From Shark Tank to the Hottest Place in the World!

From Shark Tank to the Hottest Place in the World!
July 25 12:27 2017 Print This Article

Earlier this month we introduced you to Pipcorn, a business featured on Shark Tank started by a brother-sister duo that is revolutionizing the popcorn and healthy snack industry. Pipcorn recently partnered with Chase for Business for an upcoming marketing campaign celebrating small business owners by showcasing their extraordinary vision and innovation. This, gluten-free, vegan, whole grain, non-GMO mini popcorn company, which secured a deal with Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran, is putting their ingenious talents on display in a remarkable effort to create Death Valley Corn, because…why not!

 The plan is to go to the hottest place on earth, harness the energy from the sun and develop a popcorn! In this interview with founders Jeff & Jen Martin and Teresa Tsou, the team reveals the inspiration behind the creation of their novelty flavors, what being on Shark Tank is really like and why their partnership with Chase is so significant.

JAY: How does a popcorn company based on the east coast end up in Death Valley with some solar cookers?

JEFF: We had this idea to do something different that’s never been done in this manner, which is to go to the hottest place in the world and get some solar grills and some solar cookers and develop a flavor inspired by a really harsh, really interesting, very different environment. It didn’t really start out as a feasible thing, it was something like ‘maybe we can do this.’  Then we got hooked up with the Chase marketing team through our business rep. 
  It sounds like a very far out there idea – ‘oh you want to go to Death Valley’ – but I think what really made it happen for us is that all our Pipcorn flavors are all inspired by our surroundings, by nature, we’re always looking for inspiration from our surroundings.  Like Jen always says ‘we make what we like to eat’ so what we’ve always done is very authentic and real and so the idea was that we wanted to be inspired by authentic and real places.  Through talking with Chase we came up with the idea of going to Death Valley.

JAY:  It’s an incredible honor for a business to partner with a brand like Chase for any marketing efforts. Tell us more about your relationship with Chase.

TERESA: We opened an account with Chase when we started the business 5 years ago.  We’ve always felt like no matter how big we were, they really do care about our business, even before Jeff and Jen were on Shark Tank.  So, to be able to have a huge national and global brand like Chase with all their resources, but still have that boutique feel was always something that we really felt was important. It’s difficult being a small business in a very competitive market but to have a brand like Chase believe in us and give us the support that we need, from the very beginning is invaluable; they don’t know what’s going to come of Pipcorn when you open a checking account.  The Chase Mobile App is huge for us and something we use quite often.  It has really allowed us to get out of the office and do these things that bring us back to why we started the company. What’s unique about our partnership with Chase for this campaign is that we are doing something very innovative that’s never been done before and figuring out a way to bring it to our customers.  That’s what we’ve always done with our brand and to be able to do it with Chase is amazing. We want our fans to be able to see what happens behind the scenes.  You have this new idea for a flavor, so what does that mean?  What are all the things that need to happen before that idea becomes an actual bag of popcorn that someone can buy? Along with the three-part videos we are also doing a blog on our website which documents our day-to-day and behind the scenes of preparing, coming up with an idea, coming up with a logo, coming up with flavors, testing flavors, problem solving, anything that goes into launching our products you’ll see us doing and be able to read from our own voices about the trials and tribulations.  Our fan base really does care about the story behind the product.

JAY:  How does that story come together when you are trying to consolidate the ‘authentic’ with the ‘innovative’?

JEN:  When we try to think of innovating products, specifically popcorn, we try to think of what two things would go together that haven’t before, like before truffle popcorn, truffle was just really used in high end cuisine and fancy restaurants and we figured out a way to put it on popcorn, and naturally.  We use 100% natural truffles where a lot of people use fragrance, so I think for us the innovation is also combining two things that don’t normally go together and giving you the eccentric experience of both of items. With Death Valley, people can relate to being a kid and wanting to crack an egg on the ground because it’s so hot, and in Death Valley, it being so hot and how do you combine that with Pipcorn so that you can have an experience with a bag of popcorn.  With Pipcorn we try to make sure that people feel the brand and the experience through all of it.

JEFF:  We launched this company 5 years ago in a super competitive sector.  It was a slowly growing market in the ready to eat snacks market, so for us it was really important to innovate beyond just flavors.  Everyone had a sriracha, everyone had a cheddar, everyone had a butter and we didn’t really want to do those same things, and we didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. What this corn was meant to be is what we pop; instead of typical butter we popped organic gee, which is clarified butter.  Instead of any kind of cheddar popcorn, we do a really amazing non-dairy cheddar that uses paprika for color and fermented botancials to get the flavor of the cheese.  Everything we do is trying to be very authentic, very different, but also produce flavor profiles that people are excited about and flavors that people want to eat.

JAY:  So much of Shark Tank is focused on the tech market and creating the latest gadget for the millennial generation.  What’s it like to have something as natural as ‘popcorn’ prove to be one of the great success stories of that show?

JEFF: I think every start-up is sort of a tech company because of all the tech that goes into what makes us successful. I think people gravitate towards Pipcorn and brands like Pipcorn because it is a new artisanal brand, but also because it’s so old school.  We use brown paper, everyone knows brown paper bags.  We started at food markets, which is a very old school way of launching a food brand.  I think it’s an equal mix of new and exciting and different and innovative which is really old school and I think people are really gravitating towards bringing snacks and food to what it should be and what it used to be.

JAY:  We know the exposure of being on Shark Tank and the value of having one of the Sharks back your efforts can be life-changing, but how much pressure is there to continue proving they made the right deal?

JEFF: We put a lot of internal pressure on ourselves to outperform and to continue growing and doing new things and trying to be different.  In our experience with Barbara, she’s been a really good mentor to us, she’s been a really great sales marketing mind and being able to bounce things off of her and also having access to other entrepreneurs in her network has been really powerful, but I think at the end of the day it’s 100% our business to run.  She’s definitely a really impactful shareholder and she carries a lot of clout, but at the end of the day she doesn’t want to run the company, she wants us to run the company which is why she invested in us. That’s the beauty of Shark Tank, across the board it makes entrepreneurs want to work hard, we want to prove that this wasn’t a fluke, we want to prove that this was a good investment, we want to prove that our time on TV was warranted and the press that we got was for a reason.

JAY:  If you could go back to the beginning, and give yourselves one piece of advice what would that be?

JEFF: I would say that we’re very eager and that we’re very excitable, so saying no to opportunities that were not right at the time.  For example, we signed with a large retailer on the west coast when we were way too young, way too early and small to service the account and as a result it crashed and burned. The good thing is we had a second chance with the same retailer, but that’s not usually the case. So if I could go back and tell my 25-year old self ‘do not say yes to opportunities that you cannot do’ I think we would have saved ourselves some headaches for sure.  As we’re growing rapidly and meeting with people, being comfortable with saying no is something we’re getting more comfortable with.

TERESA:  I would tell myself to be aware of how quickly the business will change constantly.  With any small business, your strategy, your distribution, your marketing, your customer, your product, everything is always moving, it’s a moving target. 

JEN:  I think for me, I would say a lesson I wish I had known is that not only can you not do everything but you shouldn’t do everything, and I think when we all started this we felt you had to wear every hat and I think that’s a really smart thing, I think it’s good, it taught us every part of the business, we’re really really hands on, but as you grow that can be detrimental and I think it doesn’t necessarily hurt you but it can prevent you from getting to where you are as fast as you want to.  I think taking the time to see that it’s okay not to be good at something.

Pipcorn was founded by Jeff & Jen Martin, a dynamic brother and sister team. All of our delicious flavors are popped in small batches and seasoned by hand. Pip pip hooray!

The Pipcorn seed was planted when Jeff was helping Jen move apartments in the spring of 2010. In desperate need of a snack, Jen remembered these special little kernels that she had gotten a few days earlier. Five minutes later, they were snacking on the best popcorn they had ever had. Two years later (and an unbelievable amount of support from family and friends), they launched Pipcorn and the rest is history!