Stacey Waldspurger is the Founder and CEO of Tomato Sherpa, a Berkeley based meal delivery service that makes it easy for busy professionals to cook at home. Tomato Sherpa offers delicious new recipes each week that can be catered towards a variety of dietary preferences. Choose the recipe and portion size, and they’ll deliver you a perfectly packaged meal kit with locally sourced ingredients to cook and enjoy in the comfort of your own home.
Tomato Sherpa launched in March of 2013 and has been a client of Friday Consulting since January 2013. Friday Consulting has worked with their team on projects related to financial modeling, operations, accounting, and fundraising. Currently, Shivani Ganguly, Founder and Principal Consultant at Friday Consulting, also functions as the CFO of Tomato Sherpa.
We had the chance to sit down with Stacey and ask her a few questions about her journey in building Tomato Sherpa and some of the challenges she has faced as an entrepreneur and founder.
What was the inspiration for starting Tomato Sherpa?
Tomato Sherpa was formed when I was attending Presidio Graduate School for my MBA. My capstone team and I really wanted to create a viable business that made an impact on the community, health, and local economies. We took some time to think about what brings communities together and we kept going back to food. There is a surprisingly high number of folks that enjoy cooking: 79%. However, the producers of convenience foods, like microwavable meals, are trying to convince us otherwise. We dug deeper and realized that there is a health epidemic within the corporate work force because people don’t have enough time to shop and cook. We decided that we wanted to make cooking quality food at home easier and more accessible for professionals with limited timed. From there, we came up with the idea of creating recipes, packaging ingredients, delivering the food, and teaching people how to cook, while saving time in their evening hours.
What challenges do you/have you faced while building Tomato Sherpa in relation to finance, human capital, and/or operations?
One of the things that I’ve learned during this journey is that knowing your strengths and weaknesses is an important part of being a founder. For any founder, you have to really understand those weaknesses, so that you can bring people in to help form the foundation in the places that you are missing.
I have a really good sense of the market and design, which has allowed me to create the business strategy and the structure of the company on my own. However, I knew early on that I lacked the financial component of being able to tell the story of the business in numbers. I also needed guidance with fundraising and understanding who the appropriate investors are for Tomato Sherpa.
How has working with Friday Consulting helped you overcome these challenges?
Friday Consulting has been like a member of our team filling in the gaps. Shivani has helped us build a strong foundation, which is essential to creating successful business. By working with Friday Consulting, we were able to outsource our weaknesses and function in a lean start up capacity without having the overhead of a whole team.
For financial modeling, Shivani took a deep dive into the business in order to create a concrete and aligned financial story. We worked closely together to create accurate financial projections, which is so important for a food business, since margins are key. In order for her to create an accurate representation of our financial story, Shivani got to know our business really intimately, coming into our kitchen to see how things are put together and helping us make the right operational changes to make things run more efficiently.
For the fundraising piece, Shivani has really been key in helping me understand and identify who the appropriate investors are for Tomato Sherpa. She’s helped me build, practice, and hone my pitch and is also helping pitch to some investors.
The other aspect that Friday Consulting has supported us with is being a mission driven company. Shivani and I went to school together at Presidio, so we have a deep alignment in our personal mission and values. At Tomato Sherpa, our mission is at the core of our product, partners, suppliers, and customers, and I don’t have to explain that to Shivani because she fully understands the mission and works had to incorporate it into all of her work for us. We couldn’t be a mission driven company and work with someone who doesn’t understand this objective.
What advice do you have for food startup entrepreneurs just starting to build their businesses?
What I’ve learned over the past year with Shivani and on my own is that there is such a rich network of companies in the food start up space that are so supportive of each other. Connecting and getting to know all the players in this network has really been a huge advantage for myself and Tomato Sherpa. The more you share, the more you will flourish. Some entrepreneurs’ gut instinct it to want to keep their idea a secret and protect it, but that’s really not helpful at all. By sharing, you open up the opportunity to receive great feedback, partnership opportunities, and new ideas. Networking and sharing your idea(s) is a huge learning experience and will allow you to improve yourself and your business.
My other advice is to really focus on market feedback early on. Get a prototype out to an audience at the earliest stage possible. Then iterate, iterate, iterate, iterate! We really focused on this lean startup mentality and because of the market feedback that we received through our prototype testing, we have a better product.