Awesome Dips, LLC, is a Tulsa, Oklahoma, based company started by Kirk Barnum in 2016. As the name indicates, the company is devoted to creating gourmet dip mixes with the aim of bridging the divide in the market between the affordable price of mass marketed brands and the quality of farmers market products. As opposed to starting with what he knew, Mr. Barnum identified an unfulfilled need and began to learn about the industry.
By trade Mr. Barnum is a software developer, like many kids growing up in the 1980s, he may have played a video game or two. Trying to take the least amount of time away from the game often lead to grabbing some dip, some chips or veggies, and heading back to the game. He noted that “those were good times, but they weren’t good dips.” He looked around and didn’t see a product that was as good as he wanted it to be. Learning that stores would prefer to carry a product that was superior to what they currently had on their shelves, particularly if it was a local product, the quest was on to put something better together.
The first step was to learn as much about the industry as possible. Mr. Barnum enlisted the help of Kitchen 66, “Tulsa’s kickstart kitchen,” where he was able to learn from people in the industry and begin experimenting with recipes and techniques. From sourcing ingredients to how it is packaged, every decision had to be researched before the choice was made, revised, and finalized.
Mr. Barnum found a supplier that was willing to work with a demanding “small fish” and together they began perfecting the product. Over the past year, the company has finalized several of the mixes and is preparing to launch the product online for the 2017 Christmas season. He has also partnered with BetaBlox to assist in the rollout and expansion of his company. After the Christmas season he hopes you will see Awesome Dips in local stores.
What was an unexpected challenge you face or are facing as an entrepreneur?
I’m no stranger to startups. I launched my first company in 1999, at age 20. So for me the business side of things comes fairly easy, however not being in the food industry previously and not having a food science background, I have had a large learning curve to get my product up to the standards I set for it. Often the stories you hear about food product startups is that a person made the greatest cookie and everyone said to that person they should start a business around that recipe. I kind of did the opposite and worked backwards; I found a niche in the marketplace and developed a product specifically to fill that need. It has been a test to see if that is effective or not.
When you talk to people, what is their biggest misconception about being an entrepreneur?
Simply that somehow you either have to be lucky or some kind of genius. The reality is that it takes a very focused, creative effort…and a willingness to fail. A lot of people simply aren’t comfortable with that, which is why I suggest you start small as an entrepreneur and learn the ropes. Then either build your business out by bootstrapping until you see traction with it, or fail quickly and move onto the next idea. You have to be willing to make sacrifices in other parts of your life. It means spending time in the evenings making phone calls and studying instead of watching Hulu.
What advice would you offer to someone wanting to start their own company?
Don’t jump on the first idea you have. Do some research and look at a variety of ideas. A lot of people believe they have a completely unique idea, and that is why they will be successful. In my experience, ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s what the market for it looks like that is important. How will you market and sell it? Can you build a system around the idea? Don’t think that just having a product, service, or website is having a business. If you don’t have an angle to get your business in front of people, then it doesn’t matter what you have.
Awesome Dips has worked with Kitchen 66 and BetaBlox, explain what they do and what can you tell people thinking about starting their own business about working with such programs?
We are very fortunate that Tulsa is a burgeoning startup hub. There are numerous organizations and programs that exist to help you setup and launch a business. Kitchen 66 and BetaBlox are 2 local examples of what are known as “incubators”. Basically they are a collection of classes, teachers, and mentors (usually with industry experience) that exist to help you launch and grow a business. Kitchen 66 is specific to working with startups in the food industry: be it food products, restaurants, or food trucks. BetaBlox works with companies across many industries, typically companies that already have a product or some market traction. They are both excellent resources and I am proud to work with them both.