Michael Wystrach is the co-founder and CEO of Freshly, the New York based direct to consumer meal delivery service which has taken 2020 by storm. This year they will ship nearly 50 million healthy, ready-made meals to over 20,000 zip codes across the U.S. They have raised over $110 million in funding.
Founded in 2012 by Wystrach and his friend Carter Comstock, the concept emerged from Wystrach’s own personal mission to eat better and lose weight. After spending three years in investment banking, working long hours and eating unhealthy food, Wystrach gained weight. He discovered that convenient and healthy meals were surprizingly hard to find, and took matters into his own hands. He got a doctor friend to draw up some healthy meals, and had the recipes made in his family’s restaurant in Arizona. Wystrach then watched his weight drop and health return, and the idea for Freshly was born.
Wystrach grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so being a founder and business owner was all he ever wanted to do. He started his career in investment banking in New York. He said while it was stressful, you gain a lot from fitting so much work into two years - the most important being “discipline and a work ethic, which are essential for starting a company.”
After three years in the corporate world, Wystrach moved back to Arizona to help out with some family businesses. “After two years working directly with my dad, I realized the only thing harder than working in Corporate America was working for a family business.” he said. But it was here that he got a real taste for running his own business.
He brought Comstock on as a co-founder in 2012, and they invested everything they had into Freshly, bootstrapping it with savings, credit cards and personal loans. They started first with orders from family and friends, and then word traveled quickly and demand grew. They moved from the restaurant kitchen, to a production facility in Arizona, and began to scale the business. In 2015 they moved Freshly headquarters to New York City, and things really started to take off.
Freshly has raised more than $110M in funding since 2015, with a big line up of investors including Nestle, Insight Venture Partners and Highland Capital Partners. The most recent was a $77 Million Series C funding round led by Nestle in 2017.
Wystrach loves his job. “I sometimes feel like I need to pinch myself to wake up because it feels like my dream job,” he says. His favourite part, however, is mentoring. “I love teaching and training. Plus I have made so many mistakes in my career that I love helping others avoid some of the things I have done.”
His number one tip for aspiring founders is not an original one. “I always tell people you want to do something you believe in - that you’re passionate about, that you’re excited to build, and that you feel that it’s going to leave the world in a better place,”. He says that passion and excitement is essential to drive you through the enviable tough times that come with building business.
His one rule to this is that getting rich and famous should never be your mission, you need something else to get you through. “Making money or being famous is a byproduct not a mission”.
His other top tip - look after yourself. “Do not underemphasize that you are a machine and that to properly maintain that machine is very important. So, lots of sleep, eating right, getting exercise,” he says. “You’ve got to take care of yourself first. I think that gets underestimated as to how important it is. It’s a long game and you need to make sure you stay patient and stay focused.”
Wystrach says this is one of things he learnt about himself a long time ago. “it's really important that I'm in a good mental, emotional state every single day.” He says having a solid foundation to take on the day is essential as a CEO, because a number of challenges will get thrown at you on a daily basis.
Wystrach starts his day at 6am with a workout. He then spends an hour reading the news, and does a 10 minute meditation to kick off his workday with a clear head. The first hour of his workday starts with emails because after that, his day is packed full of meetings. At around 8 p.m., he tries to shut down his phone for some “spatial separation before going to bed”.
In terms of next steps, Wystrach says they are “keeping all financial options open for their future”, and focusing big on expansion.
Their goal is to become the leading vertically integrated direct to consumer food brand - and they are well on their way. Freshly has been delivering over a million meals per week throughout most of 2020, with a boost from the global pandemic keeping people home and back in the kitchen.
Wystrach and his team are focused on continuing to grow and scale and innovating and expanding the menu offerings. They are also working on making meals more affordable and accessible.
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