Food is central to Louisiana’s culture. So it’s no surprise that local founders Rich Simmerman and Branson Morgan have turned that culinary heritage into a thriving startup, which they named Ceres after the Roman goddess of agriculture and grain harvests.
The founders drew from their childhood nostalgia for having sugary cereal for breakfast or a snack. But they wanted to create something people could feel good about eating or feeding to their children.
Simmerman and Morgan set out to develop a healthy cereal that is good for both the body and the planet. Ceres, which is pending B Corp certification, is dedicated to finding manufacturing and packaging facilities that are intentional about reducing their carbon footprint.
Simmerman and Morgan have come a long way as founders, and recently opened Ceres’ first warehouse storefront. Across their entrepreneurial journey, the Ceres team has learned many lessons about starting and scaling a business.
Trust and Truth Power Ceres’ Business Partnership
Before they were business partners, Simmerman and Morgan were best friends. While Simmerman doesn’t generally advocate for starting a business with your friends, he and Morgan recognize their differences — and that’s where they find their strength.
“Don’t find someone who agrees with everything you say,” Simmerman says, adding that their friendship has survived on the basis of hard truths. Because they can speak openly to each other about concerns big or small, they can remain focused on finding solutions rather than dwelling on problems.
“If you have such a level of trust and honesty of telling hard truths to someone, bring them into your business,” Simmerman continues. “When hard truths can be taken, not personally, but as a measure of control, that person is clearly mentally and emotionally prepared for the tough journey of running a venture.”
Creating the Right Product for the Right People
Consumer packaged goods is a highly saturated market. To find where Ceres fit best within that market required an intense and thorough customer discovery process.
“Every human being on the planet eats, and you have to talk to as many as possible if you want to understand how they eat,” Simmerman says of the process. “Customer discovery is the key to any success in consumer packaged goods.”
Simmerman and Morgan combed through nearly 4,000 open-ended responses from their research to discover what consumers were looking for.
Ceres found its niche in the vegan and clean eating communities. “A lot of people that live the plant-based and the vegan lifestyle, they’re not catered to,” Morgan says. Their research showed that a lot of vegan-friendly products are flat or static.
With Ceres, Simmerman and Morgan are reintroducing the childhood nostalgia for snacking on cereal back with a product that consumers in these communities can feel good about.
The Local Ecosystem Enabled Company Growth
The Ceres team was intentional about seeking out resources to help them scale their business. One resource they continue to rely on is LinkedIn. “As a company, we use LinkedIn to capture markets and to capture investor pools we would normally not have access to,” Morgan says.
But it’s the local resources that changed the course of their entrepreneurial journey. Simmerman and Morgan are both grateful for the resources available to entrepreneurs in the Louisiana ecosystem, including parish-specific tax credits, local incubators and accelerator programs.
“If I didn’t have the resources that we have, my entrepreneurial life would not exist,” Morgan says.
The key, he says, is not being afraid to ask for help. Identify resources, talk to local officials and educational leaders — there are tons of financial and educational resources out there.
“I never was turned down from any resources, any mentorship, when I was intentional about wanting that help,” Morgan says.
The team has an ongoing relationship with the Idea Village in New Orleans and is participating in the Propeller accelerator program to develop company policies aligned with the culture they’ve built. “We want to bring that professionalism, but also that friendship and that camaraderie, in a culture that’s accessible to everyone,” Morgan says.
Simmerman and Morgan also participated in and won PitchBR Nexus Louisiana’s quarterly pitch competition. The founders’ passion and compelling story earned Ceres the investment prize.
The prize money isn’t the only benefit the Ceres team got at MicroBREW. “The event showed the level of genuine passion and excitement of the ecosystem that Nexus has around it,” Simmerman says. “We met so many people at that one single event that are still with us on our journey.”