Co-Founder & CEO – NatureBox
efore co-founding NatureBox I was working out of Boston at General Catalyst Partners (GC) and I had become really passionate about the Indian Market.
I thought there was going to be a wave of consumer internet companies built in India that would end up being really large enterprises. I started exploring that with the GC guys, and I was eventually given the option to go to India and work for GC.
24 hours before signing a lease on an apartment in India, the firm decided that they were also going to open an office in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was given the option to choose where I wanted to go. Starting the Palo Alto office was an incredible opportunity I just couldn’t pass-up, and I kind of felt like California had a special allure for venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. I made the decision to take GC up on that offer and moved to the Bay Area at the end of 2009.
For about six months, I was the only person from GC in Palo Alto. I was there to plant the flag. A lot of people knew us as a Boston firm at that point, so they hadn’t interacted with anyone from GC and hadn’t thought about the firm as a potential co-investor. I spent the first six months just getting out there, meeting people, and trying to build the network. GC eventually sent additional staff from the East Coast, and we spent another year-and-a-half working out of the Palo Alto office. The last investment I made was in The Honest Company, so I was spending a lot of time around directing consumer brands. I became a big believer that these types of brands were going to be built quite differently in the future.
I’ve always had a personal passion for nutrition. Up until the age of 18, I really struggled with obesity and had a lot of bad eating habits. Luckily, I learned about nutrition and lost 70 lbs in six months through diet and exercise. That was when I started thinking about starting a business. I came up with the idea for NatureBox and started brainstorming with a friend of mine from Babson College.
We thought we might be able to use technology and data to better understand the consumer in terms of what things they like to eat, what things they don’t like to eat, and what they’re allergic to. The goal was to use all of that data to create the right products for the right customers. We thought that if it was successful, the brand could end up being multi-channel and multi-category. So eventually, we would be able to take NatureBox offline and into brick-and-mortar stores, and eventually, we’d be able to be more than just snacks.
We were very intentional about calling it NatureBox for that exact reason. We didn’t want to be beholden to snacking. That was the beginning of the company and it all popped from there.
How it Started:
Ken and I were both still working our day jobs when we started NatureBox, so we decided we needed to go somewhere and spend some time figuring out the details. We went to LA, borrowed an office from a friend of ours, and committed to each other that by the end of that weekend, we would have a business.
At the beginning of the weekend, we ventured down to the Santa Monica farmers’ market, and we felt inspired by the products we saw there. We thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if you could get the kind of stuff that you find at farmers’ markets delivered to your door?”
We bought a bunch of produce, went back to the office, and built a very simple landing page. All it had was a photo taken on an iPhone, a couple of bullet points about what NatureBox was, and a buy now button. If you clicked the buy now button, you’d be taken to PayPal and would be able to send us money for your first box. Low and behold, 100 people actually went through the entire process and paid us for their first NatureBox.
“What do we do now?”
The only items we had for the box were the minimal products we had bought at the farmers’ market. There were no other products just sitting around, and we didn’t know how to go about getting bulk food. We thought about it for a little while, and then it hit us. Where do you go when you need bulk products?
Costco, of course.
Two shopping carts of snacks later, and we were ready to go. We pretty much repackaged those Costco goods into smaller bags that said NatureBox on them. That was the first box. Literally, the first items we shipped out were products you could buy at Costco.
We still had a lot to learn and a lot to do.
Where were we going to package these things? What was the final product going to look like? Where were the products actually going to come from?
We continued to ship products out, spent a bit of time learning about how to get products made, how to package, and all the essentials needed for us to operate efficiently.
More than Just Snacks:
For us, at the time, we really felt that the brand could extend to a lot of things: meals, beverages, and pantry staples. Over time, we narrowed that focus, and decided the opportunity that really makes sense for our brand is the blurred line between snacking and eating. We offer unique products that you may not traditionally think of as snacks, but that you don’t traditionally think of as a meal. It’s kind of food-on-the-go.
“Literally, the first items we shipped out were products you could buy at Costco.”
When we launched our brick-and-mortar style business, we had to rethink our initial strategy around subscription. When we started, our business was entirely subscription based. We felt as though the long-term value wasn’t in the business model, it was in the products. Subscription was something we didn’t need / want to be. Instead, we wanted to be a great multi-channel brand. So, we evolved the business model away from where we started.
Basically, you can now buy on an à la carte basis at a premium price, or you can become a member and get a discount across our catalogue.
In this new model, we get to engage with our consumer more. We hope to grow into a lifestyle brand; you won’t just think about us when you want a snack, but rather you’ll think about us in terms of creating a healthy lifestyle.
The food industry is undergoing massive change – consumers are looking for healthier products, open to new brands / ingredients that they haven’t tried before, and increasingly shopping for food online. NatureBox sits at the intersection of all of these trends and we feel like we are just scratching the surface of what is possible. We’ve built a great brand that is able to quickly deliver innovative products to consumers – as the food landscape continues to change, we think we’re in a great position.