MBA, Class of 2002
Janelle Vander Griend Maiocco, a 2002 graduate of the SBE's MBA program, has just launched Farmstr, an online marketplace that enables consumers to find local farmers and pay less for high-quality food. Farmstr connects consumers to small local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen who practice sustainable and organic practices.
Maiocco's startup is on a fast track. She conceptualized the idea in October 2012 and, after prodigious research and planning, committed to creating Farmstr in February. Farmstr sold its first grass-fed cow in July, followed by heritage pig shares, organic pears, and fresh eggs from farms in and around Seattle. Farmstr is currently in soft launch mode, and plans to announce its marketplace in coming months.
The online venture grew out of an experience several years ago when Maiocco and her family lived abroad, cycling through Holland and living in Italy. Sourcing food daily, knowing her butcher, and enjoying clean, non-GMO food was the norm. Upon returning home, she started looking for similar sources of local quality farm food and meats. Instead she learned about the frustrations of small farmers, and how difficult it was to find and connect with them.
Small farmers struggle to find customers, she explains, and existing sales channels eat away at their margins. Even farmers markets – with their fees, considerable time commitment, and no guaranteed sales – can be an inefficient route to market. Farmstr leverages the Internet to provide a broader swath of farmers a direct-to-consumer platform where they are able to access new customers, pre-sell food, and realize significantly higher margins than through traditional sales channels.
Besides helping farmers, Farmstr enables customers to access quality farm food and pay prices closer to wholesale by removing layers from complex sales channels. It's operating in the Seattle area with farmers from Washington and Oregon, but Maiocco plans to expand to other cities and across the nation.
Maiocco received her undergraduate degree in psychology from SPU in 1994. She says she was so inspired by the teaching of Robert Wall, Paul T. Walls professor of Scripture and Wesleyan studies, that she almost added a minor in biblical hermeneutics. She returned to SPU for graduate work in Marriage and Family Therapy but dabbled in business classes, and credits Dr. Denise Daniels for "hooking me into business." She adds that she appreciates the influence of Jim Rand, who shaped her thinking on business and operational strategy.
After graduating with her MBA, Maiocco balanced being a stay-at-home mom and running her own marketing consulting business to a variety of start-ups and food-based companies. She launched her blog to maintain marketing expertise and to learn more about online communities and digital media strategies. That effort grew into a nationally recognized food blog showcasing her passion for seasonal food and local farms. As a trained chef, urban farmer, and certified food preservationist, she knows as much as many grandmothers about preparing, canning, curing, pickling, and freezing foods.
Ultimately Maiocco says lessons from SBE faculty helped reinforce her desire to "go that extra step to be a person of integrity" in her business dealings. She became convinced that she could succeed in business with those values, though she notes that it sometimes takes a little longer to slow down and care – to take that extra moment to bless another in conversation and service. But she never regrets investing the time.
"Being a leader adds more responsibility and accountability," she says, "and it is important to reflect your values in everything you do."