Crazy ideas in the hands of imaginative people who know how to get things done can change the world.
The biography of this once obscure government employee offers a road map to make yourself and your descendants wealthy and to make history. Yes, a side hustle can become a new industry.
“Any youth who makes security his main goal shackles himself at the very start of life’s race. He will go much farther, in all probability, if he steps out for himself, asks questions, and takes chances.”
Clarence Birdseye was born in New York City in 1886. You read that name correctly. His family owned a farm on Long Island where he spent a great deal of his childhood collecting animals and developing a taxidermy hobby. Due to financial hardships experienced by his family, he was unable to complete college. Although his grades were average, he excelled at science. Birdseye took a job as a naturalist working for the U.S. government.
His assignments included pest control and eradication (mostly coyotes) in Arizona and New Mexico as well as tick research in an attempt to isolate and treat Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A later field assignment took him to Labrador, Newfoundland, in the northeastern corner of Canada.
While he in Labrador, Inuit people taught him ice fishing. In temperatures well below zero, Birdseye watched as the Inuit would simply toss the freshly caught fish onto the ice where it froze nearly instantly. This natural “flash freezing” allowed the fish to retain flavor, texture, and even nutritional quality.
Birdseye noticed that the quality of fish frozen this way far exceeded the quality of frozen fish sold in U.S. cities. The reason is that freezing fish was done at higher temperatures in the cities, which meant that the freeze occurred more slowly. Slower freezing allowed minor decomposition as well as slower forming and larger ice crystals, resulting in damaged tissue. In contrast, fast freezing results in smaller ice crystals, which is far less damaging to the tissue.
When Birdseye returned to the U.S., he conducted experiments that involved pressing freshly caught fish between blocks of ice. These experiments led him to establish Birdseye Seafoods Inc. in 1922 where he froze fish fillets at temperatures below -40 degrees Celsius.
There was little to no customer interest in the product so the company went bankrupt in 1924. At the same time, Birdseye developed a method of quick-freezing. The fish was packed in cartons, then the cartons were frozen between two refrigerated surfaces and pressurized. He formed a new company called General Seafood Corporation to market the products.
Birdseye invented and patented the double belt freezer, which were stainless steel belts chilled by cold brine which froze fish quickly. By 1927, he had expended this method to quick-freeze fruits, vegetables, poultry and meat. In 1929, Birdseye sold the company and patents to the company that is now the General Foods Corporation for $22 million. However, he was retained by the company to help develop additional frozen food technology.
Birdseye changed everything. Here’s how.
In the 1920’s, there was no supply chain that would move frozen foods from the manufacturer to consumers. It was necessary for Birdseye to assemble the logistical puzzle. He persuaded rail operators to haul freezer cars, which Birdseye himself helped to develop. He created freezer display cases for grocery stores and convinced them that frozen foods would sell.
However, a major problem for Birdseye was that there was no demand because customers didn’t yet realize that they wanted these products.
Birdseye had to persuade the public. He positioned frozen vegetables as superior to canned vegetables. At the time, canned vegetables were the only alternative to fresh vegetables. Birds Eye ran ads in Life magazine and other publications. Before the 1940’s, a freezer was a luxury item, so Birds Eye or any other frozen foods were luxury products. However, by the mid-1940’s, refrigerators were mass produced and affordable. By then, Birds Eye had long ago seized the “first movers’ advantage” of its day and was ready to supply frozen foods to American households of all income levels.
It took over two decades for Birdseye’s early work to pay off. Birds Eye didn’t just create a new process. They didn’t just develop a business. Birdseye developed an entirely new category. A new industry. Today, Birds Eye is a leading and trusted provider of frozen foods. Birds Eye was a side hustle that became a new industry.
To pull something like this off, an entrepreneur must do one of two things.
Identify and solve a problem that your market doesn’t know it has
Identify and solve a problem that your market doesn’t know can be solved.
This requires an entrepreneur to condition a market, like Clarence Birdseye did. We can’t all do that. But with an idea whose time has come, it is possible to organize backing, financial support, and attention.
If you are working the 9-5 and want something more, don’t wait. Start building the off-ramp now.
YOUR GAME PLAN
It’s not complicated.
Marketing, because it brings in the customers. Start or continue that plan here.
Operations, because it keeps your customers. Start or continue that plan here.
Finance, because it is the scoreboard. Change the “score” and explore financing here.
By the way, it is harder, but not impossible to get financing in a bad economy because banks become conservative. Be persistent and learn from this small business owner. Also, headaches can certainly result from costs (such as rent) piling up with limited revenue. There are plenty of ways to get or conserve cash during bad times. For more, read here.
Clarence Birdseye shows how a side hustle can become a new industry.