Serial entrepreneur Brian Levin was on a ski trip with buddy Matt Keiser in 2006 when one morning, after a raucous night, they discovered that a can of Red Bull had spilled into a backpack, soaking the beef jerky that lay inside. "We ate it, and it wasn't horrific, and that kind of sparked an idea," says Levin, 38. Four years later, the duo launched Perky Jerky, a performance-enhancing meat snack, juiced up with guarana. The company is on track to generate $5 million to $7 million in 2011, Levin says. He spoke with Inc.'s Clarissa Cruz.
What has been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
Initially, it was hard to get people to take our product seriously. It's very polarizing: Some people think the concept is strange, and they certainly don't expect it to taste so good. A lot of people were hesitant to try it, but once they did, they became our biggest fans and evangelists. The more sampling we can do on a mass basis, the better.
How much money did you need to start Perky Jerky? What were the sources?
All of my investors are individual angel investors. It's a mix of friends, family, and VCs who have supported me in my previous start-ups, one of which developed the text-messaging voting system used on American Idol. We don't disclose fundraising details, but we have come a long way with a relatively small amount raised.
How did you get retail distribution?
For our first year, it was incredibly difficult to get into stores. When we pitched buyers, their first reaction was, "I need another jerky like I need a hole in the head." Our first big break came when my dad, also a serial entrepreneur, gave some jerky to one of his customers, a distributor in Alaska who sells housewares to Home Depot, Sportsman's Warehouse, and Target. The distributor presented it to those chains, and they all agreed to stock it.
What have you learned about bringing a new product to market?
The two most important things you need are distribution and repeat sales if you want to build a successful brand.
To read more about product launches, go to www.inc.com/marketing-new-ideas