Back in 2004, when Dave Friedman (BA ’90) was encouraging his wife, Alice Benedetto, to turn her penchant for making healthy snacks into a business, he didn’t know anything about the consumer food market. “If I did, maybe I never would have done this,” he says of launching their company, Raw Revolution, which produces vegan “superfoods” bars from the couple’s family-owned factory in Hawthorne, N.Y. “I was sort of clueless, and I think my cluelessness gave me courage.”
In addition to courage, Friedman had technical knowledge and just enough money in the bank to help get a small business off the ground. He’d taken two and a half years of engineering courses at UB before switching to economics, and after graduating, did well in the tech industry. With his business experience, he became Raw Revolution’s entrepreneurial driving force, serving first as its CEO and later as its director of sales.
His role, he says, was helping Benedetto, a registered nurse, “figure out how we could take what she was making for our kids on the weekends and produce it in a way that would be convenient and affordable, and that would maintain a shelf-life.” His first step was securing space with a nonprofit incubator for small businesses, based in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Friedman and Benedetto, who are both vegans and wanted their snack bars also to be organic and gluten-free, already had decided to manufacture the bars themselves. “There were a lot of allergens we didn’t want in the food,” Friedman explains. “Back then, there weren’t a lot of options for contracting it out.”
He enjoyed figuring out the process. “I had been sitting behind a desk for many years,” he says. “I like getting out my toolbox.” In those years, a lot of factories were closing down in the Northeast, and Friedman took the opportunity to buy up their old equipment. Repurposing used machinery not only saved the fledgling business money; it also fit with the couple’s environmental principles. “We loved the idea of taking machines that had been making candy bars and meat, and using that machinery for a greater good,” Friedman says.
Today, Raw Revolution has 21 employees and produces millions of bars a year that are sold at retailers in the United States and abroad (including a second line, launched in late 2014, that focuses on high-protein, high-fiber, low-sugar options). Friedman credits their resourcefulness, as well as his tendency to steer a conservative course, for helping them break into a tight market. “We could have taken a shot and tried to make a quick hit,” he says. “And if we would have taken bigger risks, there’s a possibility we would have blown the business up real fast and sold it for a lot of money. But there’s a higher likelihood we would have failed.”
Indeed, over the course of their 13 years in the industry, he and Benedetto have seen a lot of similar businesses go under. “It’s an extremely competitive world out there,” he says. In addition to Friedman’s considered cautiousness, he thinks their deep beliefs about what a healthy snack should be gave them an edge. “My wife’s name is on the package, and because of that we’ve always been very particular about the ingredients we use and how the bars are made. We want our products to be premium quality and minimally processed.” While many of their competitors turn to cheaper ingredients, like whey powder, their bars contain organic raw sprouted flax seeds, organic raw hemp protein and chia seeds. “We could sell the bars if we didn’t use ingredients like that, but we want to give value.”
To recent alumni who might be considering launching a venture of their own, this father of four offers some advice: “I actually find that it’s easier to do a start-up when you’re just out of college and don’t have a family. People might think about getting job experience, and I’m not saying not to do that. But if you have an aspiration to do something like this, I would encourage you to do it sooner rather than later.”
He also encourages budding entrepreneurs to go at their own pace and stay true to their beliefs. “It’s not easy,” he says. “But we’ve always stuck with our principles.”