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A Look Back on 2020 (Jesse's CEO Recap)

December 30, 2020

A Look Back on 2020 (Jesse's CEO Recap)

What a year.

What a year.

What a year.

If it isn’t obvious, I’m not really sure how to start this blog. This year was so crazy in so many ways that are so much more important than the state of our real food snacks business that the simple act of writing about it feels self aggrandizing and silly. Who cares about freaking energy bars and granola!? I mean, Picky Drizzle is delicious but it isn’t solving any of society's problems at the moment (actually drinking it from the jar solves problems for me almost every day). Anyway, despite how inconsequential this feels, I’m going to dive in in the hopes it means something to someone. I know my mom cares so this can be for her. Hi mom!

The key ingredient to much of my happiness this year was Picky Drizzle.

This year has been incredibly tough for a lot of people. And in some ways, it’s been tough for us too. We’ve had our fair share of downs for sure. My wife, kids and I got covid three weeks ago, for example (we’re ok). Picky Bars specialty retail business imploded during the pandemic, and we got dropped by our long time partner and biggest customer, REI. These things sucked, a lot. But when the poo hits the fan, our closest family and friends are all safe and healthy. We all stayed employed. We didn’t lose homes to natural disasters or friends to social unrest. We’re, overall, pretty dang good all things considered.

I feel a bit of “survivors guilt” when I think about this year. Feeling lucky that our business had the right mix of products (food, people still need to eat) and channel (direct to consumer, something you don’t have to do in person) that allowed us to not only survive but thrive in the shifts in consumer behavior that resulted from the pandemic. 

In a lot of ways this year was Picky Bars most successful. We turned 10 years old (and launched our 10th bar flavor, Mint Condition). We had record revenue, growth, and retention in the Picky Club. We were profitable (barely, but still). We expanded from six to ten employees, and paid them all more than they’ve ever made at our company (something I’m immensely proud of as income equality and fair wages/living is one of our “why’s”). We launched four new products, (five new products if you count the Ready to Rumble Apple Crumble sample in this month’s Picky Club)! That’s insane! We moved into a new warehouse and office space (days before Covid closed the country)! We raised our first ever investment round with a like-minded, mission driven partner, and are better capitalized and less exposed than we’ve ever been. Despite the pandemic and political / civil unrest that rocked so many people and businesses, we’re arguably in our best position ever. So much so I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but that’s the truth.

Innovation at it's finest. We sold over five Picky Bars sustainable stand up desks! (We sold six).

Of course it’s enticing to believe that this success is due to all our hard work and super great decision making. I mean, we worked really hard and we were super great deciders! We intentionally focused on our direct to consumer business the last couple of years, and that put us in a spot to take advantage of the crazy online growth the country saw this spring. We invested in an in house fulfillment center that allowed us to own a critical part of our supply chain when many others locked up. Look at all the smart things we did! We’re so good! Way to go us! I’m sore from all this self back-patting! 

Having our own fulfillment center meant Jude can pack boxes too! He was directly responsible for 22 or 23 or maybe even 25 boxes packed this year, he can't remember exactly.

But honestly all that’s BS. It’s luck. We made a couple of good moves in hindsight, but a lot of people in our situation would have done the same thing. None of it was rocket science or some crazy, ingenious idea. There’s no way we knew a freaking global pandemic was coming that would sling us 10 years ahead in online usage and shut down retailers and physical service providers everywhere. We were lucky. If a global plague knocked out all the date crops in the world, we’d have been F’ed! And I have a lot of friends and colleagues, who weren’t so lucky. They were and still are decimated by what’s happened. It’s crazy how powerless you feel when you realize that.

In the wake of the political and civil unrest this summer, we committed to company wide DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) training, which we’re all currently in now. One of the basic concepts we’ve discussed at length is the idea of innate “privilege” - a result of being born in an advantaged place, home, environment, race, etc. - and how that privilege leads to more opportunity and lack of it leads to less. I still have a lot to learn obviously, but I’ve reflected a lot on my own personal privilege this year, and I’ve spent a ton of time examining my successes, wondering how many of them have to do with what I did vs the natural gifts I was just lucky to receive at birth. This year, both personally, and professionally with Picky Bars, I feel very privileged. We were dealt a winning hand for 2020. Sure, we still had to play the game and not screw it up, but we had the cards to make it happen. So much of that was luck. 

Of course, we haven’t always been lucky. We’ve had a number of really unlucky things happen to us in the past that cost use dearly as a business (I’ve written about those years too). Those were just as much out of our control as the lucky stuff this year. So I guess some of the luck feels cyclical too, and we just happen to be on the right side of it in 2020.

So while I’m a little embarrassed to admit our success, the counterbalance to that embarrassment is the pride I feel in that we, as a company, used our “privilege” to support and give back to others this year more than we ever have. While we had record revenue, we also made by far our biggest donations of money and product ever - and not just more, but more as a percentage of our size. 

A Front Lines Support Bundle donation to St. Charles Medical Center.

We donated over $45,000 worth of product this year to a range of non profit food organizations like the Salvation Army, The Giving Plate, and Saving Grace, and also some big product donations to medical centers like St. Charles Hospital in Bend. We also donated over $20,000 in cash this year to organizations we believe in, including NEDA&Mother, Red Cross, Black Voters Matter, NAACP LDF, Challenged Athletes Foundation and the Conservation Alliance. 

A Trail Mix Fix donation drop to Family Kitchen in Bend.

These are dollar amounts that matter to us as a business, not just a drop in the bucket. But having said that, we can and we will do more. Despite our success, the end of this year is the first time I haven’t felt like our company was one unlucky step away from insolvency (we’re now maybe two unlucky steps). I’ve always believed the biggest impact I could have personally on my communities was through my business - hiring people, investing in them, supporting organizations, partners, and charities we care about, etc. We still have a long way to go, but it’s encouraging to look back and see that we started to realize that intention this year as growth and luck took us farther away from surviving by the skin on our teeth.

I’ll finish by saying in addition to luck, we survived and thrived this year by the support of our team and customers. Thank you so much to all of our current and former employees who did work their asses off this year and made as many smart decisions as they could. Thank to all of our partners, suppliers, advisors, and amBADASSadors who helped the business grow and worked with us through crazy shifting environments and circumstance. Thank you most of all to our customers for the support of our business this year, and the NINE years before this year. We couldn’t do it without you all! 

Jesse

PS - if you’ve got thoughts, ideas, recommendations for me and/or our business, etc, I always love to hear them. My email is jesse@pickybars.com, or ping me on social @jessemthomas on Instagram and Twitter. I might not be able to get back to everyone but I do read them all and will do my best to reply if possible! Finally, if you’re interested in our personal and professional reflections on 2020, listen to the latest episode of our podcast Work, Play, Love (recorded with my wife and co-founder Lauren Fleshman).

Happy Holidays from the Picky Crew!