Audio: Homegrown entrepreneur finds NOLA to be fertile ground
It’s Entrepreneur Week in New Orleans, and for anyone thinking of starting a business, it may be helpful to consider the Chinese bamboo tree.
“The Chinese bamboo tree is the hardest seed in the world to make grow,” said Erik Frank, CEO of Your Nutrition Delivered. “It has to be watered and fertilized every day for five years before it breaks through the ground. If the farmer misses one day of water, misses one day of fertilization, it’s going to die in the ground.”
But, after five years of faithful care, “it breaks through the ground, and it grows 90 feet in six weeks,” Frank said. “So the average passerby looks at the Chinese bamboo tree and they say, ‘That’s the fastest growing tree in the world’, but the farmer knows it’s the slowest growing tree in the world. To the outsider, it’s an overnight success, but there is no such thing as an overnight success. It’s patience, it’s persistent action, it’s doing the same thing over and over and over again until you become successful.”
Coincidentally, it was about five years ago that Frank, 36, left his job in corporate consulting – helping companies’ employees get healthier – where he saw that the food many employees were eating at work was terrible.
“What was it? It was traditional vending machines, it was a greasy spoon that would deliver,” said Frank, “and I said ‘if we don’t change the way employees eat during the day, none of this corporate wellness stuff is going to work’, and that is when I founded Your Nutrition Delivered in 2011.”
The company uses nutrition to change the way industries are set as far as their health insurance, Frank said. “We use specific nutritional programs to help people in these industries change their lives and help their insurance companies save money as they get healthier.”
And while launching the company took a lot of elbow grease and sleep deprivation for Frank, he said he also benefited from a variety of local resources aimed at helping startups.
“I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the Idea Village accelerator program in 2012,” he said. “They really helped me learn how to bring a product to market, how to get consumer feedback, how to raise capital.”
Shortly after leaving the Idea Village program, Frank joined the EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) accelerator. “Now, their accelerator program is amazing. What they teach you to do is how to hold meetings, how to hire and fire employees, how to incentivize employees, how to build your business on a daily basis to get to the million dollar threshold.”
He is also part of the NOLA 100, which focuses on businesses formed after 1999.
“It’s amazing the city that we live in today and all the resources that are out there to help entrepreneurs,” he said, adding to that list Loyola’s entrepreneurship program, as well as Propeller, which focuses on social entrepreneurs - companies that are for profit but are looking to do positive things in the world, and Power Moves NOLA, which aims to help minority entrepreneurs get started.
New Orleans Entrepreneur Week also features several contests that can jumpstart a business, such as the annual Big Idea competition, sponsored by Idea Village.
“It’s like Mardi Gras for entrepreneurship,” said Frank, who won the event in 2013. “I was pitching in front of a crowd of three thousand people - celebrity judges, Archie Manning, Jim Coulter, James Carville…”
While it sounds like it’s been nothing but a steady stream of success for Frank, he said that’s not the case.
“When I started Your Nutrition Delivered, I continued consulting for insurance companies. I didn’t pay myself for a year so I could pay other people to start the business.”
“There’s twenty-four hours a day,” he added. “You can work one job for eight hours, you can work another job for eight hours, and you can sleep for eight hours; that’s what an entrepreneur is, a bearer of risk but someone that measures their risk.”
As for the first step, Frank said create an MVP - a “minimal viable product,” he said. “You want to get something small that you can show people without investing a lot of money, without raising a lot of money.”
Then, be ready to accept feedback, be it positive or negative.
“You’ve got to be able to take criticism. You’ve got to be able to hear things are wrong with your idea. You’ve got to be able to work with your idea, mold it, change it.” Then “get something else out, get feedback, change it, and then you’re going to have something to go on.”
Entrepreneur Week is March 11-18, culminating with The Big Idea competition on the evening of the March 18, at 5 PM. at Manning’s.
For more information or to register, visit www.noew.org.
Brian Friedman writes about New Orleans for NolaVie.