One day, after a long day at the family farm, Dusty Jaquins grabbed a beef jerky to recharge. Unfortunately, the beef jerky he got was too tough and dry. This dissatisfaction gave birth to the recipe for CHOPS Snacks. He started making high-quality tender beef jerky as a hobby.
It was shortly thereafter that Luke Sellers (YC ’17), Jaquins’ daughter’s boyfriend, and his friend Aaron Jones (YC’17) approached him, wanting to share his recipe with the world. Sellers and Jones incorporated, branded, and turned the recipe into a business: CHOPS Snacks.
Today, CHOPS snacks is sold in Durfee’s and Bass Café. The team has just received an award from the YEI Innovation Fund, a $100K convertible note given to the most promising Yale startups. It is also available in 450 stores in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. “Chops will be launching in some major retailers next year and is projected to hit a million in sales in mid-2017,” said Jones.
When asked to describe his experience working with a much older co-founder, Jones, the Director of Sales, said, “It’s great to have people who are older. It gives us legitimacy. In the CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry, [unlike tech], it’s better to have some experience.”
Jaquins has amassed over 30 years of experience in the food and beverage industry. Jones continued, ‘It’s a full-time thing for Dusty. He does the travelling and he visits us.”
Jaquins is Sellers’ to-be-father-in-law. Sellers’ girlfriend is Tiffany Jaquins, who attended University of Georgia. When asked how the family connection to Jaquins affected their working relationship, Jones said, “If it were a normal relationship, it definitely would be awkward. But I think that the dynamic we have now is actually very good… everyone has their own responsibilities on the team and they don’t interfere with one another. We have done a good job of differentiating responsibilities. Doesn’t really allow too much room for any confrontation or instability.”
While Jaquins focuses on managing the logistics and manufacturing of the product, Sellers and Jones lead the business side of the company. Jones said, “When Luke and I joined, we took Chops through a brand redesign phase, redid the website and the branding, and started approaching real deals and we got into the YEI [summer fellowship].”
When asked about the thought process in their choice of target market (young men ages 18-30), Jones said, “First of all, that’s where the market is going. That’s where the expansion is coming from. People are trending towards healthier all-natural snacks. And that’s really coming from that age range. For us, we think that the expansion of the category, which has expanded by over a billion dollars in the last five years is mostly because of the new entrants in the category that really paved the way for natural jerkies.” Jones uses his psychology training in designing market research surveys. The team asked customers who had just bought a competitor’s jerky to try out Chops and tell them if they prefer Chops. 72% did. This is despite their psychological tendency to justify what they just bought.
Despite the business acumen the duo displays, Jones said that he and Sellers had a lot of learning to do initially. He said, “Luke and I have no CPG background. [The challenges are] learning the lingo, the processes, what happens behind closed doors, what the processes for meeting with people who have decision-making capabilities…We’ve gone into these meetings completely unaware of what was happening, and kinda just played by ear…There’s a lot of times people will be throwing out very specific acronyms…and it’s a little bit embarrassing to ask them to explain certain things to you…and so Luke and I have done a lot of research and going to conferences, making sure we know as much as possible about the processes before they happen.”
Jones credited the team’s advisors, Anne McDonald and Richard Guha, whom they have met through the YEI, for guiding them in the process. He also credited the YEI Summer Fellowship for giving the team the capital to get started, introductions to resources and advisers and figuring out the startup’s goals as a company.
After graduation, Sellers and Jones will be joining Jaquins to work full-time on CHOPS. Jones said, “If it doesn’t work out, this is the time to fail…not to say that we will fail. I am very confident in our product.”
For those looking to try some of their own CHOPS jerky, CHOPS is sold in Bass Cafe, Durfee’s, and CHOPS online site.