Aucklander Ash Razmi talks about drawing inspiration from America's booming craft jerky market to start his own company Bootleg Jerky and working on the business around his fulltime job.
What does your business do?
We create premium handcrafted beef jerky, which is all natural which has got no artificial flavours, preservatives, nitrates or MSG, which a lot of the mass-produced jerky has. Our jerky is all done in small batches and we have four flavours that we released that are all crafty-type twists on traditional gas station flavours.
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We launched Bootleg Jerky on October 1 but we had been working on it for about 18 months before that; going through all the licensing and how we were going to manufacture. I had initially planned to convert the garage in my house to a commercial kitchen, and I was on the phone to our consultant who was going to be doing the auditing and the control plan and he said, 'Why don't you ring these guys, we've already done the control plan for them, they already make biltong and other dried meats and have got the licensing ... maybe they can co-pack it for you' - it made it easier in the fact that we could get launched a lot quicker and grow quicker. I gave them my recipes and they look after the manufacturing and we distribute and do the marketing.
What was the motivation for starting it?
I'd been to the United States about three years ago for a work conference. I'd been making biltong and about five years ago I said I could start a biltong company but never really looked into it too much. I always thought every man and his dog were selling biltong and there was no room for it. But I was over in the States and they've got a really big craft jerky scene, and it's growing - every week there is a new company starting up.
We were asking the locals what places to visit while we were on the way driving to LA for Las Vegas and they all said we needed to stop at Bakersfield. There was a massive beef jerky factory and it was packed, it was called Alien Jerky, and they had 100 flavours of jerky, and that was sort of the light bulb moment. I thought this was something New Zealand didn't have, no one who does craft beef jerky.
How much did you invest to start Bootleg Jerky?
We've put in about $50,000, that's a lot more than we thought we would. We thought we'd put $10,000 and see how that goes - it lasted about five mins, and then put in another $10,000, which lasted another five minutes. We've had to keep putting money in. Anyone who has got a food business and is doing well, we salute them because it's not easy going.
What's next for the business?
We've got heaps of new flavours that we are going to be launching. I've just ordered some smaller bags for the craft series which will be realised next quarter, which gives us a lot of room to do collaborations with other cool New Zealand companies. We've already been approached by breweries, who we supply jerky to for their bars.
At the moment we sell about 600 bags a week, which is capacity for us, but we've just ordered another drier which will lift our capacity to be able to do about 2500 bags a week.
What's it like being in business and what's been the biggest challenge?
The biggest thing for me getting into business was my younger brother Murdoch, he owns a quarter of the company and has owned his own business for four years now, doing digital marketing, and recently opened another doing accounting. The biggest thing that got me was cashflow. As a growing business and finding that basically no one pays their bills on time, even though we do, is a problem. If we had $50,000 in the bank we could pump out the product and sell it everywhere, but we just can't.
We went to the bank but because we have no trading history they didn't want to talk to us at all and advised to refinance our home. The biggest challenge has been cashflow, we are basically on cash terms with all of our suppliers but if we are selling in a stockist they'll take up to 50 days to pay you and that's the biggest hurdle for us at the moment. As a result we are looking to do some kind of crowdfunding in the future to grow the business and scale. We can't grow without a bit of capital behind us.
What are your long-term plans?
My goal from the start has been that I want to set up my own factory and have an awesome facility that you can invite people to come and look at and explain how the product is different. The factory will be set up as an old barn to reflect the Bootleg brand - it's in the three to five-year plan. You've got to sell a lot of beef jerky to make a decent wage, so the eventual goal is to have our own factory and do it fulltime.
What advice do you give to others thinking about starting their own business?
Jump on the idea as soon as you can. If you think you've got a good idea, go ahead and do it. I wish I had started it five years ago.