Joseph Lee, Co-Founder at Freshline tells us about better commerce and fulfillment for perishables.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Joseph Lee: COVID-19 has been one of the most grueling, stressful, and uncertain times in my admittedly short startup career. But it’s been full of learning and growth – which the entire Freshline team is really excited about.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Freshline.
Joseph Lee: I co-founded Freshline in 2016 when it was previously called Coastline – an online marketplace harvester-direct seafood.
Our current iteration of the company was born during COVID-19 lockdowns when it decimated the restaurant and seafood industries — two springboards that helped my previous startup, Coastline grow to $5M+ in sales. Nearly overnight, we went from planning out our Series A playbook to having to ask ourselves: “Is there a future for Coastline in a post-COVID world?”
Fortunately, with a bias for action, amazing guidance from advisors, and a conviction in our ability to figure shit out — we pivoted from Coastline to Freshline in less than sixty days.
How does Freshline innovate?
Joseph Lee: While platforms like Shopify or Big Commerce work well for businesses with traditional use cases or traditional categories (e.g. t-shirts, consumer packaged goods), they’re far from ideal for newly emerging, fast-growing food and grocery segments. Simply put, the current ecosystem is designed for shelf-stable products — not perishables.
Freshline aims to solve this need with an elegant, all-in-one solution built specifically for perishables. We’re building the best platform for farmers, butchers, and suppliers to build, launch, and scale their digital sales and operations. Click here to see my thesis on the online future of perishables foods.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Joseph Lee: At the height of the pandemic, we experienced an 80% drop in our revenues nearly overnight. Luckily, our team was able to rally to an entirely new business model within days, helping us get more traction than ever before.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Joseph Lee: We most definitely did. The biggest lesson was to have empathy during times of pain. During tough times, founders need to give themselves the leeway to fail, learn, rebound, and fail once again. The key is to survive long enough until you hit the goldilocks zone of luck, opportunity, and action.
More importantly — as founders, we should extend our empathy and kindness to employees who may not be accustomed/comfortable with the same levels of risk, uncertainty, or career stress.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Joseph Lee: Going fully remote has been a challenge – but it’s given us an opportunity to improve our communication. Without the verbal cues typically available in a physical setting, we’ve found ourselves been more direct, candid, and concise in our communications.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Joseph Lee: We were fortunate to have the support of our existing investors and the CEWS (Canada) to help us during such a difficult time.