We recently spoke with the founding team of Olomomo Nut Company. The company has introduced a healthier version of the roasted nut in its product lines.
Justin Perkins, Mark Owens
Investors and total raised
$2M Angel capital including Brad Feld of Foundry, Dan Berg (former Skype and Solidfire), Jud Valeski (Gnip), Red Idea Partners, and 50 other tech and natural products experts.
The Exception Interview
How would you describe your company and its product to someone who has never heard of it?
Olomomo reinvented the roasted, seasoned nut and introduced a simpler, healthier line of products with bolder flavor profiles. As a responsible brand founded with ethical purpose, Olomomo was the first nut snack company certified as a B Corporation.
How did you come up with the idea for your company? How did you validate the concept early on?
I borrowed the initial idea from a fellow in DC who was selling kettle-roasted nuts at the farmers market in 2007. As a former organic farmer, I saw an opportunity to create a similar product and sell it in the farmers markets in Colorado where I used to sell produce. The flavor profiles my wife and I created were a hit at farmers markets from day one, and it just kept growing from there, to the point where Olomomo is sold in 2700 stores around the country and selling 400,000 units last year. We’ve come a long way from selling 120 bags of nuts on a Saturday at the farmers market.
What does your ideal customer look like?
We sell to moms, athletes, and nut lovers. Retailers and people who love good food and want an alternative to mainstream snacks that are often loaded with extra junk. Our product is selling great in Whole Foods, but also in more mainstream retailers like Rite Aid and 7 Eleven.
Where would you like to see your company in 5 years?
We’re aiming to be the leading alternative brand in the nut snack category, and expand our product set beyond flavored nuts and into other healthy, innovative snacks.
What broader trends are driving interest in the food tech sector?
I think food tech is a clever label that is good for PR and raising a huge amount of capital, but at the end of the day, the process in some of the “food tech” companies isn’t that new. Food scientists – like my partner and CEO, Mark Owens – have been developing new products for years. And we’re starting to see that the hubris around “food tech” is actually having some negative backlash and expectations for tech-like unicorns, when food businesses are really pretty old school when it comes to operations. Unlike technology, which has higher margins and infinite scalability, you still have cost of goods when manufacturing a food product, and you still have to physically distribute them. So there’s a lot of cost in the model that tech doesn’t have, and limitations to scalability pace that are pretty challenging to get around for most startups. So I think the trend will be for VC’s and investors to start getting a little more rigorous about business models that actually work, and backing ethical founding teams that know how to manage cash, run a tight ship, and create awesome brands.
What excites you personally about working in food tech?
I have a parallel career in digital marketing with an the largest social network in the world – Care2.com – where I’ve had the opportunity to work with tech, food, apparel, body care and nonprofit clients. In my decade of internet marketing, I’ve recently seen the floodgates open to engage more directly with consumers online – particularly through email. And so the boundless opportunities to build a business more efficiently through digital marketing are really exciting, and entrepreneurs have a lot more channels to sell into or have options to build profitable businesses from day one by focusing on capturing a specific niche.
Do you believe your city and state supports its food tech startups?
Yes – Boulder, CO has an incredible ecosystem for entrepreneurs, particularly in the natural products industry. Because we have a vibrant investing community in Tech as well, we’re starting to see a lot of cross-over and I’ve had a number of investors who had made wealth in tech and loving the opportunity to diversify into Food. What’s great about a food brand is that once you’ve got market acceptance and a decent amount of traction – even if regional – you aren’t likely to be put out of business over night, whereas in tech, you can be displaced or have all of your talent walk out the door at any time. MySpace is a harbinger I remember well. See – you don’t even remember MySpace though it was the largest social network before Facebook came along.
What other companies or founders do you follow for inspiration or advice?
To name a few… Brad Feld of Foundry, Justin Gold of Justin’s, BackFlip Studios, Richard Branson, Brook Eddy of Bhakti, Ross Shell of Red Idea Partners, New Belgium Brewery, Patagonia, Prana, Pangea, So Delicious, Tesla, Barnanas, Sambazon.
What words of wisdom would you like to share with the next generation of food tech CEOs?
You need to be ready for a ten year journey. It’s really rare to beat the odds and raise a massive amount of capital to scale overnight. I’ve seen lots of dead bodies, and you need to take a measured approach and build a real business from the ground up.
What are the biggest risks for your business in 2017?
Saying yes to all of the opportunity all at once.
Photo courtesy of Olomomo Nut Company.
Email editor [at] exceptionmag.com if you operate a food tech startup and would like to be profiled.