Parker Olson, founder & CEO at Forij tells us about the making of delicious superfood granola.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Parker Olson: We are well! Everyone is healthy, thankfully. In retrospect, we believe that my parents may have had the virus last February. My mother visited me in Seattle last February and had all of the COVID symptoms. A few weeks later, I got all of the symptoms myself, and we have been healthy ever since. Thanks for asking!
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Forij.
Parker Olson: My background is in management consulting, but I’ve been pursuing entrepreneurial ventures ever since I was a child. I was hyper-competitive in school raffles as a kindergartener and was always “hustling” to a degree ( I guess that’s what happens when you are the youngest of 3 and need to fend for yourself!). In college, I built a Twitter account with over 250,000 followers that I was monetizing for a while. I’ve always been very curious and constantly feel the need to challenge social norms. When I moved out to Seattle after graduating college in 2018, I started questioning my nutrition and eating.
I decided I would try going vegetarian for a month and see how my sleep, mood, energy & overall health would be affected. The next thing I know, I spent 18 months trying different diets. It was super hard, but that’s what I found so compelling! Typically around day 18, I would start to see shifts in mood/energy / etc. Ultimately I determined that three things were key to feeling healthy: Whole food ingredients, functional mushrooms, and delicious food. Eating “delicious food” is key because it’s the only way you will be able to sustain a long-term nutrition plan! Today, Forij’s values are steeped in these ideals, and our products contain 100% whole food ingredients enhanced with functional mushroom extracts and are delicious! I experiment on myself, so others don’t have to!
How does Forij innovate?
Parker Olson: At Forij, I try to consistently remind my team that I’d rather than they try new things, get creative and think outside the box and ultimately mess up rather than trying to do things “the right way.” We like to take an iterative approach to things – continuous improvement is key. I believe innovation truly comes from giving smart, curious people the time and space to develop and create new products/designs/concepts/partnerships, etc.!
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Parker Olson: The coronavirus has been horrible and devastating to so many, and from a business perspective, really stunted our initial growth estimates. Distribution channels have slowed down and forced us, like many others, to innovate in the D2C space. With that said, I believe it has also had a positive impact on Forij. The silver lining here is that it has changed the game and forced companies/individuals to shift digitally. LinkedIn has been crucial for us to build partnerships, find investors, and spread the word. The authentic story continues to win digitally. It has given us access to organizations and individuals that otherwise would have been very difficult to reach or even find! People from around the globe are now more accessible than ever.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Parker Olson: Definitely – as a small company, we are growing our team and making hiring decisions off of less information than ever before. It’s been incredibly different from vetting talent, connect with folks, and onboarding. We’ve stumbled through bringing on early employees and had to end relationships that weren’t working. Lessons learned are that it is crucial to really vet and align on cultural norms & values when hiring in a digitally-native environment. We underestimated this early on
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Parker Olson: Similar to other organizations, Shopify has been an awesome e-commerce platform to partner with. We leverage Trello to keep our teams aligned and the G-suite to manage internal processes. The key tool to navigate our business environment and continue to search out growth opportunities really has been LinkedIn. From a management perspective, we continue to try and socialize frameworks and thinking that helps our team (and myself included!) separate work and home life. It’s so difficult to do so and, if not handled well, can really create a toxic work environment. I urge my team to spend time planning out their days and block their calendar for everything from personal time to working on specific tasks even to sleep! Having the structure in place to guide your day can be useful to help you turn off work when it’s the time! Another strategy we deploy is environment design. How are you designing your work/home space to separate the two? This is crucial for mental sanity. Is your desk in your room? This never really allows you to “leave the office.” For me, the mental fatigue of living and working in the same space became too much. I would wake up in the middle of the night and feel the need to hop on the computer to complete work. It was insane. For that reason, I moved outside into my tent over a year ago. I sleep outside and am completely unplugged (obviously, this hasn’t been great for my dating life, lol!) While this seems absurd at first, there is no better feeling when I step outside each night and completely separate myself from work. It’s allowed me to manage my stress and recharge in a separate environment from work. Before this, I was getting burnt out very quickly. (check out the attached photo of me in the tent during a snow storm!)
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Parker Olson: There are tons of competitors flying into the adaptogen space, primarily in the coffee/tea formats. We differentiate ourselves by focusing on food and overall nutrition/wellness. Being in such a growing market, you’d be surprised how friendly we are with our competitors. We all (for the most part) believe that a rising sea lifts all boats. I’m sure things will heat up as the adaptogen market continues to grow more rapidly. Our plan is to grow strategically & regionally and, gain footholds early on in our backyard, and leverage this to expand to adjacent markets.
Your final thoughts?
Parker Olson: While COVID has been a horrible virus to strike humanity, it changes the game. Whenever the game is changed, there is ALWAYS an opportunity for new players to enter, get creative and gain on the big players. Some days are tough, but to everyone out there – take it day by day and ask yourself, “What is changing? What new problems/opportunities are arising? What solutions are now out-dated? How can I make an impact in people’s lives?”
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