Freshbox Catering has been up and running for just a little over a year now, but its Chief Sandwich Officer Joe DeLoss is already receiving national recognition.
DeLoss, 25, is a 2010 finalist for BusinessWeek’s Best Young Entrepreneur award.
“It’s a huge honor, especially considering the infancy of our business and the other candidates,” he says. “I owe a great deal of thanks to Ben Blanquera of TechLife Columbus and Cheryl Claypoole of Paul Werth Associates for their support and nominations.”
DeLoss, who also serves as director of social enterprise at Lutheran Social Services (of which for-profit Freshbox is a wholly-owned subsidiary), says the catering company’s product was inspired by the mediocre food he regularly consumed at corporate gatherings.
“If you ever attended a lunch meeting in an office setting, you know all too well about our Styrofoam-clad, soggy-breaded inspiration,” he adds.
Recently, The Metropreneur interviewed DeLoss to learn who he turned to for advice and input when launching Freshbox, what he hopes to give its employees, and where he wants to take the “social purpose” enterprise in the near future.
Melanie McIntyre: Freshbox launched in September 2009. What have you learned in your first year of business?
Joe DeLoss: Our first year has been a whirlwind of learnings, all driven by our customers and employees. We’ve become experts on food safety, quality control, pride, and, most importantly, learned about the tremendous amount of energy it takes to launch a successful small business.
MM: You started Freshbox with $40,000 in seed money from local business donors and churches. How did you obtain that funding?
JD: Lutheran Social Services is blessed with immense support and trust from the Central Ohio community, we were able to reach out to the existing base of supporters and secure the funding. Though we were lucky enough to launch the business without debt, we are accountable to all of our donors and stakeholders to maintain our mission in the community.
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MM: What resources did you utilize to get up and running?
JD: I relied heavily on conversations with local entrepreneurs and experts to shape the business strategy. Lutheran Social Services became an integral driver in shaping the community impact strategy. Most recently, we used VividFront to drive our website and online ordering addition.
MM: Did you have any local advisers, role models, or mentors you relied on for advice and input?
JD: Though I couldn’t name them all, I learned some great lessons from conversations with Tim McCarthy of RCO Limited, Artie Isaac, Liz Lessner of the Betty’s Family of Restaurants, Ryan Vesler of HOMAGE, Michael Jones of Local Matters, and Dave Hunegnaw of Sandbox and Headstartup– all members of the Columbus Dream Team.
MM: What were you doing professionally before launching Freshbox?
JD: Most recently, I was working as an analyst at Lancaster Pollard, a Columbus-based investment and mortgage bank.
MM: How has that work experience influenced the way you do business?
JD: The team at Lancaster Pollard was driven, calculated, and tenacious. I couldn’t ask for a better benchmark for the mentality necessary to get a business off the ground. They were also one of our first customers.
MM: To date, three Freshbox employees were hired from Faith Mission Homeless Shelters, with one employee nearing completion of your training program. And two more recently have come on board. Any plans for additional hiring?
JD: Yes! We’re hoping to employ six to eight employees at any given point.
MM: You’ve said the goal is to equip these employees with skills they can take to other jobs. Can you explain that a bit further?
JD: We’re intentionally building a work environment focused on meaningful turnover. We want to equip our employees with skills that raise their wage earning ability and success in the food industry. We’re currently looking for partner restaurants that are interested in heavily tested, consistent, and reliable employees− many of whom will have several health certifications from the Columbus Board of Health.
MM: What kind of growth do you expect during your second 12 months of operation?
JD: We are planning for a 75 percent increase in business during our second 12 months– a combination of new sales efforts, new revenue streams, and 12 months of bootstrapped experience.
MM: You’ve said you hope to replicate this “social purpose” enterprise with non-profits in other cities. Where?
JD: Initially, we’re looking to replicate the effort in communities in the Midwest that are geographically close and meet our market needs for size and industry. Top of the list right now are Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.
MM: What advice do you have for others who are thinking of starting their own businesses?
JD: Listen to your customers and solicit as much raw feedback as possible. If they’re invested in your story, they’ll be invested in your success.
MM: Anything else you think I should know?
JD: Keep your eyes peeled for an innovative retail presence this spring!
More information about Freshbox can be found online at www.FreshboxCatering.com.