Stand up for Startups: Meet Jack part 2
In our latest Stand up for Startups webinar, we sat down with the founders of Meet Jack, Kaline van Halder and Marjolein Pleune. This female-led company is a pioneering food startup that is taking jackfruit mainstream. We’ve summarised all of the best bits from our interview across two blog posts. This is part 2.
If you haven’t read the first post in this two-part blog series, we suggest you start there. In that one, we covered how Meet Jack got started, how the company is coping with the coronavirus pandemic, and why jackfruit is a plant-based star.
In this part, we’re focusing on female entrepreneurship, advice for fellow founders, and why people thought Marjolein and Kaline were crazy for launching a startup with no previous experience in the food industry. Let’s dive back into the interview…
Meet Jack on female entrepreneurship
In terms of gender diversity, the food industry is improving, albeit slowly. In 2020, it remains the case that the majority of companies are founded by men and that an extremely small amount of VC funding (1-2%) is invested in businesses led by women. We were interested to get Meet Jack’s take on female entrepreneurship.
Kaline: The industry that we work in is male orientated. Production companies, catering companies, packaging companies, chefs – nearly everyone we meet is male. We are an exception in the industry and this has led to advantages for us. People are curious about what we do and how we are doing it, and I think we can stand up very well in comparison to other startups.
Personally, I haven’t experienced many closed doors – I’ve seen more doors opening. We are very passionate about what we do and I think that draws people in. We are excited about our products and that energy can be infectious.
“Let’s make sure that in 10 years, at least half of the people in this space are female. Let’s change the industry together.”
Marjolein: Kaline and I are both very partnership-driven. We are not from the food industry, except for some time spent waitressing in our university days, and that meant that we needed to speak to as many people as possible. The feedback that we mostly got in our first year was that we were rookies and didn’t know anything, rather than the focus being on us being female entrepreneurs. They just thought we were crazy to start a food business with no background in this area at all!
That said, the industry does continue to be male-dominated and everyone seems to know one another. I can understand how that could be intimidating. However, I would say to other female entrepreneurs, just go in there, and don’t be scared. Let’s make sure that in 10 years, at least half of the people in this space are female. Let’s change the industry together.
Meet Jack on advice
Marjolein and Kaline may have been food industry rookies when they started Meet Jack. However, after speaking with them during the webinar, it’s clear that they’ve learned a lot and are really carving out a meaningful nook for themselves in the food space. We asked them what advice they’d give to other entrepreneurs.
Kaline: Find a business partner. I could not have done this if I started this company by myself. Meet Jack is successful because of Marjolein and Marjolein always says the same about me. Of course, you can ask others for advice but even then it would be really difficult to do this alone. We are very lucky to have each other as co-founders and also to have a great team.
Marjolein: Never be too proud to ask for help when you need it. Everyone in the food industry is willing to lend a hand. We’re both really good at asking for help and, up until now, no one has ever said ‘no’. We give a lot to others and people give a lot to us in return.
“You’re always on it. A company is a commitment that’s 24/7”
Kaline: It’s also important not to be naive about having a company and the glamour that comes with it. Firstly it’s not really glamorous at all. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also hard work. You’re always on it. You wake up with it and go to bed with it, and then you wake up with it again. A company is a commitment that’s 24/7.
We started Meet Jack in our 40s, so we had many years of working experience already. That, combined with the network that we had built around us, were key factors for success. You can really count on that community. We have such a big network and we can easily ask them, “hey I did so many things for you, can you do me a favour here?”. We really use our network wisely and, if you’re straight out of school, you don’t have that yet. You need time to build a network and gain experience.
Meet Jack on the future
Kaline and Marjolein are looking to launch Meet Jack products in supermarkets in the Netherlands early next year (2021) and are already planning to expand rapidly after that.
Marjolein: Our next stop will be retail and food-service in Germany and we are in talks about launching in the UK, France, and Scandinavia. We also want to work towards creating local impact in Asia. In the next four to seven years, we want to take our jackfruit products to the Asian market. We see a lot of potential to expand globally and we want to stay ahead of the competition. We absolutely embrace competitors. There is room in the plant-based space for multiple jackfruit companies – but we want to stay in a pioneering position.
Kaline: We are also investigating opportunities to integrate Meet Jack products into a circular economy. We want to experiment with the seeds of jackfruit, and with the skin, since at the moment it is wasted. We are thinking of creating sustainable fibres out of it and using those fibres in the production of textiles. Ultimately, we want to be experts in the field that we operate in. That’s certainly enough to keep us occupied.”