We get extra excited about entrepreneurial endeavors (and alliterations) at American Bocce Company and will celebrate the entrepreneurs in our bocce community at every opportunity. We’ll begin with Ricky Hirsch. He’s an entrepreneur through-and-through. He has a couple companies under his belt already and has learned a lot about being your own boss and working towards success.
Ricky’s current company Think Jerky (@ThinkJerky) is out to change the way we think about jerky and eating healthy. He has enlisted famous Chicago chefs, sourced sustainably raised protein and used restaurant-quality ingredients to create better, healthy jerky. And I don’t mean it’s healthier than your average jerky, it’s legit one of the healthiest things you can eat. If you’ve played in a league with Ricky, then you’ve almost certainly tasted the jerky. He’s been incredibly generous and has brought bags upon bags with him to just about every league night. It’s delicious and it’s coming to a grocery store (and more) near you.
How did you get involved in American Bocce Company bocce leagues?
I got involved with ABC through Matt David who works at Charlatan, which is a restaurant where Think Jerky Chef Matt Troost works. I have been looking for a great social activity that was both fun and with the ability to network. ABC has been awesome because of the people, the fantastic event locations, and the quality of the bocce experience. What excited me most was actually playing bocce. There hasn’t been any competitive bocce leagues that were also fun. ABC takes bocce seriously but also has a strong emphasis on fun and social interaction. It’s a great combination of the competitive spirit of sports with the underlying fun of nightlife.
What were the beginnings of your own entrepreneurial endeavor?
I would say I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life. I’ve always done my own thing, for better or for worse. When I was nine people would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up and I would say “own my own business.” And then they would ask “what kind of business” and I would say “it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s mine.”
I bought my first company at 24 and had no clue what I was doing but we figured it out. The crash hit in 2008 and I sold it and took some time off. I started another business and then have been looking for something more creative and that’s why I wanted to get into food. I’ve been working on food concepts for the past five years and Think Jerky for the past two years and we are very excited to launch in December and even more excited that ABC has been a strong testing ground of our jerky over the past six months.
What’s been the biggest victory so far for the company? What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of getting Think Jerky off the ground?
I don’t look at it that way. I just keep going . We have had so many victories and amazing accomplishments but I’m never satisfied and I don’t really feel “joy”. I just want to keep going trying to reach our next milestones. I think when we are stable I hopefully can take a look back and feel great about what we have done. But right now it’s only me and I don’t want to lose focus. This is how I am and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but I’m ok with it.
To me this is the best version of myself. Working every day, thinking of new ideas, etc. is what I like to do. Although I don’t feel immediate “joy” or “happiness”, I know what we are creating and will create is very special and that ultimately makes me happy, even if I don’t feel it. I know the person I am now is the best version of myself, so for that I am proud.
Clearly, you are a dedicated and hard worker, but it takes more than that to start your own business. Any words of wisdom to impart?
Things don’t have to be perfect when you begin. Many people think you need a 54 page business plan and have to know every detail and number, but that’s not the case. Sometimes you just need to start and then you will figure it out. It’s good to have a solid foundation and not put yourself in a bad position, but things will change and the hardest part is just beginning. So my advice is that it’s ok for things not to be perfect at launch but just keep running and you can figure it out.
I had no idea how to make jerky so I just started calling people. I went to Fresno State University meat science department for a month. I e-mailed meat scientists across the country. I just started talking to people to learn as much as possible. The point is that even though I wanted to start a company I knew nothing about (beef jerky) in an industry I had no experience (CPG) it didn’t matter to me, I just started. Once you start talking to people you learn what you need to know and the questions you need to ask.
You mentioned that the bocce leagues have been a strong testing ground for Think Jerky. Can you elaborate?
The great thing about ABC is that it’s a collection of people from different backgrounds. There are many different types of people who are genuinely good people and there to have a good time. This is was great because I was able to get feedback from many different markets; from the health conscious female to the foodie to the guy who just loves beef jerky. Think Jerky has a wide range of demographics so it was the perfect place to test because of the wide variety of awesome people.
How did you know Think Jerky was the right idea to pour your energy and resources into?
Once all my friends who initially laughed at my idea wanted to quit their jobs and join me
Can you talk about your Kickstarter experience?
Kickstarter was a terrible experience for me, it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. A lot of the very successful Kickstarter campaigns have teams of people and they buy a lot of Facebook ads. The point of Kickstarter is to raise money to fund your company so how can you be buying ads? I wasn’t very tech savvy so it was tough to gain a lot of traction, even though we ended up a top 5 most backed food ever and got a ton of publicity, it didn’t meet my expectations.