Rising StarRising Stars: SavorSearch Co-Founders Get Specialty Food and Beverage Products Noticed, and Sold

Erik Wolf and Preston Zeller, co-founders of SavorSearch
Erik Wolf (left) and Preston Zeller (right), co-founders of SavorSearch.

Maybe it’s raw cashew butter hiding in the corner of a co-op. Maybe it’s artisanal goat cheese sold only at a farmer’s market. Or maybe it’s decadent dark chocolate in a downtown specialty shop.

Sometimes, you have to wonder how many mouthwatering food and beverage products you might be missing out on simply because they’re not being distributed as widely, or talked about as much, as they should be.

Enter foodie superheroes Erik Wolf and Preston Zeller. Their company, SavorSearch, which recently made the first cut in OEN’s Angel Oregon Spring 2015 Program, aims to bring these products out of hiding and into the spotlight where they belong.

Here’s more from Erik and Preston:

The spark that inspired the birth of SavorSearch:
Erik’s decade-plus experience managing the World Food Travel Association has given him the ear of food and drink producers literally around the world. Over time, one common theme arose: specialty food and drink producers are in dire need of help with sales and marketing. Most don’t have the time to carry out marketing campaigns. Most don’t have the money to hire a sales team. SavorSearch is a solution that simplifies the B2B sales and marketing effort of specialty food and drink businesses.

The problem SavorSearch solves:
SavorSearch is the simple solution to current inefficient and outdated business models in specialty food and drink sales and marketing. Currently specialty food and drink manufacturers can only rely on themselves or distributors to promote and sell their products. Buyers of their products are inundated with new product offers and requests. SavorSearch is a game changer for the specialty food and drink industry, which in 2013 was worth US$88 billion in the USA and is estimated to be a US$500 billion business globally.

‘No’ is not a final answer. Get back up and try again.” (Tweet this.)

How you came up with the name:
We’re big fans of alliteration. It took a long time searching for available domain names that made sense. When we found “SavorSearch,” we knew it was the winner.

How you differentiate from your competition:
We’re the first to focus on formalizing global trade in the specialty food/drink product market. SYSCO’s focus on big-box retailers and institutional customers means smaller producers aren’t high on its priority list. Local & regional companies like Goodfoodindusty.com or foodtrade.com don’t focus on “matchmaking” like SavorSearch, or the fact that food and drink trade is global.

How you make money:
First, we sell subscriptions. Price is based on monthly vs. annual length and type of end user. There is a very basic free model, while longer subscriptions with more features cost more. Our proprietary SavorScore algorithm, for example, is only offered on the higher priced plans. We’re creating an API that can be licensed, and have structured our data and reporting so that we can sell professional services like big data reporting & analysis. By year five, we predict SavorSearch will have 33 million in profit with a revenue base of 36 million.

The best thing about being an entrepreneur: You’re always out front, in the lead, heading down the business highway.

The biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date:
Erik: I find that people sometimes have a hard time understanding an entrepreneur’s lifestyle. To others, it’s “not safe” not to have a regular paycheck and work long hours all hours of the day. I thrive on this lifestyle. Thankfully, my family is supportive.

Preston: I discovered the balance between struggle and success was far more appealing than any normal job – I could never go back.

Your biggest success:
Erik: I founded the world’s food tourism industry and built the World Food Travel Association, which is today a community of over 35,000 professionals in the food, drink and hospitality industries 135 countries. Today the Association is recognized as the go-to resource for journalists, industry entrepreneurs and industry thought leaders.

Preston: I’ve worked to launch/relaunch several websites and online brands, garnering exceptional organic growth. I’ve also published works in music, film, and photography.

A memorable failure and what you learned:
Erik: I spent several years building a B2C food culture website that was set to unseat Yelp and similar websites. The team got as far as the finalist round for a Concept Stage company at Angel Oregon 2012. Unfortunately, we didn’t win. I learned two things: 1) investors need to “get” your product in seconds without discussion or explanation; and 2) your team members have to move fast – if they don’t meet deadlines, find ones who will.

Preston: I started a few online info-products that have achieved varying levels of traction and then fizzled out. My biggest takeaways were that a.) failing to iterate quickly will make problems worse and b.) people must truly believe in a product they’re working on in order to make the best success possible, especially in a startup.

What keeps you up at night:
Erik: Wondering, “Have I done enough today?”
Preston: Failing to take advantage of the cycle that this market is in.

The best entrepreneurial advice you have received:
Erik: 1) Show your team appreciation often, 2) Get rid of dead weight fast, and 3) Don’t fear risk.

Preston: 1.) Never compromise your vision in exchange for success, and 2) Servant leadership – learn it and model it.

Your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur:
Erik: “No” is not a final answer. Get back up and try again.
Preston: Believe you can and take massive action.

The #1 book you would recommend for a budding entrepreneur:
Erik: Peter Thiel’s Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
Nick Bilton’s Hatching Twitter

The songs that best describes your entrepreneurial journey:
Erik: I Lived by One Republic
Preston: Stare at the Sun by Thrice

What wild success looks like:
Dynamism, leadership, passion, humility.

Your favorite local business:
Mother’s Bistro. Chef Lisa Schroeder delivers a consistent premium experience despite demanding customers, rising food costs, and a sea of competition literally out the restaurant’s front doors. And even when they’re busy, she finds the time to come out and visit with the customers. She always offers a big, beaming smile and you almost never see her having a bad day. She is in a class of her own. We share her passion for excellence in service and customer experience.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Erik: A Paleontologist.
Preston: An Astronaut.

The challenges/benefits of starting a business in Oregon:
Oregon’s quality of life is the best in the country, and the business climate is improving, as evidenced in the Oregon Business Plan initiative. The biggest challenge for us has been access to angel/VC capital.

Other tidbits or fun facts:
Erik: I have an ear for foreign languages. On a recent trip to the Basque region of Spain, I began picking up the notoriously difficult Basque language and according to native speakers, was speaking it without an accent. Past life perhaps?

Preston: I’m an avid musician with songs licensed on 12 TV shows and films.

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