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Jon Sebastiani

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KRAVE Jerky founder and CEO Jon Sebastiani was born into the world of good taste. He’s the fourth generation of a Sonoma Valley wine country family; Sebastiani’s grandfather founded Sebastiani Vineyards in 1904, and his parents created Viansa Winery in 1989. His mother, Vicki, is also a well-known cookbook author. Sebastiani eventually joined the family business, spending 15 years at the helm of Viansa Winery and shifting gears after his family sold Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery in 2005.

After the sale of the family business, Sebastiani began spending time in New York in pursuit of a dual MBA at Columbia University and UC Berkeley. In 2009, while training for the New York City Marathon, Sebastiani was snacking on jerky from his favorite butcher in Sonoma. In New York, however, he found he was unable to find anything comparable to his favorite high protein, low fat snack, finding only uninspired flavors full of artificial ingredients. Inspired to create a product to disrupt the stagnant jerky industry, Sebastiani developed KRAVE as his business school case study. The project proved so viable that his entrepreneurship professor, Steve Blank, an internationally known startup expert, was moved to invest. KRAVE received its first major order, a $500,000 order from Safeway, before Sebastiani had even finished the course.

In late 2010, KRAVE raised capital from investors and Sebastiani’s friends and family. They handed out samples at the finish lines of marathons and 10-K races, and offered pairings at prestigious food and wine festivals, trusting that if they got the product into people’s hands, its quality would speak for itself. By 2013, KRAVE was available in more than 15,000 stores across the country, including A&P, Walgreens, Balducci’s, Whole Foods, Costco and Safeway. Virgin Airlines offers KRAVE on all of its flights, and Four Seasons hotels stock it in their mini-bar. In changing the way people think about jerky, Sebastiani has changed the entire jerky-industry, inspiring existing competitors and new companies to experiment with innovations in their products.

True to his wine-country roots, Sebastiani still lives in Sonoma. He grows Pinot Grigio and Syrah grapes on his six-acre ranch, where he makes wines named for his first-born daughter, Alexandra Gianna.

Companies and Investments

KRAVE Jerky (Founder, CEO), Viansa Winery (President), wine.com (Managing Director)

Lessons Learned

You'd better be prepared to work your ass off, because one thing you can count on, your competition will.

Your product differentiation must be blatantly clear to the common consumer - otherwise you will get lost in the sea of confusion.

While on the one hand, be prepared to bootstrap your early company for as long as you can - on other make sure there is plenty of capital when the 'hockey-stick' growth begins.

Every win is a win. Make sure you scream to the marketplace when the brand/company experiences a victory. In large part, the general marketplace is fearful/hesitant to take risks on new brands/companies - so they need market data to provide a security blanket.

Pick your team wisely. If you are the founder, make sure the early team compliments your leadership style and talent scope. There is not enough time to have overlapping skill sets. Hire a team that has been there/done that before.

I have an insatiable appetite for growth/success, I am never quite satisfied.

Focus. Choose who you are and what you are - and remain steadfast in focus. Being stretched in too many areas can lead to failure in all.

Seek change and difference. Must love change and despise the status quo -- as complacency is the enemy of the entrepreneur/start-up.

Small companies can beat big established companies by being agile and nimble.... Embrace the unknown - welcome fear as a friend - and TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS

(Jon Sebastiani)


Inspiring Quotes

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King, Jr

Jon Sebastiani's Quotes

Stay humble, stay hungry.

Jon Sebastiani

Influential Books

Gary Erickson - Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business: The Story of Clif Bar Inc.

Seth Godin - By Seth Godin - Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (9/21/08)

Youngme Moon - By Youngme Moon Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd (1st Edition)

Mentors

Steve Blank, Jesse Sprecher, Vito Bialla, Vicki Sebastiani, Carol Sebastiani

References


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