Starting a business wasn't in the cards for Jason Osborn -- until he lost his job at an ad agency.
Even though he grew up baking brownies with his mother, French toast with his father and pizza with his grandfather, the last thing Jason Osborn expected to do was launch a food company. After September 11, when Mr. Osborn lost his job at an advertising agency, he found work as a model. It was during that time that he started baking healthy granola snacks for himself at night. He and his roommate started handing out samples. Soon, he had a partner, a business plan and a growing -- and increasingly competitive -- natural food company. Amy Palanjian spoke with Mr. Osborn about his career.
Full Name: N. Jason Osborn
Hometown: Cherry Hill, N.J.
Current position: Co-founder FEED Granola
First job: Grounds crew member at Little Mill Country Club in Medford, N.J.
Favorite Job: Current position with Feed Granola
Education: B.A., Business Management and Visual Arts, Gettysburg College
Years in the Industry: 2
How I got here in 10 words or less: A lot of lucky opportunities
Q: Okay, here's a pretty basic question. Why granola?
A: It was sort of an accident. I was looking for a healthy snack food as an alternative to the cookies and brownies my family made and I liked to eat cereal a lot, so it was a natural progression. I actually didn't realize I enjoyed cooking until I started living on my own and I had to make food for myself. About four years ago, my roommate -- who is now my business partner -- and I were working as models during the day and making small batches at night because it was a good snack.
We started peddling it around the West Village in New York City , eventually selling it to a few different coffee shops and one natural health food store. That created a small demand and we realized we had a viable product that people were interested in. We looked at the marketplace and saw that there was a need for a whole grain organic product like FEED, so we met with a nutritionist to develop a healthier version of the original recipe.
Q: Did you have any prior experience working in the food industry?
A: No. After college, I moved to New York City to start a career in advertising. I had been working towards becoming an art director for about three years when September 11 happened. The company I worked for lost a lot of clients and I was laid off. I was introduced to a modeling agency through the agency I worked for. I had then had the opportunity to work (in modeling) in Greece, South Korea and Hong Kong. It wasn't until I came back to the city that I started making the granola as a hobby.
Q: So modeling isn't an obvious prerequisite to starting a food business. How did that experience help you make the transition to launching FEED?
A: Although modeling is not a prerequisite to starting a business, models are independent contractors virtually running their own businesses. I was in charge of my finances, budgeting, tracking down payments, scheduling conflicts, finding new business, managing my career choices and most importantly, building relationships. With FEED, we make an extra effort to form friendships with our customers, our vendors, our suppliers and even our competitors because we understand that this will enable us to communicate more efficiently and ultimately have more fun while working with friends.
My business partner Jason Wright and I met while modeling. We both had very similar interests in living a healthy lifestyle, while also understanding that modeling was a platform for us both to travel, experience new cultures, earn decent income and build valuable relationships throughout the industry. While we were starting the company, we were able to pass out product samples at photo shoots, castings, auditions, movie sets and throughout our agency. That helped us learn about the needs of our core market.
Q: What's been the biggest challenge in starting the company?
A: I think what's so great about starting a business is the unknown. Yes, it's the most stressful part, but it's also the most exciting. We never know what this day or the next day has in store. If Jason and I had known how much work it was going to take to get us to this point, how much we were going to have to trust our instincts in the face of all of the advice we were getting, it would have been a tough decision to start. In a few months, we'll be available in almost every region of the country. Seeing customers enjoying our products is really rewarding. Profitability is difficult to asses when a company is growing. The money we make goes directly back into growing the business.
Q: Do you have a favorite flavor?
A: I'm not sure I'm allowed to have a favorite! I will always like the original raisin nut crunch, but we're releasing a new flavor that has a base of vanilla with dark chocolate chips and I think that's going to be my new favorite.
[Via - StartupJournal.Com]