I was one of those kids who would love to devour peanut butter by the spoonful. When I eventually got into fitness, nutrition and bodybuilding, keeping peanut butter in my life was non-negotiable. Lucky for me it’s super-high in protein and essential fats and also low in sugar, the core building blocks of a healthy, well-balanced nutritional lifestyle. I was trying to maintain a specific physique with intense workouts and clean eating; peanut butter was always there, doing me — and my tastebuds — a world of good.
On the subject of clean eating: while I was hardcore training, I was eating like a bird. And this is someone whose parents own a bakery; I always knew my way around a kitchen and a recipe book. In fact, my mom — who learned the bakery business in a trial by fire — helped me polish up the peanut butter that was about to become the cornerstone of my company. I credit her for helping me make my beloved snack the best that it could be.
I shared the treat with my trainer and some of his clients, and it was getting huge thumbs up from everybody who sampled it. They were using words like “indulgent” and “curbing my sweet tooth.” I still hear similar feedback to this day. High praise, but I completely get it: when you’ve been eating like a pigeon, when you’re that regimented, something like this goes down easy. It tastes like a decadent, forbidden, rich dessert (and one that’s actually good for you). You can even eat it as a late-night snack, replacing ice cream.
Peanut butter became the answer to a nutritional void. Since I was eating six times a day, I was using it as an in-between or smaller meal. Once again, peanut butter does me right.
From here, my entrepreneurial spidey senses started kicking in. After college, I was working as a web developer, and was doing bodybuilding on the downlow (training for a competition). I was thinking of ways of how I could get creative with peanut butter. I bought an unflavored tub of whey protein isolate at the Whole Foods and started messing around with it. Adding peanut butter automatically doubled its protein content, but unfortunately did nothing for good taste. Ugh. So I kept experimenting. And experimenting!
Long story short: the birth of my nut-spread company, Nuts ‘n More. It’s a solution for people like me, who want a sweet, savory break without sacrificing health and fitness goals. If you’re up to your ears in protein bars and shakes like I was, this is an answered prayer.
I teamed up with two more founders (Dennis Iannotti & Neil Cameron), Dennis had a shop in Providence. He placed the product on the shelves, and they almost immediately started flying off of them. A few of my buddies in the biz on the West Coast started stocking them too, for as long as they could hold on to them before they sold out. Needless to say, my life after that became hardcore peanut butter production — nights and weekends, and eventually 24/7.
I hooked up with Shark Tank in 2013. Our pitch resonated with Sharks Mark Cuban and Robert Herjavec, who co-invested in my company. Talk about a vote of confidence — I received a quarter of a million dollars to grow my dream and to spread the word (and the peanut butter). Mark and Robert had a good grasp of what we were trying to do: a fortified and healthier version of a food we all love. Needless to say, once the Sharks were behind us, Nuts ‘n More took off like a rocket ship.
My life, my future and my company changed forever as a result of that Shark Tank appearance. However, the one thing that didn’t change is my tendency to be a workaholic. I don’t think I’ve retreated to a “comfort zone” in years, which is okay by me, actually. I have the best people in the business helping me to make things happen, advising me on my next moves. I’ve never built a business to this size before, and it’s freaking awesome.
My advice for budding entrepreneurs, direct from personal experience: be frugal. Don’t spend too much money. Figure it out first.
How? First, be confident of your product’s proof of concept, which is the evidence you need to show the world that your product and your business model works. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement and passion of your idea; in the heat of the moment, you may think you need to drop a lot of dollars. The thing is, if your concept is going to work, it’s going to work on a small scale. You won’t need to spend a ton of money.
Be smart with your money, and then be sure to help it grow instead of dwindle. It will take time, for sure, but you’ll come out of this experience being disciplined, and most likely, richer (in both business savvy and dollars). When those doors are ready to open, you’ll be ready to kick them down.