Brooklyn Nut Milk Entrepreneur on Not Letting Perfection Stop You from StartingRamon Ray
Business is full of gritty details including processes, regulations and procedures – details that overwhelm entrepreneurs and crush many good ideas before they even get started. Greg Van Ullen, founder of OMilk, a high end nut milk brand, urges entrepreneurs to just dive into their ideas and pursue their passions without worrying about these details at the beginning. If your idea stands the test of time you can worry about the details later on, but if you let the details weigh you down at the beginning, the idea will never blossom.
This advice is perfectly illustrated by the growth of OMilk, a company that has faced and overcome many challenges related to the details. In a recent Smart Hustle interview I talked to Greg about his journey.
Just Dive In
One day Greg was looking at the Brooklyn Flea website and noticed that people could rent a booth at the flea market for $100 per day. Most people with no products to sell would glaze over this information and move on to something else, but that’s not what an entrepreneur does. Greg immediately approached his wife about his find, asking, “What can we sell?”
Many people in this situation would be taken back by such a question, but fortunately Greg’s wife, Julie, also has the entrepreneurial gene. Julie had been experimenting with making her own nut milk at home, and suggested that they try selling the nut milk at the market.
And suddenly OMilk was born.
In the fall of 2011, near the end of the flea market season, Greg and Julie rented their $100 booth at Brooklyn Flea, hoping to sell at least one bottle of their nut milk. By the end of the day they had sold out, and they continued to sell out every day through the end of the season. OMilk was a success, and it was time to scale up.
Learn more about OMilk’s journey by listening to the interview below.
Differentiating Your Product
At the time, Greg didn’t know that there was such demand for nut milk; all he knew was that the product tasted delicious. The performance at the flea market showed that there was great demand from a number of groups – people looking to get away from dairy without sacrificing taste, people with allergies, and people who wanted a healthy, low-calorie drink.
But why OMilk, when there are so many other nut milks on the shelf? Greg and Julie were able to differentiate their product from others on the shelf using a wholesome, natural production process.
Traditional almond milk is made with almond powder, which is reconstituted with water and a ton of stabilizers. Some people don’t like these food additives, but even worse, a number of famous almond milk brands are being sued for only using 2% almonds.
OMilk on the other hand is made with whole almonds from California, which undergo a process of being blanched, peeled, blended then pressed. The result is a light, creamy, refreshing milk. The natural ingredients and process make it the first and only high-end nut milk line in the Brooklyn area.
Dealing with the Details
After the flea market success, OMilk scaled up to be sold in some local stores and markets. This is when Greg and Julie had to start facing the details they had pushed off at the beginning. Challenges included:
- A small production process, which was pretty much just like how they used to make it in their apartment when they sold at the flea market. This made it hard to meet demand.
- A short, 8 day shelf life limited their distribution to the New York City area, and prevented them from hiring a distributor because even a one day wait on distribution would eat up 12.5% of the product’s shelf life.
In terms of production, Greg and Julie raised some money for more equipment and a professional production site, although everything from making the milk to packaging was still done in-house. For shelf life, Greg began to investigate a process called high pressure processing (HPP).
In HPP, food products are placed in a hyperbaric chamber, then water is added, putting tremendous pressure on the product inside. This process is used on other fresh juices, cleanses and high-end coconut waters because it kills the bacteria and lengthens the shelf life.
HPP seemed like a great idea to give OMilk a longer shelf life, but unfortunately more details stepped in to complicate things. The HPP process caused the almond milk to separate and create an unappealing look on the shelf in its clear bottle. White bottles would solve the problem but they would be expensive because of customization and necessary bulk ordering. It was starting to look like logistics would prevent OMilk from expanding.
Then one day Greg received a phone call from a friend who worked at PowerLinx, a company that connects businesses selling products. PowerLinx was able to find a packaging company in Canada that could make customized OMilk bottles in smaller quantities.
The clouds parted and the sun came out. With the new bottles, OMilk could use the HPP processing. HPP processing would extend shelf life. Extended shelf life would allow them to get a distributor. And having a distributor allowed them to expand out of New York City to the tri-state area.
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Advice for Entrepreneurs
Greg’s main piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to dive in and give your ideas a try. There are so many details and logistics involved in business, but you have to let your idea take flight before you get bogged down with the details.
OMilk has overcome details regarding production, shelf life, packaging, and also a legal dispute where New York State wanted to regulate OMilk as a dairy product (even though it contains no dairy). Greg and Julie have handled these details one at a time in order to expand their business.
The next step is another round of fund raising in order to industrialize their process and expand to a wider area. That, of course, will bring a number of additional details – details that Greg and Julie will deal with when the time comes.