MFS – The Digital Age Entrepreneur

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.

MFS

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. 

Prem’s package design

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. 

Muhammad’s product description

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. 

The Deal

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

  1. You can find someone online to do what you need to be done faster and better than you can do yourself. 
  2. There are so many services available via a google search it’s insane.
  3. It takes longer than you think.
  4. You will hit obstacles that make no sense and will be very frustrating but if it was easy everyone would do it.
  5. For physical products, minimum product batches are a huge determining factor for initial investment.
  6. 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.

6 comments

  1. Really intriguing story about MFS. Technology has increased entrepreneurship, no doubt. Just take apps for example – with little to no cost, app development holds barely any barriers to entry, and frankly anyone with an idea for an app can decide to create one. One Boston College senior last year created a YikYak-knock off app for BC students, known as Herrd, for students to remain connected over COVID. The app essentially allows any BC student to post messages anonymously and users can reply to messages throughs up-votes, down-votes, or an anonymous reply themselves. I’ve found the app particularly hilarious and if you’re looking to procrastinate on work, it’s a very useful tool for that!

  2. Thank you for sharing such an interesting story. I completely agree that the internet has made stories like this far more common than they were even a decade ago. Throughout this story I saw similar trends that will be talked about in a future blog post on digital citizenship. MFS’ story shows us that individuals can have a global reach for talent and capabilities.

  3. YFS sounds like a serious go-getter. I remember hearing about drop shipping on amazon, and it seems like there’s a whole number of variations of that from complete handsoff (alibaba to amazon) to a more hands on approach where you tinker with a product design, work with manufacturers to produce and ship to amazon, and play around with marketing. A little more effort in the beginning, and there could be a successful business at the end.

    On a separate note, I’m sure the class has heard of it by now, but if you’ve ever considered starting a business, the ‘How I Built This’ podcast is amazing; can’t recommend it enough. https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510313/how-i-built-this

    P.S. – I was going to start off this comment with potential meanings for ‘MFS’ then I re-read your initial intro and realized it actually stood for ‘My Friend Sean’.

  4. This is kind of the concept of “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman. Digitization has further expanded globalization allowing entrepreneurs to do business globally much easier. However, while entrepreneurship has been easier to attain in the digital age and the lower barrier to globalization, I commend MFS for taking the risk to do it! I’ll definitely check out the granola and let you know how it tastes in my yogurt!

  5. It’s so impressive that your friend was able to start a global business from the kitchen of his Boston apartment. The digital age has opened the doors with anyone with an idea to pursue it, without the risk of losing everything. It’s inspiring hearing that your friend was able to educate himself on how to create a product and brand, all on the side while working a full-time job. I’ve had a few friends over the years start digital-focused companies, but none doing it as a side hustle. A side hustle feels daunting, but stories like these show how approachable they are.

  6. Really appreciate you sharing this story of how people can truly maximize their reach with the technology available nowadays, and especially appreciate the MFS takeaways from such an endeavor. This blog almost read like one of the many HBS case studies I’ve been assigned during my MBA, and really gives some tangibility to the possibility of being one of the go-getters that sets their mind to a business opportunity and puts everything on the line to achieve it. And the night time peeing apparatus might seem like a strange and off-putting idea, but it indisputably shows just how ambitious MFS has been about becoming a successful entrepreneur. Will definitely be trying!

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