“We’re closing on a little north of half a million in what I’d still consider is our final seed round, and our goal is to raise an A round by the end of 2021. The majority of the funds come from people that I personally know.”
He added: “We grew more than 100% last year and we expect to double revenue in 2021 just off our existing lines, but we’re also planning to launch a new innovation in late Q1/early Q2 that will put us in a different area of the grocery store. We’ve shown it to our retail partners and there’s a lot of interest.
“We also just got onboarded by Europa [which supplies gyms, sports stores, independents, health stores as well as some larger retailers], which is encouraging as those types of smaller independents had been suffering [in the early weeks of the pandemic].”
On the e-commerce front, IWON has just onboarded with Thrive Market and had a “killer first month,” added Samuel, who said "north of 40% of our customers on Amazon are coming back for more."
Identifying key consumer segments
The IWON brand - which started out in the sports nutrition segment in 2016 and is now available at close to 5,000 locations from Vitamin Shoppe to Whole Foods, Sprouts, Kroger, Safeway and Walmart – makes extruded Puffs and Stix utilizing a blend of proteins from green peas, navy beans, and brown rice.
Most of the snacks contain 5g fiber and 10g protein per serving, which positions the brand in the ‘protein snacks’ category, but doesn’t match the 20g+ protein levels in, say, Quest chips and bars or PowerBars, said Samuel.
“When we started, our first retail partners were in the nutritional supplement space and people would look at me [Samuel looks like he spends a lot of time in the gym] and say, does your core consumer look like you? And yes, many of my customers look like me, but the data shows that our #1 customer is actually a female aged 35-55 with kids, and is interested in organic.”
Echoing comments made by consultant Dr James Richardson, who says there is often a disconnect between who founders think they are appealing to, and who they are actually appealing to, Samuel said:
“25-year-old guys that work out six days a week are buying our product, but the lowest hanging fruit is a mom that shops at Whole Foods.”
Sticking to your principles
That said, Samuel has always a keen sense of what his core brand proposition is about (balanced nutrition), and while founders should follow the data and monitor trends, they should also be wary of jumping from one fad to another, whether it’s keto or CBD, if it doesn’t make sense for their brand, he said.
“We’re always getting asked, why don’t you do a low-carb or keto version, but that’s not what the IWON brand is all about.”
As he notes in the FAQ section of the website, “Some of the newer ‘diets’ advocate for the reduction of carbs as a whole...but we don't believe that's the best path to having a long-term, healthy relationship with food. It's true, not all carbs are made equal. There are good carbs: such as the ones from vegetables and fruit, even some grains, and there are bad carbs: think processed sugars from processed foods.
“Our snacks contain a moderate amount of high-quality nutritious carbs from organic plant-based sources, and only 1g to 2g of sugar.”
Growing in a pandemic
While not being able to do demos and sampling thanks to coronavirus has been frustrating, IWON has added more digital marketing and promo activities to generate awareness and trial, said Samuel, who says retailers are in a different mindset today vs the spring, and are looking for innovative new brands, providing they can deliver.
“We also have a lot of room to grow in e-commerce, which is another check mark for presentations when it comes to raising capital,” said Samuel, who has built a growing presence on linkedin and other social media platforms highlighting the day-to-day challenges facing food entrepreneurs.
“Investors want to know are your customers coming back a second, third and forth time?”
They also want to know how efficient you are at deploying capital he said, noting that anyone can go out and buy customers online, for example, but brands that generate real excitement on a tight budget are the ones to watch: "I'm not buying our revenue."