Recently, we reached out to Tero Isokauppila, Co-founder and President of FourSigmaFoods, the American company founded by Finnish guys. They are on the quest to challenge the ways people think about superfoods and are bringing healthy and easy-to-use products in the hands of busy people. We asked Tero’s thoughts on business, marketing and life. So, without further intro, enter Tero…
Q: What inspired you to come up with an idea and how did it evolve during the time?
I grew up at our family farm and nutrition was always close to my heart. So I knew I wanted to start a company in this industry, but the specifics evolved over time. The concept of easy-to-use superfoods was there from early on, but such a strong focus on medicinal mushrooms came little later on. Besides doing a chaga and a reishi product, the original plan was to also focus on things like pine pollen. Medicinal mushrooms just turned out to be a deep rabbit hole, which started a life of its own. Today I couldn’t be more proud on the way how we can help people live healthier by popularising the consumption of these ancient superfoods.
Q: Describe your typical day at work (if you have one).
Four Sigma Foods was founded on the principle of telework. Even though we work extremely passionately we also want to make sure we enjoy life in all of its ways. This is why we try to avoid meetings & managers (Antti’s note: see Jason Fried’s hilarious Ted talk on M&Ms). The organisation is very flat and everyday changes are quite different. I could be talking to buyers at a trade show, meeting journalists over coffee, writing messages to our customers or crunching numbers in excel. Each day I try to start the day with short stretching and take a nap in the early afternoon, but all other things often vary.
Q: What are the essentials in succeeding in your industry and in which ways you’re creating unique value compared to competitors?
The food industry is extremely complex with regulation and own specific value chain aspects. So there are plenty of essential “hygiene” factors one must hurdle through. If you don’t count these then the actual unique value creation comes mostly from product design and customer interaction. So making product formulations and servicing people in any humanly possible way.
Q: What’s challenging in the business you’re in?
So many things. The food industry is by large very dated, and ready for a major paradigm shift. I guess the biggest high-level issue all companies face is that food has a very strong emotional connection. That’s actually why I personally love building Four Sigma, but most companies struggle to change consumer habits as it often triggers such a strong emotional response, which can’t always be logically argued against.
Q: Where do you see the industry is heading during next 3-5 years?
So many changes ahead, but I believe companies will get smaller and smaller as consumers will not trust big food corporations as much. I also see eCommerce changing the game massively. I also hope that many ancient foods like medicinal mushrooms, insects, and fermented goods would hit the mainstream.
Q: How do you prepare for these changes?
Transparency is huge. As a small startup, it’s hard to do as sharing stuff openly is actually quite time-consuming, but you can always do little more each month.
Q: What’s your marketing strategy? What’s the role of advertising in your strategy?
We don’t have a fixed plan as of today. We see the marketing process as a cycle and not a linear line. So all customer data and insights will hopefully lead to improvements in all business functions. So a lot of A/B testing and customer service orientation. But what we’ve seen is that traditional advertising doesn’t work for us, and most conventional things simply fail to provide a competitive ROI.
Q: How important is social media?
Massively important. Not as much as a push tool as I see many companies using it, but as a platform where we can interact easily with our customers and share our educational content on-the-go. Also, social media is one of the top ways how people usually discover us.
Q: What are the demographics and psychographics of your target customers?
We’re still figuring this out, and it definitely varies in the 20+ countries where we sell our products. The majority of people are females though living in large urban areas. Pretty much all customers believe that natural is better than synthetic and they are willing to spend time learning more about things that could help improve their own health.
Q: What daily habits are important to you and what tips would you give young people considering an entrepreneurial path?
I already mentioned napping and physical activity. I’ve always been very good at switching on and off, but I’ve seen that it’s vital for many people. So finding times when they can be fully offline/on vacation. Being an entrepreneur is a marathon and not a sprint, so you need the endurance. As far becoming more skilled and improving your effectiveness, I would say that be extremely curious. Just keep learning all the time about many things. Obviously hard work and ability to sell are vital, but I think most young people know that about starting your own business.
Thanks Tero! Also, be sure to follow FourSigmaFoods on Instagram.
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