Why I Left Corporate America for Beef Jerky

Chef’s Cut Founder and CEO Blair Swiler and Idea Merchants Capital  Founder and CEO Rohan Oza teamed up to change beef jerky. Now, they’re talking to Liz Claman about their vision and what they are doing to make it happen.

Claman: Your new product, which is of course done by Blair, comes on the heels of very successful projects you have launched, whether it’s PopChips, or Vitaminwater, Vita Coco, Bai drinks… why did you look at Chef’s Cut?  Because everyone wants to get their product on your table. What was it about this? And what is it about the way you think that makes you successful?

Oza: I am always on the lookout, whether it’s a beverage or a food product that’s better for me -- and I don’t feel that I am the only person in America looking to do that.  I think that everyone across the country wants that. So, whether it’s Bai that you’re now addicted to as a beverage or a high protein snack that everyone’s looking for.  The problem is the current high protein snack in vogue is yogurt.  You can’t take yogurt on a golf course, or when you’re playing sports, or when you’re jogging and hiking.  And jerky is a product that has high protein. The problem is the jerkies in the market in this country are horrible. I grew up in Africa and it was really good, authentic jerky. Until I tried Chef’s Cut, made by this guy, I was not into the product. Suddenly, I tried Chef’s Cut, I was like ‘This is not jerky, this is steak in a bag!’

Claman: Well arguably you guys are both in the C-suite spot, and you, Blair, are now the CEO, whereas before you had been a corporate chef for the Rusty Pelican.  What does it mean to now lead your own company?

Swiler: It’s fun that I can just use my talents in the spot that I want to.  I have a team for everything else.

Claman: Well, when you find out your weaknesses, you hire people that are strong there. Rohan, as we finish up, you were an executive at Coca Cola and you took that chance to take the flying leap where you couldn’t see how deep or shallow the water was beneath you. I mean, who leaves a great job a Coca Cola? You did. What gave you the courage to do that to start Idea Merchants?

Oza: I think I was going to be fired, Liz, and so I just jumped. So as they say, I’m hoping there are no sharks below me.  I give a lot of credit to the guys behind Vitamin Water, Darius Bikoff and Mike Repole. Mike and Darius really came after me to join Vitamin Water. When I got the confidence from them that I could make the leap to something like that, I then felt that I had something to bring to the mix beyond being a corporate stiff in a corporate wheel. And I think the rest went from there. So, it’s got to take confidence from a couple of guys to give you that start, and then I was… away.

Claman: Take chances in life, right guys?  Thank you so much for joining us. Blair Swiler and Rohan Oza. The product is Chef’s Cuts, we’ll see how it goes – keep us posted!