These sharks do not bite – except the BBQ sauce

July 02, 2020

Kaius Gestranius participated in Leijonan Luola, the Finnish version of the Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den, and received funding to his startup Jävla Sås Bolag from angel investors on the TV show. Along with an investment, he raised confidence to show the big players of the food industry. Now he’s throwing thousands of kilos of tomatoes into bottles to reduce a huge waste problem.

It all started with an entrepreneur-mind hungry for a better BBQ sauce. Kaius Gestranius had just bought his first BBQ smoker back in 2013 and was craving for locally-produced sauce with an excellent taste but without unnatural additives. However, he couldn’t find it from the local shops so Gestranius decided to do something that drives many entrepreneurs: if the market is lacking something that you find important – you need to do it yourself.

Gestranius perceived the BBQ sauce too good to be kept as secret only for himself, so he founded a startup called Jävla Sås Bolag. The idea was to scale into two directions: scaling up the business while scaling down the additives of the sauce. 

Three jobs and university studies did not stop the entrepreneur on a mission. Gestranius had funded the company operations himself but he soon realized it was not sustainable. He needed additional funding.

The action plan took shape, when Leijonan Luola, the Finnish version of the Shark Tank or Dragons’ Den, was looking for entrepreneurs to pitch in the TV show. “I have always liked the American and Canadian TV formats. Some years ago, I had joked to my wife that it would be cool if one day I came up with some idea that I could pitch in a TV program. When I heard an advertisement on the radio that the Finnish TV format was looking for competitors, I sent my application to the producing company the same day,” Gestranius recalls.

Not just funding but also sparring perspectives and confidence

When Gestranius participated in Leijonan Luola he was surprised by the business angels he faced: these sharks do not bite – except the sauce. The entrepreneur managed to convince investors and gained a co-investment of 50 000 euros from four investors: Saga ForssKim VäisänenAri Lahti, and Miika Toivonen. “I actually had four successful investors who believed it was a good thing. I was mind blown!” he recalls.
 
The first investor who showed interest in the company was Saga Forss, an active angel investor, especially in the food industry, and a FiBAN Board member. “As an investor, I find two factors really important: the entrepreneur and the uniqueness of the idea. Jävla Sås Bolag had them both so it was a great package,” Forss calls back her investment decision.

Saga Forss

“In general, you could say that even if you have the most excellent idea but not a good team, nothing will come out of. But even if you have a mediocre idea and a good team, you make a good company out of it,” Forss explains.

The investment had to be kept as a secret for nine months before the TV program was shown and the funding news were public. At the same time, the entrepreneur needed to get business up and running. “I had to come up with some lies about where I had got the money,” Gestranius laughs.​

Along with investors the company took its structure to the next level. Now it has a board with regular meetings addressing the strategic steps. As investors have seen the company over the years, they know to put things into perspective. Investors’ experiences from their many other portfolio companies has brought valuable know-how to the table, especially for the first-time entrepreneur.

“Without investors, I would have stumbled upon a lot of problems and it has helped me very much to have them backing me up,” Gestranius says. Having angel investors is not just about funding: “The biggest thing that I got was confidence.”

“As investors, we want to help an entrepreneur when needed. I think it is important to have an investor as a sparring partner. There are ups and downs, it’s definitely not always easy,” Forss reminds.​

Tackling the waste problem while growing sales

Today, Jävla Sås Bolag has accelerated to Finnish dinner tables and their products are available in Kesko and SOK stores. “Investors bring trust when you walk to bigger distributors. They also have good connections and partners both in Finland and abroad,“ Gestranius remarks.

The exceptional spring of 2020 has treated Jävla Sås Bolag well. Their monthly sales of 2019 are now being achieved in a week and the numbers are growing. One of the game changers was a discussion that Gestranius had about two years ago with Jonas Lundström from Närpes Grönsaker, the biggest tomato grower in Finland. Närpes Grönsaker had a tricky tomato waste problem as hundreds of thousands of kilos of third class tomatoes had to be thrown away every year. “It’s a stupid waste problem because these tomatoes are just either too small or too big to be sold in shops. Nothing comes out of it,” Gestranius explains.

Lundström suggested to use their third class tomatoes in the BBQ sauces – the only products that Jävla Sås Bolag had at that time. A couple months later Gestranius had cultivated the idea. “Thousands of kilos of tomatoes per week is such a large mass that it would actually be smarter to make tomato sauce, because it is closer to a consumer. People use tomato sauce every week, whereas barbeque sauce is used maybe once a month.”

From an idea to execution – and a new product was quickly born. As the etiquette of the tomato sauce bottle says, Tomatoes that are too different to fit in EU standards can fit in Jävla Sås Bolag bottles.

“I think it’s quite amazing that a small company like us can come up with an idea like that and pretty quickly diminish a big waste problem. This proves what a small company can achieve in a short period of time and how it can show bigger competitors with a little bit of new thinking,” Gestranius summarizes.

If you ask from the investor, what is the secret sauce behind the Jävla Bolag Sås? “The open way of working and thinking,” Forss replies. Collaboration is key for a startup with scarce resources: “They are excellent in building up the ecosystems. You don’t have to do everything yourself.”

You think you have a secret sauce, too?

FiBAN helps promising startups to connect with business angels looking for investment targets. The community of over 650 angel investors is one of the world’s biggest business angels networks.

To get started, FiBAN guide to raising angel investment walks you through the necessary steps for fundraising. When you are ready to raise an investment from business angels, apply for funding through the FiBAN process. Let the next success story begin!

Text: Heidi Tawast, Community Manager, FiBAN

Continue reading: Fiksuruoka.fi’s growth recipe for startups: “Move on and raise funding faster” ​