I think millennials can appreciate the rapid digital transformation we’ve been experiencing more than prior generations as we were the first group to really see the potential behind digital connectivity. From 2-way pagers to AOL to mobile hotspots, we’ve been in the driver’s seat eager to move on to the latest and greatest technologies as our parents tend to be much more resistant to change. In this blog, I’ll be illustrating how worldwide digital connectivity has made part-time entrepreneurship more accessible than ever before.
My friend Sean aka MFS has been somewhat of a serial entrepreneur over the past decade or so. He’s a chemical engineer by day and generally keeps his entrepreneurial pursuits on the down-low, only asking for his friends’ opinions at the later stages of his projects and usually anonymously. I’ll never forget when we were in college and he showed me a little slide show of something he thought was cool, which was a device that allowed men to go to the bathroom without getting out of bed in the middle of the night. I’ll spare you the details but I was absolutely horrified – what the hell is wrong with you, you’re joking right – I asked. It turned out he was not joking. He was the one that thought up and designed this contraption and he was looking for some unbiased feedback. Years later when we lived together in the North End he started a venture which he called Big FAT Bars, a high-fat keto-friendly energy bar. He would make and package these in our minuscule kitchen which was really quite the scene, our apartment was so small there wasn’t even a sink in the coffin-sized bathroom. These bars were awful, they were messy and tasted like a cube of cacao, butter, and beach sand…but MFS was learning. He had recognized the gap in the market for keto-friendly snacks but doing everything himself was just too much. After reading more about how other entrepreneurs leveraged digital connectivity, MFS knew the answer to a more streamlined process would involve being as hands-off as possible by turning to digital technologies which would give access to a global division of labor.
The Crunch Hunch
The product would be a low carbohydrate or keto-friendly cereal and MFS wanted to be able to run the business from his computer. To estimate sales volumes he turned to AMZ Scout and Jungle Scout which allowed him to confirm that the market was well established and given the lack of competition, there should be demand for his cereal. In order to avoid manufacturing the cereal himself, he needed to find a co-manufacturer and was able to come up with a list of 20 via a couple of google searches. The issue here was that his batches would come in units of 1,000 or less but it was easy to narrow down his list after viewing each manufacturer’s website. To come up with the name MFS again turned to AMZ Scout, using his proposed names against theoretical cereal names from competitors – estimating sales volumes to see where the intersection of those two lists was. Keto Crunch, it would be! While he waited for manufacturers to get back to him he set up an LLC using a tutorial he found online after validating that the Keto Crunch name did not have a copyright or trademark.
Three manufacturers from around the country got back to MFS, so he met with each via Zoom to further narrow down his options. He knew the macronutrient profile and main ingredients he wanted to use while coming in with slightly less net carbohydrates than the competition. It turned out one of the manufacturers stood out from the rest because they were much easier to communicate with and had a recipe they could modify to meet his specifications. Packaging and design were next up on the list and to find a package designer MFS posted to Upwork – “the world’s work marketplace for freelancing”. A couple of weeks and $50.00 later he had packaging designs as well as 3D representations of Keto Crunch from Prem, a designer in Southern India.
After realizing he wasn’t capable of creating a product page on Amazon as compelling as his competitors, MFS went back to Upwork, this time connecting with Muhammad in Pakistan who came with incredible work reviews. It turned out that Muhammad had a significant amount of experience working on products sold on Amazon, so he was also hired on a weekly basis to drive traffic to the products page.
At this point it was go-time, the first batch had been requested from the manufacturer and had been shipped to Amazon’s fulfillment center as the product page went live. Muhammad’s services had also been retained on a weekly basis as he continues to refine the advertising campaign. MFS never intended for this to be his primary source of income, but rather a hopefully profitable experiment where he could continue to refine his entrepreneurial efforts. It’s been two years since the initial release and overall it has been a big success, I personally love the product and eat it all the time. In typical fashion, MFS brought up Keto Crunch in conversation like it was a cereal/ granola he had found on Amazon and enjoyed. A six-pack of Keto Crunch showed up in my mail a week later and I knew exactly what the deal was…This was a product created by MFS!
The takeaway here is that digital technologies have enabled anyone to try their hand at entrepreneurship. It’s so impressive to me that a chemical engineer initially living in Massachusetts was able to start a business with manufacturing services in New York, package design in Southern India, and marketing in Pakistan all without physically managing inventory or meeting with anyone face to face. MFS also moved to Minneapolis in the middle of all of this without skipping a beat due to his ability to interface with the relevant counterparties digitally.
If you enjoy granola or are interested in giving Keto Crunch a shot I’d like to make you an offer. I’ll reimburse you for 50% of the cost – $6.50 – in exchange for a couple of comments on your thoughts after trying the product. What you like, what you don’t like, how you’d make changes if it were your company etc. Once you email me your thoughts/ sales receipt, I’ll Venmo you the funds. No Venmo? Feel free to ask if I can accommodate the electronic transfer of your choice, cash reimbursements will not be happening. Why? Because cash is filthy and loose change is for baby boomers!
MFS’ Takeaways from Keto Crunch
- You can find someone online to do what you need to be done faster and better than you can do yourself.
- There are so many services available via a google search it’s insane.
- It takes longer than you think.
- You will hit obstacles that make no sense and will be very frustrating but if it was easy everyone would do it.
- For physical products, minimum product batches are a huge determining factor for initial investment.
- A major value add would be the ability to accurately predict market interest without a large time or capital investment. Some use advertising campaigns and test websites, but it’s not as reliable as you would want.