A “juicy” Silicon Valley startup

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For those of you who have moved to Silicon Valley in the past 10 years you might have missed that it is built on a set of former orchards. Which is why this startup (Maverick Brands, aka Sunkist Naturals) caught my eye. I thought that maybe this CEO, Mark Shaw, had missed the memo that we do web sites and design iPhones here now and that we outsourced our food production to the Central Valley over the hill.

OK, I’m being a bit of a smartass because I know that there’s lots of food and drink companies that have started here, or near here, like Odwalla which is now owned by Coca Cola and is served in Google’s lobbies.

Anyway, we did a longer HD video series with Mark that’ll air soon, but here’s a short little one I filmed with my FlipCam.

Some things I learned while talking with Mark yesterday.

They are less than a year old and already got their product onto 5,000 grocery store shelves. How? Hiring people who have great reputations in the industry. Having a brand that doesn’t need a lot of advertising to get noticed. Distribution is key to their strategy. They located their factory along Interstate highways in California that get a lot of trucking traffic and can buy partial loads on those trucks and get to market fast, which keeps their product fresher and lets them be much more nimble because they don’t need to get an order for an entire semi truck trailer load.

Because they are a startup they are able to spend more on ingredients because they don’t have the pressure that other companies have to reduce cost. Also, they have a high-tech factory that has no oxygen. Workers basically have to wear space suits to work inside the packing plant. This lets them ensure quality and also keep the product fresher longer (oxygen ruins fruit and causes rapid spoilage, even if refrigerated).

They spent a lot of time thinking about the packaging, bringing in a designer from Europe, where fresh foods are taken more seriously than here. They worked on a rounded bottle that looks unique but still isn’t likely to fall over.

Mark is a great evangelist for his product. He not only is an authority on his marketplace, he keeps versions of his competitor’s products around and can tell you the good and the bad of them. So few CEOs are willing to educate me on the marketplace, which includes their competitors (the good ones do, last week talking to Rackspace employees they could tell you everything that Amazon is doing right, for instance — that made me impressed enough to remember it a week later).

Things that high tech startups would recognize? The crappy low-cost furniture, since most of the employees work on the road he didn’t need lots of nice furniture or overy impressive desks, etc. The wifi router in the corner. The selection of Macs and PCs.

Any other startups in Silicon Valley catch your eye the way this one did?

“But Scoble, is the stuff any good?” It’s passed the Maryam test with flying colors, and I like it. Will I give up Diet Coke for it? Probably, it sure is better for me than the chemical stuff in that or Pepsi.