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ABHISHEK
PRUISKEN


'Focus your energy
on what creates momentum.'

Abhishek Pruisken, 2022 AD

From starting a stroopwafel company in his dorm room to creating the future of healthy snacks, the co-founder and CEO of Rip Van discusses the challenges of building a cpg food business from the ground up in the US, and finding the will to follow your dreams.

All words by Abhishek Pruisken in conversation with Seneca.

Seneca

Seneca

Abhishek wears the Lumen Shirt in white.

My mom's Indian, my dad's Dutch. I grew up partly in Amsterdam, partly in India.

Seneca

Abhishek wears the Purpose Tee in white.

I had this burning desire to create. I had nothing to lose. I mean, isn't life about fulfilling your dreams?

The first step was asking, will this actually sell? Will people want it? It was clear that there was international appeal with a billion plus units/year, 70% of which is sold internationally and so the premise was that this appeal should extend into the United States.

We went online, bought a waffle iron, googled some recipes, and then created an initial prototype that tasted terrible. Clearly we needed some help and so I went back to Holland, spoke to an expert in stroopwafel making, bought an industrial stroopwafel iron, the accompanying proper equipment, and then iterated and iterated. Taking consumer  feedback we were able to calibrate the sweetness, flavor, color & texture and in doing so develop a decent stroopwafel.

Meanwhile, my parents were quite puzzled and asked, "Why would you start making cookies?”

The initial idea was to take one of my favorite cookies from Amsterdam, and bring it to the US.

I went to university in the US, and found out how much Americans loved cookies, they are the largest cookie eating country in the world, but they lacked stroopwafels. If you're Dutch and you've grown up with stroopwafels, there's this pride that goes along with this product because it's a symbol of your heritage.

My college friend Marco and I thought, “well, what if we could bring the stroopwafel to the US?” We thought the novelty and taste of stroopwafels was our USP. We started making the product in our dorm room, perfecting the taste after a lot of consumer feedback and dozens or iterations.
Seneca


We started off making these stroopwafels in my dorm room.
My co-founder Marco & I both gave up our job offers and embarked on our journey.

In the beginning, we started manufacturing the product ourselves. Renting a space in a local bakery we got a food license and started selling “Rip Van Wafels” packed and sold as an impulse snack in local cafe’s around our college campus. At the time we were only producing a few hundred units/day and needed to figure out how we could expand our capacity. We hired a few employees, partly automated the process, and were able to scale up to a few thousand a week.
When we started, one of the big challenges was convincing investors while we had no credibility – we had to leverage strong sell through data to establish confidence that the product & business plan had potential. A lot of people thought that what we were doing was a joke and couldn’t believe we’d decided to pursue a cookie business after both having graduated from a top university.
Luckily, through a small kickstarter campaign and some seed capital from our families, we were able to start. One of our first outside investors was an angel investor in Providence who loved startups and loved our enthusiasm. He followed his gut and gave us a shot. We're really thankful for that because it allowed us to prove out our business model at a slightly larger scale, which then gave us a lot more credibility.
Seneca

Abhishek wears the Purpose Tee in white and the Vanta Pant in black.

Seneca

Can you imagine we started selling a few hundred stroopwafels a week out of a dorm room? This year we’ll sell over 100 million units.

In the beginning things were very slow. Imagine, making a few waffles and doing a lot of stuff yourself and you don't have a team. You don't have automated machinery that can produce 30,000 units an hour. You don't have scale. You don't have a lot of leverage and it feels like you're not making much progress. But over time, the progress compounds and the trajectory can start to really accelerate. One of the biggest human flaws is thinking progress is linear. If you give yourself the space and permission to actually learn from your mistakes and remove your ego to do so, it is insane what you can accomplish. And that momentum, as it compounds, becomes noticeably exponential.

Along the way, we learned more about how the food industry in the US is catalyzing the growing obesity epidemic by means of selling tasty, high sugar & empty calorie foods. We were inspired to do something about this and developed a lower sugar version which lead to the product we sell today.

As we grew our business and developed a better understanding of how to develop, position, package, manufacture, scale, market Rip Van Wafels we realized the same principles could be applied to develop other snack food products. We changed our company name from Rip Van Wafels to “Rip Van” and decided to pursue a much larger & more impactful vision to tackle the unhealthy snacking problem. We are building a platform brand of healthier convenient foods & in so doing aspire to have the maximal impact we can on people’s well being.
Seneca

We set up a factory and the whole thing caught on fire.

We wanted to really control the quality of the product and innovate more rapidly. And we thought the best way of doing that is to control the product end to end. So we invested in setting up a state-of-the-art production line. And once we turned the line on, the whole thing short circuited and caught on fire. Literally in flames.

So as the plant was burning down, we stopped the machines & sprayed the area down to eliminate the fire. We had to then alternate between fixing the damaged parts and trying to run the line at a reduced capacity because we still had to produce to keep up with demand. Our efficiency took a huge hit while we had fixed overhead expenses which caused our unit economics to go belly up. We started to loose money on every unit we were selling, it almost put us out of business.

Although incredibly painful at the time, in retrospect it was a key learning experience for us. From then on we decided never to manufacture ourselves but to partner with manufacturers and focus our efforts on innovation, sales & marketing only.

As long as your input in improving yourself is consistent, you'll get closer to your dreams.

Seneca

I'm a big believer in being stoic, but at the same time, having a deep sense of optimism and a deep sense of haste to make sure you're focusing your energy and efforts on what actually creates momentum, even if it's a little bit of momentum.

I think that truly being at the precipice of trying to get better, is finding a balancing between making sure you're optimizing the day to day and at the same time, not losing your curiosity and your wonder.
Seneca
Progress is not linear.
Learn and improve, and the
results are exponential.
Abhishek Pruisken, 2022 AD

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Modena Shirt

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Forma Jacket 2

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Terra Jacket

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Vanta Pant

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