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Better Noobs

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  • | 1:50 p.m. May 9, 2012
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It's a rare entrepreneur who truly appreciates the limits of time and money.

Here's one who fits that description: David Crisp Jr., the CEO of WooHoo Foods.

Naples-based WooHoo makes healthy snacks for kids called Gudernoobs that are sold in all 17 Whole Foods Market stores in Florida. But if the grocery chain can't sell enough Gudernoobs in the next three months, he says the company will likely shut down. “What happens in the next three months will determine our future,” he says.

But don't misjudge Crisp.

He's as determined as any entrepreneur about making this venture work. He took over the struggling company last year and found an outside investor to invest $200,000 in the business. He reengineered the product and made sure customers could find it on the shelves of the upscale grocery retailer.

Crisp, 43, is a former sales executive with Rhone-Poulenc and General Chemical Corp. Most recently, he was a top executive with Lehigh Technologies, a Naples startup that won funding from star venture capital fund Kleiner Perkins and relocated its headquarters to Atlanta. Crisp left Lehigh and stayed in Naples, working on other entrepreneurial ventures such as a new line of sunscreen.

Co-founders Holly Murphy and Ellen George had created the recipe for Gudernoobs after commiserating over the lack of healthy snacks for their children. George's young son came up with the unusual name and her husband, Pat, worked with Crisp at Lehigh.

But Murphy moved out of the area and the company needed money to grow. “It would be a disgrace as entrepreneurs if we let this die on the vine,” says Crisp.

More than anything, the production of Gudernoobs taps into the hot trend of natural snacks to cut childhood obesity. That mission is what drives Crisp and helped him sell the idea to an undisclosed investor who put up $200,000. “You have to look strategically for people,” he says. “There has to be chemistry, a passion for the product or service. My lead investor is in it because of the concept.”

The challenge to raising money for WooHoo was this: “Food is not sexy,” says Crisp, who is thinking about shortening the product's name to “Noobs.” You're competing against thousands of other products for space on the grocery shelf.

Still, Whole Foods agreed to shelve Gudernoobs in all 17 of its Florida stores because of its natural gluten-free ingredients. You can find Gudernoobs in the candy aisle or next to the chips.

But Crisp, who has a degree in environmental science and chemistry, says he had to winnow down the number of flavors to two (apple and peanut butter) to get the taste right. “Taste is king,” Crisp says. “It has to taste great.”

Crisp says he worked closely with manufacturer Gorant Candies, Amoretti Ingredients and Flavors and The National Food Lab to improve the taste and make the product last longer without preservatives. For example, he reduced the date content to eliminate bitterness and used a different kind of vanilla to prevent it from becoming stale.

This isn't glamorous work. “I have to babysit all 17 stores in Florida,” says Crisp, who drives from Naples and visits the stores once a week. So far, they're selling really well in South Beach, he notes.

Crisp says he'll consider it a success if each store can sell 16 bags of Gudernoobs per month. “You can sell anything once, but you've got to sell it again and again,” Crisp says.

For now, Crisp says he's focusing most of his efforts on Whole Foods even though the profit margins are thin. “We need to focus on what we have,” he says.

Crisp says Whole Foods' reputation for high-quality products that have been carefully vetted for healthy ingredients presents a marketing opportunity to sell to other chains. That's because Whole Foods often sets trends that other grocery chains seek to emulate.

If it's a success and Whole Foods sells Gudernoobs nationally, Crisp says the company could grow dramatically. “We're investing in credibility,” he says.



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