What was your inspiration behind Ample Foods?
I was living with a bunch of friends in a communal house in San Francisco who struggled getting healthy nutrition in the middle of their busy workdays. I looked for other convenient food options for them, but found nothing on the market that aligned with solid science and had good ingredients, so I decided to make my own. I had a degree in biology and did nutritional consulting for clients on the side as a CrossFit gym owner, and created the initial formula for them. After they really loved it, I began thinking bigger, realizing that millions of people have the same problem, and formed the company Ample.
Did you always work in the food industry?
No. I graduated from college in 2011 with a degree in biology and minor in environmental science, then started a CrossFit gym in Nashville. I then sold medical devices for Johnson & Johnson, then left to start a physical therapy patient engagement platform, seeing an opportunity in the preventative space.
When did you know it was time to launch this company?
I’ve always known I would make a company at the intersection of health and the environment, but didn’t know exactly what that would be. I became frustrated with the convoluted business models in the medical space and decided to pivot from my physical therapy app.
I was working on Ample on the side, just to help my friends have an easier way to eat at work. At some point two or three months into the testing phase, when I recognized that the average person was spending $100/month on Ample, it became obvious what a hit it could be for millions of others. The company also completely and naturally aligned with my skills and personal life mission, so it was something that instantly felt right to commit myself fully toward.
This is not your first time founding a company. What lessons have you learned and applied to Ample?
My first business was a CrossFit gym in Nashville. My second business was a physical therapy app that helped increase patient compliance to exercises given by their PT. This company had a convoluted business model, whereas my CrossFit gym had a very simple business model. When the business model is simple and determined from the start, there are fewer variables to iterate on, and focus is easier to attain. I learned through these experiences that it was critical to me that the path to revenue was simple and direct, as we’ve done with Ample.
I also learned the importance of building relationships with our customers as if we didn’t believe the company could scale, just like we did in the CrossFit gym. This intimate connection allows us to understand the problem we’re solving enough to build the perfect solution and market it in a way they immediately resonate with.
What’s been the biggest surprise while launching this company?
I was very surprised with how well our Indiegogo campaign turned out to launch the company. 45 people paid $5K-$7K to purchase lifetime supplies of the product before we even made the product. We broke the record for the food and beverage category on Indiegogo. The amount of excitement there was initially was very promising and provided a lot of hope for us moving forward.
What's been your biggest challenge?
The biggest problem has always been focus. There are always a million opportunities that could be great for Ample, especially because it’s such a multifaceted product that appeals to many different use cases and demographics. Narrowing down the focus to the essentials, and having both intuition and data to support decisions, while focusing on them for a long enough time to see results without getting excited by a different shiny new opportunity, has been challenging.
At this point however, our improved intuition and data analysis around the impact vs. effort of any particular opportunity, as well as the detachment from any individual opportunity, have been keys to improve this focus and to say ‘no’ to the majority of things it would be easy to say ‘yes’ to.
What’s the #1 skill you think entrepreneurs need to succeed?
Saying “no” to things that seem exciting, but are further along in the company’s trajectory. It’s easy to get diluted to thinking that you’re further along in the business than you actually are. A lot of entrepreneurs either a) raise more money than they can handle; b) hire more people than they can handle; c) spend more money than they reasonably have; d) do too many things at once; and/or e) focus on the shiny things vs. the foundational things.
Companies are entities, and all entities must distinguish between wants and needs.
Only when a company has a solid foundation that addresses their needs—good unit economics, and reasonable product-market-founder fit—should their wants be indulged.
What’s your team culture like?
I think it’s important to have a culture steeped in authenticity, ownership, and curiosity. That’s what I’m striving to build with Ample.
With authenticity, I want every person in the organization to be real—to tell me when they think I’m wrong. I want them to express themselves in an environment freely and to understand that getting to the process takes time and is messy.
I also believe it’s important for people to feel enough ownership in the company that each person has “the buck stops here” mentality, recognizing that the responsibility is theirs to make the company into what they envision.
We also share curiosity to get to the root of a problem. It’s easy to stop at surface-level thinking and surface-level solutions; to patch up a problem with duct tape and move forward. While fast, it rarely builds an organization that consistently learns. We cultivate the curiosity to understand the essence of problems, and find the 10% of the solutions that foundationally solve the problem that lead to long-term growth.
What is your superpower?
Saying “no” to things that don’t matter. At this point, we’ve tried enough things to understand what is a flashy idea sold by a marketing agency and what are the foundational aspects that really drive things forward. Very few opportunities truly are once in a lifetime. For instance, after getting to the finals of Shark Tank selection process in 2016, looking at the contract ABC would have locked us into and recognizing the consumer demographic of the TV show, we realized that to go on Shark Tank pre-launch would have set us up for failure—ultimately, we weren’t ready for prime time TV. We didn’t know our consumer yet; we didn’t have our supply chain set up; by focusing on sales above all else, we would have had a flash in the pan that quickly gets forgotten after 15 minutes of fame. I turned down the opportunity and am incredibly happy I did. We waited until we were ready, and focused on right opportunities, like the Ben Greenfield podcast, which was in line with our demographic and drove sales from customers who actually stuck around.
What’s your kryptonite?
I spend less time on competitive analysis than I’d like. My default is assuming that if we make an amazing product that connects with people and have good insight on where the market is headed, then competition is less important. I do think there’s value in learning from the competition and I certainly don’t spend as much time as I should.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I spend 2-3 hours a day meditating. Nearly all my good ideas come from this mental place. I also walk barefoot on the ground every day, whether at a park, or on trail hikes. Feeling connected to the earth (physically) and myself mentally/spiritually is essential to my success and energy management. These practices allow me to be sure that the 40 hours a week I spend on Ample (i.e. less than “average” founder) really count. Thus, I get a lot more done.
If I took a screenshot of your phone, what would your favorite gadgets or apps be?
Do you have any mentors?
Martin Green and CJ Reim are my biggest business mentors. They make sure I don’t do stupid stuff, mostly on the finance and investment side of things, and help with prioritizing. My therapist Jen Katke is the single biggest influence on my life. She has allowed me to see and embody my most authentic self. Julie Zimmerman, our head of R&D. She’s been the head of R&D at General Mills, Target, and Clif Bar, so she knows Big Food, has a great knack for marketing, competitive analysis, user behavior, as well as food science/R&D. I also have few spiritual mentors who I won’t name. They’ve helped me maintain my center whenever the startup boat gets rocky.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
"Enjoy the ride. If I tell you something, you won’t have the capacity to get there yet, because you’re not wise enough to accept this as wisdom yet. So at the very least, enjoy the journey. Because you will screw it up a lot. But you’ll get through it. So give yourself some slack and don’t beat yourself up. You’ll figure it out eventually."