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EntrePROneurs: Business Savvy Professional Triathletes

  • By Holly Bennett
  • Published Mar 7, 2014
Photo: John David Becker

Jesse Thomas

Tri claim to fame: Three-time Wildflower champion
Entrepreneurial acclaim: Picky Bars (Pickybars.com), gluten-free, dairy-free, real-food energy bars

When Jesse Thomas turned pro and ramped up his training, his appetite increased accordingly. But the big eater was also a picky eater, having been home-diagnosed by his wife (running phenom Lauren Fleshman) with gluten and dairy intolerances. Fleshman, along with best pal Steph Rothstein, a professional marathoner with celiac disease, set to work in the kitchen, crafting an energy bar recipe that her husband could stomach. Their culinary experiments eventually led to Picky Bars, a company officially launched in October 2010, which Thomas now helms as CEO, overseeing the legal, financial and marketing aspects of the business, as well as four employees.

“It happened really organically,” Thomas says. “I was eating a ton of our bars, just churning through prototypes. We had extras, so we started giving them to our runner, cyclist and triathlete friends. They really liked them and asked for more. We decided we’d start selling them a little bit, so I figured out how to put up a WordPress site with a shopping cart plugin. It said, ‘Welcome to Pickybars.com.’ That was it.”

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The three entrepreneurs also parlayed the strength of their athletic social media platforms into a unique distribution model, inviting fans and followers to join the Picky Club, a subscription service for direct monthly bar deliveries. Thomas projected that 50–100 people might sign up; instead, the club boasts almost 800 members, and is now a priority for the company’s investment and growth. “We want to create a community around Picky Bars, to enable people to live the Picky life, to balance their lives just like we do with athletics and business and family,” Thomas says. “Part of that is connecting with people one to one. That’s what the Picky Club enables us to do.”

Thomas’ schedule is typically erratic: He logs anywhere from five to 40 hours weekly working on the brand, depending on the demands of training and racing. “Business is my break from athletics, and athletics is my break from business,” he says. “And there’s a real yin and yang there that provides a cool counterbalance in my life.”

For Thomas, creating a physical product that connects him to age-group athletes is “the coolest experience.” He recalls a particularly poignant moment at the 2012 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, where he suffered miserably on the run and considered dropping out. “All of a sudden I saw a Picky Bars wrapper on the course. I thought, ‘Someone out here racing ate a Picky Bar. That is awesome!’ It was so random, and it fueled me to the finish. Knowing that we made an impact on this crowd in some way—it was the coolest thing ever.”

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