This food entrepreneur’s investors prepared him for everything from a major hub to a “shark tank” appearance
SORAYA VENTURE CAPITAL Darabi was on her way to San Francisco International Airport in 2018 when she received a phone call that stopped her dead. The caller was Phil Wong, co-founder of Misfit Foods, whom Darabi’s Venture capital company, TMV, had invested earlier that year. The company’s cold-pressed juice sales were falling short. He had decided it was time for a change.
“I knew it wouldn’t be a quick conversation, so I dropped my bag, sat on a bench in Union Square and talked to Phil for two hours,” Darabi said.
Wong’s idea was to make meat products partly from vegetables. It would be a tough linchpin for the company, which had raised $ 1 million in seed on the concept of making juice from leftover produce that farmers couldn’t sell. But Darabi was on board. (She also caught her flight that day, barely.) Over the following months, she and her TMV co-founder, Marina Hadjipateras, guided Misfit Foods through the transition. The company doubled its turnover the following year and now sells its vegetarian and meat products through Whole Foods and through online retailers like Fresh Direct.
“With another investor, the conversation would have been very difficult,” said Wong. “But TMV was so adamant that they invested in us as individuals rather than the concept, and that gave us the flexibility and the freedom to be such a radical pivot like this.”
This is, after all, how the Darabi and the Hadjipateras operate. Consider: The co-founders named the company TMV, for Trail Mix Ventures, because they agreed to invest only in entrepreneurs they would like to “take a trip to the woods” with. The company focuses on special purpose businesses, like the Tinyhood parenting platform and Cityblock, a healthcare provider for underserved communities.
As an early stage investor, TMV specializes in helping startups bring products to market, offering a wide range of limited partners who can serve as mentors to entrepreneurs, including Wharton professor Adam Grant and former vice president of General Electric Beth Comstock.
Darabi and Hadjipateras are quick to unite portfolio companies, such as when Misfit was considering moving to a direct-to-consumer model and TMV hosted a meeting between Wong and the founders of Smalls, a direct-to-consumer food company for cats.
“They explained to us, in great detail, what it would take for a company like ours to be a DTC priority company,” Wong recalls. The startup quickly decided to offer its products on its website but to keep retailers its priority.
Prior to founding TMV in 2016, Hadjipateras helped lead the billion dollar IPO of shipping company Dorian LPG, while Darabi founded several startups, including the catering app Foodspotting, which was acquired. by OpenTable. “Marina shows insight to be a good steward of capital and a responsible trustee,” says Darabi, “while I have been in the entrepreneur’s shoes and have a high level of compassion for the experience. “.
When Misfit’s Wong was invited to appear on Shark aquarium earlier this year, Darabi knew she would have to put him in touch with other founders who had been on the show to help him prepare. Wong went on to win a $ 300,000 contract with Mark Cuban and Kind founder Daniel Lubetzky. And when Wong needed more capital to complete a recent round of fundraising, TMV introduced it to an angel investor who quickly wrote a check. “We are incredibly practical,” says Hadjipateras.
Yet nothing on Misfit Foods’ journey has been as critical as the pivot of juices to vegetarian and meat products – an aid that Wong will not soon forget.
“Anyone can stay by your side when the going is good,” Wong says. “But when the tokens are low, that’s when you discover your investors. Marina and Soraya have supported us. We wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
Extract from the October 2021 issue of Inc. Magazine