If you’re in the turkey business, your money makers are on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. On these three holidays alone, an astounding 88 million turkeys are sold and eaten.
That’s copious amounts of turkey.
When you look at this number, you’d never in a million years recommend someone to get into the business of selling turkey that isn’t turkey… or plant-based turkey.
But, when you consider that 3.4% of Americans are vegetarian, you realize that every single year 11,124,800 people go without a turkey on Thanksgiving.
That is until Tofurkey.
Back in 1980, a 30-year-old hippie and naturalist living in Oregon by the name of Seth Tibbot began experimenting with something called Tempeh — an Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans.
(Essentially soybeans covered in mold).
While today “not eating meat” has become something of a norm, 50 years ago it was almost taboo in the United States. So, to go out on a limb as an entrepreneur and start something as crazy as a plant-based food business… well, let’s just say you would have had some trouble finding an investor to back you.
Tibbot, fortunately, was no ordinary entrepreneur. He kept costs low (super low) and began making and selling his Tempeh.
To pay the bills he worked as a substitute teacher, minimized his startup costs to $2,500 and built a treehouse to live in.
Yes you read that right.
To think entrepreneurs nowadays brag about living in their Aunt’s basement.
For seven years, Tibbot built his business, brick by brick, on a limb, in his tiny 300 square foot treehouse until one day he got his big break.
In 1995, Tofurkey launched the world’s first plant-based holiday roast that set the world and media on fire.
Tofurkey became the joke of many late-night television hosts, something Tibbot wasn’t upset about because it raised awareness for the tiny Oregon startup.
Today, Tofurkey continues to expand into new products and countries with foods like plant-based burgers, hotdogs, sausages and even chicken.
A $40 million empire that got its start impersonating turkey.
Tibbot, as well as the other brilliant minds I’ve covered in Stranger Than Fiction, have a lot to teach both marketers and entrepreneurs.
For one, it’s never a bad idea to keep costs low. Tibbot, like so many entrepreneurs before him, bootstrapped his startup.
While bootstrapping over funding might hinder growth, it forces you to be smarter with how you’re spending your money.
For two, there will forever be a market going against the grain. While the idea of selling a turkeyless turkey is absurd, when you look at the numbers… 11 million Americans say otherwise.
Sometimes, it’s beneficial to not create a product for the masses.
By Cole Schafer.