Jennifer Martin, PipSnacks, Woman Entrepreneur

imgres-1My first bag of PipSnacks was a game changer.  I love popcorn and this popcorn is just perfect.  Small pieces, almost burnt but not, crunchy and flavored perfectly.  I got the first bag from a Mouth shipment. Not that long after I ate an entire BIG bag at the Mouth board meeting by myself.  I really wasn’t sharing. I asked Craig (founder of MOUTH) for an intro to Jennifer to talk to her about WeFestival.  I was hoping that she would sit on one of our panels.  The good news is she said yes, the best news is I got to hear her story.

Jennifer grew up in Madison, NJ not that far from Cherry Hill (an area that I know).  Her father was a sales person for Dun and Bradstreet.  He now works with veteran teaching them how to run call centers. Her Mom did sales, stayed home when the kids were young and returned to a decorative book business. When her Grandmother died, her Mom inherited boxes of feminine girly plates, books and platters.  She began going to flea markets to sell these products instead of just tossing them.   At the flea markets she began collecting books and then putting them together by color for weddings, home decor and interior design.  Then she started to sell her products to One Kings Lane and has her own shop, Decade of Vintage on Etsy.

Jennifer said her childhood was classic suburbia.  Always had a job, parents pushed the kids to figure it out.  She would do garage sales in her driveway, worked in a gift store, ran kids bday parties, ran a summer camp one summer, etc.

After graduating from high school, Jennifer went to a small Eastern Connecticut college for one year.  She got there and thought what am I doing here?  It was a mistake.  Nobody lived on campus so there wasn’t any community there.  She got into herbs and healing the one year she stayed.  When she came home for the summer she told her parents she did not want to go back and instead she would work and travel.  They were not overjoyed but supported her decision.

Jennifer went to Costa Rica and Thailand working with mentally disabled adults.  Most of these adults had autism.  She quickly realized that in order to work in this profession she needed a degree so she transferred to Loyola to major on sociology and psychology.

While Jennifer was in school she found a health food store to work in.  She worked there for almost a year when she began to talk with a guy who came in all the time.  He had lost 100 lbs juicing.  Jennifer thought there was an opportunity here.  She told the guy that she could create all the juices for him and his friends and they should start a juice company.  He had the capital and so they began the company.  It was delivery only.  She was doing it while going to school.  She learned a lot.  How to create a LLC and everything else.  It was like getting a mini MBA while going to college full time.

Jennifer had a lot of dietary issues.  A farmer recommended she try these smaller kernels.  They would not hurt her stomach.  Her brother had come to help her move apartments that spring.  They were super hungry and all she had were these popcorn kernels.  They made some and consumed every last kernel.  They could not stop eating them.  Her brother was an investment banker at the time and said that they should build a business around these kernels.  He had been laid off and been kicking around the start-up world thinking about what was next.  That summer they did a road trip together after eating the popcorn and talked about the details endlessly including packaging. When she graduated in January she stayed in Chicago to work with teenage girls helping them find their voice.  Her brother and her launched Pipcorn even though she was still in Chicago.

They got into the food incubator at Hot Bread Kitchen on 4/6 and launched the product at Smorgasbourg on 4/26.  Jennifer was in NYC only for two weeks to help.  The first day was crazy. Kate Spade tweeted out and after that Jennifer went back to Chicago, packed her stuff and moved to NJ.  A few weeks later Oprah’s people came to their tent at Smorgasbourg and they teed it up as one of Oprah’s holiday picks and on the show.  Oprah’s people wanted to know what their holiday flavor was and they just made it up as they went along.

They knew that the August Oprah magazine was going to feature their product so they continued to fake it until they made it.  They were so focused on Oprah that they didn’t focus on getting into stores.  Quickly they realized that they had to get into stores in order to sell the product.  Then Shark Tank appeared.

Originally they went down the path with Shark Tank for awhile but realized that they would be eaten alive so they pulled the plug.  They told them that they would come back in a year.  After all they were still hand stamping each Pipcorn bag.  Last November they were on Shark Tank and Barbara Corcoran backed them.  It was a game changer.

Now they have a solid online business, they have super loyal customers (I am one) and their margins are good.  They know how quickly things can change but now they have built a solid foundation and are growing every single month.  It has also become a bit of a family business.  Her brother is her partner and his fiance works with them too.

I am really looking forward to seeing Jennifer on the WeFestival panel in April.  All businesses have a story and this one is amazing.  The right people at the right time and obviously a killer product.