I had the pleasure on Tuesday to drive down to Richmond, VA, and visit the facility of TemperPack, a manufacturing and engineering startup devoted to the creation of reliable, effective, low-cost insulation for services like Plated, BlueApron, and Omaha Steaks. The facility was a nondescript warehouse on the outskirts of the city, but when you walked through the doors, the bustle and energy of a company that has gone from a few hundred thousand in revenue to millions in less than 18 months hits you in the face. There are dozens of employees — researchers, managers, line workers, shippers, and a good number picking up wherever they are needed — working around the clock to get product from raw materials to shipped.
TemperPack’s goal is to provide reliable, low-cost, and environmentally sustainable insulation for services like Blue Apron, Plated, Hello Fresh, and other food delivery services. Traditionally, these services would rely on something like styrofoam to keep the food at the proper temperature before it is brought inside and prepared. Styrofoam is not easy to ship (it takes up a lot of space and can’t be compressed further) and people just don’t like using it. Consumers feel guilty about throwing out a large chunk of styrofoam that they know will go to waste.
The solution is sustainable jute-based insulation. These can be wrapped around the food being delivered and easily thrown away or recycled, making them more attractive from a shipping perspective and from a consumer perspective.
All of the assembly, research, and shipping is done, affordably and safely, from Richmond. The team of young entrepreneurs and engineers spends most of their time just trying to keep up with demand. The energy from the team and from the entire facility was electric — it was as if I were standing on the floor of a turn-of-the-century mill, watching value be created for consumers and the employees alike. From one end of the room, supplies like jute are loaded on to lines and on the other end they are shipped across the country and will be insulating somebody’s food within a week.
This kind of energy is difficult to find, especially in the United States. Software companies, though they create an immense amount of value, wrap their value up in command terminals and text editors. Much of the remaining manufacturing left in the US is on its last leg or only exists because of union demands or government handouts. Not so with the TemperPack facility.
Praxis participant Casey McGoff, who was an early addition to the team, led me through the tour, and exuded this energy and optimism.
A lot of people have this zero-sum mindset that they can either do something “good” with their lives or do something financially rewarding. At TemperPack, we are doing both. We are making an environmentally friendly product, but we are doing it profitably. Not only that, but we are making all of it right here in the United States. We aren’t doing this out of some backwards notion of supporting U.S. jobs, we are just doing it because it’s the most efficient, cost-effective way to do business. Personally, I think that’s really cool. We’ve directly created over 250 jobs. If you consider our business partners and suppliers, I’m not even sure how many jobs we’ve created indirectly.
TemperPack betrays the popular image of what a startup has to look like. Instead of people on beanbag chairs and enjoying craft beer near a ping pong table, TemperPack’s facility is hot, sweaty, energetic, and nobody really has time for the beer and ping pong table if they even had it. But the company is a startup by most definitions — it was founded in early 2015 and is already doing tens of millions in revenue. It is young and high-growth. That’s not easy to do.
When you hear “startup,” you probably think software. We are not software. We are manufacturing. We’re making real things. AND, we’re a startup. Yeah, we we’re pulling 80 hour weeks early on… but they weren’t full of late night coding sessions. Instead, we were pulling late night building sessions. We we’re literally in a warehouse, armed with drills, duct tape, and measuring tapes, inventing new processes and systems.
I’ve visited dozens of companies in pretty much any industry you can imagine during my time as our Business Development Director, and TemperPack is easily one of the most impressive. The fact that it can maintain growth, an excited team, and a sense of productive contrarianism without letting it go to their heads earns them this distinction. We’re excited to be working with them.