You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series called Second Life. Each month, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
What do you do when you venture down the grocery aisle and you can't find unique, healthy, and purse-friendly options for your family? Well, most of us would find another store, but Jordan Gaspar (formerly a corporate attorney) and Lauren Jupiter (previously an investment banker) took it one step further. In 2014, the successful women (and moms) quit their jobs to launch AccelFoods, an investment fund for emerging and innovative food brands, effectively disrupting the industry at the same time.
While taking this leap of faith from a high-paying gig into the unknown world of entrepreneurship is enough to give anyone the pre-flight jitters, it's safe to say the hard work has paid off. Since the founders felt the fear and did it anyway, AccelFoods has invested in 30 better-for-you brands from mushroom coffee to jicama chips, giving the company the resources it needs to compete with the "big food" brands and growing its fund to a whopping $35 million. In this chat with Gaspar and Jupiter, we ask about the transition from working in the corporate sphere to managing your own career, the challenges they're encountered along the way, and how any negativity around their idea in the beginning only "added fuel to the fire."
Courtesy of AccelFoods
MYDOMAINE: Tell us about your first career paths.
JORDAN GASPAR: I started out as a corporate lawyer working closely with middle-market private equity funds and their portfolio companies.
LAUREN JUPITER: I worked in investment banking, advising large corporations and private equity funds in the consumer products industry.
MD: How did you make the transition from your career path to food investment?
LJ: When we walked down supermarket aisles, we realized that there was a disconnect between what was available on the shelf and what consumers, like us, wanted to feed their families. People were becoming more health conscious than ever before, and they wanted options that reflected their beliefs. It was clear that the large food and beverage companies I was advising couldn't move quickly enough to react to consumers' fast-changing needs. At the same time, there were plenty of small companies developing innovative products, but they were struggling to get these products onto supermarket shelves and into the hands of consumers.
JG: It was clear to us that innovation in the packaged food space was exploding; however, there was a lack of resources for emerging disruptive brands. We quickly realized that a platform like AccelFoods could be instrumental in effectuating change in the industry and that we had a unique professional skill set to take on that challenge. With a $10K investment, we spent six months building the original concept for AccelFoods from Lauren's dining room table in her Greenwich Village apartment. Shortly thereafter, we raised our first $4 million fund to invest in small food brands.
MD: Tell us about your current career path/business.
JG: We created an operationally focused venture fund that invests in innovative early-stage packaged food and beverage businesses. AccelFoods was developed to ensure innovative brands had the infrastructure and resources needed to scale and succeed.
MD: What have been the biggest challenges in your many careers and why?
LJ: In our previous careers, we were women in predominantly male-orientated fields. Even though as young women we felt empowered by numerous women who had come before us, it was an uphill battle all the same. Today, we continue to combat these same challenges in our current field, but we are also able to use this to our advantage. As women, and therefore key purchasing decision-makers for our households, we have a unique perspective that has allowed us to propel our success as investors in this industry.
As women—and therefore key purchasing decision-makers for our households—we have a unique perspective that has allowed us to propel our success as investors in this industry.
MD: What triggered your need to change this time around?
LJ: We wanted to be in a fast-paced environment where ideas could quickly be translated into actions. At the same time, we wanted those ideas to positively impact our families and the nutrition and choices of families across the country. The startup food arena seemed like the perfect intersection of both these desires and of course allowed us to integrate our shared passion for food into everything we do.
MD: Why is your current path suitable for your personality?
JG: We are a startup fund for startups. When considering whether to make an investment and partner with a brand, we look for entrepreneurs that are resourceful, relentless, and resilient. It is these exact traits that drive the team and culture of AccelFoods. With our business, I get to work collaboratively with a lot of different types of people and companies during inflection points in the business. We get to do deals and eat great food. What could be better?
MD: What's the most important thing you have learned in making a big change in your career life?
JG: I think the most important thing I've learned is to have a macro perspective when it is tempting to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of each day. As a former lawyer, I historically focused on what was directly in front of me with each transaction. On the business side, I am forced to evaluate each opportunity by not just data points and structures of today but the future scenarios and outcomes of tomorrow. And whatever you do, speed is king. Stay ahead of the pack.
MD: How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
LJ: I have always been a risk-averse person, so change can definitely be scary. That being said, the vision we had for what AccelFoods could be coupled with the ability to build something unique and impactful with a partner that I was excited to work with far outweighed my fears. There were numerous people along the way who told us that AccelFoods was never going to work, but that negativity only added fuel to our fire. We believed in our vision, surrounded ourselves with great people, and have not looked back.
MD: What are some mistakes you made along the way that ended up helping your success?
LJ: Well for starters, we definitely had no idea how much we’d be traveling all over the country to meet with brands, retailers, investors, etc.! Our first budget only included travel for a couple of major trade shows, which meant we had to make some tough decisions in our first year to manage tradeoffs and accommodate the cost of some critical trips.
As a startup ourselves, we have always approached our business from the perspective that we need to be agile and willing to incorporate feedback and make changes as necessary. While there have certainly been missteps along the way, we have tried to view these as opportunities to help our business and our portfolio companies grow and improve.
I have always been a risk-averse person, so change can definitely be scary.
MD: What do you love most about your current role and why?
JG: We built our dream job. It is really important to feel committed to what you do when you have to juggle so many personal and professional priorities. I love that I get to combine my love of investing with food but that I can make my own rules. I work on weekends because it drives value to our business; and while we work hard, I never have to compromise my personal priorities with my family. Each day the choices of how hard we drive and how fast we push are my choice as a co-managing partner but also as a mom and wife.
MD: When you look back and reflect on your previous career, do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
JG: My only regret is that I didn't do this sooner.
MD: Anything else you'd like to add?
JG & LJ: With AccelFoods, we have been able to create an organization that helps small companies succeed while also making a positive impact on the food options available to other families. We're proud to be moms in VC investing in the future of food.
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What risks have you taken to pursue your own business?