Shelby Smith

Building A Cricket Farming Business With Shelby Smith

Last Updated on September 3, 2020

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Tell Us About Yourself And Your Background!

My name is Shelby Smith and I have been raising bugs and convincing people to eat them since 2018. Believe it or not, I didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a cricket farmer. In fact, I wanted very little to do with agriculture growing up on our family farm in central Iowa. I was too busy playing every sport imaginable. That love for sports paid off when I earned a full scholarship to play basketball at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. After graduating with a finance degree, I was lucky enough to be selected as a part of a program in Ireland called Sport Changes Life. As part of the program, I was able to continue my education, play basketball in the Irish Premier League and coach in underprivileged areas.

I graduated from Trinity College Dublin with an MSc in Finance and started my career as an equity derivatives trader at a Canadian bank in Dublin. After a little more than three years, I found myself very unhappy in the finance world, so I handed in my notice and moved back to the family farm to help my dad with harvest. Post-harvest, he encouraged me to think outside of the box for the possibilities in the agriculture world. Fast-forward a few months and I had just purchased my first 10,000 breeding stock crickets. The rest is history!

Tell Us About Your Company! How Did You Start It? Why Did You Start It?

I started Gym-N-Eat Crickets in January of 2018 when I purchased 10,000 two-week old crickets. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that there was a growing demand for crickets for human consumption. When I began, the worldwide market for edible insects was valued at just under $1 billion. It is projected to balloon to $8 billion by 2030.

Buying the crickets and raising them was only the beginning. I then had to figure out what kind of products I would produce as well as where I would be able to sell them. I hit the kitchen and messed around with recipes until I had a few that I could eat if nobody bought them. My initial product launch was at our local farmers’ market. I had zero expectations going in and was blown away when I sold out of every cricket I raised in 2018.

How Did You Get Your First Several Customers Or Users? How Many Users Or Customers Do You Have Now?

My first several customers came from two main sources: local farmers’ markets and speaking engagements. For Westerners, there is a decent amount of education required to take the thought of insects as filth and change it to food. While there is an opportunity to educate at farmers’ markets, the speaking engagements became my bread and butter for introducing and advocating for entomophagy (eating of insects).

I bought a building and built a licensed processing facility in November of 2019. That legally allowed me to sell online and in retailers. Since the launch of my online store in December, I have shipped crickets to 43 states and can now be found on the shelves of over 20 retailers around the Midwest.

How Does Your Company Grow And Acquire New Customers?

While we still have a presence at farmers’ markets and appear at as many speaking events as possible, the main focus now is building our wholesale footprint. We have recently seen fantastic growth in smaller, independent grocery stores, but we are starting to attract the attention of a few larger regional chains.

We have adopted a “one store at a time” motto. It certainly has a snowball effect.

What Actionable Tips And Tricks Do You Have For New Founders Who Are Looking To Get Their First Thousand Users Or Dollars?

Say “yes” to everything. Even things you aren’t certain will bring value. Inevitably, it always opens another door. Once you start to build that network out or customer base out, then you can become more targeted and discerning about the opportunities you participate in.

Along those same lines: own your story and get GREAT at telling it. Humans are naturally drawn to good story tellers. The better you are at telling your story, the more customers you will acquire.

Lastly, get comfortable speaking in front of a group. If you can be confident and compelling speaking to a group of any size, it’s like having a superpower. Local clubs and groups are CONSTANTLY looking for good speakers. I promise, if you hone in on that ability, the possibilities will be endless.

What Is Something You’ve Learned That Would Not Be Obvious To Somebody Who Hasn’t Worked In Your Space Before?

We (humans) have a funny way of rationalizing what is okay to eat and what isn’t. Take for example, the relationship between crickets and cretaceous shellfish. If you’re allergic to cretaceous shellfish, you might be allergic to crickets. They are made out of the literal same materials. Shrimp, lobster, crabs, etc are all just sea bugs. But, when presented with that, I get many customers that are quick to defend that those are “just different.”

I love to run potential customers through that thought exercise. It might not result in an immediate sale, but it gets them to examine what they eat and why they eat it. Inevitably, they return more often than not to make a purchase.

What’s The Craziest Thing That’s Happened To You (Good Or Bad) On Your Founder Journey?

I managed to kill hundreds of thousands of pinheads (cricket babies) in the span of 48 hours. Let’s just say it wasn’t my best moment, but is apparently a rite of passage among cricket farmers. It devastated my populations for that growing cycle, but it taught me some hard lessons about raising animals. Luckily, a growth cycle is only 45 days (compared to a steer’s 2-years), so correcting the issue in a timely manner was possible.

The adventure of cricket farming has included quite the learning curve, but iteration by iteration we improve efficiency and effectiveness.

What Are Your Favorite Books?

A few of my favorite books that I’ve recently read are: Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins, Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babbin, Tribe by Sebastian Junger, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanith, David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.

Anything You’d Like To Plug?

You can find all sorts of fun things, including where to find crickets and delicious recipes at: http://www.gymneatcrickets.com

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