Building a Healthy Snack Company out of a Kitchen Recipe – Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop!

INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 52:09)

PODCAST AUDIO

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Intro

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop! shares how he changed the narrative of snacks being unhealthy by building a company that makes nutritious and tasteful snacks using 100% ancient pure grains.

People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode

Book: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

What You’ll Learn

Interview with Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop!

00:00Introduction
00:57About the business
02:44Developing the product
08:21Struggles in the food industry
12:31Retail vs E-commerce
17:19Building the network
24:09The Shark Tank experience
30:13Tricks to the trade
33:51Marketing and Advertising
38:45The team
42:35Vision for the business
44:36Mistakes made, lessons learned
46:39Rapid fire round

Rapid Fire

In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop!

  1. One book recommendation that you would make to entrepreneurs or business professionals (Response: Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It)
  2. An innovative product or idea and the current eCommerce, retail, or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: The opportunity to personalize text-based platforms based on geolocation and need state)
  3. A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend (Response: Calendly; DocSend)
  4. A startup or a business that you think is currently doing great things (Response: Magic Spoon)
  5. A peer entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Response: Dean Eberhard of Hot Tea Hoplark)
  6. Best business advice you ever received (Response: Know your numbers, know how to read a p&l, know how to analyze the balance sheet and cash flow statement.)

Interview Transcript

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Hey there entrepreneurs My name is Sushant and welcome to Trep talks. This is the show where I interview successful ecommerce entrepreneurs, business executives and thought leaders and ask them questions about their business story, and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses. And today, I’m really excited to welcome Dustin Franco to the show. Dustin is the founder of kabob, a company that creates genuinely authentic and capably delicious snacks. And today, I’m going to ask Justin a few questions about his entrepreneurial journey, and some of the strategies and tactics that he has used to start and grow in business. So thank you so much for joining me today, I

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

really, really appreciate really appreciate being here, I look forward to sharing whatever knowledge I can impart or at least probably all the things I’ve done wrong that other people shouldn’t follow.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So I know you have a really beautiful rack of products behind you, can you share a little bit about you know, what products you’re selling, and what your business is really about?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

Yeah, so we are all about bringing authentic, delicious products that have real simple ingredients, which sounds obvious. And it sounds like a lot of people have tried to do that. What I have found, though, there are so many products out there that either don’t taste that good, or are and or are misleading and what they’re offering to the consumer. And so I am really big into health and wellness, I’m a personal trainer, I care a lot about what we eat, and what we put into our body. And I have young kids and I care desperately are deeply about what they put in their bodies. And so I wanted to create a snack that we could all feel good about. And I’m a big believer in ancient grains and their grains that haven’t been hybridized, or modified that good for the earth or good for our bodies. We can talk more about that. And we’ve just kind of popped them one day to see what they would turn out. Like, we turned that into a snacking platform where we now have pop chips, we have puffs, we have our recently launched snack rings, and which have actually just won some awards. And we are all about really simple ingredients. So all of our products are just three ingredients. 100% engineerings, we don’t have any fillers, there’s no corn, no rice, no wheat, cold pressed oil and seasoning. And the crazy differentiator for us, which really shouldn’t be, but they taste like the bad versions of what we do. They taste like the big branded versions. And yet, they are simple and healthy and non GMO and vegan and gluten free and all those things and but they’re not taste free.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Okay, so that seems like, you know, you’ve achieved the kind of this combination of healthy plus, you know, tasting good product, how did you come to create this kind of product, which you know, which is good. And if has been healthy grant as well? What was the process of developing these products?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

Yeah, unlike a lot of entrepreneurs, I don’t fit the typical mold of an entrepreneur for a few reasons. One, I’m older, too. I’ve had a lot of experience in this industry, I came from food. I’ve worked at the big consumer packaged goods companies. And so I’ve seen how the big company has done, I’ve done it, I also worked for private equities in running smaller companies. So I kind of had the opportunity to really understand what I was getting myself into, and saw a lot of the nuances in product development. That all being said, I didn’t intend to start a company. So unlike other people who may have this vision and journey, I’m not that typical entrepreneur, I was stumbling around and found something that was delicious. And as I started commercializing it, and working with r&d partners and working with mentors, one of the caveats is I was not going to do this unless it tasted really good. I didn’t need to I had a very firm, solid CEO role in other companies. And so ultimately, that was a mandate, I wasn’t going to do this unless it tasted good. That’s number one. And then number two is part of being an entrepreneur. And part of the joy of being an entrepreneur is you don’t have to settle. Unlike working for other companies, or big CPGs or other things. Part of the reason people do this is so they can do it their way. And my way was it had to taste good. And it had to check these boxes. I’m also confident enough and been in the industry long enough that I know how hard to push. And so when you hear it can’t be done, I responded with oh probably could be done. Why don’t you just try again? And you know, we would go back and forth and so for instance, our vegan sheets, which arguably I’ve heard this time and time again is one of the best vegan cheese flavors you’ll have it tastes just like Cheetos and other you know, mainstream brands. Even cheese managers can’t tell that it’s vegan. It took almost a year and a half Probably about 18 versions to get that nailed down. And so it’s really about not settling and not compromising, and making sure that you understand that you can push until you get what you want. And that’s what I tend to do.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So it almost feels like you have your career in the food industry in the, you know, CPG industry. And maybe you had built that level of expertise in this area, you, you know, what did that, you know, you identified an opportunity, and you knew, knew the business enough that you said, okay, you know, maybe there’s a gap here, I can I can figure something out. And that’s laughable. The business was what? Like, how much of the inspiration, you know, was it just that you knew the business versus, you know, that, you know, we can create something healthy and good thing? Good?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

Yeah, it’s interesting, because I like I said, I am not the typical. I’m actually more of a pessimist when it comes to entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ideas, I usually am telling you the 20 reasons why it’s not going to work, or the category is too complicated, or what have you. In my particular reason, I looked for every reason why this would not work. I really tried to validate instead of trying to find reasons why it would work, I literally went out and tried to find reasons why this would not work. And when I kept getting enough biases towards the opportunities, and trust me, there was many opportunities to improve. And quite frankly, the first two years of our business, we were constantly improving and changing and tweaking. But I really looked for reasons why this wouldn’t work. And ultimately, our first product, in fact, was popped sorghum, which is like popcorn, except really tiny. And I had worked on that I had raised money based on that I had gotten retailer acceptances based on that. It’s January of 2018, we were launching April 2018. And I changed the entire platform, the product because I realized that it was the wrong product. And I was keeping my eyes open, I kept looking for the reasons why it wouldn’t work. And when I saw those reasons, I pivoted. And that’s been the fundamental success of our company thus far, we launched with pop chips, it did terrific. But we kept having struggles around identity. And then we discovered the opportunity to do puffs. And we moved into POS and have we not done POS which is now probably 70% of my business. I don’t know if I would have had a business. And now we’ve launched rings, which are growing like wildfire, the number one launch on Amazon grocery right now, had we not continued to innovate, I think we would have stagnated and died. And so it’s not I approach this as a business person, not necessarily an entrepreneur. That being said, I will say that I have a lot of envy for entrepreneurs, because sometimes I do think about this with too much tact. Too much of here are the road landmines coming up. Whereas that quote unquote, nice activity of a entrepreneur who doesn’t have as much experience gives them a lot more flexibility and freedom to think bigger. And I think sometimes that’s a constraint I have around seeing all the reasons why something might not work.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

In terms of manufacturing, the product at the beginning, can you share a little bit about, you know, how did you did you already have your contacts that you knew from your experience as an executive? How did you actually bring together to to create that first product? What kind of investment went into that? And what kind of lessons can an entrepreneur learn from from your experiences?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

We could probably do a whole podcast on this topic alone. It’s one of the biggest struggles and hurdles that entrepreneurs in the food industry face, especially nowadays with the constraints on commands, the lack of willingness of CO manufacturers to work with startups that met the minimum order quantities. I mean, there’s so many issues. So giving you my story, then now I actually am a manufacturer now, and I do koloman so I can talk about it from both sides. But early on, you know, it was one of the hard lessons that I learned that despite all my connections and all the, you know, accolades I had my career commands don’t want to work with startups. And there’s a lot of good reasons why. And the reason I was able to offset a lot of them is because and this is the same reason I think we’re successful in raising a lot of money pre revenue. I think this is why we were successful. Getting off the door a lot quicker, is we presented ourselves with a understanding of the business now obviously that came through because I did have an understanding, but really, I made sure that I vetted my presentation, my sales pitch, my documents my findings. animals with a lot of people get a lot of feedback. So when I presented them to people who quote unquote, mattered, co manufacturers, potential investors, we came as if we knew what we were talking about. And we got a lot of Pat’s on the back for saying, Wow, this is really well presented, you clearly know what you’re talking about your numbers seemed like they make sense. We didn’t come with that kind of blind optimism that a lot of entrepreneurs come to. And I see that constantly my current role running our manufacturing entity, where there’s just this blind optimism, which is fantastic. But without the reality of all the implications of what really needs to happen. I came prepared. And so before the CCO man would say, Hey, have you thought about this, we had already addressed X y&z And so it really presented a confident level. But you still, I still heard a lot more nose than yeses, I still hang out a lot more pushback. And it took a while to find the right partner. So that’s, that’s one lesson is being really well prepared with your story with your reason to believe with your numbers, and why they should invest behind you. Because even if they’re not getting you dollars, they’re investing linetime resources, etc. I’ll say the other thing now is a Coleman that I see constantly and I’ve heard this from other Coleman leaders, is people really not understanding what their product is. Understanding how it’s made, understanding what it takes to commercialize it. Again, this goes back to the optimistic thinking, which is great. But there’s a lot of entrepreneurs who come in and they have XYZ product, they think it’s going to be successful. And as you get to talking to them, they don’t really understand what it takes from making a product, developing a product, producing a product, packaging a product, distributing the product, and then selling on shelf, they only know that they want to make this product. And when we see that it raises all kinds of red flags. And so we tend to look at those with a lot of skepticism. Because it’s not that I don’t believe in their product or believe in them, I attend to give a lot of free advice, sometimes unsolicited to these entrepreneurs, because I want them to understand that making the product is probably one of the easiest parts to the whole game. And so that’s a lesson is being prepared. And this is about Comins. It’s about investors, it’s about retailers. They want to feel like they’re partnering with somebody that makes sense, because keep in mind, they are investing in you, whether it’s finance or resources, they’re investing behind you. Same with retailers.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So you had this product, can you share a little bit about how you launched it first? And was it through directly through retail channels?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

Yeah, it’s funny I so I grew up as I call it in the traditional CPG space, which is brick and mortar. But I, you know, I thought oh god, we can launch on Amazon and Shopify. And this is gonna be a piece of cake. And boy did I learn how wrong I talked about one of the biggest learnings I’ve had, which is how hard ecommerce is, which is why there’s great people like you helping the citizens of the world now. But so we tried to launch on E commerce and didn’t really get as much traction as I had anticipated. So I went back to what I knew, which was brick and mortar. And so we we created kind of a two pronged strategy in brick and mortar, I called the ground and pound, which is I just went to no different than any other entrepreneur, I went to all my local natural food stores. Luckily, I live in Boulder. So there are a lot of I went to my natural stores, I went to hardware stores, I went to coffee shops, I went to anyone that would listen, and I pitched my product. And so we started gaining that distribution, you know, just like anyone else I was driving around my truck delivering product. Meanwhile, this is where I was leveraging my connections to get meetings with the bigger retailers. The bigger retailers though, despite all my connections the world didn’t want Kroger wasn’t going to take me on day one. But what it did allow me to do is learn kind of what I needed to pitch, what they were looking for what I needed to establish, and ultimately they want to see proof of concept. And so I leveraged ultimately about 150 independence between Colorado and Chicago ironically, to create this proof of concept to drive velocity to drive awareness, which then started escalating our relationships. The other thing that we did is we entered a lot of pitch lands. So we did as much of that quote unquote, free PR is possible. And we won a lot of pitch lands. And you know, we went really aggressive at selling anyone who knows me and including if you watch on Shark Tank, which we’ll talk about this in a second knows that I love to sell, I sell, sell, sell. And the one of the stories I was talking about is the first investor I ever had was a guy sitting next to me on an airplane complete stranger by the end of the flight. He was my first investor. I am always pitching always pitching my business. He never to know who you’re talking with, you never know who you’re sitting next to, you never know I’m always pitching. And in fact, that’s how I got on Shark Tank. These two women were staring kind of at the booth. When we were at Expo West, I jumped right on them. I said, Hey, my name is Dustin Finkel, this is the greatest snack in the world, blah, blah, blah. And they said, Oh, my God, you’d be great on Shark Tank. And I was like, what, that’s going to be amazing. Always, always, always be pitching your business selling your business. If you ever see us at trade shows, or demos, we are driving the biggest crowds because we do not let anyone go by without hearing our little pitch.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So at the end of the day, it’s really about you know, you’re a great salesperson, you of course, you you build a great product. But at the end of the day, if you can’t sell it, if you can’t sell it to people, businesses, then it’s not going anywhere. So I think that

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

I will tell you this, I’ve I’ve advised a lot of entrepreneurs, and I have met with certain entrepreneurs who cannot sell I don’t know, without insulting them, they are not the best salespeople in the world, right? And it makes me concerned, if you can’t sell your own product, how is somebody else going to sell your product? Now, that being said, there are plenty of products that have succeeded, without the founder, being a good salesperson that is 100% true. So clearly, that works. But for me, what has really worked is that I can sell this like nobody else can. The difficulty for me is trying to help other people sell as well as we can. But in the end, I mean, you know, no one’s gonna care as much about your business, your product, your service as much as you do. I mean, that doesn’t make any sense. Why would anyone care as much as you do? And so that’s fundamentally why think selling, but always, always, always know that the next conversation is the most important conversation. You know, I’ve gone through days, especially when I’ve pitched, you know, 10 investors in a day, for instance, and you’ve heard no nine times, you still have to go into the 10th being like, this is the one. It’s so hard, so hard, but you never know, you just never know.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So I will ask you a question that I have been trying to figure out. Something by itself seems like, you know, a great salesperson, as someone who is able to pitch their ideas to a lot of people, you meet a lot of new people, you have a great network, probably also, can you share a little bit about, you know, how do you build a big professional network, you know, someone sitting next to the play, you know, to your seat on a plane, and you’re pitching your ideas to them? Like, what what, what does it take? And then even if, you know, the person doesn’t do business with you, like, are you still keeping in touch with them? Like, how do you you know, build your network so that, you know, it helps you take you to the next level personally and professionally.

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

Such such a great question. And I’m glad you asked this. And it’s one actually I preach a lot. So I got lucky in figuring this out. I had worked for a company called famous brands, which was Mrs. Fields and TCP wine others and I along with a lot of other people got laid off after a big restructuring. And I kind of had the summer off. And I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to go. I knew I wanted to I had aspirations, but I decided to make networking my job because I had the flexibility and freedom to and so you know, my wife at the time was was like shocked by how aggressive I did this. But every day I met with I found three people at least to meet with every day. And in some days, I didn’t accomplish my goal. But that was my goal every day three people. And at the end of every meeting, I would say to them, Hey, well, let me back up. One of the other things that I was very fortunate and doing is I didn’t have anything I was trying to get out of them. I was really just trying to learn, get to know people expand my network. That’s the first lesson is when people network with you, and they are trying to get a job or they’re trying to get money or the training. It puts people even even when it doesn’t necessarily aggressively so puts people on the defensive a little bit. Right. And so I think it’s really important if you can to try and network before you actually need something. It’s a lot easier if you and I have a relationship for me to come and ask you for something then on the first time we meet say, can you do XY and Z for me? Yeah, that’s Lesson number one. The second lesson and this was a huge one that I stumbled upon. And I’ve given this to a lot of people and people have done this with success. Is that the end of the meeting, the only thing I would ask for is can you introduce me to two people who I don’t know. And that’s how I kept building this network. And I will tell you at five to 90% of the subsequent meetings were, quote unquote, worthless. Right? In the definition of do they lead to anything, but you build this network and I built this entire network. Now, ultimately, the end of the summer, I got a job that had nothing to do with any of the networking I did that summer. So you’d say, Okay, that was a waste. Well, just like you said, I really made it my mission. Because it’s so hard to do this, when you don’t need something is I made it my mission to every week, reach out to one or two of the people I met and just keep the conversation how you do and checking in hope all as well. When I started cup hop, that network I created that summer, three summers ago, is what I would not have had this company without the people came out of the woodwork to help me to put me in the right directions to invest in me to point me to new investors, to retailers, that network single handedly helped me get Kpop off the ground. And that was three years later. So as I always say, you never know where the relationship is going to go. Just because it’s not going to pay off today doesn’t mean it won’t pay off tomorrow, a week or two years. The hardest part though, is doing it without when you don’t need something, and to doing it in a way where you’re authentically just trying to get to know people.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

And then so just a follow up on that. So when you’re asking because I’m very interested in trying to build my network. So when you’re asking people so you met someone, and at the end of the meeting, you’re saying, Can you introduce me to two other people? That kind of an art, right? I mean, if the person that you’re the relationship with knew the person didn’t know, this is like a tough for me. How do you manage that?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

Well, you know, of the asks that most people ask, though, that’s a relatively minor one, because I’m not asking I’m typically not asking for a specific person. Because I might say, Okay, I know that, you know, you know, Jack Welch, okay, I want you to introduce me. That’s different. This is like, Hey, I hope you do great conversation. I would love to be introduced to other people you think might be interesting for me. Worst case, they don’t do it. 90% I never had anyone not do it, right. And so if you propose it really authentically and genuinely, like, you’re just open to meeting people. Again, it’s very different. If you come to me, and you saw that I know XYZ person, and you’re trying to use me to get to them. That’s very different. All right. So that’s, that’s the first thing. And I want to come back to the prior question. The other thing too, by the way, about like the plane thing. This I stole from the I went to Kellogg business school at Northwestern, in our old Dean, he had this philosophy and got people hate doing this, but it’s so powerful. When you’re sitting on a plane, or anywhere, really, you don’t know who’s sitting next to take two minutes and start a conversation with them. In two minutes, you’ll know, okay, I don’t want to talk to this person, and you move on. But the amount of time I have gained multiple investors believe it or not more than one investor from talking to a stranger on a plane, I have gained context into multiple suppliers, vendors, resources, from my conversations on planes. And it’s just simply a quick conversation. What do you do? What do you do? Okay, that’s interesting, okay, have a good flight, or, Oh, that’s interesting, I can get something out of this. And that’s selfish. But that’s what life that’s what business is about. And so when I say always do that, always do that. And it’s been so powerful. And I’ll also be honest, a lot of times, I will pay for myself not using company’s money to upgrade. And, you know, if you can upgrade for 100 bucks or 150 bucks, you tend to have that opportunity more often in first class and you are in coach on United at least. And so but that’s how I you know, it’s happened to me a lot of times in coach. So that’s not to knock you know, this like elitist classes. But you know, tend to you tend to have more successful business leaders sitting in first class. And so I’ve had a lot of those conversations sitting in first class.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

That’s very interesting point like you, I guess you have to be where other successful people are. Otherwise, you’re, I mean, it doesn’t matter. So I know, someone introduced or someone said that you would be great for shark. Can you share a little bit about your Shark Tank experience? What did you do to prepare for it? What was the outcome and what was your overall experience?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

So this is this is something I live and breathe by. Although, to be truthful, I’ve gotten a little worse at this over the last few years as I’ve gotten busier and busier, but the more prepared you can be for opportunities, the better. Even the opportunities you don’t know are opportunities. So I need those two women staring at my booth. I didn’t know where they were from, but I was well prepared with my sales pitch. You know, I can do that. Back appeal all day long. And, you know, as they say, the elevator pitch or whatever you want to call it. And so being prepared is really critical. So when we got the opportunity to go on Shark Tank, even though we were discovered and didn’t apply, and even though we were fast tracked, we still had to go through all the application process that anyone else would go through. And so the first thing is just like anything else in life, people want to work with people that are easy to work with, or are friendly to work with. So why not be both? So I made it my mission for our producers to be the easiest, and most friendly people to work with. What did that mean, number one, friendly, it’s friendly. But number two, is, I would be every deadline they gave me. And we would do it full tilt, never half assed anything. But we would also be every deadline, they say, Hey, you know, on the Monday, we want this by next Monday, they would have it in a day, I FedEx overnighted documents to them, instead of sending it, you know, mail, regular mail, everything I did was in that intent to make their lives easier. So that’s number one. The second thing is actually going on the show of preparation. So I get a lot of accolades for how well I handled the questions on Shark Tank and handle the investors that really, you know, it goes credit to my team and the people around me who helped me, we watched nearly every single episode. For the last like three years, three or four years wrote down every question that was asked, and I practiced every single question that was ever asked of anybody, over and over and over. And then I had my investors, my real invest my current investors, grill me and rip me apart. And so that, you know, even the worst things wouldn’t faze me. And so again, being prepared so that when you get on stage, which is incredibly nerve racking, and as I always joke, I blacked out during my pitch, you know, like, it’s so much going on. It’s crazy, that I knew when I got to my question part, that was easy for

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

how many questions were there when you created the list of questions from previous episodes?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

So long ago now, but I want to say in the hundreds, there’s a lot of duplicates, right? There’s a lot of questions that they ask. It’s the same question, just ask maybe 10 different ways, right. And so we obviously consolidated if it was the same bucket, and we divided and conquered, but you know, that list of questions really helped me prepare for the experience. And then you know, in terms of the pitch, you know, practice, practice, practice, practice, you don’t get a second chance. And so, you know, the reality is like, I, you know, we’re having this podcast right now, I have the opportunity to pitch to a big retailer tomorrow, which is I’m traveling right now. And I’m going to make sure that I am prepared, because I can go in and even though I can do my pitch in my sleep now, you don’t want to miss the opportunity. Right? So preparation is key.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

So you will be preparing in front of a mirror. How do you prepare?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

Yeah, that’s a great question. It depends. Sometimes I’ll get somebody to sit on a zoom with me and just listen to me do my pitch. Sometimes I’ll have people grill me, I’ll say, What do you think they’re going to? Dislike, I always try and find the angles of why things aren’t going to work. Because if you can handle those easy things, or when it goes, well, how do I offset why this wouldn’t work and so, but the other thing, and I don’t know if this is a natural ability, or it can be taught, but the ability to be us, and I don’t mean bullshit as an lie. And apologies for the swearing, but you know, not lie. I mean, the ability to just be quick on your feet. And understanding. So one of the other things about sales, is adaptability. And I think one of the skill sets that I have, that again, I don’t think I didn’t think was unique, but I’m finding maybe is, is that I can have a conversation with a seven year old CEO from you know, the old school and be very proper, and that we’re had but you know, dressed up very proper, and I can have that conversation. And then the tenants later I can go have a conversation with a 22 year old hotshot tech CEO, and be able to hang with him, and so on or her and so on and so forth. And so the ability to adapt your characteristics, your personality, and not be fake, but just the depth of being adaptive, I think is huge. And so I go into those presentations, never knowing what they’re going to be like now, any chance I can I will ask somebody, if they know something. Is this person serious? Are they jovial? Do I need to be more conservative? You know, what’s their personality? But the best way is to try and start by shooting the crowd. are a real s on life stuff like, Oh, how’s your weekend? What did you do? And if they engage, that takes you one direction, if they’re like, cut you off very quickly, like, okay, it’s been all business, you know, you can kind of gauge that quickly.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

I’m working with retailers and getting your product sold through that channel. Can you share a little bit about, you know, I’m sure there’s tricks to the trade, I’m sure, you know, not everybody, you know, who puts their product on the shelf gets, you know, gets the same kind of traction? Can you share? Like what, you know, I’ve heard like, you know, it could be difficult from like, managing inventory perspective. And, you know, retailers take a bigger chunk of the profit and those kinds of things. Can you just share a little bit about, you know, what this side of the business is about and how, so the things that you’ve learned to be successful?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

resellers retailers get a bad name in this business, and it’s really not the retailers, it’s, I would say, the food industry is fairly in inefficient, there’s a lot of players. And so if you’ve ever bought a house as an example, you’ll know that you have like you get all these documents and sign them. There’s appraisers, and there’s title companies, and there’s mortgage. And you’re like, Who are all these people and these 1000s of documents, I think design. The food industry is similar in that there’s a lot of players between your product and the end consumer. There’s the retailers, distributors, merchandisers, brokers, resellers, there’s just so many players to this game. And to do it effectively, there’s a lot of players involved. And so retailers I don’t think deserve all the negativity. In fact, retailers in most cases that I’ve been part of like Kroger has been phenomenal to work with. Even you know, the ones that may be scary, like Walmart law, they’ve all been pretty good to work with here. And so it’s not the retailers Well, I will tell you is the difficulty isn’t even getting on shelf, it’s moving off the shelf, getting your product to sell, as everyone will talk about in this industry. It’s not distribution, its velocity, velocity is how fast the products selling off shelf. That’s what people care about. But to answer your initial question, how you get on shelf, it’s, you know, I’ve had the opportunity to have introductions through the network that upgraded so it goes back to network, you know, that helped early on. Now, as we are a little bit bigger in my network of connections has kind of reached its mask, Matt, Max, you know, Kroger is a perfect example, putting myself out there, we built our relationship with Kroger through two ways. One, I built a really strong relationship with one of our distributors who introduced me to a buyer. Again, just building good relationship with the network and having a good product. The second one was at a trade show, again, stopping everyone who comes by and building that relationship. I was recently at sweets and snacks, which is a show in Chicago. And it’s become much more of a snacking show in the natural food show. Just by engaging people, we now have incredible meetings coming up, including the one tomorrow and a very, very major retailer, and another one in the month with a one of the largest, if not the largest pharmaceutical chain in the country, by those conversations. And then again, going back to what I said about shark tank, and make it easy to work with me, I make it fun to work with me. And it makes sure they know that we are going to have a good partnership people want to work with. So despite them being huge companies just remember this. You work in big companies, I’ve worked at big companies, companies are still just people. Yeah, the engine will keep moving. Regardless if you leave the engine will keep moving. But in the end, it’s people it’s all about people.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

And then the second part of the question is how do you move the product off the shelf is that you have to spend some of your own money marketing those products.

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

Yeah. Well, I wish I knew all that answers before they’re long. But I’ll tell you this I the simple answer is this is getting secondary placement, in my opinion, is the simple answer. How you do that is the hard part. So yes, there’s a thing called trade, which is part of your p&l where you have to invest fairly significantly on in store activation. So every time your products on sale. You know, consumers don’t realize this, but the brands are paying for that to be on sale. We’re funding that sale, right. And so that’s one way is driving incremental sales because people like to see sales. But if you think about this, more importantly, I’m in the chip category, or the salty snack category. I’m a new brand. You know, as much as I like to think people know who I am, we probably have, you know, 1% awareness if that right? And so as people walking by a set with 1000 other skews and they see my three products on shelf. It’s not even going to register with them necessarily. So that’s why I invest heavily on driving secondary displays, on shippers on partnership activations. But yes, this is all investment that you have to make, it’s not going to sell itself. This is going back to entrepreneurs with CO packers, a lot of conversations, they don’t realize that they don’t, it’s not going to sell itself. Everyone likes to think their product is so good people are going to discover it, it’s going to sell itself, it’s not going to sell itself. And I hate to be repetitive and beat a dead horse. But one of the things that the reason I think we also get incremental, off shelf placements, incremental placements is because I also build those relationships, again, relationships with the retailers. And so when they’re looking like who do we want to support? They’re looking at how well the brands we’re forming. They’re looking at who’s investing most dollars? But let’s be honest, they’re also looking at who do they want to support? Who do they want to invest behind? And I like to try and make them think that we are one of those brands, they should invest in support with their dollars, not just

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

our dollars? And in terms of awareness, like do you consider doing like more of, you know, television advertising, or, you know, internet advertising? And really just to get your brand a little bit more recognized by the people? Because that’s something also part of what you do or if it’s something that for the future?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

Yeah, I mean, it’s all this because we’re dollars and cents matters, right? How What’s your funding? What’s your gross margin? How much can you support, you know, the financial realities of your brand are really, really important. That’s another piece that a lot of entrepreneurs don’t understand, as well as the financial aspects of the business. Marketing is, I believe in the retail channel, as a small company, the majority of your marketing dollars should be spent in store. So trade off shelf placements, trade activities, right? Because there are so many marketing messages consumers are getting hit with and unless you can compete with that, you know, get go selling car insurance, there’s just too much going on. Right? And so when people are in that mode shopping now with Instacart, you know, how do you sell on Instacart? How do you do brick and click. But the other piece is really what I would call two parts of marketing that I really like to invest in one is PR, not paid for PR, necessarily, but how do you get PR through other activities that you do like the pitch lambs, winning events, winning contests? How do you drive PR, more organic PR. And then the second I would say is digital marketing. In today’s day and age there is there’s very few things as good is digital marketing. In fact, I’m still shocked by this. But email marketing is incredibly powerful, which blows my mind because I don’t understand how it works in considering that I get 1000 emails a day and you don’t care, but it works. And then the new one that I still consider digital is text based marketing. You know another one, this is why as we get older, as leaders, you got to start relying on younger people to tell you what’s cool and what’s not work, because to me, getting text, even I get texts now that are targeted, and they work. And so text based marketing, email based marketing, and then really specific dedicated Amazon or Shopify based marketing. I am not personally a big fan of Facebook or Instagram messaging, because they make it insanely difficult to monetize that they are incredibly tough to work with from an algorithm perspective. And I’ve personally never seen a big return. That being said, so many other brands have success there. So maybe I’m just not good.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Can you share a little bit about your team? How big is your

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

team’s teams everything and I keep learning that every every single day. You know, for the for the first two years, it was just mean basically one and two other people. Various very small, very lean, you know, which was good economically, but I will say in retrospect, we worked way too hard, way too aggressively for the size I had. And that’s still probably the problem I have today. You know, now that we’re a manufacturer, I have one of the other things we talked about Kpop and I combined with another company called Bubba’s Fine Foods now called beef be fine foods. They are granolas snack mixes keto paleo, we are under the umbrella of awakened foods, which also has a weakened food crafters, which is manufacturing entity. So I thought you know why not make my life as crazy and insane as possible? And so now we have in the neighborhood of 45 or so and 50 people, I’d say the large majority are factory workers who are incredibly important to us and developing and building our products on a day to day basis. And then we have our management team head of operations. We have I have what I call a chief of staff who is wonderful and kind of takes all the project I have our COO, head of r&d, supply chain, etc. So all these people really are integral, but I will tell you my biggest fault in building this, because we’ve grown pretty fast to the size we’re at, is not building enough of a human Foundation, from a position standpoint to support the growth. And so we are constantly paying for that and constantly trying to catch back up to putting the right people in the right seats with the right structure. So, you know, I will tell you, I have a peer, who I went to undergraduate business school with, who is very, very successful, he started up a health care company, that he makes me look like a very insignificant, successful businessman. And I was talking to him and getting advice from him. And he was the first person ever told me, one of the people he highly recommends early is having a head of talent or HR. And I’m, like, very opposed HR, from my standpoint, a function of cost, it’s a cost center. But in today’s day and age with the changing culture, dynamics of people, mobility of people, the great resignation, all of those things, I could not agree more than having somebody that really helps you with people is so undervalued, and so underrated.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Yeah, I think I think I read something similar with Netflix, I think they, they had like the the head of HR at the very beginning. And it was like, that’s what was driving there, you know, need for future talent and things like that. And that’s a big part of how they built,

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

they focused. I have Netflix’s like original deck from a long time ago, some I got my hands on it. And it’s all about culture and what they stood for, and they really put a lot of effort into that, and it wasn’t lip service. And that’s where a lot of companies including mine, I think really struggles you come up with this cultural values and missions, and then no one really follows them on a day to day basis, because you’re so mired in the weeds. You know, I think that’s what didn’t make Netflix very successful that they really held to that. Even when it makes it harder. Now, you know, as they say, Money won’t make you happy. But it sure solves a lot of problems. And so when you have a lot of money, like Netflix ultimately has and things like that, it allows you the flexibility to be a little more stringent on who you hire, the talent, all of those things where we’ve hired amazing people, but you know, we don’t, we don’t have the opportunity to hire the most experienced, most talented person for every position.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Now, you started the interview with thing you’re you don’t consider yourself an entrepreneur. As a business person, what do you see your business? Like? What is the end game for your business? You know, I would I would assume like an entrepreneur would say, you know, I made the the fixer for let’s sell that let’s figure, you know, let’s go to the next idea. Build another business? How do you see the future vision for your business? Do you want this to be your life’s work? Or do you have any other planned products?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

The best way I can answer that is it’s funny, my son who’s now 10, the last couple of years, he’s always said when he grows up, he wants to be the CEO of Kufa, which I take is, you know, it’s incredibly heartwarming, but my joke my kind of responses, if I’m still CEO, when you’re old enough to be CEO, I’ve done something majorly wrong. So, you know, my goal is to build a company that is successful, I used to have this goal of the build a big company and sell it for hundreds of millions of dollars and do I kind of stuff. As I’ve grown this, and we’ve created this organization, I don’t really know what success looks like anymore. Now, that’s a horrible answer, and probably when I shouldn’t say, but to me, the definition of success is that I continue delivering great products, that I’m able to continue hiring great people, and that we return investment dollars to our investors. That to me success now whether that’s a sale to somebody else, whether that’s organic growth, whether that’s continuing to acquire other companies. I don’t really know at this point. But I will tell you that I find it incredibly heartwarming. When people love my products that I’m able to employ 40 plus people, I’m able to provide amazing products to the consumers and great relationships and you know, right now that means success to me, but we’ll see what that means in a few years.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Now in every business person’s journey, there’s always some mistakes, made failure lessons learn. Can you share maybe your biggest mistake that you think? And what is the lesson that you learn what is the lesson that other entrepreneurs other business people can learn from it?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

You know, I have made more mistakes and I can possibly acknowledge it unless you gave me like 24 hours of podcast time to do. And I don’t mean that flippantly like, I really have made a lot of mistakes, and I genuinely hope I learn from them. And I’ve already begun learning from them, even within this current, you know, job and world and role. You know, God, there’s so I’d say the biggest single handedly is people. And for me, it’s what I mentioned before is the right structure, having the right team, but to is, you know, I built an organization that started growing into something complicated and more structured. And I don’t think I respected that enough for how I needed to leave the organization, how, what my expectations of people needed to be in the organization, where I needed to hold people accountable to that kind of level of ownership and, and, and responsibility and professionalism. And so one day you try and flip that switch. And if you haven’t been building towards that, that creates a lot of problems. And so, you know, the best thing I can tell you, until anyone is having great people around you is just paramount, with what great people around you look like is going to constantly change during your journey. And so I’m very fortunate right now to have the best people around me. But you know, when I first started, I had great people around me, but that constantly needed to change, and I needed to change as quickly as they did.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Now we’re going to move on to our rapid fire round. And in this round, I’m going to ask you a few quick questions, and you have to answer them maybe in one word or one sentence. So the first one is a book recommendation for entrepreneurs or business professional.

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

That’s easy, because I’ve done this and people love this recommendation, it’s called never split the difference. It’s written by Chris Voss, the ex head of FBI international negotiation. If there’s one business book that you’re going to read on, like business tactics, that’s it. However, to caveat, I’m gonna break your quick round. I’m a big fan of the classics like How to Win Friends and Influence People, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I think those books are timeless classics that everyone should read, but never split the difference.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

And in order to product or idea and the current ecommerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about.

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

You know, I like I said, I This isn’t super innovative, I just think it’s well done is the opportunity to personalize text based platforms based on geolocation and need state, I think is really, really powerful. And so while people sometimes complain about that, being able to be targeted based on that need state and geolocation is very, very powerful.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend or a product. And, of course, you know, you’re working with

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

you, too. As always, two, one is Calendly. I think a lot of people have heard of this, but I resisted it forever. It’s so awesome to be able to you can set up all kinds of different parameters. And it lets people schedule time on your calendar without you having to go back and forth, back and forth. And you can have multiple different versions. So you can have like a VIP version, super great. The second is Doc send D OC, Sen. D, it was just bought by Dropbox, I believe. And Doc send allows you to control presentations, control investor materials, and you put it on there, you can send it out. And it allows you to control what goes into it. That’s number one. But number two is it actually lets you track where people engage in your deck where they spend the most time on where they fall off, where they stopped engaging. And so what that allows you to do is and I did this prolifically is I kept changing my deck based on the reports and analysis that I saw of how people engaged with my materials. And it’s a powerful tool.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

A start up a business in E commerce retailer 10 that you think is currently doing great things.

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

Well, I’ll call it jealous of them. So today magic spoon, which is an EAC really econ based keto cereal. They didn’t do any retail I think just announced an $85 million raise today was which is which I’m jealous about and you know, they they found a niche, the executed well, they did great ecommerce platform work they demonstrated that you do not need to be in retail to be successful and it paid off for them today.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Your entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you.

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

You know, I will I’ll give you again two answers. One is every entrepreneur and I don’t mean this cliche, but every entrepreneur inspires me because, again, feeling like I’m not a true entrepreneur. I look at these people who come into industries with Z You’re all understanding what the industry is. And they are successful and they push through, I came in with 17 years of experience, and it’s still frickin hard. I’m so impressed and humbled and envious of these people who just who have a passion and they do it, and they don’t know what they’re doing, and then they still do it. So I truly, authentically mean that. The second is, you know, there’s a guy. It’s funny because when we first met, I really didn’t like him. His name is Dean Eberhard, he started a company called hot tea hop Lark. And he’s just very powerful at helping you think through problems in a way that you might not have otherwise thought about them. And so he’s appear. But I just love having peers. And that’s one thing I will tell you if you start a company, find a peer group, find other people, because even if it’s about commiseration, that’s fine. Just have a group.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Last question, best business advice you ever received, or you would give to other entrepreneurs or business people?

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

Well, best business advice I’ve ever received. Well, I’ll just give you the one that I give to people. Not fun, not exciting, not sexy, know your numbers, know how to read a p&l, know how to analyze the balance sheet and cash flow statement. It’s amazing to me how many entrepreneurs and just business people in general do not understand finance. It’s what separated me in my career. It’s what allowed me to be more successful, it’s a little it’s allowed me to raise money faster. It’s what’s allowed me to have better conversations with retailers about margins and trade. And the ability to talk in numbers will differentiate you against 99% of your competition. And so boring. I teach at University of Colorado in marketing and business. And I have the same conversation. They all hate me for saying this. Know your numbers, finance, finance, finance.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks  

Perfect. Thank you so much for joining me today. And really, really appreciate all the insights that you shared your story. So thank you so much again for joining me today. And really appreciate your time.

Dustin Finkel of Ka-Pop  

My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Also, get inspired to Create a Profitable Online Business with Carlos Manuel Soto – Building a Successful Tequila Ecommerce Business


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