Be honest – what’s the first thing that springs to mind when you think of frozen produce? Ready meals and low-grade produce, right? It goes a long way in explaining why most brands in the wellness space have stayed clear. For Rachel Drori, that perception offered up a big opportunity. She started her business, Daily Harvest, with the mission to transform the way you think and feel about frozen and has brought on investors like Gwyneth Paltrow and Serena Williams to support her.
“Something extremely valuable I have learned throughout my career is to trust my instincts. Early on in my career, there were times my ideas fell forfeit to someone more senior, assuming they knew more than I did. Now, after starting my own company, I know how important it is to trust your instincts, pound the table when you believe, and always voice your opinion when you know you need to be heard….no matter the consequence.”
The service delivers all the ingredients you need to make healthy smoothies, soups and breakfast meals at home. Everything is picked at its peak ripeness and frozen within hours to maintain optimal nutrition, meaning unrefined, whole foods with no preservatives or additives, available any time, without no expiration-date. She created the business because she knows you want to eat healthily but also knows how easy it is to grab the closest thing you can find when you’re busy and when life just gets in the way. It’s a brand built on convenience (And just so you can you experience it in all its glory, you can get 3 free cups in your first order by using the ‘LIFESTYLEEDIT’ promo code at checkout).
Nothing Rachel does is accidental. Running her own business was always the end goal she used her former roles as an opportunity to learn the skills she’d need to make it happen. “Initially I knew I wanted to get experience in marketing and branding, and I wanted to work at the company that was the best at it, so I joined the Four Seasons. After getting experience there, I wanted to have a big corporate experience… I joined American Express and learned there how to move a big ship. When you’re in a huge ocean like Amex, you learn how to get people to make decisions on things that aren’t all that important to them. After that I wanted to do smaller and digital. Ecommerce was a skill set I wanted to learn. I joined Jetsetter and created a role for myself building an exotic travel business because I’ve always been extremely passionate about travel.”
She was eight months pregnant with her first child when she was making smoothie packs, delivering boxes all over New York proving the concept of Daily Harvest; and her second child was born mid-raise on her Series A round. When we caught up, I wanted to find out how she managed to balance both and also talk about some of the more strategical decisions she’s made, from how she attracted top tier talent in her bootstrapped days and how she’s been able to get so many high-profile, tactile investors on board.
Since my mom was an entrepreneur, the seed was planted early to be a creator and a problem solver. I crafted my career knowing I eventually wanted build something and to make an impact on the world. Our dinnertime conversations were probably a bit different than those in most homes. My parents would work together to talk through complex business issues and always found a way to include my siblings and I in the dialogue. Regardless of whether I added any value to the discussion at the time, I fell in love with the process of strategic thinking.
HOW PAST ROLES LAID THE FOUNDATION FOR DAILY HARVEST
My early career started as a Marketing Coordinator at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. When I entered the working world, I knew I wanted to go into marketing and learn from the best. Four Seasons is a customer-centric brand like no other. I spent 3 years there before heading to Columbia Business School. After earning my MBA, I spent 2 years at AmEx where I learned all about large scale marketing and building products to meet customer needs. I saw this as the second part of my MBA – putting my newfound knowledge to the test – in an environment where I had lots of agency and big company support. My final stop before starting Daily Harvest was 2 years at Gilt Groupe on the Jetsetter team. There I cut my teeth in e-commerce and was able to really roll my sleeves up on both the strategy and execution sides. All of my past experiences with consumer-centric brands really built the foundation on which I started Daily Harvest.
THE REAL MISSION BEHIND THE BRAND
Daily Harvest, as is the case for many startups, was born from personal need. I always felt that the way I aspired to eat and the way I had time to eat were in conflict. At Daily Harvest, we are solving that dilemma by creating modern food for the realities of the modern world (who has the time to always eat well?!). We are one of the first brands in decades that’s working to reimagine the freezer aisle – which is a key differentiator. We are turning misconceptions around frozen on their head by offering products unlike anything on the market. We offer unrefined, whole foods, with no preservatives or additives that are also convenient – we are always available in your freezer (no 3-day expiration here) and just seconds till ready!
HOW DAILY HARVEST CAME INTO BEING
I began gathering ingredients on Sunday nights and packing them into bags for instant smoothies during the week. It made getting out the door in the morning so easy, and kept me energized throughout the day. It became such a game-changer for me day-to-day that I knew others would appreciate the easiness of a 30-second smoothie, and had to share my idea. I got myself a commercial kitchen, built a truly “busted” website and began delivering smoothie packs in my car. Once I felt I’d “proven the concept” I found people who were excited about working for a company like Daily Harvest, and got to scaling.
WHY YOU NEED TO CHANGE HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT FROZEN PRODUCE
Frozen produce is nutrient-packed, low-waste and convenient. Farm-frozen produce is picked at its nutritional peak, whereas stuff in the grocery store is picked before it’s actually ripe and sits on trucks for weeks on its way to the store, while its nutrient content is degrading. Our produce is picked at peak ripeness and frozen within hours, maintaining its optimal nutrition. Also, the freezing process generally involves chopping the ingredients before they’re frozen, so it doesn’t matter if some of the produce isn’t picture-perfect. It still tastes delish. Eat frozen, eat ugly, and prevent food waste.
HOW SHE’S BUILT HER TEAM
The first two things I look for are passion and culture fit. As a small team, it’s crucial that everybody believe in the mission and that everyone meshes well – we work really hard and sometimes unpredictably. We also spend more time together than we spend with almost anyone else in our lives. I look for hires that see this as more than a job.
Making sure we understand the food landscape as a whole at any given time is pivotal to our ability to be successful. We do try to stay focused on reimagining your freezer – so while we of course need to keep an ear to the ground on what is happening within meal and grocery services broadly, our main focus and what will keep us competitive, is educating the consumer on why frozen is better. We need tell the story of how we are taking frozen back to its roots, when ancient civilizations froze whole ingredients in ice cellars to preserve a crop, and all of its vital nutrients, for long-term use. By telling this important story, we feel we are differentiated and offer a unique value proposition to compliment the various other services available to users. In terms of pricing, we encourage people to look at the way we refuse to compromise and the inferior alternatives that are out there. We try to focus on value which can mean something different to everyone. We tell stories about our farms and encourage people to try new superfoods and take the guesswork out in a low commitment way (try one cup instead of buying a $30 bag of reishi mushroom!)
A major goal we are working towards is changing the perceptions around frozen food. For decades, the space has been dominated by unhealthy or pseudo-healthy products that are greenwashed, hyper-refined and preserved. We are working hard to tell a new story, about the potential in freezing unadulterated produce to solve real life challenges. A big part of our success is attributed to the fact that our product also educates our customers on how frozen can be healthy. Additionally, we’re always focused on operational excellence that will allow us to keep up with the demand growth we’re experiencing. And our customers should always keep an eye out for new products – we’re always cooking something up! The number one challenge of expanding your footprint for a food business is always going to be distribution. Because our product is shipped frozen on dry ice, it can only stay in transit for a certain amount of time before melting, so we needed to solve this strategically to be able to deliver nationwide
THE HIGHS & LOWS OF BEING A SOLE FOUNDER
Being a sole founder is not easy! I wish I did have a co-founder but when I started the business I couldn’t find anyone who felt like the perfect fit. I knew it would be better to “go it alone” than to try to fit a square peg in a round hole. I’m blessed to have an expansive network I can lean on. This came from 10 years in marketing at large companies as well as 2 years at Columbia Business School. Because of my network, I had a lot of support in the form of mentors and friends that I could use as sounding boards as I was getting on my feet. And once you have the core business built, then the focus shifts to building a killer team.
ON BOOTSTRAPPING IN THE BEGINNING
When I started the business, I didn’t know if I wanted to raise money at all. I was nervous about investors understanding my overall vision for Daily Harvest, who might ask us to compromise on our quality for lower costs / higher-margins. If someone joined the investment team who didn’t understand the importance and appeal of organic, whole, unrefined foods, then that would be a huge challenge. But there came a point when I knew I wouldn’t be able to realize my full vision without raising capital. I found investors who are 100% aligned with what we we’re building and will also add significant value as veterans in the space.
FINDING THE RIGHT INVESTORS
Find investors who understand your vision completely, and who will be supportive of sometimes higher-cost decisions that are pivotal to maintaining the best possible product and that put the customer first. If you meet with an investor who isn’t aligned with your vision, no amount of money will be worth the heartache and challenge. So be firm and up-front about your requirements. It may take time but you’ll find those investment partners who are investing as you, the entrepreneur, as well as the business and will give you the leeway you need to execute your vision. The most important consideration for me when choosing investors is that they truly believed in what Daily Harvest stands for. They believe that natural, unprocessed, nutritious foods should be easy to obtain, and they understand the gap in the market that we are filling. Having investors like Gwyneth Paltrow and Serena Williams is great because they have amazing platforms to help us tell our story. They are not just celebrities with a large reach, but respected authorities when it comes to health, nutrition, and fitness, and we’re so excited to have them, as well as all our other investors, on board. We very much looked for strategic value in our investors. We brought on a number of angels who offer expertise in one way or another. In terms of the entrepreneur – board relationship, the two should work as a unit to deliver on a collective vision. If they are not on the same page – the dynamic wont work. I call on my board regularly for decisions both big and small – especially because I am a sole founder – I use my board to help me navigate the ups and downs of #startuplife.
WHY A SUPPORTIVE PARTNER (& MEAL PREP) IS KEY IN BALANCING WORK & LIFE
Meal prep can take over an entire day, so my husband and I use various tricks to cut it down so we can enjoy the meal without spending hours in the kitchen while our kids play elsewhere. We try to prep on the weekends, and honestly we do incorporate a lot of Daily Harvest into our routine as a huge time saver. I also have carved out some sacred time every day with my family. My team knows I am unreachable during bedtime and they have learned to plan around it. My kids know that I will be home no matter what during this time which I think is important for them – but also for me as I always have that time to look forward to whatever comes my way during the workday. I then hop back online once they are asleep and keep at it until bedtime. Equal division of responsibilities is the number one key to success in any relationship, but especially one where you have entrepreneurs in the mix. My husband also has his own business, but we take care to divide responsibilities for the kids and the household equally. We also bring our work home and talk about our challenges together every night over dinner (just like when I was young!). We come up with solutions together and bring each other along on our daily work journeys. This way we fully understand the ups and downs we are both feeling and can be empathetic but also helpful. I look forward to when our kids are old enough to participate.
IT’S OK TO ASK FOR HELP
The biggest challenge is that there simply are not enough hours in the day to do everything! I have a family and a business where people count on me and it can sometimes be heart-wrenching to have to choose between them. My advice for women embarking on the same journey is to 1. draw some boundaries and 2. not be afraid to ask for help. As I mentioned I have an hour and a half every day that I spend with my family no matter what…even if a really important opportunity comes up…I don’t encroach on this time. Ever. And…when I can’t be in two places at once, I always ask for help. From a friend, a spouse, a parent, a colleague or the amazing woman who helps take care of my monkeys while I’m at work. Raising a family and growing a startup both take a village.