Go Fight Win!

How Factor's drive led to an acquisition by HelloFresh for $277M

Factor CEO Mike Apostal signs off his weekly team emails with the phrase:
Go Fight Win.

It sets the tone and drives a results-oriented culture that he and founder Nick Wernimont built from day one. A culture predicated on the idea of getting better every week. Celebrating the persistence and resilience a team needs to “win”. While this phrase is most often associated with sports, Go Fight Win is incredibly applicable to the entrepreneurial journey.

Go — is about action

It’s the quality that sets entrepreneurs apart. A quality that aptly describes my college roommate and Factor founder Nick Wernimont. His impulse to “go” led to his avid wakeboarding, kiteboarding and skydiving passions. It also led him to a 16-0 run in mixed martial arts while working a full-time job. Eventually, 4 hours of training a day on top of an 80 hour workweek began to take its toll. Determined to continue at peak performance, Nick realized he needed to eat healthier but didn’t have the time. He hired a personal chef to make clean and balanced meals each week and saw dramatic results.

This was his lightbulb moment to start the business and below is the email he sent me in August 2011:

Go Fight Win!

Compelled by his vision and excited to help my friend think through the brand, I told Nick he needed to figure out operations before Listen would invest. So what did Nick do? He went all in! 4 hours of training turned into 4 hours in the kitchen. He invested his personal savings, started developing a menu and went to work figuring out the operations. Listen worked with Nick on developing the brand and along the way uncovered a datapoint — 75% of fitness results come from what you eat. And in January 2013, Factor 75 was born. Thankfully, Listen ended up leading the seed round and eventually became the largest shareholder over time.

Fight — the struggle is real.

Go Fight Win!

The startup journey is a constant fight to stay alive. In order to win the fight, you need great people in your corner. Mike Apostal joined Nick in 2015 when Factor was still in its infancy. Mike, a college basketball player, former investment banker, and father of 4 brought an equal drive to win, coupled with an incredible commitment to operational excellence.

When you’re building a business to deliver fresh food, the stakes are high. Whether it was co-packer incompetence, team turnover or multiple kitchen moves, Mike and Nick navigated a plethora of obstacles that put the company at risk. All of these challenges were amplified by an ongoing struggle to raise growth capital. While there were setbacks in the journey, it forced the team to operate lean and deploy capital efficiently — ultimately building the muscle memory to fuel profitable growth. The grit, resilience and lessons from these experiences is what set this team up for success.

And while most startups have near death experiences, for Factor that phrase hit far too close to home. In May of 2018, Nick had a tragic motorbike accident that left him in a coma with a traumatic brain injury. In a moment that left all of us shocked and concerned for our friend’s life, Mike stepped up! He took the reins, channeled Nick’s will to survive and did what he needed to continue the fight. His dedication to finish what he and Nick had started is a testament to his leadership and Go Fight Win attitude. And Nick, fortunately, defied the odds.

Win — customer love.

Go Fight Win!

Despite all the struggles this team faced, what they accomplished along the way is remarkable. Here are some stats:

  • 100% YOY growth for 5 years in a row
  • Inc 5000 4 years in a row
  • Millions of meals delivered
  • Highest meal ratings of all competitors
  • $277 M exit on $16M of paid in capital

That’s the data, and while the exit is an incredible outcome for everyone involved, the real story is the team’s relentless efforts to get better each week, the small wins that add up. They made sure their food tasted great – win. They then worked on their operations – win. Then their marketing – win. While always remaining maniacally focused on their customers – win.

When his partner went down, Mike kept on, executing a playbook that took the company from $20M of revenue in 2018 to $110M in 2020. Even as they scaled, Mike would take time each week to call customers and ask what Factor could do better, oftentimes convincing people to come back.

That’s Winning.

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