GRIT - Ed.05 - Magazine - Page 19
A FRESH SUPPLY
With Robert Kirstiuk & Joseph Lee, Co-founders of Freshline; Next 36, 2016
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START FRESHLINE?
Joseph: We previously built a startup called Coastline,
an online marketplace for seafood. But when COVID-19
hit it decimated the restaurant and seafood industries.
Nearly overnight, we went from planning out our Series
A playbook to asking ourselves if we could survive the
pandemic. As a venture-backed company, it wasn’t just
a matter of if, but when and how quickly things would
rebound. This velocity would have a direct impact on
our ability to raise our next round
before cash ran out. Despite pivoting the company to Freshline
during COVID-19, we scaled the
platform to $4M+ in revenues and
hundreds of restaurants.
HOW HAS GROWING UP ON
OPPOSITE COASTS OF CANADA IMPACTED FRESHLINE?
Robert: I was born in Saint John,
New Brunswick and later moved to Vancouver. Joseph
was born in Seoul, South Korea and later moved to Vancouver, where we met. New Brunswick is a beautiful
part of Canada. The people are kind and welcoming
and the seafood is as fresh as it gets. Vancouver is also
an amazing place to be and it has an incredibly vibrant,
exploding tech ecosystem. Having experiences living
on both coasts has really allowed us to connect with
Canadians from all walks of life.
Freshline has a mosaic of Canadian experiences embedded into its history. I think this history has helped
shape a lot of our company and the decisions Joseph
and I have made as founders. We have had some very
memorable experiences, from eating A5 Waygu beef
with Fishermen in Halifax (after a particularly good lobster season) to flying to Northern BC and sharing in
a traditional meal with the Nisga’a People, we’ve been
lucky to have our experiences founded upon the Canadian principles of generosity and kindness.
Robert (left) and Joseph (right) are
the co-founders of Freshline, an all-inone platform for butchers, farmers,
and seafood suppliers selling online
to businesses and consumers.
WHAT’S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
Joseph: One of the biggest challenges in building
a startup is staying grounded amidst the uncertainty.
There will be massive peaks and dreadful valleys in your
journey. It’s so important to be level-headed, persistent,
and keep forging ahead during good times and bad.
Startup success is often predicated on an arbitrary
nexus of luck, timing, and execution. It’s easy to look at
the façade of a comparable startup and compare yourself to what you think is an overnight success. But this
is one of the most fatal things you can do as a founder.
Every journey is different and success is never linear.
It’s something we always stress to
ourselves during tough times.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT
CANADIANS TO KNOW ABOUT
THE FOOD INDUSTRY?
Robert: Before your food gets to
the grocery store, it has to go through
a local food wholesaler in your city.
These businesses have the most direct access to food in your city. This
is a brand new vertical that's opening up due to COVID,
and it is fundamentally different from grocery delivery
or restaurant delivery.
We're seeing a movement upstream in the food supply chain that's akin to grocery delivery or restaurant
ordering from 5-10 years ago. Consumers (and businesses) will continue to transition to online ordering
of high-quality, often elusive ingredients directly from
producers and suppliers. Soon enough, consumers will
be able to buy any high-quality ingredient directly from
local suppliers and producers.
WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO
YOUR YOUNGER SELVES?
Joseph: In the age of overnight successes and funding announcements, founders (including ourselves)
can sometimes be short-sighted and expect immediate, viral outcomes. What we often forget — especially
when we’re in the thick of the day-to-day operations
— is how long it takes for brands, products, or processes to take root in the ecosystem. Sometimes, we
need to be a bit more patient and embrace slow (but