An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Nobody else will be as passionate as you are (and if they are, hire them). As fired up as you may be about your business, not everyone you work with will see it the same way. Even if you’re burning the midnight oil or working weekends, it doesn’t mean your agencies or contractors are. Frustrating, sure, but that’s just reality.
As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Tichnor.
Sam Tichnor grew up in a family of entrepreneurs outside of Boston. A CPG veteran, Sam spent most of his career working at Harry’s, the highly-disruptive men’s personal care brand. While at Harry’s, Sam had hands-on involvement with fundraising and strategic planning, in addition to projects ranging from retail launches, to in-house brand incubation as a member of Harry’s Labs, and more. By 2020, Sam felt that he had gained a sharp perspective on how to build a brand in the modern era. After roaming the snack aisle in his local grocery store, Sam’s idea for FFUPs was born. He noticed something was missing — a puffs brand that was not focused on health claims, with the flavor variety found in other snack categories. Sam has built FFUPs with the consumer in mind, as a groundbreaking snack brand with nostalgic and craveable flavors made for the junk-food connoisseur.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up as the youngest of 3 in a small town outside of Boston. My dad was an entrepreneur and my mom was a teacher. I played sports (slightly above average at tennis, slightly below average at baseball) and was fairly active, but definitely loved junk food and fast food and knew that’s what I wanted to eventually do with my life from a young age. One of my earliest memories was when my grandparents gave me a share of McDonalds stock for my 5th birthday (a wild present for a 5 year old) and I thought it meant I needed to put on a suit and go work there the next day. To my friends, my basement was known as a snack paradise; I made sure we (aka my parents) kept in stock a variety of sodas, chips, puffs, cookies and everything in between. To this day, my friends still request my mom’s cookies whenever I’m back in town! In high school, I had a perfect system for leaving campus during lunch, going to Wendy’s or our local pizza spot and getting back in time before my next class. One of the benefits of growing up in a small town is that I had a tight knit group of childhood friends and in fact some of those guys were my earliest taste testers and investors! I’d like to think that FFUPs as a brand represents who I am as a person: really dependable but doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” — Sun Tzu. In life, I’ve found that taking a breath, planning, and executing against the plan always leads to more success than just jumping right in without a thought. If you don’t know what game you’re playing, it is really hard to win. That’s especially true with FFUPs. We’re taking a very contrarian brand position that consumers don’t actually want all of the “better-for-you” products being pushed their way. We knew we had an excellent product on our hands but in order to truly stand out and start on our way to becoming an iconic consumer brand, we had to really plan and think through the longer-term impact of early brand decisions.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
As mentioned in the quote above, “The Art of War” has had a meaningful impact on me — so much so that I actually re-read it once a year. It has taught be to be more grounded with how I approach every facet of my life, personally and professionally. Especially earlier in my career, when trying to figure out what my goals are and how to get there, this provided me with a great framework to think about how to get to where I knew I needed to go. And now with FFUPs, it helps me think through and uncover strategies to stand out from our competition.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?
Starting a business is easier said than done. I think many people are afraid of failing and get caught up in the “what if I do this and it doesn’t work” mindset? I took the approach of “what if I do this, and it does work?” And then, put together a simple business model of what FFUPs could look like with success and worked backwards to figure out what I had to do to take that first step, which was leave a very comfortable corporate job (where I was already working on new brands) and strike it out on my own.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
To a certain extent, it doesn’t matter whether the idea is “new” or not. I like to think that every idea that could exist has already been thought of. There are two questions I ask in this situation: has anyone acted on it yet, and what would happen if I act on it?
For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
The steps I felt were necessary to go from idea to concept were:
- Talk to potential customers about what their actual needs were, both through interviews and a survey to validate that the product is solving a problem that actually exists.
- Engage a branding agency or freelancer to bring the brand world to life.
- Work with an experienced operator to identify what the supply chain should look like and conduct a manufacturer search. The ins and outs of manufacturing and finding suppliers can be challenging, and while there is a real cost to it, working with an expert who has done it before is a prudent investment.
- Find a 3PL who can handle all of your logistics (you can do this yourself depending on you product).
- Translate the brand world into a digital experience. This is your flagship store! Make sure it communicates exactly what you need your potential customers need to know.
- Let people know you exist!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?
- Everything takes longer and is more expensive than you think. As an entrepreneur, I’m wired to be cautiously optimistic about everything and always want to find more ways to do more with less. But the reality is not always the case — it took us an extra 4 months to launch because it was harder than anticipated to find the right manufacturing partner, which meant all of our ongoing expenses did not have any cash inflows from revenue to offset it.
- Nobody else will be as passionate as you are (and if they are, hire them). As fired up as you may be about your business, not everyone you work with will see it the same way. Even if you’re burning the midnight oil or working weekends, it doesn’t mean your agencies or contractors are. Frustrating, sure, but that’s just reality.
- Find a small group of advisors, and don’t listen to any other noise. I’ve been lucky to assemble a core group of diverse advisors with expertise in a variety of topics. They’ve helped serve as a north star when putting the brand together, especially with something as different as what we’re doing. I’ve had folks tell me that I need to rebrand, change the name, change the design, etc. but having that group of advisors to lean on to parse out what is signal and what is noise has been huge.
- You’re going to be told no, all the time, by everyone. The constant rejection takes getting used to. When I was getting going, I figured raising money would be a piece of cake. I’m relatively smart, can present well and have put together what I believe is a compelling brand. But not everyone sees it that way. I’ve been told no, been ghosted, ignored, you name it. It takes time to build the resilience, but once you have it, the rest becomes easy.
- Capture some memories! My only big regret is not documenting the journey as well as I could have. When my first hire, Alex, started, I included an onboarding session around the “history” of FFUPs. It was so awesome to have gone through the first year of business that I really wished I had captured all of it in real time.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
Ask yourself: why doesn’t this already exist? Then, what would it take for it to exist? As you answer those questions, assess them against whether you would be the right person to make it happen. If you can’t answer the first question enough to dismiss the idea, and feel like you are well positioned to bring it into the world, then you’ve got yourself a concept to go develop.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
Unless you actually know what you’re doing, work with and learn from someone who has experience.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
It really depends what your business is, what sort of goals you have, and who you want to have aligned incentives with. Raising VC money sounds cool, but their business model is built on making a broad number of bets, and hoping a handful of them deliver the majority of their returns. So you have to be comfortable knowing you might be a failed bet. On the other hand, bootstrapping comes with challenges as well; if you are chronically under-capitalized, it is hard to build the brand perhaps in the way it needs to be built.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I don’t believe one needs to achieve “success” to make the world a better place. And we’re just getting started with FFUPs, so I wouldn’t necessarily agree that I’ve achieved success yet.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I am hopeful we can do that with FFUPs. We were founded on the premise that people are tired of the pressure our increasingly socially visible society puts on them to be perfect / healthy / correct about all things all the time and we embrace the imperfections in humanity. If you want to binge out on some junk food, go ahead! You deserve it! So what I would like everyone to do would be collectively take a deep breath, get off the internet or your phone, enjoy a tasty snack and just live your life, whatever that may be. We could call it the “eat snacks on the couch” movement.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Larry David. I couldn’t imagine a more entertaining person to break bread with. And I have a feeling he’d like the ethos of FFUPs.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Making Something From Nothing: Sam Tichnor Of FFUPs On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.