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My 3 worst ideas as a founder and CEO, and why they were critical to my company’s growth

Failure can be funny. Seriously.

My 3 worst ideas as a founder and CEO, and why they were critical to my company’s growth
[Source photos: YinYang/Getty Images; Chris Brignola/Unsplash]

The longer I serve as founder and CEO of Farmer’s Fridge, the more my team, investors, and external partners expect me to be right: to make the right decision, invest in the right things, and pull the right growth levers. And while experience does bring a certain increased intuition, I’m a big advocate for failure.  It is a lot more pressure than I expected because I want to meet everyone’s expectations. But when I look at the inputs to make a strategic decision, the metaphorical “x” I am solving for is not being right all the time. Failure is a big part of life and work, even when—and arguably more so when—you are a founder and CEO. My mantra is that if there isn’t a chance you fail, then you are not pushing yourself hard enough; or even worse, you are not admitting when something is not working. Our entrepreneurial culture celebrates success stories, but I don’t think we talk about failure enough. Failure can be expensive, it can be embarrassing, it can be funny (some of my best stories are from failed ideas), but it’s always critical to growth.

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Without further ado, here, three of my worst ideas from the past eight years of Farmer’s Fridge:

  • The Detox Salad: This salad has become a punchline around our office. In the early days, before I had a chef or culinary team on staff, I created a salad that I lovingly named “The Detox,” which was full of everything that came up when I Googled “super food.” I mixed and matched ingredients until my tasting panel of friends and family declared it “somewhat passable.” That’s how you end up with a salad that contains both white beans and blueberries. It wasn’t good. In fact, it was pretty bad. I could barely afford it, but I immediately hired a culinary director. I also learned a couple valuable lessons: Get anonymous feedback if you really want to know what people think and pay for expertise. It’s worth it. 
  • California: In 2014, one short year after founding Farmer’s Fridge and long before we had a production facility, I gave an interview to the L.A. Times about our business model. I got a little overzealous and told the reporter that we would be launching machines in California in the first half of 2015. We had some traction with a few national brands, and they were asking me to bring our concept to L.A. Keep in mind, I was the only non-production employee at this time. There was no world where we were ready to scale across the country. I got a little overzealous and told the reporter that we would be launching machines in California in the first half of 2015. The next thing I knew, the L.A. media was covering our plans to expand to the West Coast. I wanted to hide under a rock for two weeks – and got more than a few calls from concerned friends and investors warning me against growing too quickly. Fast forward and we just launched in California with locations at Los Angeles International Airport this past fall of 2021, a full six and a half years later. Lessons learned: More businesses fail because they expand too fast than because they did not expand fast enough, and don’t share half-baked ideas with reporters.
  • Romaine Empire: Let me guess. You’re rolling your eyes at the cringe-worthy pun above. No, Romaine Empire is not something concocted from a Saturday Night Live skit. It’s actually the original name of Farmer’s Fridge, and the official  company name that’s still on all of our tax documentation and employee pay stubs. I thought Romaine Empire was such a clever name for a salad shop, but a few months into the company, a friend sat me down to tell me that it was a truly terrible name. I will admit, I took some convincing—after all, I had a trademark!. Luckily, my friend worked in branding and sent me tons of new ideas. Including “Farmer’s Fridge.” 

New employees inevitably ask about the story of Romaine Empire when they see it on their pay stubs, and while at this point our legal team could swap the name out relatively easily, I like keeping it on our books to remind the team that bad ideas can come from anywhere—especially the founder.

Luke Saunders is founder and CEO of Farmer’s Fridge, a network of more than 400 smart fridges stocked with fresh meals and snacks.

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