During her senior year at Cornell, Jessica Kwong had a decision to make. To say yes and secure a stable job at one of the world's most prestigious snack companies, or to follow her entrepreneurial spark and pursue starting her own business. Fresh out of university, she took the risk and declined the offer, taking her chance in starting Jack and Friends, a NY-based startup aimed at creating inclusive plant-based snacks for anyone of any lifestyle to enjoy. In this episode, we hear more about Jessica's story, as well as the tough decision she had to make. We learn about her background in food science and how it's helped her in her work, as well as tips on how you know you're getting good data, why she decided to bootstrap and her advice for those who may be navigating difficult decisions in their life right now.
When researching Jack&Friends, the tricky decision that gave way to the brand is what initially made me fascinated with their story. As a university student myself, I couldn't imagine what that moment must have been like for Jessica.
Jessica: 'When that return offer came in, I was really passionate and really working on Jack&Friends as a concept to pursue further, in terms of an actual career. So the timing was the worst time possible in terms of deciding between two different paths.'
When asked how she eventually ended up making up her mind she said:
Jessica: 'It really just came down to making a personal decision of where I felt my best interests lied.'
'The food industry is not going anywhere. If, for some reason, worst case scenario, Jack&Friends crashed and burned, I could always go back into the food industry. That position wasn't going anywhere. But if I decided to take the safer route, and forgo Jack&Friends as an opportunity, I think I really would have regretted wasting its potential.'
Definitely something to think about next time you're sitting on a new idea and deciding whether or not to seize it. Asking, is choosing not to pursue this path something I may regret in the future?
What makes Jessica's story unique is also the fact that she spent 4 years studying at Cornell. But she wasn't studying just anything, she was studying food science, something many founders don't have a background in before they come on board a new food venture.
Jessica: 'I'm not saying you have to have a degree in food science to start a food business. But having some type of working knowledge is definitely beneficial in my opinion.'
And she had personal experience to share.
Jessica: 'When I was starting out, and still to this day, just doing R&D and product development with a working knowledge of different technical aspects of food and how food interacts with each other and other things it may come into contact with, is hugely beneficial in terms of forecasting what problems may arise in your process and also being able to troubleshoot as they come up.'
When thinking about it, this could also be a financial advantage - not having to contract people and being able to get hands on with the product development. In line with that, Jessica also spoke about how she managed to get good feedback on her prototype, giving us a deeper dive into the technical side of surveying.
Jessica: 'I developed this questionnaire which would give me actual data in terms of how to structure the reformulation.'
What were some of the theories behind the questionnaire? Sensory analysis scales like 'Just Right' or 9 Point Hedonic Scale which tell you how far off your product is from key characteristics.
But even if you have the best questionnaire, getting the data can still be tricky. How do you know you have enough data points? And is there a difference between getting information in-person vs. remotely?
For Jack & Friends Jessica shared that in the first round she got 50 people, and in the second around 100.
Jessica: 'It was not huge numbers of people, but enough to pinpoint any formulation changes that I might have needed to make.'
Jessica also did the first sensory analysis remotely, trying as best as possible to not provide any bias.
Hearing this we thought a bit about Bite Society and how all of our sensory analysis was done in person. In hindsight, maybe we would have also done some remotely to eliminate any bias factors that may have played a part in peoples' responses.
One of the other things that really stood out to me about Jack&Friends was their prioritisation of inclusivity, and that being at the centre of their brand.
Jessica: 'If you look at it on a surface level, you may think 'Oh I'm not vegan, this product isn't for me', but I really wanted to drive home the point that you don't have to be vegan to enjoy vegan products.'
We also delved into why she decided to bootstrap, with the main reason being she wanted to have control over the brand and its direction from the onset. Having investors can be great, but it's important to remember that there are always downsides, and Jessica wanted her product to come first.
Jessica: 'Coming from a food science background, I didn't have a huge 'business network' so I wanted to focus a bit more on the product versus immediately looking for investors and going down that route and have the product be secondary.'
When asked what her advice would be for others navigating difficult decisions in their life right now, be it a student who has just graduated and doesn't know which path to take, or someone sitting on the fence of a new venture she said:
Jessica: 'Be smart about every decision that you make, but don't be afraid to take a risk.'
'When you're young it's your time to experiment, you have your whole life ahead of you where if you make a small mistake in the beginning it's not going to be the end of the world.'
And most importantly...
'Don't be afraid to try different things. Even if you do an internship, join a club and have a terrible experience, you will at least have an idea of what it is you don't want to pursue.'
Wonderful advice, and we can't wait to see what Jack & Friends goes on to accomplish next. If you want to stay updated with Jessica's journey then you can find her @jackandfriendsjerky, or if you'd like to order yourself some tasty snacks then you can head to their website www.jackandfriendsjerky.com.
See you next week! Until then, have a lovely day & remember to #biteforwhatsright!