Interview: Matthew Corrin

Founder and CEO of Freshii

IBR: You went from being an intern at a late night talk show, to taking on a PR role and, finally, entering the fast food business. Did you ever imagine that your career would take such a turn?

MC: I was always passionate about health and wellness growing up because I lived a healthy lifestyle myself. Growing up in a healthy family, I understand the importance of healthy eating. I also realized through my different jobs that I was very passionate about consumer branding. I was particularly attracted to the mass consumer, and when it came to the unique idea of Freshii, I saw that health and wellness was clearly a trend growing around the entire world. So, I focused heavily on the branded experience. I wanted to create a place that could allow you to eat well, conveniently, and affordably, and could potentially be scaled to the mass market.

IBR: Many students here at Ivey want to start a business but many of them don’t know what they want to do yet. How did you decide your path and become an entrepreneur?

MC: The first step is acknowledging that the best ideas may not stem from what you’re interested in now. I certainly wasn’t interested in getting into the restaurant business. To be an entrepreneur, you first want to experience as much as possible so that you’re able to identify and solve unique problems. For students aspiring to be entrepreneurs, I always recommend taking on impactful internships. Internships can range from something mundane like getting coffee, to something significant like launching a new business division. Try to apply to companies that focus on the latter. At Freshii, we created a robust internship program that allows interns to really get their hands dirty.

Also, I find that entrepreneurs are always walking with their heads up. They’re constantly looking around them to see what strikes their interest. That’s how I became an entrepreneur: I was looking around and I saw something that was very compelling to me. That’s also the reason why Freshii doesn’t advertise its franchise program. We get almost 4,000 applications every year, but we never spend a dime on franchise advertising. Inevitably, those who have an entrepreneurial spirit stumble upon us because they’re looking up and they see something that’s compelling, different, interesting, and exciting. Those types of people are who we are ultimately looking for.

I also think that you don’t necessarily need to be a founder to be an entrepreneur. For example, I think franchising or working at a company like Freshii is incredibly entrepreneurial. I don’t think that you need to necessarily be employee number one to be an entrepreneur. We have now almost a dozen team members from Ivey who were part of the company during the IPO and are now shareholders in the company. They own this young company just like how I own this company. You don’t have to be a founder to do that.

IBR: In what ways has your Western experience helped you prepare for a life of entrepreneurship?

MC: I did a three-year MIT bachelor’s degree. The thing that I developed the most from my time at undergraduate experience was my work ethic. I had to work extremely hard because I was never a naturally bright student. University is the first time in your life when you have independence: you can do what you want, you can study if you want. But, if you actually want to do great things, you have to use that time to learn and excel.

IBR: Freshii’s franchising model allows for rapid growth. But, as we’ve seen in other industries, this format can lead to depreciation of quality in products and operations. How do you think Freshii has mitigated these risks?

MC: Many people argue that if you open and operate all of your own restaurants, you will always be able to do better than franchises because you have full control over the brand. Conversely, I make the argument that if you are investing a quarter of a million dollars into buying a franchise, you’re going to care much more than if an hourly-paid employee or store manager. So, I actually think that the opposite is the case: if you do it right with the right franchise partner, you’re not going to face dilution.

IBR: What kind of legacy do you see Freshii leaving in the business world?

MC: I got an amazing email recently from a customer who had lost 60 pounds by eating at Freshii. I was reminded of the incredible impact that we, as a business, can have. Every time we sell something at Freshii, we’re helping people energize and live a healthier life. At Freshii, you’re consuming food that is genuinely better for you. In short, I hope to change people’s lives by making them healthier.

IBR: How does Freshii approach innovation in an industry like food services, and what innovations are you and your team currently working on?

MC: We’re a company that’s built by millennials: two-thirds of our franchise partners are millennials and, increasingly, our customer base is made up of millennials. We’re a unique company that’s built for millennials by millennials for millennials, and that’s very different. I’m not sure if there’s another brick-and-mortar brand in the world that’s our size and that’s led by millennials. The reason why we are able to move so quickly and stay on the cutting edge is because when we talk about how we would want the company to change if we were customers. We ask ourselves, “what would make people like us want to use this brand more often? What do we need to do with technology, with menu, with flavours, with store design?”

One of the new programs that has been developed through this type of thinking is Mealbox. Mealbox is essentially a day’s worth of food delivered to your door in a box the night before. You keep it in your fridge before you go to bed, and the next day you have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks ready. It makes healthy eating more convenient and it’s oftentimes more affordable than going to a restaurant or making it yourself at home. It aligns with our mission because it’s really about driving people’s health and wellness goals.

IBR: You are extensively involved in the startup community, including being involved with the Next Gen Den. What things do you look for when you invest in a business?

MC: I was 23 when I convinced my parents to invest in my idea. I had a few non-family shareholders who were customers before they became shareholders, and they invested almost one million dollars back in 2007 in what was a three million dollar valuation. Now, the company is worth over $400-million. I will tell you what they told me when they made their investments: they saw that I was someone who was not scared of failure. They saw someone who was incredibly innovative and constantly evolving the business. They saw someone who never gave up when things were going bad. They saw someone who was very confident, but who was also open to learning and listening before making the final decision. I think those are the things that went well for those shareholders, and that’s what I look for when I invest in a business.

IBR: You’ve been named EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year, Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, and INC’s Top 30 Under 30. You’ve accomplished so much in your career – what’s next?

MC: The good news is: the answer is more. More of what we’ve been doing. My goal is to never peak. I want to continue to improve for the rest of my life. I know many people who peaked in university, and some who have even peaked in highschool. I work everyday to ensure that I keep moving forward. That’s not to say that I can’t accept setbacks. My life has always been a story of taking 10 steps forward and a few steps back. That’s just the reality of life. But I also believe that I will never peak.

IBR: What is your secret to success?

MC: The longer I do this, the more fun I have. I love everything about what I do everyday. It’s rare to find a place where you can reach your very significant financial, personal, and business goals while enjoying every moment of it. When you find a place like that, you should never leave. That’s why, for me, Freshii is forever. Find something you’re so passionate about, which you love doing every single day.