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My three favorite Austin based companies

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Kammok LogoIf you are looking to start a business, Austin is a great place to launch from. The city is full of entrepreneurs. Even though a lot of those new businesses are tech related, there are also several amazing consumer packaged good companies started out of Austin, including my own company, Bearded Brothers.

Tech companies are a dime a dozen, but entrepreneurs producing tangible products are far fewer, so if you plan on starting a business for the world’s next greatest widget then Austin, Texas is a great place to launch from. They city is full of like minded entrepreneurs, which makes for a great pool of friends to draw from for support and encouragement.

Since starting Bearded Brothers I have meet the owners of several other companies. All of them have interesting and inspiring stories. Below is a list of my three favorite Austin based companies in the consumer packaged goods market.

Kammok
Kammok makes the most comfortable and easy to use hammock you will ever lay in. Prior to meeting these guys and trying out their product I could care less about hammocks, but now I love my Kammok.

Kammok is a 1% For The Planet member, and they donate their 1% of total sales to CTC International, as well as helping children receive life saving treatments through Malaria No More. Their mission is to Equip and Inspire for Life Changing Adventure.

SPIbelt
The world’s first, and best Small Personal Item Belt. Developed by Austin local Kim Overton to solve the problem of not having a good place to store keys while running. After her, “there has to be a better way” epiphany, she created the first SPIbelt: a small no bounce waist belt to hold small personal items such as keys and cell phones.

Her company has strong local roots. In the early days of her company she provided jobs to people in the local community that allowed them to work from home producing the belts. Kim has since moved her production process to a warehouse close to downtown, but still provides jobs for people in the local community.

Chameleon Cold-Brew
This is hands down the best cold brew coffee on the super market shelves. Started by the owners of Bennu Coffee as a side project, this small company is taking off like wild fire, and now has its product on the shelves of Target in the Southwest Region. While Chameleon is still fairly small, they are available across the nation in select stores.

I have had the pleasure to meet both of the owners, and both are very generous and always willing to talk business and offer advice. Chameleon and Bearded Brothers actually recently attended Expo West in Anaheim California and were just two both spaces down from each other!


There are many other amazing companies in Austin, making it an excellent place to start a business. The community here is very supportive of local products, making it easier to get your business off the ground by getting support from the people you live closest to.

Although you will find the cost of living in Austin quite a bit higher than a lot of places, the trade off is worth it for the community of like-minded entrepreneurs you will have access to. If you are thinking of starting a consumer packaged goods business, Austin is the place!

Why you must make your big projects a priority

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Prioritizing your work is one of the most important things you will do at the start of each day. Those big projects you have will never get done unless they are first on your list to do.

I love the illustration David Allen provides in Getting things Done. A professor fills a jar full of rocks and asks his class if the jar is full, they reply yes of course. He then takes tiny rocks and fills in the gaps between the larger rocks. He asks the question again, is the jar full? His class then replies, of course, now it is full. Next, the professor pours in fine sand and fills in all the gaps between the smaller rocks. He repeats the question again, and this time the class is unsure. Next, the professor pours water into the jar that takes up the extra space be tween the rocks and grains of sand.

The point to the story is not, that there is always room for more, it’s that if you don’t get the big rocks in FIRST, you will never get the rest in! The jar is your schedule, the larger rocks are your major projects, the smaller rocks are the daily tasks necessary to run your business, the sand is the little things that always seem to pop up, and the water is every thing else you didn’t expect. If you don’t make room for the rocks first, then you will never even get them in the jar (on the schedule). Had the water gone into the jar first, not even the sand would have made it in.

The larger rocks are your big important projects – they are the things that will have the biggest impact on your company when it comes to growing your business. If you don’t take time each day to make those a priority, they will never get done.

I make it a point to work on my rocks every single day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Your day will always be filed with unexpected things that fill your jar, so make sure you have the rocks in first, otherwise they will never get the attention the deserve and need.

10 must know tips for starting a packaged foods business

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Chris and Caleb, owners of Bearded Brothers.

Chris and Caleb, owners of Bearded Brothers.

Starting a business is never easy, and starting a business in an industry that has a lot of red tape and is highly competitive is even more difficult. When Chris and I launched Bearded Brothers neither one of us know anything about the packaged food industry and very little about running our own business. Everything we have learned, we have learned by doing and by talking to other people that have been through it already.

Here are 10 tips that will help you get your new food business started.

1. Ditch the business plan
Don’t waste your time on overly complex business plans that you will never use. Do, however, know the market well enough to come up with a small marketing plan and a simple growth strategy. It can be as simple as; “We plan on growing our product in the natural channel and get into all Whole Foods locations across the nation.”

2. Have an awesome product
Before you launch make sure you have your recipe nailed down. Don’t launch something mediocre, because it won’t work. Share your recipes with friends and family to get feedback. Before the launch of Bearded Brothers we had eight flavors, but only launched the top four that we determined from a taste testing party we had with friends.

3. Follow the 10% Rule
If you have any chance of succeeding your product needs to be at least 10% better than anything else on the market. It’s going to have to taste better, contain better ingredients; the packaging is even going to have to be better. Bearded Brothers has a compostable package to help set it apart.

4. Don’t compete on price
Set your price so that you will have a 45% Gross Profit Margin selling to a DISTRIBUTOR, not direct to the store. We made the mistake early on of pricing our product as if we were selling direct to the store. Thankfully we realized our error early enough and raised our prices. The important thing here is to charge what your product is actually worth and cover your costs so you will become profitable as quickly as possible.

5. Knock on doors
Launching your product is going to be a full time job. You are going to spend half your time making the product and half the time trying to sell it. When I started Bearded Brothers my mornings were spent making the bars, and afternoons were spent delivering product and visiting store after store to try and get them to carry our product. This persistence paid off to the point other store owners now stumble across our product and call us to place orders without me ever having visited them.

6. Know the local laws
The local laws all vary, but you are going to have to secure several permits to start your food business. Some states allow you to operate out of your home in the early stages, while others will require you to rent commercial kitchen space. There are some places dedicated to just renting out space to startup food companies. Your second option would be to lease from an existing business that has extra space. The two major places you will have to register with are the FDA Reportable Foods Registry and the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. You may also be required to get a state health inspection in addition to your local inspection.

7. Develop an awesome brand
Don’t just come up with a clever name, but develop a brand around that name. Engage with your new customers online (and at product demos) and build a loyal following of fans. Your goal should be to build a lifestyle brand, not just a product. Bearded Brothers for examples embraces outdoor adventure, health, fitness, and healthy eating.

8. Follow one course until success (FOCUS)
is an acronym coined by Entrepreneur On Fire host Jonathan Lee Dumas. It means your focus should be singular until you reach success in that area. Don’t start trying to branch out and expand your business into other areas until you have truly reached success with your current product. This doesn’t mean you can’t launch new products, it just means they need to fall in in line with what you are currently offering (such as a new flavor, or similar product category), and your focus should remain on growing the brand until it is HUGE (if that is your goal).

9. Have a mentor, or mentors
I have a couple different people I can go to and bounce ideas off of. One is experienced in the industry, and the other is more business minded. It’s important to have other entrepreneurs to look up to and get feedback from. Many times you can learn from their mistakes without having to make them yourself.

10. Network with other companies
Get to know other food companies; reach out to them over email, ask them questions, talk to them at trade shows. When you first start out in the industry you probably won’t know that many fellow food producers, but the longer you are in the game the more people you will meet. It’s helpful to have other fellow food producers to chat with, get advice from, and share resources. Just in the past month I was able to get some recommendations for organic certifying agencies, which saved me hours research time.

Growing your food business will be tough, especially if you have zero experience in the industry. Many times you won’t know where to look for answers. Your best bet is always to ask somebody experienced. You would be surprised at how many people are willing to give you a moment of their time.

Running a business is like running an ultra marathon

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Trail running a portion of the Wasatch 100 course in Utah.

Trail running a portion of the Wasatch 100 course in Utah.

  • The “finish” line is a long ways off; it seems daunting, even impossible.
  • The journey ahead of you is long, and takes ENDURANCE.
  • If you stop moving forward you will likely quit.
  • Everything inside you will tell you to quit when it starts to hurt.
  • Getting to the “finish line” takes time, patience and training.

As Zig Ziglar says, “People don’t wander around and then find themselves at the top of Mount Everest. You hit what you aim at, and if you aim at nothing you will hit it every time.”

Aside from having and end goal in sight, the two biggest similarities I see are endurance and battling mental demons that tell you to quit.

Endurance: success in business and in trail races is not, and never is overnight. It’s a long journey with a clear destination in sight. It requires persistently moving forward, a must for an ultra marathon runner, even when it huts.

When it does hurt, the mental demons will tell you it’s time to stop, or take the easy way out. But you can’t listen to them. These voices scream at you during an ultra marathon, but you have to ignore them and keep moving forward. The same is true in business. Ignore them, because the pain is only temporary. It always gets better.

The Forced 4-Hour Work Week

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It’s a bit ironic that I have been forced into my own 4-hour workweek as I’m reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. I have been enjoying the book quite a bit, but at the same time I think a lot of his ideas are far fetched, stupid, and immature. I do however see a lot of value in things like, automation, limiting the time you check emails, and empowering employees.

I have long wanted to find a job where I can work limited hours and have more time to enjoy life, and not just WORK. Since starting Bearded Brothers I have been very disciplined to limit my work to around 40 hours a week on most weeks, but I still dream of working remotely in Colorado during the summer to escape the brutal Texas heat. Yet I have not seen this as possible for several reasons, until now.

These past few weeks have been a forced experiment of a 4-hour workweek. Three weeks ago my wife and I welcomed my son Joshua into the world. I took paternity leave the following week. The week after that started with a holiday, so the week was short, and I limited my time in the office to be with my wife and newborn. The week following my wife got sick, so I was spending yet another week away from the office.

I never stopped working completely during this time, but my work was limited. I only really checked my email a couple times a day – although force of habit had me checking my phone on occasion, but far less than usual. I only took phone meetings if absolutely necessary, and I put a couple projects on the back burner and spent a limited amount of time on them.

This experiment has taught me several things:

    1. I don’t have to be in the captain’s chair at the office for things to flow smoothly. I have known this for a while now, but after three weeks of being absent, or having a limited presence in the office, it is even clearer…. My team ROCKS! This wasn’t always the case, but the main lesson I have learned is to hire slow, and spend time finding the right people. You don’t want crazy working for you – THAT will stress you out and you will never feel like you can step away for a long period of time.
    2. Checking email several times throughout the day is NOT necessary. I’ve recently achieved the infamous “Inbox Zero,” and having a well-managed inbox has helped with this. During my time out of the office I limited my time responding to email to a couple times a day. I did however glance at it several times a day, out of habit, but even that I began to see was unnecessary. Moving forward I plan to only spend time in my Inbox a couple times a day.
    3. My business is much more automated than I thought. It took a long time to get there though. There was a point in time I was making the energy bars, delivering them, cutting checks, placing orders, getting new accounts, and running the payroll. Now, I’m more of a backseat driver. I’m not outsourcing anything, but I have put into place my own “in-house automation.” Bearded Brothers has built a solid reliable team that can be trusted in the absence of management.
    4. The concept of Lifestyle Design and Mini Retirements are not out of reach. My dream to spend my summers working remotely is a very likely reality next summer. Being away these past few weeks has shown me that I have a solid crew working for me that needs very little supervision. Any problems that arise can be solved with a simple phone call or text message.

When I first started reading the chapters in Tim’s book about outsourcing and automation, I was thinking there is no way my business can run like that, but in a way it already is. Just not in the sense of foreign outsourcing. I honestly have to say in the most humble way possible, it feels amazing to have built a business with the help of my amazing business partner that can run in our absence.

The only hard part about pulling the trigger on more remote working is being absent from my team. I love the relationships I have built with them, and love being available for them. But, the reality of it is, I’m more than likely using that as an excuse to not do something bold and exciting. More than likely, I will walk back into the office next week, my team will be happy to see me and things will continue to operate the same as always, which is the same with me in the office or out.