An Interview With Vicky Colas
Shifting our focus and business model to fit the needs of the time allowed us to stay relevant and burst into a different sector of the industry like never before. We expanded our offering for both restaurants and consumers significantly, and now we’re ready to get back to growth.
Asa part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jared Katz. He is currently the CEO of Foodie Card and has taken his passion for building startups and supporting charities and local businesses into the hospitality industry.
Jared is an entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in fueling growth for start-ups in the New York Metropolitan Area. Jared has conceived, established and built two profitable businesses which were collectively composed of nine unique brands including e-commerce, subscription, publishing, media and lead generation.
In 2014 Jared sold his business, FamilyPet and related brands, to a national strategic partner, based in Seattle. Jared focused on growing the FamilyPet business and other acquired entities on behalf of the Seattle-based partner and creating and developing additional business platforms. Jared is now leading the charge to grow Foodie Card from a side hustle startup to a national brand.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Iwas born and raised on Long Island and I’m the youngest of two. My dad was an entrepreneur in the garment industry and my mom was (and still is) a special needs nursery school teacher. I always admired my dad as he got ready for work and talked “important business” on the phone. The way he went after opportunities inspired me to discover my entrepreneurial spirit as well. As a kid, I was into sports, movies, and business. Back then, I didn’t really perceive it as “business” but I was always intrigued with creating or partaking within a market. Whether it was buying/selling baseball cards or sneakers, I enjoyed the thrill of creating something of value and being able to sell it to others. The motivation of ‘creation’ stays with me to this day.
Growing up, I was taught that family always comes first so I’m really close with my parents and older sister. No matter how busy my parents were or how stressful their day was, there was always time blocked off for a family meal. We enjoyed each other’s company with no TV or electronics, just old school conversation. My mom and dad still live in the house I grew up in and we have continued our tradition. My older sister lives nearby with her children and I have kids as well, so we get together for playdates all the time. Even during COVID, we tried to get together a couple times a month for dinners with the entire family.
Back in college, I attempted a couple of startups — one notably we called utelevise.com, which was a streaming media platform about 4–5 years before YouTube came out. This was still an age where part of the world was using dial-up so the connectivity and bandwidth available to the average user wasn’t ideal for this type of business. My next failed venture was a company called ZoomFire.com which was right around when Shutterfly and Ofoto came around. The idea was to leverage the distribution of mom-and-pop photo shops and give customers the ability to upload photos and pick them up within an hour at a local photo shop close to their home or office. This business was funded, but then retracted as the investors thought the Sony KIOSK machines were too fierce of a competitor. At that point, I was working at Ernst & Young, but I was always brainstorming business ideas, as accounting was not my passion. I really jumped into the startup world in 2004. Among failures along the way, my most recent success was a business called FamilyPet. FamilyPet consisted of lead generation, ecommerce and publishing brands (Petsitting.com, Coupaw.com, RescueBox.com, FamilyPet.com to name a few). This business was sold to a Seattle based company back in 2014.
One of the things I loved about our FamilyPet business was that it is centered around ‘cause’ — With every purchase of one of our products, we would donate food and vaccinations to shelter pets in need. I found it very rewarding to build a business that had a cause attached to it. As the business grew, the more we were able to support the causes at hand.
Fast forward to today — What drew me into the CEO position for Foodie Card was 1) I was already a member of the program for two years prior and 2) It was also fueled by supporting some core ‘causes. With every purchase and renewal of a Foodie Card, we donate a full day of meals to food banks to support people experiencing food insecurity. Foodie Card also makes the support of local restaurants part of its core objective, so it was a great fit coming from FamilyPet.
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food company you are leading?
In 2015 One of the co-founders, Neil Foster, started a popular Facebook group called Tri-State Restaurant Club (now over 74k fans!). He built a strong community surrounding people’s love for food and dining out. From there Neil wanted to do more, he set out to help people save money on dining and provide meals to those who need them most. Neil Foster later got into business with his neighbor, Ryan Alovis, who is also passionate about food and giving back. They both ran their own businesses while starting Foodie Card as a side project to introduce a socially-conscious company into the realm of loyalty and subscription-based businesses. As it grew, they began looking for a CEO to help take Foodie Card to the next level.
I was actually a member of Foodie Card for two years before taking the role of CEO. I really enjoyed the simplicity of the program. I loved that it had a donation component within the membership and how it was created to support both people in need and local restaurants. I’m a firm believer that timing is critical to a lot of successes and failures. The timing of when Foodie Card was seeking a CEO and when I was seeking a new adventure aligned perfectly. Foodie Card sent an email out seeking a CEO in Oct 2019. I was on the way to a Halloween party when four of my friends randomly forwarded me the same email saying ‘Hey, I think this would be a good fit for you.’ I agreed and instantly reached out to the co-founders for a meeting. 10+ meetings later, we were all excited, engaged and motivated to take this business to the next level.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
To be honest, I can’t recall any mistakes that made me laugh, but there have been plenty of mistakes that became ‘teaching’ moments. There have been times when the mistakes I made felt like devastating blows but as I got more experience under my belt, they become stories that stuck with me, made me wiser, and more diligent. One ‘not-so-funny’ story is when I started a consulting business back in 2004. I had a few other partners at the time and we were trying to figure out how to get qualified leads. A guy came to our office and offered us the world. He said his company could get us qualified meetings with the decision makers. He sold us — bottom line. We completely bought the words coming out of his mouth. With little hesitation, one of my business partners gave him a $10K deposit based on what he promised us. All seemed great until we never heard from him again. We tried calling, emailing, etc. Nothing. We spoke with our attorneys about the situation, and they explained that it would take many years and more money to chase after the $10K we lost. Lesson learned — more due diligence on the partners we take on — due diligence, references, agreements, etc. We jumped too soon, got burned, and never saw that money again. I was only a few years out of college and being my first successful startup, it was quite the blow. However, I remember it vividly and won’t repeat that mistake.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food company? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I wouldn’t necessarily call it ‘mistakes,’ but a lot of people get into the food business because they’re passionate about cooking and the overall dining experience. Many people have a childhood dream of one day owning a restaurant. However, being able to cook a great meal is only one piece of owning a successful restaurant or food company. People often underestimate that properly marketing the restaurant or product, managing the user experience, staff, operations, etc. — are all major aspects that help get a business off the ground. Also, the hours of operating a restaurant or food business are the reverse of almost all other industries. You’re usually working when everyone else is off. My only advice for anyone looking to get into the food industry is to truly do the due diligence. Get a full understanding of what it takes to provide a top tier product with top tier service, and do a gut check as to whether this is the world you want to be in. If you’re not 100% sold on the idea or only have one toe dipped in, then I would take a step back or walk away entirely. It takes someone who truly owns every aspect of the business and makes it their livelihood — those are the ones that succeed.
It really does require a lot of blood, sweat, and tears so I truly empathize with what restaurant owners go through to put out a great product. This year especially — a lot of restaurants didn’t survive or are barely surviving. Foodie Card works hard to drive restaurants new customers and help retain existing customers. We don’t profit from restaurants on our offerings, so our goals are fully aligned.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
I love this question. I always say there are ‘idea’ people and then there are ‘executors’ — Idea people are your friends and family that say ‘I got this amazing idea for an app!’ or ‘I have the perfect invention!’ — Whenever someone approaches me with this, I usually respond the same way. ‘That’s a great idea — tell me how you would go about getting that to market.’ The execution of any idea is the hard part. Making something from nothing is extremely difficult to do. For example, with an app, you need to figure out how it will ultimately make money. What’s the revenue model behind the app. You then need to understand your audience, followed by your acquisition, go-to-market strategy. Then there’s the important piece of how much it will cost and how much time it will take to create the beta version of the application. Once I start outlining the complexities of the idea, 99% of the ‘idea’ people shut down and laugh it off. The idea is just the beginning but figuring out how to piece the idea together into a viable business is the real heavy lifting. That is the part I enjoy the most. I love taking an idea or concept and bringing it to life.
The bottom line is: anyone with an idea should figure out the layers involved in getting that idea off the ground. They should understand the costs, audience, revenue model and then figure out if they can stomach the process to get it off the ground. Most good ideas can take 12–18 months to get going. Even the simple tasks of creating an entity, operating agreement, financing, bank accounts, credit cards, etc. There are a ton of administrator tasks in starting any business. I truly admire and respect the executors of the world — it’s a tough journey.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
I would do all the research on my own before hiring a consultant. There are a ton of videos and content on the web that can guide you through the process. If you’re looking to invent a particular product, try your best to piece it together yourself. Dig deep within your LinkedIn connections and see if you can find someone with the proper skills that may be interested in joining the ride with you. Create a team that consists of people with all different skill sets. Once you have a complete business plan and a guideline of what you want to accomplish, then seek a professional.
If you’re looking to create a new website, software, or mobile app — I would work on your own to get a MVP (minimum viable product). Create an internal team and put something together that works. If you need to source out some engineers to assist, that’s completely fine. There are plenty of platforms out there that offer contractor assistance. You can find the skills you need to help put your creation into something viable. If you use outside contractors, be sure to protect your IP with some legal documentation. Find an affordable corporate attorney that can help you establish some basic protection documents.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
Bootstrap! I LOVE bootstrapping. Even to this day, I bootstrap anyway I can. I would always recommend bootstrapping before going the venture capital route. Try to get the most out of a little. Most importantly, you want to get your valuation as high as possible. If you go directly to a VC with an idea, there’s not much of a value on your business. If they fund an ‘idea’ they’ll take most of the ownership in that business. If you bootstrap, generate some revenue, prove the concept is viable, and the road ahead is green — you can then seek out investors to help push the business to the next level. Venture capital is there to spring an existing business into hockey-stick growth. In the early stages, I would look toward friend-family investors, angel investors, basic bank loans, etc. I would stay away from VC money until the business is on a healthy trajectory and you’re looking to fuel the growth — that’s when VCs should enter the equation.
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
This falls more into the creation of tangible products. I’ve only dabbled in this world. I’ve been more in the world of internet related businesses — e-commerce, publishing, lead generation, performance-based marketing. I’ve definitely searched for patents as you can use the web for basic patent searches. However, for in depth searches, you’ll want to hand this off to a patent attorney to ensure you’re spending time in an area that’s free and clear.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Company” or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Drive. As I mentioned before, anything in the food or the restaurant industry is a tough one. Understand what you are getting into and be prepared to gut it out. Bottom line: I work harder than most people I know. I stay up late at night and I’m up early in the morning completing tasks. When I’m driven by an idea or a company, it consumes most of my day. I’m constantly thinking about how I can improve, create, and grow the business at hand. Going out on your own has advantages — no ceiling to your success. However, all the risk falls on you. The unlimited upside and non-parachute downside is what truly drives me. I think this holds true for most entrepreneurs.
- Foundation. When building anything, a good foundation is key. If the bones of your company aren’t strong enough, it will collapse. Making sure that you have like-minded people on your team is key. If you have partners, investors, even employees who aren’t fully aligned with the idea behind your business, you will hit unnecessary roadblocks. I’m not saying that everyone has to agree with everything all the time, different ideas, strengths and skill sets are what drives a great company. I just mean that everyone should be aligned with the ultimate vision of the company.
- Patience. Projections, time frames, and expectations all take crazy, unexpected turns. You need to be patient and ready to pivot when necessary. Unpredictable outside factors (COVID-19, for example) can turn up and you’ll need to figure out how to evolve to stay ahead. Before the pandemic, there were plenty of food businesses that were booming, and all that came to a halt; no fault of their own. The ones that came out on the other side had the patience and drive to figure out ways to generate income within the new world. Foodie Card took a hit during the COVID-19 health crisis. Our business was based on dining out and that suddenly stopped. As a result, we adapted by launching Foodie Card Delivered, our affordable delivery program for restaurants. It took months to get that right and we’re still continuously optimizing. Thankfully, people are feeling more comfortable about dining out again, which was expected, but a year has passed so we had to shift to meet industry demands. It’s important to recognize that some things take time and being able to step back and figure out the best plan of action is critical. If there are any idle periods where business isn’t going as planned, you want to ensure that the next move is the correct one.
- Confidence. Having unwavering confidence in yourself and your business idea is critical to leading a successful company. When you are faced with obstacles at the beginning of your business or years down the road, having the faith that you will come out on top is key. I believe in myself as a leader and encourage my team to believe in their skills as well. I take pride in Foodie Card’s mission and value that we bring to our members. Self-assurance within leadership and staff is what pushes a company forward.
- Flexibility. COVID taught us that it’s important to take chances and switch things up, especially in the food industry. I’ll use Foodie Card as an example., as mentioned before, when we first started, our platform was for dine-in only, enter COVID: our business model essentially crumbled over-night. Instead of saying, “Well that’s it for now, guess we have to wait for this to be over,” we took our 5-year tech roadmap and completed it all within 10 months. We saw that the restaurant industry shifted to delivery, so we added that element to our business model. We also digitized our entire infrastructure, introducing our iPhone and Android mobile apps. It was always on our business model to do, just further down the road. Shifting our focus and business model to fit the needs of the time allowed us to stay relevant and burst into a different sector of the industry like never before. We expanded our offering for both restaurants and consumers significantly, and now we’re ready to get back to growth.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
I think it all starts with an idea driven by a gap in the market. A lot of ideas are created by people who have deep domain knowledge in a particular field but notice a void. They capitalize on this void by creating a business that fills the need. Think about things you’re passionate about and how you can capitalize in that area based on what exists and does not exist within the world. Simply put, ask yourself: “How can I bring something new to this industry?” and “How can I make what exists better?”
Based on my experience, success is determined but not just a brilliant idea, but three other critical factors: 1) Timing, 2) Luck, and 3) Execution. You could have the best idea in the world i.e. my uTelevise.com business but the technology and consumer market may not be ready to handle the idea (timing). You could have an amazing idea, but something deemed a competitor i.e SONY KIOSK for my ZOOMFIRE business at the time squashes the business (luck). Lastly, you could have a ton of amazing ideas but lack the stomach to put in the time (execution).
EVERYTHING needs to come together to catch the wave of a disruptive business. If you fail, learn from your mistakes and try, try, try again. Put in the work and continue to execute and at some point, the timing and luck will fall your way.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I like to tie all my businesses in with a ‘give-back’ mission– If my business does well, I want it to directly increase our contribution. I position my businesses so that the growth of the company equals the growth of the donation. It becomes a win-win. I find charities that I’m passionate about and then layer on a business that allows me to leverage the profits to support non-profit organizations.
My Family Pet business supplied food and vaccinations to animals based on every purchase.
Foodie Card supplies meals with every purchase and renewal of our membership. We provide three or more meals to our neighbors in need through local food banks. Foodie Card has partnerships with Island Harvest, the largest hunger relief organization on Long Island and City Harvest, NYC’s largest food rescue organization. We help foodies save money with our affordable price of $29.99 per year and get 10% off at 1000+ eateries for dine-in, delivery & pickup PLUS they earn rewards every time they eat. These rewards can be redeemed for gift cards to major retailers. Our members truly appreciate the savings they get from Foodie Card and enjoy helping others through their membership.
As for our restaurant partners, we don’t profit from them. Our goal is to drive them customers. The only cost to the restaurant is the 10% discount they’re providing to the customer. We, at Foodie Card, leverage our social media, email marketing, directory and mobile apps to help drive restaurants business.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Take a percentage of your income and designate it to charity. Find a cause near and dear to your heart. Look at your business or your paycheck and cut a fraction out to support something that will help someone else. If it’s not a piece of your income, then find a part of your business that can be used for the greater good — if you’re in the food business and have leftover food, figure out a way to provide daily or weekly distribution points for food banks. If you have anything excess within your business, link up with a charity that can use those items to serve someone in need.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Wow, I feel a lot of pressure here! As a Yankee fan, Don Mattingly is my guy. However, I would love to have a private meal with Mark Cuban. As a fellow IU/Kelley School of Business grad, I truly admire and respect the entrepreneur that he is. He built something out of nothing and continues to build, expand, and explore new areas to not only produce businesses that make money, but also do good in the world. I would definitely enjoy hearing about his life experiences that have led to him being where he is today.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. Authority Magazine
Chef | Nutritionist | Entrepreneur | Consultant
Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.