Before I co-founded Freshline in late 2020, I spent a lot of hours packing seafood. I'm not talking about one or two times every few months. For almost 2 years I was packing seafood nearly every day (including many weekends). After hours of work packing, driving a large pickup truck doing deliveries, and then going back to the docks and warehouse to pack some more, I would come home in the dark reeking of fish and then wake up in the early hours and start again.
You see, back in 2016 I embarked on a journey with my current co-founder to build a modern seafood wholesaling business. One that embraced software, automation, and subcontracting as three pillars of our growth. The ultimate goal was to take this model and scale it into multiple cities, whereby we could increase our addressable market and eventually (over a 10-15 year period) become a multi-billion dollar company. A grand vision for a young kid who drove to the airport every day to pack fish.
Our customers were mainly high-end restaurants and we were able to sell our product by cold calling each restaurant one by one. Once we began to figure out how to coordinate subcontractors, I traded my insulated gloves and snow jacket for a collared shirt and a tablet. If I was lucky I'd walk out of the restaurant with the chef having placed an order on our web app. Our pitch to these chefs was that we would have the freshest and best priced product in town. We often did.
Our system was nothing if not unique in the market. There was no wholesaler at the scale we had reached who subcontracted everything from air freight, long-haul, picking and last mile. And to add a rare feat, we did parts of it entirely with software. Where a traditional wholesaler might employ 4 sales staff - we only needed 2, where they might have an operations team of 5 - we only needed 1. The model was extremely capital intensive but it was working.
My co-founder and I worked on this for over 4 years. Gradually scaling up our supply. First, we only had access to seafood from Western Canada. Then we added Eastern Canada, Alaska, and in 2019 (with the help of one of the major Japanese trading houses) Japan. We reached about 400 restaurants ordering from us and after several false starts we were finally opening up our 2nd demand market. Things were beginning to move in the right direction.
Then COVID-19 hit. Almost overnight, 90% of our orders stopped coming in and our 15 person team had to be whittled down to 5 for us to survive. We took a hard look at how far we had come. It became clear after several micro-pivots that our best solution for the company was to take the software we had built and repurpose it for those businesses who handled perishable food. We launched Freshline with this purpose, focusing on helping food wholesalers and food retailers launch home delivery services to consumers. Soon we plan on helping these owners and operators in other areas of their businesses as well.
Although the story is still being written, I'm incredibly grateful for the journey I've been on with this company so far and for all of the team members and investors who have supported us along the way. I know we've built something that can deliver value for this market and I'm excited to see us moving in the right direction.