The pain point that turned this investment banker into the founder of Eat the Bear

The story of how Jude Colangelo created Eat the Bear started, as most entrepreneurial businesses do, with a personal pain point: Colangelo is lactose intolerant and was struggling to find a protein that fit his strict lactose-free diet.

So he decided to create his own.

“I built the first website. Then it became a product. Then it became a few products. [Soon] I had a business,” Colangelo said. “Strategically I didn’t sit down and think, ‘I should create a really expensive hobby that will lose me a lot of money.’ I just did [it], and then it became a globally recognized brand.”

Now, that brand has become a line of health and nutrition products — think whey protein and multivitamins — sold in over 4,500 locations, as well as online.

When he created the first product, Colangelo focused on 10 key areas: it had to be free of carbohydrates, sugar, lactose, gluten, cholesterol and banned substances. It had to be sourced and assembled in the United States. It had to be fewer than 110 calories. And, of course, it had to taste good.

“I’m not a chemist or a genius, but it resonated with people,” Colangelo said.

Colangelo launched the business in 2011 as a side hustle to his full-time job as an investment banker. Then last year, after 23 years in investment banking, he decided to leave his job to work on Eat the Bear full time.

“It is amazing what you learn about your business and your people when you spend all day, every day there,” Colangelo said.

The transition brought to light areas of inefficiency in the business — both in terms of processes and people — that Colangelo immediately set about fixing. It also allowed the company to pursue Series A funding, which they closed with $1 million in December 2017.

While they planned to use the funds for product, R&D, marketing, talent and community, the funds barely covered their product and R&D costs.

“We modeled our data based on numbers from March and April of last year,” Colangelo said. “We modeled out high, medium and low assumptions. Flash forward a year and we blew through all of those. The amount we raised wasn’t the right number with the pace of growth we’ve experienced.”

That fundraising experience showed Colangelo that some investors in Charlotte aren’t yet comfortable investing in his type of company. Investors in due diligence often came back to him saying they didn’t understand the nutrition market, so they weren’t comfortable investing.

“I know the market. I have people who know the market,” Colangelo said. “We will be looking to Series B funding to fill this gap and start our process breaking into the lifestyle convenience products market.”

With the next round of fundraising, Colangelo’s sights are set on the ready-to-eat food and beverage space. Recently, they soft-launched a new ready-to-eat product, a healthy cookie, which received extremely positive feedback. The cookie contains five-grain superfoods and an entire serving of vegetables packed into just 150 calories. It’s also naturally gluten-free and has no added sugar.

After everything he’s experienced on his journey, Colangelo’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to weather the storm.

“We’ve had great times and horrible times, rogue investors and employees as well as great investors and employees,” he said. “If you just make it to tomorrow, everything can turn. There are so many times you want to go to sleep and throw in the towel, and the next day things change immeasurably.”

This story was co-authored by David Stunja and Lexie Banks.

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