Fabien is as multicultural as they come. He has lived in France, Germany, the United States, Mexico, and Finland. He doesn’t just speak one language, or even two – but a total of six languages, and all of them fluently. He’s had many career iterations in his 42 years including running a nightclub (he’s also a musician so there was a lot of “free jazz”) and also working as a corporate lawyer for the Los Angeles Superior Court. His joie de vivre is obvious and infectious. It’s hard to not want whatever Fabien is having, and in this case, it’s unbelievably fresh-baked croissants that taste like a boulangerie was dropped in your home.
Fabien gets bored if he is doing one thing for too long. He wants to see and explore everything. He’s worked for startups large (ahem, Amazon) and small, and loves getting his hands dirty as he explores new opportunities. Fabien says, “I don’t have a linear path. I’m not interested in a typical career.” It helps that his interests are so varied because he can hop on just about any project and “help out and be interested.”
When Covid hit and lockdowns became part of the lexicon, Fabien was stuck at home with his family. He was working for a corporation in their innovation department thanks to a background in UX Design. When he was at his home office, he felt unfulfilled. He says, “Something was burning in me, I needed to do my own thing.” There was also his ability to get bored quickly. It was amplified a tremendous amount during the pandemic. He explains, “It was a bit boring to be behind the computer, trying to work on innovative products, because it’s much more about meeting customers and ideating.”
A First-Time Baker
Fabien was looking for something fun to do, and more specifically, Fabien felt this mantra speak itself into existence: “I need to do something with my hands.” Fabien did what a lot of people at the beginning of the pandemic did, he baked. There was just one problem. He had never baked in his life, so he started watching Youtube videos of bakers sharing their crafts. In a truly ironic twist, he found an English baker online who mastered the art of croissant baking. That’s right, a Frenchman learned how to bake French pastries from a Brit.
Fabien was smitten with the baking process. His family was thankful because they reaped the rewards of the daily experiments, and they enjoyed the quiet because their dad and husband’s last passion project was drumming which was noisy and migraine-inducing for all involved.
The smells and the tastes of the croissants brought Fabien back to his childhood. He has been a self-described “foodie,” since he was a young boy. One of his earliest memories is his mother handing him two euros and him spending it at the corner bakery. He says, “Food is not just about the taste or filling your belly, but it’s all of the emotions involved, and the smells, and the sharing.”
Food Brings People Together
Fabien’s French background plays a role in his passion for food prepared at home. He explains, “In French culture, food is not just about eating, but it’s about making things together.” So, during the early days of lockdown, he shared his baked goods with friends and family. The reception was wildly positive. But Fabien thought that the croissants tasted best right out of the oven and he wanted his recipients to have the ability to try them that way too. But how?
In French bakeries, the products move quickly because of supply and demand. That means that all of the goods are so fresh, they’re sometimes straight out of the oven. But in other countries, the products don’t move as quickly because there isn’t enough turnover. So, either a customer is greeted with a less than palatable item, or it is pumped with preservatives making it shelf-stable. Fabien frowns upon either option.
At the time, one of Fabien’s many side projects was home food kits. In Finland, where he lived, meal delivery kits were popular, as they are worldwide. But he saw a hole in the marketplace because as much as people loved home-cooked meals, a lot of the companies providing this service wanted customers to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Fabien thought that there must be something between a labor-intensive meal kit and restaurant takeout. Was it possible to replicate home-cooked food without requiring exorbitant amounts of time in the kitchen? His burgeoning business idea was exploring pasta and pizza kits, but he had not been able to land on the right ingredients.
Fabien’s idea was to “create some kits that are available on-demand, like on delivery platforms, but that you can finalize at home.” This means that part of the kit is frozen and there are also super fresh components. That’s when it hit him, he could turn the croissants into breakfast meal kits that customers finish in their home ovens.
Fabien was excited about entering the “experience economy.” There have been multiple studies done on the “contribution effect.” When a customer is involved in making the food, they put a higher value on it as compared to a ready-made option. Fabien explains that in the 1950s when the United States introduced pancake mixes with an “add water component,” sales were strong. Fabien says, “that’s because as a human being, you want to contribute.”
Fabien wanted to be sure his idea had legs, so he decided to test it out on a whim. One day, he posted a flash sale of his frozen pastries on Facebook to gauge response. Would people buy frozen sweets? The response was overwhelmingly positive. Fabien had 1,500 euros in sales after only half an hour. He knew that he was onto something, and Krusti was born.
Fabien had the Youtube recipe that he spent months tinkering with and perfecting. He decided to shift the focus of the home food kits so that they all had a bake-at-home component. Fabien used some of the earnings from his full-time consulting job (the “boring” one) to fund this new business. He knew that if he continued baking in his home kitchen, it would not go over well with his family. In Fabien’s words, if he scaled this business out of his kitchen, he explains, “My wife would divorce me.”
Fabien began looking for kitchen space, and real estate in the middle of the Pandemic was affordable. In downtown Helsinki, he was able to procure a large kitchen with lots of freezer space. He wanted to bring in French bakers because “if you’re a baker in France, you start at the age of 12 and by the age of 18, you’ve got six years of experience. There is a lot of built-in knowledge and know-how. But if you’re hiring a Finnish baker at the age of 20, they come out of school with no experience and they’re pure beginners.”
Fabien wanted to execute his vision seamlessly from the very beginning. It’s why he invested in high-quality baking ingredients immediately. He never wanted to sacrifice the quality of the goods or skimp on a premium baking experience. Fabien handled all of the marketing and PR. He invested SEO dollars and is ranked very highly in Finland. But Krusti also relies heavily on word of mouth. Fabien knows that if Krusti makes an unforgettable impression, people will come back for more. Not only that, they’ll tell their friends.
The team has had to consider everything, including how cold to keep his freezers. In Finland, room temperature is between 22 and 24 degrees Celsius and it’s stable. This is an important fact because his bread needs to rise overnight. It’s trickier in a place like France or Italy where the temperature is much colder at night. This would require investing in professional equipment to help the rising process along. Fabien is keeping this piece of trivia in his back pocket when he scales. He is nothing if not ambitious.
Fabien and his team of four prep the breakfast kits in the warehouse and have an “innovative distribution strategy” for delivery. He has a “fleet of a few cars and people” who make daily deliveries depending on location. It’s a seamless process because food can arrive cold. It’s supposed to. Krusti is exploring setting up distribution hubs to service different neighborhoods. Since customers are doing the baking, the hubs only have to have freezer space.
The team is thinking big. They see Krusti as a worldwide phenomenon since it is offering something truly unique. Sure, a big city like Los Angeles has its share of food delivery apps. But, if you live in an area that doesn’t have that many restaurants, the takeout is limited. But Krusti just needs freezer space and it could pop up in food deserts across the globe.
Fabien has made Krusti his full-time job. He has four employees, including a French baker. They are testing out many different frozen products. The team is currently baking upwards of 8,000 croissants a week, generating over 8,000 euros a month. Fabien is still not taking a salary, but he’s hopeful that will change soon. With plans for an international expansion on the horizon, Fabien will be very busy indeed. Maybe even too busy to practice his drumming, which I’m sure his children will miss immensely.
Want to share your bootstrapping story with the world? Enter your details in this Typeform and we’ll be in touch.