I'm Sari Kimbell and I've done just about everything in the food industry. I have helped hundreds of packaged food business entrepreneurs and now I want to help you make your delicious dream a reality. Whether you want to be successful at farmer's markets, online, or wholesale onto store shelves, Food Business Success is your secret ingredient. I will show you how to avoid an expensive hobby and instead run a profitable food business. Now let's jump.
Welcome back everyone to the podcast you are in for an amazing treat. This week, I wanted to pause the Impossible Goal podcast series, there will be one more in this series all about failing forward and how to fail better. Because if you didn't know it by now, success is truly built on a pile of failures. So we want to get really good at failing and make that our goal. I also want to remind you to go grab the impossible goal worksheet over at FoodBizSuccess.com/impossible. And that is such a great tool for setting up your 2021 to do your impossible goal, whatever that is for you. Just in case you did not believe me, I want you to hear it directly from somebody who's doing it, who's working on their impossible goal and in the trenches of failing forward. And we talk about so many great nuggets in this interview. It is a little longer than my normal podcast but it is well worth the time that you're going to spend listening to this and feel free to break it up into chunks. So let's get to the interview.
I'm really excited to talk with Christopher Hesse of Vukoo nutrition. And he started his own line of energy bars and is really crushing it. And he has so many great lessons for all of us. So welcome, Christopher, thanks for being here.
Christopher Hesse 2:15
Yeah, thanks for having me, Sari.
So Christopher, the bio you sent over, it's short, so I'm just gonna read it for everyone. And then you can add to it. So after you attended a leadership college in Australia, you began a career in food. You were slinging homemade bars out of your home kitchen. And today you are the co founder and CEO of Vukoo Nutrition and Vukoo CPG software. You're a nutrition company that's focused on providing a transparent supply chain direct from farmer, direct from farmer to product, all the while creating some of the best tasting nutrition the market has to offer. Nutrition that sustains the body, engages the mind, and ignites the soul. All right, so that's a lot. Well, let's unpack that a little. So why don't you tell us a little bit more about you and and about the history of the brand? Like how did it come to be? And how did you get these bars? Why on earth did you decide to do this?
Christopher Hesse 3:18
Yeah, yeah, it kind of just happened. I knew when I was in Australia for leadership college that I wanted to do business, because I wanted to create a system that could then help people and, you know, give back to the world and, you know, just really create change in this influence, in this be a light in the world, you know, with all the negativity and stuff. So, you know, at a young age, when I was 12, I was in a BMX bike wreck and died and came back to life. So I knew when I was in that moment, I was laying there and I hear this voice say that, tell your mom and tell everyone the angel said everything's gonna be okay. And it really gave me this sense of life. And that, you know, it's so short and that we got to live it to our fullest potential and that, you know, I'm going to choose to, you know, live the way I would want if all the limits are gone, if I was already dead, if we're in a different world, I know this is kind of different but this is just the way I think, is just a really disconnect from you know, the programming and the patterns that society has taught us from a young childhood because a lot of it is a do this, go to school because I was never good in school so you got to make this grade point average if you don't, you got to go to this school, and you need to make it here and you know, so I just felt like I was falling short. And so you know, I was like you know, after getting laid off of several jobs, it was interesting. So I realized that, you know, it's cliche, like what Jim Carrey says is that his dad spent his whole life working for somebody and, and lost his job. So why not risk losing your job doing something you love? And, you know, that just really resonated with me. Of course, I heard that after the fact, after I've already jumped into this lifestyle, but you know, that's how I choose to live. And I encourage everybody.
Yeah, we're, I mean, I'm definitely seeing a lot more people wanting to risk, you know, take the risk, take the leap into entrepreneurship during COVID, just because there is that piece of like, oh, things maybe aren't so safe for so steady in a regular job and a nine to five, or, you know, various things have happened so there, there's maybe a little bit more bandwidth there to consider it. So it's, it's really interesting, these times kind of give you and I've been laid off before too. And, and, actually, when I got laid off from Whole Foods Market, that's when I decided to start my own business. So definitely some blessings and disguises, I think, with those things.
Christopher Hesse 6:08
Absolutely. And I can relate. So the funny story is, in college in Colorado Springs, I, I worked at Whole Foods as a porter. I was taking out trash
That's right. You talked about that.
Christopher Hesse 6:20
and sweeping floors and that's one of my fondest memories of like, you know, doing something different life than then, you know, that moment that I was in, then I went over to natural grocers, and, as a cashier. It was a good experience. So that kind of led me into, you know, creating Vukoo into a product because here I was, I had to go through 88 pages of research and learn about organics and non GMOs and farming and sustainability and, you know, working with local farmers and supply chain and, and just the the levels of quality and, you know, of food safety, you know. Where to place organic produce verses conventional and all that kind of stuff. So, with that knowledge I had, you know, and I was then, you know, fast forward from not getting voted on, I went through college and went to leadership college, I was wanting to be back in the day, I guess on paper, a cardiothoracic surgeon that would specialize atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries, and would want to put somebody on like this lifestyle, diet change, and operate on their heart and clean out the arteries and whatnot. That was what I was on par to do, you know, so I was sitting in class one day, and I was like, gosh, I am just not enjoying my life. Like, there's no way I can put up a few more years of just learning stuff that I'm just not interested in.
Christopher Hesse 7:48
You know, because I was more focused on the idea of helping people then all the little intricate pieces of cells and all that I know, it's important, but just where my headspace was at that moment, in time, I'm like, I'm gonna peace out and go to Australia, and do leadership college. You know, goal setting, leading teams, getting out of your comfort zone. First time I left the states 8000 miles away from home. So completely vulnerable at an International College so you had people from all over the world. So make connections internationally, you know, we can all relate on this vulnerability of being away from home, being in a new location and putting it you know, being around different cultures, having to communicate and build teams together, it was a super cool, super fun, and that's where I got inspired to start a business and, and I wanted to have an international company, because I realized that the world is so small, and that all of us are the same at the core. You know, if you want to really break it down, you know, love relationship connection, and, and then just, you know, making sure we have that community around us to keep us going when things get hard, because it's part of the journey, you know, it's a psychological process of the label of hard. You know, it hard means something different to anybody, but what it comes down to is the way your brain reacts to a certain circumstance and how you're going to process that and how you're going to deal with those chemicals happening and changing and letting go is who what, who do you have around you? What do you have influencing you? What are you listening to? What do you believe about yourself? And really working on that?
Well, I just want to pause and say, I mean, I think it's so important, I think those pivotal moments in your life like that, you know, at the time you're like what the heck, like I'm going to school for cardio or all of the things that you said.
Christopher Hesse 9:48
Premed. And then, but I think you you probably realized that you had a real heart to serve and that's something that comes through about you now but then you have this other experience and so good to put ourselves in these really, I mean, scary, they seem very scary at the time, you know. I did a study abroad to France in my 20s. And same kind of thing, you know, you're just like, like in this whole new world and figuring things out, but it's so good for us when we if we can allow ourselves to take those risks. And I love what you said about circumstances and your thoughts, because that's something I really believe, and I try to help my clients see that. You know, there are circumstances, but the way we think about them is our choice, like, we can always help the circumstance, but we're going to think about this as a failure, are we going to what are we going to make it mean? Are we going to give up, or we're going to keep going? Because the same circumstance could happen to you know, multiple people, and they're going to respond to it differently. So and that, you know, can be said for any of your, your circumstances?
Christopher Hesse 10:57
Yeah, well, I came back, and I just enrolled in some business classes. And so this is in 2011, the latter part of 2011. And just to get familiarized with just, you know, the fundamental fundamentals of, you know, business and what, what it all means business law, and that type of stuff. And I'm, at this time as in sales, and I've always been into nutrition, and health and fitness, and used to cook all my food and, you know, would work out all the time. So, I was, you know, I was on a bootstrap budget out in Australia, so I was on a certain diet, that and a lot of stress, you know, dealing with a lot of new stuff for my, my body to handle, you know, circumstantial stuff that, that I got, I would say, at that point, the worst shape of my life. So I wanted to get in the best shape of my life when I came back, and to influence others to to know that it's possible as well. And that's where I created this bar. You know, I had was training for this physique show, you know, I just set a goal in mind, just to help me stay consistent. And I got tired of eating just plain, bland foods, you know, brown rice and chicken. And even though it was good at times, it was, you know, it was, it was just getting old. So I took some healthy ingredients that I had around that would taste amazing, and made a portable bar out of it. So at that point, I was in sales and took it to work. And a couple of guys were like, Dude, what are you eating? Let me have a bite. And they took a bite. And they were like, Oh my gosh, this is amazing. Bring me back some and I'll buy some from you. So that's, that's how it happened. I started slinging them into my kitchen.
Yeah, there's the origin story.
Christopher Hesse 12:54
Yeah, yeah, it making them from scratch. Yeah, go to Whole Foods, get all the raw ingredients, whip them up. And you know if that was peanut butter, because peanut butter is cheaper than almond butter, I would charge $3 a bar. And then if it was almond butters, $3.50 a bar. And I'd wrap them in saran wrap and make them in packs of 12 and put them in a brown wholefoods paper bag and packaging tape and with a black sharpie marker. And at this point, you know, I just called them, you know, bars, like Thrive Bars back in the day, like. And then, you know, after selling a lot of them out of my kitchen, I was like, Well, you know, I worked at Whole Foods. I know the industry. I used to see owners of their food companies like demoing products, I wonder what the process is to get in there because I know the standards are super high. And if I can base my product off of really high standards, I know it would open doors to other places and instead of just making the bare minimum to pass by with FDA and USDA and in all the health regulations and health stuff with you know, nutrition requirements, actually wanted to create like a Rolls Royce, like odd art product. I've always been into art I've been, you know, was very artistic as a, as a kid, you know, just, you know, drawing, painting, sculpting things. I was part of the Colorado Woodcarvers Association was my grandfather and we used to go to wood carving shows and would carve stuff out of black walnut and all this cool stuff. So that was always fun, but kind of led me into this whole idea and thought of that I really want to create something special. I don't just want it to be another bar because at this time, I thought it was gonna be shelf stable. And I thought I'd be competing against 200 other brands. And if that was the case, I would need to stand out. I can't just be another 20 gram sugar bar and
Oh, man, the bar category too?
Christopher Hesse 14:51
you know, just another date space. Right? Right. And you know that it's funny. I'll touch on that too, because that was like every investor right? Talk to you back in the day. That was their reaction. And I had to explain to them but I'll get into that later. It's just, you know, I set my goals for Whole Foods and talk to the grocery team leaders, name's Knoll Kessler, who's now the current grocery team lead in Castle Rock. But he was at Pikes Peak region. And I said, Knoll, you know, what would it take? And he says, Well, you need a UPC, you need to have you know, your nutrition label, you need to have a package. And as soon as you have that, I'll forward that over to Darcy, the local forrager at Whole Foods at corporate, and see about getting you an application to apply. And I said,
Christopher Hesse 15:41
Gotta use all of your connections, right?
Christopher Hesse 15:42
Okay, so I've got a goal on that. Absolutely. Well, that's what you got to do. Yeah, you just got to look around you. Because I believe wholeheartedly, when you're inspired to do something, you have the connection around you. And you just got to get out of your comfort zone, and ask and act on it and move. And if it doesn't work, keep going. Keep pivoting. Keep asking. And building your network, because it's gonna happen. And, and I would say, and I would say, honestly, Vukoo has grown when I'm feel defeated. I'll get those texts out of the blue, just out of the blue. Hey, man, how are you? How's Vukoo doing? And it's like, what? Like, are you serious? Like, in this moment, he's texting me right now this person is texting me. It's like, Wow. You know, and then just the motivation, like, of Hey, man, don't give up like, keep going. This is so cool. And you know, and I, I labeled it the nine to fivers. You know, the people that were, you know, you know, have their their goals set on, like what school was taught us to do. And they get there, and then they're just in this monotonous routine. And they're just like, you know,
Yeah, people are rooting you on.
Christopher Hesse 16:37
I need to start a business. And, yeah, it's like they're living through me. You know in a sense but I'm taking all the blows, you know?
Yeah. Well, we talked about how hard entrepreneurship is, and that it's not for everyone. But I do believe if you feel like really called to this, and you have a really strong why that, that, if you're willing to jump that the net will be there, that the connections, the doors will open up, you'll find people, you'll find those podcasts, you'll find people like myself and you who are so generous with your time. Like, you'll find a way to do it. And the money will come and the connections will come but you've got to stick with it. And you got to fail a lot, which we're gonna definitely talk about so. So you get the so you have the bar and you figure out, I know the packaging I'm sure it was not what it is today, or any of that right?
Christopher Hesse 17:55
Yeah, well, I mean, it went from saran wrap to, I really shot for the moon and created something different. And I put the first bar into a box. So it was like an unboxing experience and it was at that time recyclable. So in my mind, I was like, okay, it's a moist bar. You know, if I do a compostable wrapper, it's going to break down and break the oxygen barrier within two weeks on the shelf. That's not gonna work. So what can I do? And I was like a, you know, sustainable package board. So you know, that's what we did.
Christopher Hesse 18:30
Did it have to be refrigerated at that time?
Christopher Hesse 18:32
Oh, yeah. had to be refrigerated. So what we would do is...
So you realized that it needed to be refrigerated which was probably a little bit of a blow and you were like wait.
Christopher Hesse 18:42
Yeah, exactly. I sent it into the lab test results that this time, you know, Perfect Bars just hit the market. Well, it's in the Rocky Mountain region this is like 2012. So they've been on the market now seven years by that point. But you know, and then you had Core Bar out of San Francisco that was there too. And those were the only two refrigerator bars in this region. And, and so, you know, I thought it was a interesting concept, but my goal was the shelf stable bars. I want to be a legit bar. And so we did a lab testing and it came back after two weeks, it grew mold. Of course, the way I sent the package in to wasn't 100% you know, what was it like? Sterile I guess you can say I just kind of, you know, whipped it up and throw it in a bag and send it to the lab. So I'm sure that had some effect. But still, I mean, two weeks, I was like, Oh my gosh. So it was a water activity. It's because it's moist. It's It's unlike any other bars so when I realized we had to be refrigerated and I saw Perfect Bar and Core Bar and I was like, man, okay. And then I had to reverse engineer products. I really had to take the the finished product, which was a wrapper, and I had to think to myself, okay, where do I get a wrapper? How do I? Like, where do I begin? And okay, where do I get a nutrition label? Where do I do all this other stuff? So it was like this reverse engineering of a product to really like, learn step by step. You know, I'm brainstorming, and I'm thinking, Okay, I have to be refrigerated. And here's the only other two products out here. You know, their price point at this time was like $3, and $4, because Core at that time was a large bar, and they were a three ounce product just like ours. And I'm like, man, okay, well, I'm smaller, my supply chains more expensive, because I'm not buying at high quantities. You know, we have to be vacuum packed. You know, we tried slow wrappers and all this, I'm like, brainstorming, I'm like, Okay, well, I definitely don't have the marketing budget starting out to send customers from the shelf stable bar aisle, to the refrigerated section. But guess what? Perfect Bars, probably doing it in Core Bars doing it. So let me just piggyback off of them. My goal is to be more appealing on the shelf next to them. And we already know that our nutrition is where it's at. Two grams of sugar, 14 grams of fiber and 20 grams of protein. So we'll be right next to them, we'll be different. And we have to put our price at $4.99 with where our supply chain's at so we have to deliver that experience. And we got to go because, you know, Knoll's advice too was, you never want to go up on a customer, you always want to come down on a customer. So.
Yes, I tell my people that too.
Christopher Hesse 21:49
Yeah, yeah, cuz you don't want to shoot yourself in the foot. And if I could prove it with $5, and I can prove it with $3, $4. You know?
It's a tough thing, because everybody wants to be like, price competitive, at least, you know, even if it's at Whole Foods, they wanna they're like, Yeah, but my competitors this, and I look, you know, we go through the numbers. And I'm like, you know, my colleague Alli Ball says, you know, if it doesn't work on paper, it's not going to work. And people generally don't factor their COGs correctly, I find.
Christopher Hesse 22:21
And, and, and then down the road, they come to me, and they're like, why isn't this working? I think I'm losing money. I'm like, Yes, you are losing money. And then we have to raise the price. And they've already gotten into stores. And you just never want to do that. So we always shoot for price parity and understanding our worst case scenario. And then how are we going to? Like it can only get better as we grow. So if you can prove the concept, at a little higher price point but you're delivering so much more value and an experience, then, only you know, you can afford to do more promotions, you can bring that price down later.
Christopher Hesse 23:05
Yeah, I mean, it's just, you know, it's all psychological and the price and where they view something. Knoll's advice to me was, if it says, $3.99, the customer really only sees three.
Christopher Hesse 23:18
If it's $4.99, they only see four. So even though they're thinking, Oh, that's five bucks,
Christopher Hesse 23:23
That's why we do the $.99.
Christopher Hesse 23:23
psychologically they only see four. Yep, that's exactly right. So I was like, man, should I do, like $3.25? $3.75? He's like no man, do $3.99 if that's what you're gonna do, because it means, you know, with all of his analytics that he saw, but you know, just I would say, though, it all depends on what product you have and what you're doing because it's different from product to product. Like me, I had no idea, we were gonna have to be vacuum packed. And in a raw granola bar, that's not, you know, air dried, and, you know, just like dried out to where it's shelf stable. You got high sugar, high salt, high fat, for shelf stability, that type of stuff. Our moistures there and that customers love, the moist feel, the texture, everything. And if we started to tweak it, it's completely gonna change the product. It's not even the same vision we had. So I'm like, man, alright, now we have to innovate. So I call up copackers. And they're like, well, you need 100,000 units per flavor every six to eight weeks. And I'm like, are you kidding me?
Christopher Hesse 23:26
Oh right, yeah. Not even one batch.
Christopher Hesse 23:54
And then you call, yeah. And then you go and call real estate guys. You're like, Okay, I need a space to start. And they're like, Okay, well, you know, that's gonna be about $7,500 a month. You know, and I'm just thinking, what? You know, that's just before any sales and then you look at smaller commissary kitchens and, and that's where we ended up starting. You know, we paid per hour, and was part of the production and we started a small little kitchen called Castel Life Kitchen and Monument, which is now just booming. We outgrew them with our space and our inventory needs but but that's where we started hand pressing bars. I went to this machine guy and we made a custom mold to where we would weigh out the bars and 85 gram balls, so three ounces, and I would make this little custom press and it was two inches by three and three quarter inches. And we had pressed them and I'd literally would hand press all the bars up to I would say about 18 months ago. We had hand pressed them all.
Christopher Hesse 25:44
Oh my gosh. Eighteen months? A year and a half ago?
Christopher Hesse 25:44
Eighteen months, yeah. Well, let me tell you why. It's because we ran into a bottleneck with production because here we are being vacuum packed. Well, the only there's two options for vacuum sealing a product, you have a a chamber vacuum, which is where you vacuum seal chicken breast, you know stuff like that little small things that you just put it in like a FoodSaver make sure the bag is on the seal, and then close the lid and that, you know, boom, it starts to build up the pressure and then it flushes out and seal here. The only other option that Slim Jim uses, you know, cheese sticks, all that, you know, bacon, that type of vacuum package is called the thermoform sealer. And at this point, we're like, okay, well, wow, those are $110,000. Okay, and this chamber vacuum is $8,000 still, and we're just like, man, but we can only vacuum seal eight bars every two minutes. I'm just thinking to myself, how the heck are we going to scale when a sleeve of bars and one flavor that sits on the shelf is 12> So it's three minutes, just the vacuum seal one sleeve of bars. And here we are slinging them, made the whole foods top 100 best selling products when we got in in July 2016. Within our first six weeks, we hit number 52 out of at that time, we were considered a grocery product instead of dairy. So I was up against 4600 other products, which is super cool. So here we are. We're making our dance where you know, customers are getting pumped. Whole Foods getting pumped. I'm getting pumped. And we're selling out then oh my gosh, man. Yeah, this is great. That means all right, tomorrow, going to make sure we got enough supplies and then I'm going to be up till 1am pressing bars, and then I got to go back the next day and vacuum seal all of them for four hours. And then that's going to sell out in a week. You know, and I'm just thinking to myself, like how is this sustainable? And at this time, with our telescoping box, because, you know, I'm thinking, how can we take a vacuum sealed product and put it in Whole Foods? I'm thinking Oh, they must have these pigs like cheese bags like shredded cheese. And I could put a beautiful label and we could hold punch, you know the top part of the bar and slip it on a on a peg. But they're like, no, we don't have a section where you're going to be. You need to be in a caddy. And I'm like ah man.
Christopher Hesse 25:47
Yep. Now I've got to pay for a caddy.
Christopher Hesse 27:33
How am I going to do this after we came up with a box? Well pay for the caddy and and all of that and that was a heck of a task like doing it all grassroots and organic looking for a vendor. Google only took me so far. I didn't really I wasn't really connected in the food community yet. So I was just hustling, hustle and bustle and trying to figure out who knew what and finally got ahold of somebody and that's when we created this telescoping box. But it's a telescoping box to save cost and space for shipment, came in flat and I had to get an industrial hot glue gun with this hot glue that's rated for like freezing temperatures and I would glue both ends. And you could I don't you probably see it on our Instagram page or old packaging
Oh my gosh. Oh, I have to go and look.
Christopher Hesse 29:05
But it's two pieces of a box and I would hot glue them yeah, I have a stand I went to Lowe's. I got some poplar wood because I know wood because I was part of the Woodcarvers Association so
Christopher Hesse 29:16
Oh yeah, that's right.
Christopher Hesse 29:16
I'm all into that geeking out. But I built this like cool little setup that I can I can hot glue two full complete top and bottom bars in one pass. And but it was still super labor intensive. So here I am doing all this, getting it going and and we you know I'm like okay, this is this is doable. So I placed the order. Well we do spot UV, we do foil stamping, we do all this amazing stuff to all the bells and whistles that that a printer is capable of doing to deliver that that experience to the consumer. Well when it came in, I was like oh my gosh, why is it flaking on the edges? And and I called up the printer guy, Ben Jones and he's like
Christopher Hesse 30:02
You mean it didn't go perfectly?
Christopher Hesse 30:05
know exactly right? And here I am, I leveraged in, let me I'll tell you a little bit too, I had fantastic credit, you know, having regular jobs, I was always super diligent at paying on time, paying more and would constantly get approved for like $15,000 credit, $20,000 credit cards, you know, random cards. And, you know, as I'm kind of backing up a little bit, but making all these investment opportunities, meeting people that call themselves angel investors or investors and, you know, walking around a certain way, and I'd set up a meeting with them humbly I would approach them and, you know, they're like, well, what're your cost of goods and all that I'm like, what the heck are you talking about? What does that mean?
Christopher Hesse 30:45
And so then I would have to go back and just, you know, learn what that is. And then ancillary costs, and I'm like, What the heck is that? And that's just like costs that pop up everywhere. You got to plan for that, and just all these extra stuff. So I, you know, put all that together. And still people just shoot me down. That's all we need is another bar like, no, no, no. So I literally had to leverage my credit, I told myself, I can either keep working all these random jobs, and get let go for no reason. Or if I really want to do this, let me leverage it and I'll keep going. And until the business is at a point to where it requires me full time, also work a side job to pay those minimum payments on the credit cards. And it keeps my overhead as low as possible. So that's what I ended up doing. So here I am placing the order for the packaging.
Yeah. So you self funded? So you self funded basically through credit cards?
Christopher Hesse 31:45
And you're working like 1am. And you have a second job? And then you're probably self distributing right to the Whole Foods.
Christopher Hesse 31:52
Where you? Yeah. Okay.
Christopher Hesse 31:54
Direct. Yep. Direct to store, DSD.
This is where I say to people, when I talk with them about Food Business Success, or working with me one on one, it's like, this is the heart. This is the why. Like, what is your hard why? Would you say like, what, what on earth would make you want to leverage all of your credit? I mean, you spent, and
Christopher Hesse 32:17
You really want to know?
I don't know, if you want to disclose how much you put on your credit cards, but tell it.
Oh, $60,00 to 80,000. You know, just my first packaging order was $20,000. And I'll finish that story because it was cool how that happened. And this is just part of the journey and how cool stuff just manifests and happens. But I would say my why has just been realized within the past 12 months. And my true, if I got honest with myself, was acceptance from family and people that that I look up to, and to feel valued in life. It's to know that wow, look, what Christopher's doing. Wow, look at this beautiful piece of art he's created. Look at this system he's creating. With all that it was just simply for validation. And that's the gut honest truth of why I did what I did. But then you got to think okay, after you realize this self-reflection, and it takes a lot of dark moments to really realize and being open to diving into yourself and trying to understand who you are, and your programming and why you think and act the way you do.
Christopher Hesse 32:45
And then I take a step back, and I'm like, okay. What can I do with what I have now today? Because what all the grinding and everything that brought me up to now I still have this amazing product. We got the design patent, we, you know, we're we're getting big recognition, the President and CEO or the president of 711 loves the product, you know, just everybody who in case they just everyone loves it. And I'm like, yeah, but truly, I was just seeking acceptance. And but let me say, I do have this great product. And I want to inspire people to really go after what they want to do in their heart. And again, I got to bring it back to Jim Carrey. It's like he said, I wish everyone can have all their riches and accomplish everything just so they can reach that moment and say, wow, it's not what I thought it was. You know, it's, it's not even, that's not even what it's about. And yet, I'm still going, like, we're not even where I want to be in a business. But I've realized this early on. So now it's like, I kind of have this hippie feel of like, what do I need to do now? I really don't need much to make me happy. But you know, I can't give up. The business isn't where I needed to be yet.
Would you agree that you have transitioned from maybe it's not about the destination, which in your mind probably would give you the acceptance which the validation like from other people isn't always there. Like, you're not always going to get it. That's a fickle thing. It sounds like it may be transition from that to a wow, this is about the journey and who I'm becoming and the things that I can give back to people, I mean, really serving others and helping others create their dream. Would you say that's kind of been the the switch, like the journey versus the destination?
Christopher Hesse 35:32
I would say there's a new destination around every corner that I turn and and that I chase. And in it's part of the programming of being an entrepreneur, starting from nothing. You know, being grassroots is you have the one goal and checkpoint in mind, you're like, alright, once you get there, you're like, man, but then you're like, it lasts like two seconds, you're like, alright, I got to keep going, I got to get to this next stop. Like, all we got our first round of packaging, amazing. All right. But now I got to figure out a way for production, we got to get other pieces of equipment or something, and then we get that. Okay, now we got to find the comanufacturer and all this, and then oh, and now we got to tweak our packaging and get a new design and oh we got to get that p.o. approved and get and figure out a way to make that happen, you know, and once you make these little processes across the way, I'm still doing a self check. And that's where I've started to realize, but you know, it is a journey and
Celebrating your wins.
Christopher Hesse 36:25
Yeah, but and this whole point of too is like, not just focusing superficially on the business, but also looking at life itself. And maybe that's back to my bike accident where I reflect on the meaning of life and, and like how, how it could just be taken away, and I could be grinding, I could be on the way to going public with Vukoo company, you know, and die. You know what I'm saying? It's like, that's what I think about and, and because of my journey and where I've been, and, you know, it's like, it's truly enjoying the process and diving within throughout the whole process and evolving and blossoming and in into this beautiful collage of color and light that goes into the world. That's how I view it. That's how I view myself.
Yeah, I love that. There is no I think sometimes people get into this or anything really, like, when I'm thin enough, or when I'm rich enough, or when I have this product in XYZ store, then I'll be happy but it's not like that. It's it's like you have to get happy to like be happy along the way. And then when you get there, you're like, yeah, I just did that. But that doesn't create your happiness, the the destination just arriving there. Right?
Christopher Hesse 37:52
The journey along for sure.
Christopher Hesse 37:53
But I think if you can realize that with small destinations along the way, you'll you'll start to understand and have this maturity of, of arriving every day when you get up. And at certain tasks and stuff. It's It's pretty cool. But I know
It also helps you weather the storms too, right? The not, you know, when things don't work out and you're like, oh, but that's just like a blip. Like I'm gonna keep going because there's also wins and small successes along the way.
Exactly. And talk about a small success and win would be back to this packaging idea. I know I'm like super ADD when I talk because my brains all over and I got always feel like I got so much to share. But you know, with this packaging, you know, it didn't go right. And I called Ben and it was his first impression of doing business with Vukoo and I'm like, Ben, what are these bubbles here on the spot UV? He's like, I know. And then I'm like, and it's flaking on the edges and being a black, you know, gloss finish now, you know, the white papers showing around the edge here just looks like crap. And we're selling this for $5 Ben. We're twice right what our competitor is, you know, and he's like, I know, I'm so sorry. And and you know, prior to this, you know, I spoke to my graphic designer, Alan, my creative director who we work together. I I was like, Alan, you got the samples, right? I'm like, look at this, like what the heck and when it's all chippin and stuff on the edges. I'm like, Man, this is unacceptable. Vukoo standards of excellence and this is not excellent. Like, gosh, like, how can we do this? He's like, honestly, dude, you know, I would take a sharpie to the edge. I'm like, oh, Alan, we can't take a sharpie. That's not excellence and all this and then after I got off my high horse, you know, got off the phone with him. I started thinking I picked up a sharpie marker and I traced the outline of all the flakes and I was like wow, you literally can't even tell. And so here I am on the phone again afterwards.
Oh my gosh. You were sharpieing?
Christopher Hesse 39:57
Like this is crazy like, look at this! All the, all the, you know, the flakes and it's not going right. Like I know, at this point I knew I leveraged all my credit. It was a $20,000 packaging order. All I put down with $11,000. And then if you ever listen to this, if you ever had the chance, now he would know. But all I have is 11,000. That's all I put down, but then this backfired. And so here I am having to negotiate and just really come up and be creative. So I'm like, Ben, and he's like, I know, this isn't right, believe me, we'll get it right. We'll reprint it and all that I'm like, whoa, hold on, Ben. We have orders we need to get fulfilled. And you know, that's going to cost you more money, you're gonna have to buy more materials and pay your employees more. You know, I've already paid just over half of this order. Can you just go back to your people and just say, hey, you know, let's just call it good with what we have and, and see what they say. You know, and then we'll worry about it next order. And so a couple weeks later, he gets back to me. He's like, yep, nope, we'll just call it good with what you paid.
Oh, my gosh, wow.
Christopher Hesse 41:07
So then I go to Costco, I get a pack of 20 pack of Sharpies. And here I am in the in just sharpieing all these packages. My wife and I for so long who has been super supportive.
This was the black box?
Christopher Hesse 41:23
This was the black box. Yeah. If someone still has that around, which I still do, you can you can really see it, if you get the reflection in the light, you can kind of see the hue of a sharpie. But yeah, you're talking 15,000 bars I did that too. And, and gluing 30,000 because there's two pieces. And then you know, hustling and vacuum sealing you know, three minutes a sleeve, just the vacuum sealed portion. Hand pressing bars, you know, getting high quality ingredients. And we got a nut grinder. So we don't just buy almond butter, we get the diced and we same nut grinder Whole Foods uses actually, we've outgrown that so we we have another one lined up but it's it's all the you know, just the the startup. I really wanted to create that fresh taste. You know, fresh almond butter tastes so far superior than already ground almond butter that you just get a jar a bag, so.
Wow. Well, I mean, another time, we'll have to come back and talk about your copacking, comanufacturing journey, which is a whole other unfortunately we don't have time for that today.
Christopher Hesse 42:33
Everyone I'm sure.
But yeah, I love your story. And like, yeah, this is what it takes. This is the hustle and the pivoting and you know those things that like divine intervention? And I mean, it depends on how woo you want to get, but I tend to be a little woowoo. Yeah, I think that yeah, these things work out for you once you can let your ego go a little and and be like, okay, how can I make those work? And you got half of your, you didn't have to find another $11,000 or $20,000? Or $10,000.
Christopher Hesse 43:07
Yeah, or $8800 or something? Yeah, yeah.
Oh, my God.
Christopher Hesse 43:12
You were able to leverage your loses. Wow.
Christopher Hesse 43:16
There are more stories too like that even with the current packaging but another story some other time.
Yeah becasue now you have a new package, and you're in copacking, which we'll talk about another time. Bring you back on.
Christopher Hesse 43:25
But same thing, same thing, they had never seen an issue. And it was hiccup after hiccup. That is a different podcast, a different story. But definitely one worth hearing because it's just like supernatural stuff that is just completely out of your control. But you still persevere. So that would maybe be the art of perseverance.
The art of perseverance. Yeah, I mean, I think people see, you know, they hear those entrepreneurs stories, and you just if you don't dig into them, you just think like, oh, it's so easy. But every entrepreneur there is no overnight success. And every entrepreneur in every stage has, you know, I say everybody has 10 problems that were they're dealing with at any time. It's just the problems change, right?
Christopher Hesse 44:13
So, so tell us to kind of wrap up for for today's episode, where so you, let's see you started in 2000. When did you get into Whole Foods?
Christopher Hesse 44:22
12. Or, 2016. Well, in 2016, we got into Whole Foods and I would say that's when Priscilla says we should say we we officially launched when we got that packaging, that telescoping box but I started hustling them out of the kitchen in January 2012. So I've been doing it now almost nine years so so
And then so four years in retail and so now just kind of give us a synopsis of like I know you have your, your website where people can go. Are you guys on Amazon as well?
Christopher Hesse 44:58
So we're not on Amazon. Being a refrigerated product, they don't have fulfillment centers. So it came down to our comanufacturer and fulfillment facilities there to do that, so we're just ramping up for that. But Vukoo.com.
And you do all of your own shipping right? I think you were telling me you do that for right now.
Christopher Hesse 45:18
All the own shipping, we actually use mushroom packaging, which is hemp stock and mycelium, so returns to earth and 45 days in place the styrofoam. So we package them up, put them in the box at the time of manufacturing and store them frozen. So at the time of shipment, we just slap a FedEx two day label and it helps the customer.
Yeah, that's awesome. And then how many retail stores are you in now?
Christopher Hesse 45:42
So we are in the Rocky Mountain region of Whole Foods. And we just because you didn't want to go into the copacking scenario right now, but we just solidified that, which has been crazy. So now we're going into the western region of Whole Foods and, and then growing online presence. Well, there's a lot of stuff fundamentally like the foundation that you need to have sound before you can go. Because I don't want to go get into all these stores and then they sit empty, because I ran out of product and I'm having to deal.
And then they drop you.
Christopher Hesse 46:18
I don't want that. I want to deal with what I can. Exactly, it's like I want to deal with what I can and then grow from there.
I know I saw that, you know when I helped onboard new vendors is that sometimes we saw businesses fold because they over committed and then they had not worked out those the manufacturing fundamentals or packaging or, you know, distribution or those kind of things so smart that you guys, you know, you were willing to, you've been willing to be patient and figure out the foundations before you grew to fast.
Christopher Hesse 46:49
So much, it's because we're the only vacuum sealed granola bar that's not a meat or dairy product on the market. It took a lot from starting with zero capital, fully self funded, financing machines, you know, getting your own packaging orders. I mean, it's a lot. It really is. I mean, and that's what I if you want to tell your startup, you know audiences like we, you got to make the commitment and go all in. If I knew what I was getting into, I don't think I would have started. But it's so rewarding. And you got to set those little benchmarks along the way. And in keep going. And honestly, what keeps me going is the customers, is the farmers. It is literally the people behind the scenes that are making life sustain on this planet that are behind the scenes. And it literally food is life. It gives everyone life to sustain their life on this earth. And without farmers or people who know how to grow their food, it wouldn't happen. So we got to give them the credit. And we have to source a transparent supply chain paying them what they need to survive, and maintaining the soils for the earth in a regenerative and sustainable way for all the microbes and nutrients to keep prospering and growing with the ever changing climate, the air pollution, all of that. We got to make it thrive. And that's what I strive to do with Vukoo. That's why we call our new bar farm to bar. We shake hands with all of our suppliers, and we got to make it happen. That's the future of food. And it literally is if we want to still be on this earth living one day.
I love it. I mean, your story is inspiring, you are inspiring. And you're you're so fun to talk with. And you have such a big heart for helping others. But I think it'd be really fun to have you back and talk about comanufacturing and that experience.
Christopher Hesse 48:42
Sure. Would love it.
And then also how you how you work with farmers and some of the pieces around your sustainable packaging. I know a lot of people I work with have a big heart for sustainability and making their product, you know, farm sourced and they want all of those things, but they're so expensive on a small scale. And so I'd love to get you know your insight into how you've made that work. So we'll we'll pick that up on a on another episode. Tell people again where they can find you on all the places.
Christopher Hesse 49:16
Yeah, I would say almost every social media platform. Our tagline is Vukoo bar on YouTube, Venmo, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok. All of that. We're working on that. That's that's our next focus is to be more social media strong and working on all that but you get a hold of us there. And Vukoo.com.
What would be your ending? What words of wisdom for early stage startups?
Christopher Hesse 49:50
I would say honestly, success is not degrees on the wall, or money in the bank account. It literally is getting back up when you fall. Who you have around you to help you get back up and to keep going and never, ever give up on your dream because, you know, I always encourage everybody to say, I'm living the dream. I'm living the dream. Why? No matter how hard it is, you have that dream in mind. You're on the journey. It just, it's gonna look different. But you're getting there and you are living your dream. Just never give up.
So good. All right. Well, we will end it there. Thank you so much for your time today, Christopher. It's been a pleasure.
Christopher Hesse 50:34
Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Thanks, everyone, for joining us today. And until next time, have an amazing week.
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