I’m back with another exciting Behind the Biz interview. If you’re new to this series then expect to discover the stories behind lots of amazing entrepreneurs. If you’re interested in social business then you’re going to love this interview.
Today I’m chatting with Ryan, the founder of the world’s leading producer of açaí, Sambazon.
Sambazon work hard to support local communities. As it’s Fairtrade Fortnight I thought this would be the perfect time to share this interview.
Please tell us about your business.
Sambazon is the world’s leading producer of açaí, the King of Amazon superfoods, and one of the purest, most nutritious botanicals on the planet. We are a vertically integrated manufacturer, adding value to each step of the supply chain, from the palm trees in the forest to the palm of your hand. Our certified Fair Trade and Organic supply chain provides income to some 30,000 locals and protects over 2 million acres of biodiverse Amazon Rainforest. Each delicious purchase of Sambazon not only boosts your health with antioxidants and omegas, but supports the families that farm in the Amazon and preserves the rainforest.
Where did the inspiration for Sambazon come from?
After a surf trip to Brazil for the millennium, we experienced açai, its amazing taste and nutrition, and learned of the social and environmental significance, which Greenpeace referred to as “the most important non-timber forest product in terms of money for the Amazon basin”. As açai was unknown outside of Brazil, we saw an opportunity to shape an industry and create a business model which could cause socio-economic change and purple smiles with every basket of fruit we harvested, processed, and sold.
How did you decide upon the name of your brand?
Sambazon is an acronym for “Sustainable Development of the Brazilian Amazon”. It is our vision and mission; it aims for and represents a positive future of global food consumption that makes a positive impact on local communities and protects the biodiversity of the Amazon Rainforest.
From the very start Sambazon was built with sustainability and fair-trade in mind. Please tell us how this has developed and been put into practice over the years.
It started with inspiration from modern social entrepreneurs like Anita Roddick of the Body Shop and Ben and Jerry’s. They demonstrated that they could have their cake and eat it too. Our process began with cutting out middlemen and going direct to the farmers, working with them and local NGO’s to address their real life needs while engaging in commerce with them. The result was a family type relationship which has now reached over a decade. During this time, they have supplied literally millions of baskets of açai berries and we have purchased these berries at fair trade prices, but also built ten schools for over 1,500 students, community centers, hospice and day cares and improved literacy, education and public health. Plus, not a single seed is wasted at Sambazon, açai berries are 80-90% seed and are either used by local artisans to handcraft jewellery or used as fuel for brick and tile makers therefore further protecting the environment.
What did you do before starting Sambazon?
I played American football and tackled people carrying the pigskin.
Did you always plan to be self-employed?
Not necessarily. I didn’t really think of it. I have always been an entrepreneur but you don’t have to be a Founder of a business to be an entrepreneur. You can join a Founder and work in a mission driven company which I believe I was always interested in pursuing. Coming from athletics, I have always been passionate about where I put my energies.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
Despite all the best intentions and pursuit of efficiency, we are human beings and have our challenges, politics and shortcomings. We started Sambazon with a group of friends and while there are tremendous benefits to working with people you can trust, there are also challenges in doing business with friends and family. Higher education teaches you many things, but the human aspect is something you can’t really plan for. Additionally, learning comes from mistakes and experience. Since I didn’t personally have any experience in running a business or in the food industry, I had to make a lot of mistakes to learn! Some of them have been painful but that’s what growing is all about.
What are you most proud of?
There are 3 things. First, that we have never sold a product which wasn’t certified organic, vegan, and efficacious. Sambazon allows people to experience the real Amazonian Açai and all its health benefits in a completely pure, nutritious and sustainably sourced way. Second, that we have helped to shape an industry which through our business model supports tens of thousands of people with healthy jobs and win-win situations by generating sustainable livelihoods in the Amazon region, and third that we have never missed a payroll in nearly 18 years. There have been a lot of ups and downs but we’ve never compromised our integrity or run out of gas!
What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?
Marketing has changed so much even in the last 10 years and social media is a significant part to Sambazon’s marketing mix. We have to meet the customers/tribe members where they are and this means online. I personally use Instagram and Facebook the most, but try to limit my exposure! I haven’t watched television for the last 20 years more than once in awhile and to me the internet is just the new tv on a smaller screen.
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
The passion is in the risk. Dream big, take chances and make mistakes at full speed. You’ll be able to learn from them, mid-course correct, and try it again and likely get it right before the next person makes a slow, cautious move. We all have the ingenuity and intelligence to tackle the world’s toughest problems so get out there and make a difference. The world needs superheroes and if it’s not going to be you and me, who’s it gonna be? If you are not standing on the edge, you can’t see the view.
Where do you hope to take your business in 2018?
We always want to continue to practicing sustainably and supporting all our small family of farmers and the vast Amazon rainforest while operating under the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ philosophy, which measures success in three ways: economically, socially and environmentally. But more excitingly, we are introducing an awesome new Açai machine which dispenses a Perfect Açai bowl in 5 seconds. It also has less sugar and calories than anything that comes out of a blender. This machine is working its way into Universities, Corporate campuses, health food stores and cafés and is the best Açai bowl you ever tried. Get out there and try one!
I want to say a massive thank you to Ryan for taking the time to be involved with Behind the Biz. I really enjoyed discovering the story behind Sambazon. I love that Ryan’s business leads with a social and ethical mission. It’s a topic I’m keen to learn more about.
Ryan offers wise words for aspiring social entrepreneurs. “Dream big, take chances and make mistakes at full speed.”
I wish Ryan all the best for the future and can’t wait to see the new Açai machine in action.
If you fancy getting involved with Behind The Biz please leave a comment below, send me an email or drop me a message over on Twitter.