Crik Protein is out to transform the planet by transforming the way we eat. In this episode, founder Alex Drysden talks about the business model of a disruptive supplement company, following your WHY in the face of challenge, and building a brand to change people’s mindsets.
- What is Crik Nutrition? How did it start?
- Why are crickets good for us and for the planet?
- Why is it taking so long for cricket-based foods to hit the market?
- Are you developing your own farming, or focusing on brand development?
- How do you maintain sustainable sourcing and methods?
- How do you create a disruptive business model with e-commerce?
- What has been the most important thing to keep you going when Crik seemed like it wouldn’t work?
Chandler: What is Crik Nutrition, what are you out to solve?
Alex: We are a health and wellness company, focused right now on building cricket-based protein powder. We want to bring more awareness to the environmental impact of protein right now.
The grander idea is to bring more awareness to environmental impact, what’s happening right now. And the reason that I got into Crick Nutrition is one that most people are totally unaware of: How we eat, and how it impacts the environment.
C: What is the backstory?
A: I had quit my career of 10 years and had an opportunity to get mentored in e-commerce. I dove in, I knew I wanted to learn as much as I could.
I was working with a couple of friends of mine that had been in eCommerce since the very, very beginning days in the late nineties. They took me under their wing and showed me everything they could. I build a test store. I wanted to make a pivot and try to come up with something that held more closely to my values. What I had started at the time was a wind and a solar electric lighting eCommerce company, just to do more towards renewable energy. Then, I saw an article posted by Tim Ferriss that mentioned a cricket protein company getting invested in. He’s usually ahead of the wave on the fitness stuff, that’s why I follow him.
I was sold on the idea of using crickets as a protein source, right from the second paragraph. It blew my mind that we weren’t using it and I figured it must be gross, but this company had some taste test video showing people that eating it and seeing it was pretty good. So, I looked around for a protein powder to use personally – I had moved away from my heavy days of supplementing and lifting weights to focus more on functional fitness, functional food.
I wanted to try this protein powder for myself, but nobody was out there making it. So I ordered a bag of ground crickets and started making my own protein powder at home. And actually, I’m kind of embarrassed that it took me a couple of days before I was like, “why don’t I make this my company?” And literally from that moment, I went do my office wiped everything off my board. It was dramatic.
C: How many years ago is that and where are you where the business now?
A: So that story happened about 5 years ago, when there was almost no information out there about cricket protein. Most manufacturers only want to work with high volume products, not with startups or test cases. So, I hired contractors to make a video and an Indiegogo campaign. So it took about 12 months from the initial idea to when I shipped a very first amount of product going the crowdfunding route. Then it was about two years before we had our second round of development done, with flavors and tub sizes based on our customers’ feedback.
Where we’re at right now is just our third round of iterations and getting ready to, uh, deliver an even better product now to customers by springtime.
C: So, I’ll recap: What I really like about your story here, Alex, is that you are out there looking for something.
C: You had mentors originally and I think that that’s how a lot of us start, right, with a shortcut to that learning curve by having some rock star mentors. You tested some different products and then you were looking for kind of a product whether or not you knew it. You found the Tim Ferris article and got into something that was somewhat of a blue ocean product that wasn’t really out there all the way yet. You see the opportunity and you struck on it and took a year – you guys, that’s a long time, a freaking year – to get the product out there and put in the muscle to get the Indiegogo campaign, get the product shipped, heard back from the customers, listened into the customer preferences, then found a certain segment in the market.
And when you doubled-down on e-com and put forth the muscle to go earn the customers, if you will, by commenting on the blogs, doing the freaking hard work (which a lot of us avoid when you’re trying to scale).
“But that’s what it takes. It takes the, it takes the button pushing and the freaking heart. Um, in the beginning when you’re getting started and it sounds like that’s what you’ve done and you’ve now overcome that stage where you’re now in stage three of the biz and you sold out, which is a huge win.”
C: So tell us a little bit more about the statistics that we should know about why crickets are so good for the world even though they sound so gross to eat.
I mean, hot dogs taste great and we all know (but don’t like to think about) what they’re made out of.
1. We all know that we can make better sustainability and environmental decisions.
I found out from first looking into this is that eating red meats and beef in the amounts that we do is one of the biggest contributing factors to climate pollution in Western culture. So we’ve made a product that tastes good and solves a problem in a more sustainable way, and our customers have backed that up with their, with their testimonials.
It’s the first small step in making a bigger change in changing the mindset that we have around what we eat.
2. Crickets can be used as a whole food source.
The second thing that actually is the biggest leader in what really impacts us: crickets are already really, really high in protein. So that means that we don’t have to isolate the cricket protein away from the cricket powder. So we use a whole ground cricket powder, which is a whole food and adds so much more functionality to your diet. We don’t have to strip out a lot of those minerals and nutrients that are in the rest of the creature.
3. Crickets are shockingly good for you.
- They have 10 times the B12 of wild salmon, pound for pound.
- They have more iron than spinach or beef.
- More potassium than bananas.
- More calcium than milk.
- More protein than beef.
- They use 1000x less space than cows or other protein options.
- They use up to 2000x less water than beef does.
- And they provide a plant-based, non-GMO option for people.
Why do you think that it’s taken so long in order for them to hit the mass markets?
Well, it hasn’t been long that we needed to look for options other than cows. It has been just as easy to grow a cow as anything else. But now, people are aware of the environment.
Also, one of the obstacles to overcome at the initial stage would just be that yuck factor.
It’s funny, anytime I’ve gone and given speeches on the topic or anything like that, it’s usually well over half the audience that has tried bugs before. They try it in another country and bring the idea back.
Let’s talk about Frass.
FRASS (Noun): Fine powdery refuse or fragile perforated wood produced by the activity of boring insects.
So, Alex, frass is interesting – the fact that it’s a byproduct. It seems marketable. Do you have a timeline for developing your own farming to get better unit economics and sell the frass as well?
Well, yes, I love farming as well. I grew up around it and did a lot of work on different farms and that was something that I wanted to get into. But it just made sense for me at the time to focus on that protein powder.
Especially now what I’ve learned about branding, building companies and the vision that I have for the future, and the impact that I want to make with this company, that is something that can only be done from a brand point of view.
And it’s something that the customer-facing part of the supply chain is where you can make the innovative products and try the different things that are going to get people’s attention so you can help educate them to make better decisions overall.
So all resources are, are focused on building the brand. Farming isn’t out of the question, but it’s not the most important.
C: What are you guys developing on the product side?
A: We do have some plans for later in the year for some different products, but we can’t get too far into those right now is we want to keep them a surprise.
It will take us until April though to get our products back in stock. You know, to really crush it. That’s a thing with vertically integrating too, especially in the supplement industry. You’re not constantly launching new products all the time. You might have two or three big projects in the year to focus on that, but once you nail a product, you either can go back and improve, or make new products. And really once you do nail product, as I mentioned, you sell that for a long time.
So it doesn’t really make sense to be doing a ton of development in that space and have your own facility with scientists full time developing stuff. It’s a lot easier to work with partners.
C: So, I’d love to learn a little bit more about what kind of protein companies or supplement companies you’re modeling in terms of the business model.
A: We’re not really focusing on the business models of other companies because I think we can really do a lot better in every single area of what supplement companies are currently doing.
We’re maybe not disrupting every single category, but at the end of the day, I do think we will disrupt things because we’re doing every single thing better.
Our core value is to make better decisions for the environment, for now, and for the future. So as long as we remind ourselves, what is that better decision everywhere from fulfillment to the ingredients we’re using? We’re considering all of that and our customer, and the customer service, so not leaving one area untouched.
C: Definitely. I think that you’re really positioning yourself to take the wholesome sustainability approach and to capitalize on that market.
So many people are stuck in their ways and it takes somebody that’s like, ‘Hey, why are we doing it this way? And what’s actually best for the customer? And what’s actually best for the world? And let’s make it happen… and let’s stop using those excuses that people live on and then just move on. I mean, come on, we are running out of time here!
A: You’d be amazing at how easy it is to fall into a rut and just accept things. But you gotta remind yourself every day of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and what’s the goal in the longterm?
Everybody gets caught up in their emotional day-to-day. So it’s very, very important to remind yourself of your goals and your vision, and really run every single business decision by those values. And personal decisions for that matter.
C: I think that this is like a great reminder for all of us that are out there creating innovative products, whether it’s products or exponential technologies.
When you’re doing something new, people aren’t gonna like it and you just have to remind yourself like what you’re committed to because you will face more disagreement. You will face rejection and you just have to know that. If you’re ahead of your time, you have to know that you’re going to face that and look forward to it.
Because if people weren’t giving you that Alex, then you’d probably have a product like everybody else.
C: So, Alex, tell us a little bit more about what stage of business you’re in and what are you doing to get ready for the next stage?
A: Just getting ready to scale. There are many ways to scale, and we’ve been getting all the systems in place. I’m getting feedback from as many different groups as we can to segment our audience and see what is at the top of people’s minds.
Also, looking at some of the new science that’s come out in different ingredients and even crickets themselves and what they’re good for. And being able to use that information to meet the needs of our customers.
C: And so it sounds like you guys ran out of product because of the customer demand, which is always a great thing. You’re getting ready for scale. It sounds like the unit economics works in order to do that. And it sounds like you have a distribution partner in order to get the product out, whether it’s retail or doubling down on e-com.
C: Did you guys have to raise funding and if so, how was that fundraising process for you with such an innovative product?
A: I self-funded everything and made some silly decisions. But I’ve learned a heck of a lot along the way.
As long as you protect yourself and make sure you’re not putting yourself in a bad situation, and you test things properly before you take any big steps, it really pays off at the end of the day
I didn’t want to gamble with other people’s money because I still wasn’t a hundred percent confident. I had the right partners and the knowledge to be able to take it to that really big scale step. So I just waited and trusted my gut. And um, whenever I hadn’t trusted my gut is when I ran into problems.