The second chapter of Startup Stories hosted by Jordan Schley (Capital Investment Network) and Tessa Bousfield (VIATEC), provided insight to investors and entrepreneurs looking to learn more about the highs and lows of running a startup and eventually making an exit.
This session consisted of:
An Impact Founder – These startup founders are in the middle of their startup and can shine a light on starting a company and experience in fundraising. They have solid growth, but are still growing a brand (over 1 year of experience).
A RocketShip Startup – These startup founders are much the same as Impact Founders, but have more experience (5+ years). The majority of these Rocketship Founders have had an exit or are close to selling their startup, with more highs and lows along the way.
Our hosts interviewed this chapter's impact founder: Aki Kaltenbach (Save da Sea Food) and followed by interviewing the RocketShip Startup duo: Sean Taylor and Clark Brunsdon (Stembolt (>>JUUL)!
Aki opened with a story of her family's Japanese restaurant in Whistler, BC and how she wanted to serve vegan options. She eventually came up with a recipe for a vegan smoked salmon.
“Our sustainable, plant-based smoked salmon made from simple ingredients, convincingly mimics the taste and texture of salmon lox allowing each of us to do our small part to help reduce our environmental impact.”
Aki was a one woman show and quickly realized that there was a demand for plant based seafood when she sold out right away in The Very Good Butchers shop. She decided to onboard some help and brought on a distributor and eventually a broker but felt the impact of each middle man taking a percentage of the margin.
Aki states that the biggest obstacle that changed the game for Save da Sea Foods as far as raising money goes was being introduced to BC investors through Angel Forum, Capital Investment Network, and Women’s Equity Lab.
“It was challenging to raise money once Covid-19 hit until I was connected with local tech investors. I didn't know where to look to raise money at first. There are so many plant based companies taking off and going public right now. It is very exciting to be a part of the food sustainability industry.”
Jordan Schley wrapped up Aki’s presentation with a brief Q and A.
Jordan: We are starting a book club. What is a book you recommend?
Aki: My reason for becoming plant based stemmed from a book called How Not to Die and my main driver for starting the vegan lifestyle and inspiration was health focused.
Jordan: Any questions from the audience about bridging gaps from connections?
Aki: I wasted a lot of cycles knocking on the wrong doors. I hadn’t been connected with CIN and Angel Forum and everything changed when I was introduced to the right people.
Next, the founders of the RocketShip startup Stembolt, Sean Taylor and Clark Brunsdon presented the story of their journey. Clark began by explaining how their company was born after the duo finished their computer science degrees and both recent graduates didn't want to go work for anyone else.
“We didn't respect many companies' development, their ability to construct code, and how programmers didn't follow the why behind their programming; Sean and I decided to focus on technical excellence and build a company centered around quality. We went from two dudes in a basement to taking the steps to turn into a legitimate business.”
Stembolt started building a name for themselves via word of mouth from people who needed help fixing code. Clark remembers working 24 hours a day at age 25 and 26 and even slept in the man-sized safe originally made for stock documents in their rented office.
Stembolt gained traction that led to more growth when they shifted their business model to include helping companies with e-commerce rather than just general coding. This shift moved them to a larger office space and introduced them to all the logistics that come with growing a company. After making this change, Stembolt got a call to come and fix a company's e-commerce system which involved them taking over the CTO role of a large scale e-commerce platform. This led to Stembolt being able to tune more companies' e-commerce businesses.
Clark notes that one of Stemolt’s strengths is that they’ve always been good at the introspection side of improving their company. One of their biggest successes was changing their logo and rebranding to a streamlined and modern design. Another benefit of the founders introspection was letting go of a partner and employees that didn’t share the same philosophies about how to grow their company and how to do business. Clark and Sean then decided it was time to spend more on sales and marketing which aided in gaining huge client JUUL in 2017. JUUL ended up buying the whole Stembolt team when they had grown to just shy of thirty people and they are now their in-house developers. This proved to be a great decision for Stembolt and they are very happy working with JUUL.
Jordan and Tessa concluded the presentation with a Q and A with Clark and Sean.
Jordan: Any book recommendations?
Sean: Thinking Fast and Slow which is about how your brain works with different biases and how to avoid them.
Clark: Rapid Development excellence in technology although it is a very dry read I found it quite informative.
Tessa: Was it hard to let your baby go to JUUL?
Sean: It was the hardest decision but it seemed like a great fit for them and their employees. In retrospect they made the right decision.
Clark: We have learned more in the two years at JUUL than in the ten growing Stembolt, so it was a great decision.