a sector that's not really similar to ours. And I happen to know someone that knows a lot about his sector, that also runs an investment fund. And I said, Hey, you know, you're looking at potentially moving into this investment field, you can probably talk to my friend, he didn't ask me to do this. But I think just volunteering and, and willing to help other people out, usually, that comes back and helps you as well. So I think being a giver versus a taker generally works to your advantage, you don't want to be taken advantage of because you also may have to do your own job. But I think being generous with our relationships and our network with other people can be a useful thing, too.
What advice would you offer the business professional who's really looking to grow their network?
So the first thing about me, which is kind of maybe a bit odd, is I never offer advice. I'm not a person that offers advice, because that presumes that I know more than the other person. And nine out of 10 times, I probably don't, even though I read sometimes up to a book a week. But what I do is offer suggestions, but only when asked. So my suggestion, you know, if you're going to try to grow your business, whatever it is, whether it's a B2B business, or direct consumer business is figuring out like, if especially if it's gonna be focusing on sales or, you know, looking at ways of network effects, which Reid Hoffman talks about in his book, "Blitzscaling", is ultimately look for the two or three or four contact contracts or relationships that could potentially lead to large revenues, versus taking in, so be more of a rifle shooter or a sniper versus using a machine gun approach. And just try to keep the approach, very targeted, very focused, versus being too broad-based. When you launch a business even for us. There's a lot of things we could not have done to launch our business. We, you know, initially started off our business, you know, meals for four, and that was portions for four, then we started with meals for two. And ultimately, we settled on meals for one because individuals are probably easier to market to than families at the end of the day.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of, or differently with regard to your professional career?
Well, it's a really good question. I really haven't thought much about that. But I would say to anyone, especially when you can look in the rearview mirror, is always work with people that have, you know, good values and good behaviors, because ultimately, being around good leaders has the right influence long term. And I think some of the jobs I've taken in the people I've worked with, some of them have had exceptional ethics, and others haven't. So I think the 20-year-old self would be, you know, focused on working with really high-quality people and high-quality organizations, because that will lead to further opportunities with similar people in businesses.
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