Hi, my name is Ross Mackay and I'm the co-founder and CEO of Daring, the leader in plant-based chicken. My friend and business partner Eliott Kessas and I launched Daring in the U.S. in March 2020 with a clear goal in mind: to remove chicken as a form of animal protein in our food system.
We’re proud to be the leading plant-based chicken alternative with four SKUs including our Original, Lemon & Herb, and Cajun pieces, as well as our newly launched Breaded pieces. We created Daring pieces to mimic the precise taste, tear, and mouthfeel of chicken, making them an easy and convenient swap that can be consumed multiple times per week.
We take pride in using minimal, clean ingredients unlike most other plant-based alternatives, which often include more than 30 ingredients. Our products can be purchased online at Daring.com and at major retailers nationwide to include Erewhon, Fresh Thyme, Gelson’s, Sprouts Farmers Market, Wegmans, and Roots Market. Additionally, Daring is available as a protein option at Just Salad locations nationwide and via meal delivery service on Sun Basket and Imperfect Foods.
My co-founder and I are humbled to achieve such monumental success in our first year of business. From being named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list for the Food & Drink category to locking in Series A Funding led by Maveron, we couldn’t be happier to enter the next chapter. We’re using our funding to support our evergreen mission to remove chicken from the food system, as well as increase our growth through marketing, innovation, and staffing efforts.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’m originally from Scotland and grew up playing international tennis under the mentorship of Judy Murray. My competitive background and devotion to a healthy active lifestyle propelled me to start my entrepreneurial career. I dropped out of college after one year of studying finance and marketing. I couldn’t see myself spending another four years in school and wasn’t feeling fulfilled. Soon after, I connected with a friend in Dubai who was working on branding and marketing with top-tier companies. I worked in Dubai for a couple of years, learning about branding and what it takes to launch a company.
I eventually went back to the U.K in pursuit of my next chapter. During this time, I was intrigued by the plant-based lifestyle and had a heightened interest in staying healthy and fit. I was also interested in a plant-based diet due to my concern with the environmental impact of eating meat. As I kept eating a plant-based diet, I felt like a new person. I had increased energy and awareness and I was sleeping better. At the time, I was eating processed plant-based products with loads of ingredients. Around this time I realized there was a gap in the plant-based food industry.
When Eliott Kessas and I met in Paris, we hit it off immediately. Our shared passion for business and plant-based living was a perfect match. He wanted to use his passion for business, and we both knew we wanted to work with plant-based alternatives. We also both felt there wasn’t enough awareness of the negative impacts of the poultry industry, and the idea for the Daring and plant-based chicken was born.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Eliott and I started working with a food scientist and began to understand more about the plant kingdom. We then found a manufacturer that would work with us on early innovation to create the cleanest plant-based chicken on the market.
Be adaptable. You cannot prepare yourself for all of the challenges you face ahead, you can only stay fixed on your vision, but be nimble with tactics.
In late 2017, we invested in our own capital to test and work with food scientists in laboratory development. In 2018, we found a manufacturer that would work with us on a larger scale with testing our innovation and successfully created a product that satisfied us.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We always knew we wanted to be headquartered in the United States. In 2019 I reached out to a contact in San Francisco who introduced me to the founders of Sun Basket, who I flew out to meet with tons of Daring samples in tow. Once I was at Sun Basket HQ, I cooked Daring for the CEO and co-founders in their company kitchen - they loved it. Within just five minutes of trying it, they began talking about a timeline to launch the product nationwide.
We had oversold the product a bit and needed to quickly figure out how to meet demand, but we were able to quickly adapt and get things rolling to debut Daring in the US. I like to think of this as the start of the brand and the moment we knew we had created something truly special.
Around this time we also met with food distributor Rastelli's, whose team loved Daring and really helped put us navigate and lay foundations in the US. These marquee moments generated a tidal wave of opportunities for Eliott and me to introduce Daring to industry executives across the country. The demand for Daring and interest in product rollout decided to permanently move to the U.S. a no-brainer for me and Eliott.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We offer versatile plant-based chicken that allows for customization and flexibility with recipes, just like the real thing. Our customers keep coming back because we provide an approachable way to eat plant-based, making a healthier choice for oneself and the health of the environment.
Each of our four SKUs is easily swappable for conventional chicken dishes including stir-fry, tacos, salads, curries and so much more. We recently released recipe ideas for our consumers as well to create inspiration for everyday meals, here. Daring also has a strong presence on social media that allows us to connect with our consumers.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Daring is building some amazing foundations this year. Sales are up 180% in the last few months and since launching our DTC offerings in March 2020 amid the onset of COVID-19, we’ve witnessed a 15% growth in sales month after month, coupled with a monthly increase in returning customers of more than 30%. We find that now more than ever, consumers are looking for healthy alternatives that can be delivered directly to their doors. Also, the team has grown from 2 - 20.
Earlier this year we also launched Daring is caring, our initiative that gives back to charitable organizations handpicked by our team. In June and July, we donated 100% of all DTC sales to organizations including The Okra Project, NAACP, and The Equal Justice Initiative. In lieu of Black Friday and Cyber Monday we offered $5 off Daring purchases, donating $5 for each order to No Kid Hungry to help provide meals for children in need.
We also secured $8 million in Series A funding led by Maveron, which was a huge milestone for the brand.
On the innovation side, we launched our Daring Breaded pieces that resemble the exact taste and texture of a classic chicken tender. We are currently available in top retailers including Erewhon, Fresh Thyme, Gelson’s, Sprouts Farmers Market, Wegmans, and Roots Market. Additionally, Daring is available as a protein option at Just Salad locations nationwide and via meal delivery service at Sun Basket and Imperfect Foods.
Additionally, we just recently opened our Daring office in Los Angeles to support our growing team as we continue to work toward new product innovation and overall brand growth. We have a lot of exciting things in the pipeline that we can’t wait to share.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Through starting Daring I’ve learned it’s important to work with people you really love, you trust, who make you better, and have a sense of values that are aligned with yours. This will not only make the challenging times better, but the wins are even more worth celebrating when you have such an amazing team.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our team primarily uses Slack to easily keep in contact with each other throughout the day. We also use Airtable which offers apps and flexible data models for content calendars, product roadmaps, event planning, and more.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
One of the most influential books I have read is Bill Carr and Colin Bryar’s Working Backwards* *which offers insight into Amazon's approach to culture, leadership, and best practices from top-level executives.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
I would tell other entrepreneurs to be adaptable. You cannot prepare yourself for all of the challenges you face ahead, you can only stay fixed on your vision, but be nimble with tactics. Staying true to the mission that motivates you is crucial but be willing to adapt.
Before COVID we were focused on foodservice, which was completely wiped. We had to then pivot and launch direct-to-consumer and it has turned out to be a huge success for us! Learning how to be nimble and strategic is a crucial part of starting your own business.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are currently looking to hire a Director of People and Culture and an Influencer Manager, as well as a few other roles! To learn more please visit our website career page.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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