Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Geremy Bass and Justin Steinfelder, Founders of airfare, located in Cambridge, MA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
airfare is a marketplace of the healthiest plant-based snacks in the country geared toward busy people and businesses. Our 65+ snacks are made by boutique snack makers who use only real-food, plant-based ingredients, never any added sugars or oils, and specialize in deliciousness.
Tell us about yourself
Geremy: I'm an energetic adventurer in both body and mind. I focus my time and energy deliberately pursuing challenges and opportunities that balance long-term fulfillment and short-term enjoyment. I'm an MBA-equipped operator and leader motivated by improving the health and wellness of myself, those I love, the people around me, and the world in which we exist. I love to be outside, I love to learn new things, and I love to sleep.
Justin: As an avid traveler and an attorney for a big New York City advertising firm, I found myself flying 100,000 miles per year personally and professionally. I quickly discovered that such an on-the-go lifestyle challenged one’s ability to maintain a healthy diet, body, and mind. I found the options at the airport, on the plane, at hotels, and at work abysmal. Determined not to compromise my health, I formed an elaborate system of weekly food preparation and started accruing a handful of boutique snack brands that weren’t just “better for you” but were—as we say at airfare—actually healthy. When I found my boss, colleagues, family, and friends succumbing to the convenience-versus-health trade-off and asking me for help, I resolved to help a broader group of people solve this problem. Not long after, airfare was born. My motivation comes from the excitement of building a service and product focused on upholding my highest values and interests: travel, activity, health, and joy. It’s also extremely fun to share the building with one of my best friends who holds these same values.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Geremy: Helping people—and businesses full of people—eat healthier is an everyday accomplishment that makes me proud. airfare shipped nearly 45,000 snacks in 2022, and each of them likely replaced a less-healthy option someone would have eaten. Every dollar of revenue the business generates is a win for our mission of making it easier to eat healthy on the move. My second accomplishment is continuing to maintain a fun, honest, dynamic, and balanced friendship with Justin. Running a company with a close friend is full of peril, but with effort and candor, we’ve built a wonderful partnership that keeps me challenged and accountable. It also keeps me laughing every time we talk.
Justin: Three of my accomplishments were difficult to achieve and continue to be rewarding. The first was simply starting something from an abstract idea. Those first 12 months when Geremy and I—like every founder—had to face this nonexistence, and through imagination, energy, and a bundle of uncomfortable tasks, had to make something exist. Those months were hard. I had no idea how to build a website or use Instagram…seriously. The second accomplishment is continuing. It’s one thing to start—okay, we got off the ground. Now we have to make it work, to iterate, to talk to customers, iterate, deal with a setback, iterate again, and take rejection. Starting is hard, but a lot of people do it. Staying and making it work, I think, is much harder. Someone else said that initial enthusiasm is common, but endurance is rare. The last accomplishment was to attract a great cofounder (and two-decade friend) to the business. There’s no replacement for kind, honest, enthusiastic, hardworking, dependable partners that I’m aware of. And even if there is, there’s no chance it’s as much fun—it’s hard to have a great inside joke with yourself.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
Geremy: Almost every new problem is the hardest thing because it's usually the first time we’ve had to solve that particular problem. Very rarely have I been able to lean on exact steps from something that has been done before. Combining a range of prior experiences, lessons from mentors, advice in books, and learnings from past failures into an instinct for the next action is difficult in itself.
Justin: The hardest thing will sound like an echo—and it involves Geremy’s answer—it’s to keep going. Yes, we’ve accomplished something by continuing to keep the business alive, but will we keep continuing? It’s hard to persist in the face of doubt, monetary constraints, waning optimism, and rejection. But there’s also a good thing about hard things—which is what Seth Godin calls “The Dip”—it’s that on the other side, there’s an enormous upside, both for the founder and the customers. The biggest upside for the founder, I think, won’t come with dollar signs but in the shape of self-confidence and the knowledge of resilience. Is that too dramatic? :)
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- JUST START. Spending time waiting, planning, and figuring out the "right" answer is rarely the right path for a young business. As technologist Kevin Kelly said, “About 99% of the time, the right time is right now.” Do something, get it out there, get feedback, and iterate. Over and over again. But first, you have to start.
- LISTEN TO CUSTOMERS. Most of the prevailing wisdom is to "talk to customers," and I think the true key is not just to talk to them but to listen. You listen, but not necessarily to their ideas—many customers will give you ideas, and we can’t do all of them. Our larger task is to listen to their problems and then for us to figure out the solutions based on that. The less we talk, the more we learn. Ask questions, and then shut up.
- KEEP GOING. Y Combinator founder Paul Graham writes great essays that every founder, and maybe person, should read. In several essays, he points out that there are a lot of reasons that companies fail, and the most prevalent is not being alive long enough to figure it out. Maybe they ran out of money, patience, time, enthusiasm, or sanity. Whatever the reason, they stopped. No company has it right out of the gate. They become successful by doing the first two tips above and then, as Graham says, not dying. Keep going.
Where can people find you and your business?
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