By Greg Pitter
The story of Bandar Foods begins, fittingly enough, at an Indian restaurant. Dan Garblik (WG’11), then a Wharton MBA student and spicy food fan, was “mind-boggled” when he discovered that nothing like a hot sauce really exists in Indian cuisine – the closest thing is called a “pickle”: a chutney of mashed mango, oil, and spices that he found delicious but awkward.
The aspiring entrepreneur (and former Venture Initiation Program member) suspected there might be an unmet need. He teamed up with classmate and friend Lalit Kalani (WG’11) to adapt Kalani’s mother’s recipe for mango pickle into a Western-style hot sauce in a bottle, and presented the sauce as a venture idea in Prof. Karl Ulrich’s Innovation, Problem Solving, and Design class, in which student venture ideas compete in a semester-long Innovation Tournament. “Monkey Sauce” was a big hit with the class, both as a business opportunity and as a condiment that appealed to people from all walks of life. Garblik credits the class with giving him the space to grow and improve his venture: “Karl’s class supports getting things going – starting it and trying it and iterating on it, and if it doesn’t work? Great, just pivot, try again, fix it – the whole idea of the innovation tournament was that you could tweak the idea from week to week.”
The tweaking continued for the next few years, as the founders finalized their recipe and located a manufacturer in India. When faced with the costs of ordering their first batch and getting it approved by the FDA for import, the pair considered simply putting in their own money but decided instead to turn to Kickstarter. Garblik was initially hesitant: “I wanted to see if it had merit on its own, and if I used Kickstarter to sell to friends and family, I’d get a false sense of what the market dynamics were really like.” However, they decided to give it a try – they set up a project page, drew on Dan’s experience with the Wharton Follies to put together a goofy video describing their sauce and goals, and set a 45-day goal of $5,000.
Within 48 hours, the project had met its goal and continued to climb. What’s more, to Garblik’s surprise a large portion of the donations – even at higher tiers – came from complete strangers. Kickstarter’s success as a platform now means that there’s a dedicated audience of people who enjoy browsing for and supporting projects, and they loved the product and how far along it was in development.
Garblik is, of course, delighted by the success, and highly recommends it for other entrepreneurs. “I recommend Kickstarter because it has a large audience – the ten percent we give up to Kickstarter is less than the extra revenues we get using the platform. Second, Kickstarter is its own brand name, so now that we’re doing press… it’s cool that a lot of press folks and bloggers know and can relate to the name.”
Of course, not all Kickstarter projects succeed as wildly as Bandar. Data compiled by Wharton Prof. Ethan Mollick with Jeanne Pi of AppsBlogger.com suggests that even among successful projects, half don’t exceed their initial goal by more than 10%, and a tiny percentage reach double their initial goal. What was Bandar’s secret recipe for success? Garblik points out four key factors:
- Price point – “Even if they do like your project, people have a threshold of what they’re willing to give a total stranger, and we were well below that threshold”.
- A real tangible product – “People love having something physical, that when they get it into their hands they can say, ‘I helped make this.’”
- Uniqueness – “These are people looking for the next big thing. If we just had a Louisiana smoky hot sauce, a lot of people would just click by it.”
- Ready to go – “Kickstarter is starting to become a pre-order platform. Do prototyping on your own.”
So what comes next for Bandar? The first batch of Monkey Sauce, brewed and imported with the money they raise, will start showing up on store shelves in California and the Mid-Atlantic. Thanks to the Kickstarter success, they’ve attracted some investor attention and have started a stint as guest food bloggers on Huffington Post where they plan to discuss the world of food entrepreneurship. Their Kickstarter project closes on August 2, and you can still support the project and pre-order some Monkey Sauce.