NOSH Voices: Investing in Your Vision

About the Authors: Lauren Jupiter is a Managing Partner of AccelFoods, where she is a member of the Investment Committee and is responsible for supervising financial strategy for their entrepreneurs. Jordan Gaspar is a Managing Partner of AccelFoods, where she is a member of the Investment Committee and is responsible for supervising strategy on legal and investor relations for their entrepreneurs.

Food and beverage is the new tech. If you are connected to the industry, you have certainly noticed the influx of high-quality talent in food and beverage, particularly on the packaged side. A new generation of entrepreneurs is following the lead of their tech brethren, coalescing behind a concept they believe in and aggressively driving to bring it to fruition. These sophisticated, inventive, and passionate founders are out-of-the box thinkers, and as investors and partners it’s our job to help them succeed.

Having invested in 20+ brands over the last 24 months at AccelFoods, we have been reminded time and time again that the most promising opportunities start with founders, not just their products. We look to partner with founders who are relentless and resourceful, and represent the highest standard of professionalism, quality, and disruption. But those standards manifest in different ways with different founders. Depending on their product and their level of experience, we know that the way we offer value has to adjust with the founder’s needs. The constant, however, is trust.

This was certainly the case when we invested in Four Sigmatic (formerly Four Sigma Foods), founded by powerhouse Finnish entrepreneur Tero Isokauppila. Four Sigmatic seeks to popularize the consumption of ancient superfood mushrooms through effective and easy-to-use natural products. Tero came to AccelFoods with more experience than our other entrepreneurs: his product was an overseas success and he had an incredible vision for a launch in the United States, but what would be the first steps? This was where collaboration, flexibility, and partnership came into play. From day one, our partnership with Tero and his team has been based on sharing ideas, talking through challenges, and evaluating opportunities, always recognizing that for this business to be as successful as we would hope, we would need to trust Tero’s instincts and vision. So where would we fit in?

Offering advice to new entrepreneurs, Tero explains, “finding an investor who believed in me and who trusted me was vital. I wanted a partner who was going to challenge and push me, not an investor who was going to control me. My advice to all early-stage entrepreneurs is to partner with someone who has faith in your vision. Find the best investor for you. Be willing to stick to your guns. It’s your business and your legacy.”

Tero has high expectations for everyone in his inner circle. He wants to change how consumers think about mushrooms, and he expected more than a 360-degree analysis of the business’s needs from his partnership with AccelFoods. He forced our team to think “bigger” and more holistically about his business, and our willingness to do this helped Tero trust us, as well. Below are a few key learnings from our experience:

Your vision is more than your brand – One of our great learnings from working with Tero was that his strong vision for his product was accompanied by an equally strong vision for the type of company he wanted to build and run. He wanted to build an employee-owned company culture where core members all have a strong and fair voice, while always operating with an unwavering commitment to the consumer. He also felt cultural alignment was paramount for any potential team member, resulting in a willingness to make key hires with experience outside of consumer packaged goods. Tero was clear with us, as his investors, that his company culture had to be at the foundation of any hiring decision. This was a lesson we have come to take very seriously at AccelFoods for both our own team as well as those of our portfolio companies.

Tero even suggested to us that we create a forum to open up communication with our portfolio companies about our evolving vision for AccelFoods. As a result we held our first “AccelFoods Vision Call”- a suggestion that could not have worked out better in deepening our own community building.

Ensure that everyone is aligned on goals, big and small – We worked closely with Tero to set goals and balance our relationship, as both his investors and operating advisors. He identified strategic projects that were important to him, committing to core objectives and milestones, and then meeting all deadlines set (even when only internal). Dependable processes, structure and organization are core tenets of Four Sigmatic.

For example, with the rebrand, Tero had an ethos he was not willing to sacrifice. But, he also needed help simplifying the unique story – and it needed to occur in a short time frame. Together we collected consumer insights to better understand the core questions and challenges the brand needed to answer better. Once we set priorities together, Tero worked with his team to solve those problems independently. Ultimately, from start to finish the project was completed in just eight weeks because he was willing to communicate what he needed and we trusted his vision enough to help move it forward.

That leads us to this insight: Make sure that any partners you bring in understand and believe in you and in your plan – When we partner with a founder, we come in not just as investors but also key advisors; we’re very active and hands-on.. Tero was looking for a true partner in his business, so he felt strongly that any partnership be built on the basis of positive collaboration and not corporate control. We could not have agreed more. The Four Sigmatic team operated with incredible organization, efficiency and professionalism. That helped us through a potential challenge: Tero was very committed to maintaining an international approachability to his brand to avoid alienating his existing loyal consumers, even if it meant elongating the timing and process of rolling out the brand re-invention for the U.S. audience. Tero won us over with deep category knowledge, logical decision-making, proactive communication, and a compelling long-term vision of quality growth.

Tero’s vision was core to our work together. Our partnership succeeded because we believed in his vision, not just the potential return on the investment. The experience has altered our mentality with regard to the partnerships we build with all of our founders. We now expect our founders to better articulate their own company values, expectations, needs and vision before we embark on building core business strategies from finance and operations to marketing, sales, and fundraising. And we know they should expect – and will get – the increased trust in their vision that Tero exemplifies.

At Project NOSH and BevNET we pride ourselves on having a robust network of food and beverage entrepreneurs, industry insiders and advisers. To that effect, NOSH Voices is a series of columns by respected experts to provide a spectrum of points of view from within the community. Interested in contributing as a NOSH voice? Contact the Editors.

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