Review by
Katelynn Budzich, VRG Intern

In 1980,
Seth Tibbott, began a little business called, Turtle Island Soy Dairy. This
later became known as Tofurky, the company that created the Tofurky Roast and
other plant-based proteins. The book, In Search of the Wild Tofurky: How a
Business Misfit Pioneered Plant-Based Foods Before They Were Cool,
by Seth
Tibbott, is about how a man with no business background grew an organization
that sold tempeh and tofu into a multi-million-dollar company, and in the
process, launched a plant-based food revolution. The journey was not easy and
posed many challenges, but Tibbott demonstrates that with hard work and
bootstrapping, success will come. This book was so insightful that it is hard
not to share the recipe for success according to Tibbott. Thus, here are 5
pieces of advice I learned from reading In Search of the Wild Tofurky: How a
Business Misfit Pioneered Plant-Based Foods Before They Were Cool

  1. Listen
    to your gut.
    one may be a cliché, but it’s good advice. Your business is a reflection of
    yourself and what you value, so if you don’t follow your intuition, your
    business won’t be a true reflection of yourself. People told Seth that selling
    tempeh, which is essentially a type of mold, was a bad idea. Individuals also
    offered to buy Turtle Island Soy Dairy when it was starting out, and others
    thought the name ‘Tofurky’ was a bad branding decision. Yet, the founder of
    Tofurky didn’t listen to what others thought was the right move to make when he
    thought something different. Tibbott continued to persist with his dream and
    what he felt was right.
  • Make
    goals for yourself.

    Goals will give you something to strive for. It is important to have a purpose
    to work towards. Tibbott did this many times when growing his business. First,
    he began with three goals to get his business running, then made more goals
    when the company started to grow, and once again when it was time to scale
    production. Making goals will help steer you on a path and will influence what
    decisions to make. 
  • More
    important than investors is generosity.
    Support from others goes a long way and can make a
    big impact on your business. Especially in the early days, Tibbott received a
    lot of help from his family and community. His landlord from the first space he
    rented out, the Hope Neighborhood Food Co-op, gave him free business advice,
    his brother Bob, gave him is first loan, the postmaster of Husum offered
    Tibbott a free place to stay, and even his grandmother sent him a check to help
    him out. Tibbott sums it up perfectly, “There’s this idea out there that
    business is a mean, dog-eat-dog world. There may be some truth in that idea,
    but for me the generosity I’d found… was deeply encouraging. It told me that
    business can also be generous, people-helping-people world” (101). So, accept
    help because it takes a lot to stay afloat when an entrepreneur. There’s one
    thing about starting a business: you can’t do it alone.
  • Take
    risks and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
    Tibbott’s Tempeh burgers and KISS
    (“Keep It Simple Stirfry”) product lines were not successful, but you learn
    things even from your failures. Another risk was when Tibbott bought a new
    production space at Port of Hood River, after his first one began to get too
    small. The price of the space was on the higher end, but in order to expand, the
    founder of Tofurky needed to take a leap of faith. Perhaps the biggest risk was
    pivoting from tempeh to tofu when Tibbott began to make what is known today as
    Tofurky. As Tibbott wrote, “Perhaps the most important asset was that I learned
    quickly from my mistakes, so my lack of understanding became a great teacher. I
    gave myself a crash course in business by making mistake after mistake” (64). The
    overall theme of taking risks, is that some pay off and some don’t, but it is
    important to take risks because by learning from mistakes, you will be one step
    closer to finding out what the sweet spot of your business is.
  • Find
    a need in the market.

    Discover the one thing that will differentiate your business. For Tibbott it
    was creating a meat-free option for holiday dinners. “People loved the
    concept of having a high-protein centerpiece for their Thanksgiving tables. In
    fact, they loved the concept even more than they loved the product. For fifteen
    years, I’d been following a great product that lacked an attractive concept…”
    (178). The key to creating an interest in your products is to find a problem
    and solve it, which is exactly what Tibbott did.

Starting a
business is one thing. Starting a business in 1980 is another thing. And
starting a business in 1980 that sells tempeh and tofu products is a whole
other thing. It requires patience, being humble, and determination. After
reading In Search of the Wild Tofurky: How a Business Misfit Pioneered
Plant-Based Foods Before They Were Cool,
and seeing how Seth Tibbott, the
founder of Tofurky created success, now I know that others can as well. 

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