From Bar Bet to Shark Tank: How Samy Kobrosly Found Success in the Healthy Snack Market
Like so many great ideas, SNACKLINS started as a bar bet.
During a late-night drinking session in the back of a BBQ joint just outside Washington, DC, a group of Samy Kobrosly’s friends bet him that he couldn’t make a decent vegan pork rind. As Samy had a reputation for taking up crazy food challenges, he eagerly accepted the task. After a few determined months of test-kitchen experimentation, he landed on a perfectly light, crispy, seasoned pillow of delight, made with just three healthy ingredients: mushroom, onion, and yuca.
What started as little more than a joke has now become a certifiable snack food craze, winning the hearts, minds, and mouths of millions across the country.
Five years later, fueled by national attention from a spotlight on Shark Tank, and with distribution now reaching 1000+ stores, SNACKLINS is a side hustle-to-success story that neither Samy, nor his friends back at the bar, could possibly have imagined.
Learning to Play His Chips
Before becoming an entrepreneur, Samy was a morning radio DJ who kept odd hours. “He was off work at 2 every afternoon—after waking up at 3AM for the radio show [on Hot 99.5]—and hung around folks in the restaurant and food business who led similar lives,” said Kevin Blesy, now SNACKLINS CEO. “He spent a lot of time in both dives and Michelin star restaurants.”
After meeting the now-infamous challenge to develop a vegan pork rind, Samy knew he had whipped up something truly special, but the goal from the start was never to launch a new healthy snack brand. The original plan was for much more immediate types of gratification.
“Someone in the neighborhood said, ‘if you bring those over to our brewery we’ll give you free beer,’ so we transitioned to doing it for free beer. From there, a local grocery store said, ‘If you let us sell it in our stores, we’ll give you 15% off on groceries,’ so we did that... just to get the 15% off groceries,” Samy said. “We were just along for the ride.”
That ride quickly accelerated. Soon, Samy’s snacks became the talk of Metro DC, and he realized he needed to start thinking seriously about scaling—and fast.
“People genuinely liked it! They were buying it from the stores, buying it at the breweries. It became this side-hustle that was meant mostly to get free beer, and now... we could have employees!? We could actually do this! We could be in more than 5 grocery stores... we could be in 500!”
The Oven Heats Up
The first point of order was to find a full-time CEO to run the business side of things. “I’m pretty self aware,” Samy said. “I realized that what I had done was simply make a really delicious chip. I wasn’t good at marketing or selling it that well, but being self-aware as a business owner, I knew I had to find someone better.”
Samy was connected to Kevin Blesy, former Head of Strategy of fast-casual restaurant chain &pizza, with a background in private equity and food-service management. All it took was a taste of the chip, and he was sold. “I thought the product was super compelling,” Kevin recalled. “I thought the opportunity was really big, and something you could scale more quickly and effectively than a company-owned restaurant chain. And personally and professionally, I thought it was a huge challenge I thought I was ready for.”
Now, just five years after Samy’s first kitchen experiments, SNACKLINS’ growth has boomed, adding three more flavors, opening a massive new facility just outside DC where all snacks are manufactured in-house, hiring more than a dozen employees—all with equity in the company— landing Mark Cuban as an enthusiastic investor, and continuing to make headlines as independent innovators in the $65 billion snack and bakery market.
None of this success, however, could have been possible without savvy investment from the start, along with smart spend management habits while scaling the company nationally.
SNACKLINS CEO Kevin Blesy explains: “To some extent, we’re unbankable. We’re a high-growth, but loss-making company. Because we’re in the manufacturing side, our investments in materials, inventory, and people far surpass or date our receivables. Anything we can do to more effectively manage cash, and create some amount of float at this size is huge.”
“That’s why Brex has been helpful,” Kevin adds. “We use Brex for business credit cards and to get an overview of our cash flow, as well as cash flow forecasting. Brex also has a lot of set-and-forget features so that we don’t have to handle all of our expenses ourselves. You can send a copy of your receipt through text or email, and it automatically matches it with your transaction, so we don’t have to reconcile our transactions. Things like that.”
“SNACKLINS is a capital-intensive business, and we need to manage our cash cycle as actively as possible. Typically, you’re not going to get a huge traditional corporate credit card at this size with our financial profile, which is why Brex has been an asset.”
A Metro DC Love Story
Samy and the team at SNACKLINS are incredibly proud that their product, a three-ingredient vegan snack that rivals any pork-rind on the market, is still hand-made in their own facility right outside the tiny barroom where the idea was born.
“SNACKLINS tastes unique because we’re actually making it ourselves using our own ingredients.” Samy says. “It’s been this weird DC Metropolitan love story... which for some reason doesn’t actually involve any politics.”
The team at Brex couldn’t be more proud of this sweet-and-savory success story, and are inspired by Samy’s commitment to always remembering why he started.