Coming from a community of entrepreneurs, Jon Sebastiani’s journey began in Sonoma wine country, where he was surrounded by winemakers and some of the best chefs in the world. So how did he find his way to jerky—a food product sold primarily in gas stations?
The pivot in his career came with the sale of his family’s winery. “I had the unique opportunity to explore what I wanted to do next and to take what I’d learned from the wine business,” Sebastiani said during a New Hope Network webinar for entrepreneurs.
While training for the New York Marathon, Sebastiani discovered the functional benefit of jerky for preparing his body for the race. The lightbulb came on. In 2010, KRAVE Pure Foods was born.
After selling KRAVE to Hershey in 2015, Sebastiani founded Sonoma Brands, a consumer products incubator and venture fund that invests in category-disrupting brands.
Changing the category
Sebastiani stresses the importance of finding a category that’s growing and finding a unique positioning within it.
When Sebastiani started KRAVE, Slim Jim was the market dominator, but the jerky sticks were more reminiscent of a WWF fighter than anything that resembled a fitness food. So Sebastiani thought: Could I change the category?
“How I look at this category has really served as the playbook of how I look at every category,” he says. “We had to pull [jerky] out of the gas station and put it on the shelf next to brands that had already established themselves as health foods.”
The founder, cofounder, or starting team of any brand is absolutely the most important piece to any company, according to Sebastiani. In order to drive that early distribution, the founder has to be the best sales person and the best marketing mind, he says.
Building brand DNA
Next to building a winning team, differentiation is incredibly important, Sebastiani advises. When trying to position a new brand, he tries to think of every single angle of why he’s different. “You have to have the courage to go out on a limb to tell a different story.”
Disruption is a very sensitive and nuanced shift of doing what ordinary people are doing every day and doing it differently, Sebastiani says.
So what is Sonoma Brands looking for when deciding to invest in early stage disrupters? Watch the webinar replay to find out.