Jessie Gould was an investment professional turned operator for a food company in which her firm had invested. That business eventually closed, but it sparked a love for the food industry and, more specifically, wholesome locally sourced food that is mostly plant-based.
In 2015, she launched Ox Verte, a meal delivery company that, by February 2020, served thousands of offices in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Business was good. Revenues had increased by 30% over the previous February. “We were in a strong position,” states Gould. “We were in expansion mode and raising our first round of capital. When Andrew Cumo put New York State’s stay-at-home mandate in place, our revenues went to zero.”
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” says Simon Sinek, an ethnographer, author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, and speaker (his TED speech is among my favorites). Your “why” or purpose acts as your North Star, lighting the path to transformation and innovation. It can also help you be more resilient. Being resilient is critical during a crisis and a defining characteristic of entrepreneurs.
Ox Verte is a mission-based business. It is a certified B Corporation, which means it balances purpose and profit and is legally required to consider the impact of its decisions on its workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. If the company were to pivot, it could not just be about self-preservation. Spending on meal delivery services was up 70% year-over-year in the last week of March — a time when many states had closed restaurants as a social distancing measure, according to credit-card data from research firm Second Measure. The pivot had to be in alignment with their North Star — a forward-thinking food company that caters to the health-conscious. “We needed to feel like we had a reason to be operating right now,” she continued.
Gould challenged the team to come up with that rai son d’être. She divided them into two groups to formulate a strategy for moving forward. They developed a new mission: Amid a historic pandemic and panic, a small but scrappy B Corp breaks barriers to feed an isolated workforce and vulnerable communities with their honestly healthy, seriously sustainable food.
The mission provided clarity and a strategic framework for thinking through how to move forward. You wouldn’t usually think of office workers as a vulnerable population. However, during the pandemic, their medical history or age might put them at risk. Working in isolation could also put their mental health at risk. So, too, could the additional responsibilities of homeschooling children. Feeding people food that is nourishing can help maintain a healthy immune system and help people to feel less stressed.
Ox Verte entered the crowded field of meal delivery services. However, unlike its competitors, which according Barron’s have no differentiation, it does. With clearer differentiation, you create a competitive advantage and be more profitable. The company’s purpose helps it stand out from the crowd and helps it connect with like-minded people. People that eat food as a way to stay healthy and people who are concerned about sustainability.
By partnering with someone who was running GoFundMe campaigns, Ox Verte became one of the companies providing free, healthy food to frontline workers at hospitals. The company also offers prepared meals, snacks, and groceries the same workers they provided food to in offices but delivered to their homes. Ox Verte reached out to its customers and other people the team knew. Many now order food through it and have Ox Verte delivered at home. Because these people know and trust Ox Verte, they recommend the service to others, who also spread the word. Customers are posting pictures of the food on Instagram with their thanks. Deliveries are made in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Astoria, Long Island City, Jersey City, and Hoboken. It will start making deliveries to Westchester shortly.
Focusing on “Why,” your company does what it does powers up your business. It energizes your team, which, in Ox Verte’s case, includes delivery people. A great purpose connects at an emotional level with employees. It helps you attract loyal employees. When employees are inspired, they are more willing to go the extra mile and stick with you through thick and thin. It galvanizes them and is the glue that keeps the team together and reaching higher.
“If there is one silver lining to the pandemic, it is a greater appreciation of delivery people,” said Gould. For so long, they have been unappreciated and invisible. This crisis has made us appreciate them. They are not people who should be packaged into what you buy as a “free service.” Ox Verte delivery people gravitate to the company because the mission resonates with them. They either care about health or sustainability. They’re students earning extra money or creatives and freelancers supplementing their income.
Going forward, Gould looks forward to the return of her business-to-business revenue stream. However, she is delighted that she has discovered a new revenue stream that has enabled her to generate income and employ people in the short term and to diversify her revenue streams in the long run.
In today’s times, how does your company’s purpose resonate with your customers, employees, and vendors?