Founder: Riana Lynn
Company Description: Technology platform that uses big data and small business user profiles to link food distributors, local farms and specialty food manufacturers with wholesale food buyers.
Company Site: http://thefoodtrace.com/; Twitter
Date of Interview: February 2015
Riana Lynn is the CEO and Founder of FoodTrace, a software company that provides digital discovery and bridges the path between businesses to increase revenue opportunities for local food buyers (e.g, restaurants, grocery stores) looking for distributors, farms, and artisans. The software suite provides tools that improve operations by reporting ingredients, trends, and customer marketing to increase transparency of the resulting sourcing activities. She believes that technology is the answer to improving food access, health, and building a stronger local farming and food community.
On a life full of inspirations:
She was always inspired by her own family’s businesses and personal relationships with food. Her grandmother was an urban farmer in Evanston and taught Riana how to garden early on. “It was really impactful because it taught me about sustainability and decreasing food waste.” Her grandfather was a meat distributor and taught her how to hunt and took her to local markets where he sold his products. “It really changed my perspective on eating fresh and local; and the impact small farmers and artisans can have in their local community.”
When she was a teenager, she began to take notice and interest in internet businesses and the growth of e-commerce; and later in college, she taught herself how to code. “I started college the same year that Facebook started. To see a company like that grow and connect people was inspiring.”
Riana knew that she wanted to make an impact in food and health and guided her education and professional experiences with that in mind. She holds B.S. and Masters degrees in Biology, Chemistry and Public Health.
On getting to FoodTrace:
Her passion for technology, food and health continued to shape her projects and business pursuits after school. She had a series of interesting opportunities to get involved in government and health policy organizations, including a stint at the First Lady’s White House Kitchen Garden.
“All these experiences really molded me into understanding that there are solutions to improve access to food. However, I felt that my calling was to do something more agile and flexible than working in the government and hospital systems.”
Riana wanted to use technology to create solutions faster. She began a consulting business that focused on e-commerce and digital strategies for local food artisans and had the early features of FoodTrace.
“Quality sourcing and marketing your sourcing activities is very valuable for businesses. You’re not only bringing in good products and building relationships with vendors, but you’re able to share these activities with your customers who value more information and more choice on the kind of product and its background.”
She got noticed by the CNBC TV show, The Profit through one of her consulting clients. Her consulting business was acquired in-house by the show host for the associated Investment Holdings group. Riana decided to continue pursuing her vision with the FoodTrace product concept after the acquisition.
On learning how to code:
“It takes time. You can take classes that are accelerated, but just testing out different platforms and languages a couple hours a day or a week can get you a long way.”
For founders who don’t have any coding knowledge, she suggests that you should acquire some basic knowledge and a mentor who can help you navigate the space.
“If you’re an entrepreneur, you should try to learn it on a basic level so that you can understand how to communicate with people who can take your company to the next level. Every company is tech-enabled now.”
On passion and appetite:
Riana believes the two most important traits for success are passion and appetite.
“You just need to be consuming all the time. If you don’t have an appetite for continuing to grow and learning all the tools that are making businesses better, then it’s going to be hard to survive. If you really find a project that you are passionate about, I think the appetite will develop because you really want to impact that area and see your brain child grow. If it’s not there, then you’re probably not passionate enough about that issue or subject. The passion drives that appetite. If you don’t feel it, you might be misaligned about what you think you’re passionate about.”
On what’s most important for women in tech:
“Definitely community. I’ve learned so much from people and have a sisterhood of support to learn from. Sharing your knowledge and resources is very valuable. I think the biggest struggle right now is around capital, but I think we can join together to figure out how to raise capital more collectively.”
“We have to be more collaborative than our counterparts – even if we’re competing for the same pot of money. If we share, then we’ll all have more success.”
On what else she’s learned along the way:
“Don’t schedule too much stuff. You have to wake up earlier. You have to do work on the weekends. And you also have to drink wine and whiskey with your friends. You have to celebrate the small things. You have to relax with your family.”
At the time of the interview, FoodTrace was currently in beta and planning to fully launch in the spring. You can find Riana eating at Ras Dashen restaurant, local taquerias and anywhere with good brussel sprouts, fresh fruit, great spices and hand crafted cocktails. She loves the Edgewater Farmers Market in Chicago, but recommends that you take a Saturday trip out to Madison, WI some time to experience the the Madison Farmers Market at Capitol Square.