For the Fresh Diet team, the secret recipe for sustained growth is a simple and organic one.
On New Year’s Day 2006, Zalmi Duchman made The Fresh Diet’s first delivery of precisely three healthful, homemade meals. All of them were prepared in the founder’s Miami kitchen by his very pregnant wife.
At the time, Duchman was a real estate refugee with no culinary or operations experience. Today, The Fresh Diet’s more than 200 employees serve 5,000 active clients from seven kitchens across the country.
Swelling demand always helps, but the transition from grassroots to midmarket is not without challenges for any company. For The Fresh Diet team, speakers at Build Live: Miami on December 4, the secret recipe for sustained growth is a simple and organic one.
1. Soil = Technology Technology is the essential element from which all new ideas sprout at The Fresh Diet. Early on, Duchman, 32, says he recognized that the company would live or die by its operations, so he hired independent consultant Ray Willig to build the company’s first access database. Within two months, the solution was too small, so Willig came on board as CTO and got to work on a Web-based enterprise data system. Today, he leads all new initiatives in a more meaningful, hands-on way than even the CEO.
"Yes, we are a food and beverage company, but at the end of the day, it’s all about technology," Duchman says. "If I’d outsourced our early technology needs to India, I wouldn’t be talking to you today."
2. Water = Communication Too little leads to drought; too much to drowning. But a steady sprinkle of executive communication--through online project-management platforms, Skype meetings, and all-team retreats--gives employees and customers what they need to flourish. "Internally, that means continually telling people what you expect from them and not assuming they know," Duchman says. "It also means working hard to maintain the customer-first culture we built as a small team and communicating that culture in person to the customer service agents who are on the frontlines with clients each day.
"Having a personal story helps. My daddy didn’t write me a check for $2 million; I started this in my kitchen. That means something to everyone from the executive team to the delivery drivers."
3. Sun = Culture What radiates most from The Fresh Direct culture: an unapologetic emphasis on and celebration of family.
"Growing up an orthodox Jew, I was trained to turn off Friday night until Saturday night," Duchman explains. "I’m not on the Internet; I’m not using email; I don’t drive. At the beginning, that was very difficult, and I worried that The Fresh Diet wouldn’t survive. But being forced into taking a day off for my family actually helped to shape the company culture. At the end of the day, we know that family--the health and well-being of our children--is more important. You’re not afraid to take risks and fail at work, because you know you’ve already got all that really matters."
Many companies claim it, but this one really does look and feel like a family. Chief culinary officer Yosef Schwartz, one of 12 children, is a childhood friend of Duchman’s who graduated from the world-renowned Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute. Chief operations officer Judah Schlass is another friend-turned-founder who’s been on board since Day One. "We’re like a dysfunctional family. We can be watching a game at 9 p.m., hanging out and talking about a business idea at the same time. We haven’t had a fistfight yet, but it’s gotten close to that at times, because we are all so personally invested."