Founder Spotlight – Jessica Young
A former chef and director of operations for a frozen food company, Jessica Young, founder and CEO of Bubble Goods, believes the future of food lies within a diverse and independent food system. Here, she tells writer Amy Hourigan about her unique approach to selling food, how she grew her subscriber base so quickly, and why she considers her network to be one of her most valuable assets.
Amy Hourigan: Hi, Jessica. Thanks for your time today. Bubble Goods offers products from more than a thousand independent, natural food and beverage brands. What compelled you to start a company that delivers healthful foods direct from manufacturers?
Jessica Young: I’ve been in the food industry for years and have seen it from both the corporate side and the culinary side. I spotted a gap in the market for an online place where food brands could successfully sell their products. These brands didn’t need help with manufacturing or branding, but they did need help selling their food online. Seventy-five percent of the brands that sell with us have a Shopify store, but they don’t sell well there, while 20 percent are selling on Amazon—but only a handful are doing so successfully. When they join the Bubble Goods experience, they get the following:
- A seamless Shopify integration
- No fees unless a product sells on the marketplace
- A national audience reach and new customer acquisition
- Customer service
- Unlimited product listings
- Inventory control
- Price control
- Sales and analytics tracking
- Tax collection and remittance
- POS transactions
- Staff access to the Bubble Goods Admin Dashboard
- Low-cost marketing opportunities
- Prepaid shipping labels
AH: How else is Bubble Goods different from other options?
JY: Our main competitor is Thrive Market, but they’re a membership subscription service and they have a very different inventory that supports mass-circulated brands. Bubble Goods does not have any minimum order quantity, and customers aren’t required to subscribe. It’s a true marketplace.
AH: As someone who follows keto, I was excited to see that you let people filter products by lifestyle. I was even more excited when I read that your staff tastes products before offering them. Did your experience as chef influence that decision?
JY: Yes. With my background as a trained chef, I know that good-tasting food is important. Bad food won’t sell, and customers who do buy food that tastes bad definitely won’t buy it again. We taste the food so that customers can have trust in everything we sell.
AH: What surprised you the most about becoming an entrepreneur?
JY: I read a book called Your Network Is Your Net Worth: Unlock the Hidden Power of Connections for Wealth, Success, and Happiness in the Digital Age by Porter Gale and discovered how one’s network is truly one’s net worth. When it came to getting our first brands on the platform, it all came down to my network. To this day, my network is everything.
AH: What has been your biggest business challenge so far, and how did you overcome it?
JY: My biggest challenge was definitely navigating a startup through a pandemic and a very slowed economy and VC market. But calling on my network and existing investors forced me to find really good people to involve in the business. People show their true colors in tough times. Also being remote and hybrid has been crazy while building a team and culture. We managed to build a team that has grown so close, though. Once Covid restrictions lifted, we made a point to get the team together as much as possible.
AH: You have an impressive number of subscribers—90,000—and quite a bit of press. What’s your best marketing or PR tip?
JY: You need to have a good story for people to want to share it. In PR it’s not always about who you know, although that can be helpful. It’s more about the unique story you’re telling that differentiates you from everything else.
AH: VCs hunt for strong management teams. How did you go about building yours?
JY: Again, it goes back to my network. It’s who you know and the referrals from the people you know, and it’s also about creating a good opportunity. I had experience hiring staff before starting my company. I look for people who want to show up, who want to create results and who love a challenge—we’re a startup, after all.
AH: If you had to go back to the beginning of Bubble Goods, would you do anything differently?
JY: Starting in the middle of a pandemic was rough, but it paid off. Anything I could have done differently wasn’t planned for; those were moments that were out of my control. That taught me how to work with what I have and to make it work no matter what.
AH: Your company is backed by Sequoia and supermodel Karlie Kloss. How did those partnerships come about?
JY: We’re part of the Sequoia Scout Program. They reached out to us, which was awesome and speaks to what we’re doing. Karlie was already part of my network, and when she learned what Bubble Goods was doing, she was one of the first checks in. She’s a very active investor as well.
AH: Was it tough to secure funding as a female founder?
JY: I think in general it’s tough to secure funding, but adding in the extra layer where women are only getting 2 percent or so of the funding also makes it tough. On average, only about 2,300 women have raised more than $1 million as of 2019. I’m proud to be part of that group.
AH: You’re not only an entrepreneur, but you also mentor other startups. What’s your best advice for females and minorities who want to start their own business?
JY: If you want to start a brand, work at an industry-related company for at least a year. If you want to do something, try it out with someone else first.
AH: That’s great advice. I know it’s important to you that you amplify diverse products and voices. Can you tell us about that?
JY: At Bubble Goods, we really believe that the future of food is all about independence. We don’t really see a world where a company like Perdue Chicken owns the entire chicken industry. We see a world where a wide variety of chicken companies share in the industry—and where there is space for the small, local businesses that struggle today to get a chance to compete with the incumbents. We’re aggregating the supply and making money for them. We’re going for the untapped inventory that’s out there.
AH: What’s next for the company?
JY: Scale, scale, scale! We’re growing the customer side of the business, and now that we have more than one thousand independent food businesses listed and we’re shipping across the country, we’re really putting a lot of resources into growing our revenue and getting the Bubble Goods marketplace and brand in front of new customers.
AH: Fantastic! Congratulations on all your success, and thanks for sharing your insights with our network.
JY: My pleasure.