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We’re lucky. Boston is home to many great food startups. Startup Stir had the privilege of sitting down with three foodie founders: restaurateur Michael Bissanti of Four Burgers, our lunchtime pal Shea Coakley of Leanbox, and beverage pro Evy Chen of Evy Tea.
Whether it’s all-natural grass-fed burgers, a vending machine for healthy food at work, or cold-brewed antioxidant-rich tea, these entrepreneurs had much to teach us about startup life in general. Here are five key takeaways every startup can use –
1. Utilize relationships.
While the customer comes first, it’s important to nurture all of the relationships involved in your business. Before a bottle of Evy tea gets to the end user, it goes through logistics, supply chains, and retailers. Evy sees each of these relationships as an opportunity to practice and express the brand message.
Shea highlighted the benefit of “multiplier” relationships. For example, insurance brokers are looking to make companies healthier, and real estate agents are looking to differentiate their offices. Leanbox shares a similar mission, so rather than reinventing the wheel, Shea looks to hook into these pre-existing networks.
2. Find out where your product will thrive.
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The success of your marketing depends largely on the context in which it is placed. For example, Michael knew he’d need to be based in a location where people would both appreciate and afford all-natural food. Shea took into account the fact that people are more concerned with eating healthy on weekdays than on nights and weekends, so a brick and mortar version isn’t wouldn’t necessarily be the best option.
3. Make sure your message is strong.
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For a message to be strong, it must be consistent, true, and clear. Evy pointed out that every action, decision, and interaction every day is a reflection of your message. It may be expressed in different ways in different scenarios, but it must always be the same message.
Michael emphasized that a genuine message —one that is not memorized or staged—is the only means of cultivating trust with customers.
Shea talked about his efforts to keep his message clear. A restaurant, for example, took away from the central message of translating the kitchen experience into the workplace, and was eventually closed down.
4. Build understanding within your team.
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Common values boost team performance, but a full understanding of the company’s internal processes also produces an impact. Every new Evy Tea employee bottles for their first month, regardless of role. “So when they say that Evy Tea is hand-made and cold-brewed, they know exactly what that means and how much work went into it.”
Michael has started a business class twice a week for all employees. Not only is it educational, it brings the team together and increases insight throughout the company. “They’re making better decisions, and seeing that transformation has given me a new reason to feel passionate about my work.”
Shea hosts a sampling every month, for everyone in the company from drivers to salespeople. It’s important that all who are connected to a product actually feel connected to it.
5. Create an experience, not just a product.
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Word of mouth is huge. When you create a product, you, well, create a product. But when you create an experience, you create an organic, self-sustaining marketing campaign. People will, on their own accord, come back, share the product, and pass the message on. Shea says “I ride on the high of doing something small but meaningful enough to change a person’s day for the better.”
Mike shared that passion but also touched on another experience—the employee experience. In the restaurant business, turnover can be high and passionate employees rare. Therefore it’s equally as important to create an experience for your employees that gets them wanting to come back to work every day.
Evy has her contact information on every bottle, and makes it a point to respond to every email she receives. By doing this, a simple bottle of tea turns into a personal interaction with someone who cares about their health.
Though their products are different, the mission of these three foodies is the same: to make something that not only promotes health, but also embodies passion, community, and integrity in every stage, from production to consumption.