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For Pat Crowley, eating insects has been a profitable way to save the environment. As the founder and CEO of Chapul, a gourmet energy bar made from crickets, he scored a $50,000 deal with Mark Cuban on Shark Tank and increased online sales by 300% year-over-year. He’s also developing a new agricultural industry that could play a major role in protecting our planet’s fresh water.
“We realized we’re actually right at the pinnacle of people being open to this,” said Crowley. “We look forward to continue pioneering a new food source and acting as a model for bringing about change through entrepreneurship.”
Want to follow in Crowley’s footsteps? Read on for his four tips on building a successful business. For his full story and details on how he’s used Bigcommerce to scale his business, check out our Chapul case study.
1. Elevate and embrace your purpose
“We rely on the brand of our mission to generate revenue just as much as it generates change,” said Crowley. Water conservation was the driving force behind their successful Kickstarter campaign, and they initially focused on the outdoor industry due to their shared focus on the environment.
Crowley pitched a more consumer-friendly message on Shark Tank, emphasizing the taste and health benefits over the environmental impact, as well as highlighting the company’s strong financials. He’s clearly committed to a for-profit business model, but that doesn’t mean the mission is getting left behind. “We have to be profitable to be sustainable—we are well aware we can’t rely on altruism alone.”
2. Turn a weakness into a strength
Chapul began as a community-funded startup, and that means they had zero marketing budget to work with. “We weren’t in the position to be in a multi-million dollar marketing campaign which is typically the model for a new food product,” said Crowley. “We have to do things differently, but that makes room for innovation.”
By embracing their unique identity, Chapul created a passionate following while also generating free media coverage. “A lot of people find us interesting because it is something completely new,” he added. “So we’re openly challenging the concept of what should or shouldn’t be on your plate.”
3. Invent a new product, not a new business wheel
It turns out that building an audience for a formerly taboo food is nothing new. “Lobster used to be a garbage food that was fed to inmates,” said Crowley. “Obviously they did a phenomenal job with that marketing effort.”
Chapul ended up embracing the model that brought sushi to main street. Just like the sushi chef who strategically created the California Roll, an inside-out roll with avocado and just a small piece of raw fish, Crowley developed cricket protein flour as the base for his bars. By eliminating the texture and appearance of eating insects, Chapul took an important step towards mainstream acceptance.
Another bonus of cricket flour? It was the innovation that sealed the deal with Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban. He invested $50,000 for 10% of the company when he learned Crowley developed and produced the proprietary ingredient.
4. Keep your eye on the real prize
“We don’t pay any attention whatsoever to the negative messages, we are completely focused on the positive,” said Crowley.
A former rafting guide who spent his summers on the Colorado River, he compared dealing with the naysayers to navigating around a big boulder. If you stare at the boulder, you’ll inevitably steer right in to it. Instead you should look at the boulder long enough to acknowledge it, but then find your way around it.
“There are plenty of people who are ready to change,” he added. “So what do we tell people that don’t like it? Nothing.”
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