Exclusive interview with condiment startup True Made Foods Founder, Veteran Abe Kamarck.
The 5-year-old no sugar/low sugar sauce company, True Made Foods, just closed a three-year deal with the Boston Red Sox as the exclusive condiment provider. Set to start in the 2021 baseball season, the move gets the company into wider-scale food distribution for the first time according to the Washington Business Journal.
True Made Foods founder, Abe Kamarck, a Navy veteran and father of four has been obsessed with good, real food his entire life. As a young parent, he tried to limit his kids’ ketchup intake, explaining it was like putting candy on their burgers. So when the opportunity arose to create True Made Foods, Abe jumped.
Recently, I asked Abe some questions about the Red Sox contract. Additionally, I gained insights on his condiment startup origin story, how his helicopter pilot experience translates to business and the secret for success behind most entrepreneurs. Read the interview below:
Congratulations on your new partnership with Fenway! Can you provide more visibility into how you became the official condiment partner of the Boston Red Sox?
Surprisingly, the Red Sox reached out to me. I did not think I would win the business at all, but sent them a deck, samples and did a few sales calls anyway. Surprisingly, they came back excited to partner with us. I was shocked. It turns out Heinz has a bit of a monopoly on contracts this size, which makes the operators hate them and innovative clubs like the Red Sox were very interested in finding an alternative to the goliath. Moving forward with the contract is a big risk. We have to invest a lot to get ready, but if we can grow this side of the business, it could be obviously huge for us.
Why did you decide to launch True Made Foods and is this your first business?
I worked as the Director of Innovation for a charity, helping them develop and launch social impact products when the charity ran out of money and let me go. Having entered the workforce at the beginning of the financial crisis and been through situations like this before, I was just fed up with killing myself for other people. So when I was fired, I decided that was it; it was now or never to start my own business. I had dabbled in entrepreneurship before. I had an LLC and did innovation consulting and work in emerging markets. I had even tried a few bigger startup ideas. For example, I built www.Doha-Delivery.com while living in Qatar. But I never went all-in on my condiment startup ideas, because when you have kids, it’s hard to give up a steady income. When I got let go from the charity, I did the math and figured I could go one year without a salary and then worked my butt off to launch True Made Foods and get us to the point where I could pay myself a very modest salary.
Have you raised outside capital? What’s the fundraising experience been like?
I have raised capital. I had to in order to eventually pay myself and grow the business. Unfortunately, I think I started raising money too early. In an ideal world, you want to get as much product-market fit and industry analysis figured out before diving in and raising money. Once you raise money, you’re on a time-clock. You have to grow sales before you need to raise money again. There is very little investor patience for “figuring things out,” you need to take their money and turn $100 into $200.
Are there any learnings you’ve brought from your military background that are vital to being a successful business owner today?
As a LAMPS helicopter pilot, we were a multi-mission platform, which meant we had to be a jack of all trades and master of none. That’s kind of like being an entrepreneur. You need to know everything, but necessarily be an expert in everything. In my helicopter, you also had to deal with a lot of information at one time while trying to keep the aircraft in the air. As an entrepreneur, there’s always too much to do and learn, so I fall back on the adage all Naval Aviators are taught in flight school when you’re in an emergency situation – “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.” Prioritize what you need to do – keep the aircraft in the air first, wings level. Figure out where you are going and then communicate and take care of anything ancillary. The same ideas can be applied when starting a business, don’t get distracted by things like social media, sales, and financials; the building blocks of business are what keep your startup “in the air.”
If you could go back to the beginning of launching your company, what would you do differently?
I would have gone slower at first. I rushed my launch because I was upset over getting let go from my last job and thought I needed to rush to get an income. If I had been a little more thoughtful and taken a slower, more diligent approach in the first year, I think I could have scaled the company faster. By rushing, I made mistakes working with the wrong people and spending money on things trying to grow faster than we were ready to grow.
What advice do you give to veterans interested in pursuing entrepreneurship?
Take your time to really start to understand the space you want to get into before getting started and ask for help, lots of help. We vets sometimes can be too proud to ask for help…don’t be that person. The real story behind most successful entrepreneurs is their network. Yes they had a good idea, yes they worked hard, but today that’s not always enough; your network creates the real opportunities needed to succeed. Ask for help, build your network, set yourself up for success before taking on the risk.
What’s your bestselling product and where can people buy your products?
Our No Sugar Ketchup is our hero SKU right now. It is just killing it because it has such an amazing ingredient profile (all fruits and veggies), yet it tastes like conventional ketchup. Kroger, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Giant, and Safeway all carry our ketchup, but you can also find all our stores on our website.