The founder of Freshly left Wall Street to open a restaurant in Arizona with his parents. It failed, but he pivoted to create a $ 1.5 billion business.

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May 10, 2021

8 min read

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In Arizona, it’s legal for children to work at a young age if their family owns the business – a law that dates back to old farming – so Michael Wystrach and his twin brother started working at their restaurant. parents at the age of 10. At first, it was because they begged to take action. “And,” says Wystrach, “it quickly went from begging to being rumored that we were working from that point on.” He started out as a street boy, then worked “every role imaginable” until he was legally allowed to wait tables at 19.

The 41-year-old founder of the Freshly meal delivery service was raised on a small ranch in southern Arizona. He and his twin were the youngest of six children. Her mother was the breeder, the first woman named Cattleman of the Year in Arizona, and her father was a Marine Corps aviator before trying his hand at real estate development, which eventually led to the start of several small businesses: mostly gas stations, hotels and restaurants.

Image Credit: Freshly

Wystrach studied finance at the University of Arizona. “I started to read the the Wall Street newspaper when I was 12, ”he says. “So I have always been fascinated by business. For me, the next logical step was to get into investment banking because it was, at least the Wall Street newspaperthe point of view of, the business epicenter. “

Even though the University of Arizona is not a typical nurturing school for investment banks, Wystrach landed a job with Thomas Weisel Partners in New York. But he couldn’t shake his entrepreneurial spirit. “I loved the job, I loved the people, but I hated the bureaucracy of American companies,” he says.

Wystrach decided to return to Arizona in 2005, after two years on Wall Street, and began working with his family. In 2008, he opened a restaurant with his parents modeled after their restaurant, The Steak Out, located about an hour and a half away.

“I had taken my horrible eating habits with me from New York – really not cooking, ordering take out,” says Wystrach. “I was 30, and after 30, your body isn’t as good at breaking down bad food. I was going to the gym, but found out that I wasn’t in the shape I wanted to be.

A family friend, who was also an emergency doctor, told Wystrach he needed to change his diet. “I said, ‘Great, write down what I should eat.’ I had this restaurant so I was working a ton at this point. So I went to my chefs and I said, “Hey, take this list of ingredients – you can cook anything you want. Because [the doctor] told me that these are the ingredients. It’s not the quality, or the calories, or any of those things, ”he says.

The chefs used the ingredients to prepare healthy dishes, putting the meals into take-out kits, which Wystrach reheated during the week. After 60 days of the new diet, Wystrach was “in the best shape of her life”. People started to wonder what he was doing differently, and once they learned his secret, they wanted to know it too.

“Let’s start a business here”

It was 2012 and the restaurant in Wystrach, built in anticipation of a massive real estate boom that did not materialize, was in trouble. But Wystrach saw an exciting opportunity: “[The restaurant’s] is not doing very well. Let’s start a business here. So I recruited my co-founder, Carter Comstock, who was in Dallas. I said, “Come join me in Arizona. I have this idea which is already requested. “”

And the demand continued to grow. “I remember my first email to people was sloppy. I used a Shopify website. And it was really horrible, but I literally sent the email, woke up the next day and had a turnover of $ 2,000, ”says Wystrach.

The company was originally called F3 Foods, which stood for “fresh”, “quick” and “fit”. Wystrach says, “Wrong name. Fortunately, we have brought in some very good brand collaborators. The company was renamed Freshly in 2015.

Six months after starting the business, Wystrach and Comstock were still running it out of the restaurant in Wystrach, but the restaurant could not keep up with demand. So in 2014, with $ 4,000 in the bank, they rented a “tiny and horrible college apartment” near the Arizona State University campus, right next to their new production site.

“We start working at 4 am,” says Wystrach. “And we usually left work at 7-8 p.m. We would heat up one of our meals, go to bed, rinse and rehearse. This first year has been a slump, just continuing to refine and grow the business. “

Wystrach and Comstock all agreed: they even bought a van and planned to make all of their own deliveries. But it was too much ambition too soon. The budget was not there and they had to go back. “We had to refine and say, ‘What are we really going to be really good at? And where do we find partners to help us be good in other areas? »Says Wystrach.

They have established partnerships with the already expert delivery services FedEx and UPS. Unlocking the ability to deliver at scale has been a game-changer. “Everyone wants to be Amazon or Disney, people who have all kinds of different businesses,” Wystrach says. “But people forget that Amazon started making books. And they just did books for three or four years. At first, you don’t try to replicate who Amazon is today. You’re trying to replicate who Amazon was when it first started. “

“We never assume that a decision we made before is always the right decision”

At first, Wystrach and Comstock wanted to satisfy every potential customer. At one point, they had over 150 SKUs, meals that reflected a range of dietary preferences and restrictions: vegetarian, vegan, keto, and paleo. But they learned that they couldn’t effectively support such a wide range of options. “Our ultimate goal is always to really meet everyone’s needs,” says Wystrach. “But there are steps to take to get there.” Now, Freshly offers around 30 different meals.

“It’s really about constantly challenging the things you do and asking yourself if those things are still the right things to do,” Wystrach continues. “It’s one of the DNAs we have inside Freshly that has made us really powerful – we never assume that a decision we made previously is always the right decision. In a startup, you are constantly receiving new information. So how do we use this new information to make better decisions? “

Wystrach’s willingness to adapt to changing circumstances has contributed to the immense growth and success of Freshly. In the space of five years, the number of employees at Freshly has grown from 15 to over 1,800, and the increase in the number of meals delivered is also very impressive: from 200 meals per week in 2015 to around 1.2 million a week today. The company has gained massive followings across the country and enjoys the greatest popularity in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Dallas and Phoenix.

Freshly’s dynamic outlook has also enabled the company to meet the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic. With millions of people socially distanced, reluctant to even walk into grocery stores, Freshly customers have relied on the company’s meals more than ever. Overnight, Freshly increased their production by 20% and, keen to do more, helped raise over $ 500,000 for Meals on Wheels – thus contributing to their efforts to serve populations most at risk in the world. country.

“Our ultimate vision is that we want to be a box that helps everyone in the world eat better,” says Wystrach. “And that’s a huge mandate, which means you have to have a lot of variety. We want to help you from birth. Feed infants to seniors. A big part of the reason we chose Nestlé was to bring a lot more variety to our consumers, ensuring that we stay true to our mission, to really strengthen that health journey.

“When people start to eat better slowly, everything is better,” he continues. “They feel better about themselves. They gain more emotional confidence. They sleep better. They have more energy. So it is this positive cycle. And we want to unlock that for the people. ”

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