Red's Best uses seafood technology to track how fishermen get their catch to the plate.
- Founded in 2008, Red's Best has grown from a single refrigerated truck to a multifacility business that ships New England-caught fish around the world.
- The company developed software to track the fish the company catches and sells.
- Using its proprietary software, Red's Best can quickly and accurately report federally mandated data to the appropriate agencies.
For four centuries, New Englanders have trawled, trapped and caught fish and marine wildlife, and they're now selling it to seafood restaurants across the globe. As we dig into our lobsters and fluke with anticipation, it's hard not to imagine the fisherman who caught our dinner standing on the deck of a ship as it bobs along on a tempestuous sea.
It's an evocative image, for sure, but the thought of braving the elements to feed his community is exactly what drove Jared Auerbach, founder and CEO of Red's Best, to the sea. While many fishing enthusiasts are hooked on the sport at an early age due to their family's connection to the sea, Auerbach was an inland Massachusetts native who grew up in a suburb west of Boston. Still, his infatuation remained.
"I always had this attraction, from the earliest age, with the idea of catching fish to eat them and feeding other people with the fish I caught," he said. "Even though I never really had the opportunity to do that, I always romanticized the idea."
In his youth, Auerbach and his friends spent their free time hiking and fishing outdoors. Though he didn't live on the coast and couldn't regularly get to the open sea, he and his friends often went freshwater fishing in a nearby lake. After fishing from a party boat a handful of times, Auerbach did what made the most sense to him after graduating college – he traveled to Seattle to spend three months on a commercial fishing boat bound for Alaska.
For the next three fishing seasons, Auerbach bounced between the Pacific Northwest and New England to work each time becoming "even more compelled by the seafood industry." He wanted to know how he could make his mark on his community's time-honored tradition.
"I was just so determined to get out into the world and see the ocean that I took the job," he said. "I just really admired the people I was working with on the water, and the entrepreneur in my brain started getting really curious about what was happening with the fish after we'd sell it – what happened between us and the consumer."
Wanting to know more about the seafood industry and the supply chain that feeds it, Auerbach took on several roles that didn't involve getting on a boat. By 2006, as he learned more about the industry, Auerbach became more emboldened in his drive to start his own company. Two years later, on June 10, 2008, just one day before fluke season started in Massachusetts that year, Red's Best was born.
Gaining the trust of an established industry
From the very beginning, Red's Best was always about supporting small business-minded American piscators, Auerbach said. To do that, he sought to help hardworking fishermen by unloading their daily catch in a timely and cost-effective manner.
At first, that meant driving out to his clients in a single refrigerated truck, cataloging and accepting loads of fresh fish on his own. Normally, when a commercial boat unloads its products, the fishermen haven't yet agreed to a price. As a result, they are "trusting us to make a market by matching their supply with the demand for their fish," he explained.
While that's normally fine for massive commercial fishing boats and seafood companies that make their money in bulk, smaller operations are often left wondering how their catches will fare on the market. That's where Red's Best comes in.
"Historically, the fisherman and the fish buyer have a contemptuous relationship. We put our focus on the smaller boats and invested in our technology so we could get good at unloading small boats," Auerbach said. "In a way, we were able to get into this really entrenched industry by pulling together a lot of little scraps."
With an emphasis on accuracy and transparency, as well as looking the part as a man who was used to "really getting [his] hands dirty," Auerbach said Red's Best has grown over the last 11 years from a man with a truck to roughly 100 workers, a fleet of vehicles, four unloading facilities and a retail location.
The key to success, especially as a company that works primarily in the business-to-business landscape, is "the relationship we have with these fishermen and the trust they have in us," Auerbach said. "I show these guys a lot of respect. I treat them like business owners when historically they've been treated as sharecroppers," he said. "I got into this industry not because my grandfather was a fisherman or because I was taking over my dad's company. I got into this industry because of a respect for these men and women. I don't think they were used to being treated as businesspeople and that resonated with them."
Merging high tech with the high seas
At its most basic, fishing can be boiled down to a rod, a reel, some bait and – if you're going for certain species of fish – a boat. People have consumed fish as a food source for roughly 165,000 years. Yet to catch some of the species that inhabit New England waters, you need the right equipment for the job.
Shortly after establishing Red's Best, Auerbach said he realized he needed the right tool for his job too. Early on, as he was working with up to 10 boats at a time, he said he was "losing my mind" trying to handle all of the ensuing paperwork by hand. Manifests, shipping information and documents for various marine regulatory agencies were all required from his business. It wasn't long before he knew that he'd have to create some efficiencies if he wanted to scale up the business.
Auerbach said the need to make his job easier is what ultimately spawned the innovation that singlehandedly set Red's Best apart from its competitors – a proprietary piece of software that helps the company unload boats and handle the corresponding data.
With the help of a friend who could code the program, the company developed logistics software that was able to handle regulatory requirements with ease and track a fisherman's daily catch from the moment it leaves his ship, helping ensure the fish's quality. Relying on scores of data points, the software creates an "unbroken chain of custody" of a ship's products.
Applying that amount of data to a small fishing vessel's output made Red's Best among the first companies to "see the value of telling the story of seafood," Auerbach said.
"It feels good, and it's good for business to emphasize and value all the steps in the supply chain and to not take any of them for granted," he said. "We really try to celebrate the fishermen, but we also try to celebrate the truck drivers, the fish packers and the filet people."
"Telling the story of seafood" was a concept that put his company on the map, even if the software's original intent had nothing to do with storytelling. "Transactions with a boat are pretty complex," said Auerbach. "We've been able to get a seat at the big boy table out of nowhere because our software enabled us to create scale out of lots of small transactions in a way that's impossible to do without our technology."
The company's software allows producer and consumer alike to trace the products sold in stores using a QR code, but its main purpose was to collate data. As a result, Auerbach said his company is "the best ... at reporting accurate and timely data to the regulators."
"By federal mandate, no fish or shellfish can be harvested beyond a sustainable yield," he said. "All we do is follow the rules and give regulators the data to help them do their job."
While the data helps support the seafood industry's ongoing sustainability efforts, Auerbach bristles at the idea of being considered a "sustainability guy," per se.
"What I am is the creator of a really unique platform that can connect very large groups of commercial fishermen with very large groups of consumers in a way that nobody's been able to do before," he said. "Our taxes sustain the fisheries – I just connect you to the healthy fisheries that your taxes help create."
Casting a glance back at lessons learned
As a small business owner over with 11 years of experience, Auerbach has learned a lot about himself, his business and the seafood industry he's loved since he was a boy. Having gone from just himself in a single truck to the operation he runs today, he says he was lucky that it all came together when it did, given the challenges he faced. Here are four of the lessons he's learned as an entrepreneur.
Grow at the right pace. "If you looked at the company over the last decade, you'd probably say that it grew fast, but I was really lucky that I could let the company grow slow when I needed it to grow slow," he said. "I was 28, single and had very low expenses. Now I'm 39, married with three kids and have a house in the suburbs. I couldn't do now what I did then, so I was able to grow at the right pace."
It's that idea of growing "at the right pace" that Auerbach said has most helped him find success with Red's Best. Whenever small business owners push to make decisions to meet short-term goals, he said he's found that "cash flow pressures tend to push business owners to make potentially long-term bad decisions."
Learn how to collect your receivables and manage cash flow. One thing Auerbach wishes he knew when starting out, however, was how to collect money. In the beginning stages of Red's Best, Auerbach found it easy to consider "an invoice as an asset," even though the money hadn't come in yet. That lesson hit particularly hard, as he learned that "people don't pay their bills, and there are a lot of laws in this country that actually make it easy for people not to pay their bills."
He also said he underestimated how important cash was for starting a business. Items like security deposits to lease a space aren't usually thought of when coming up with a business plan as a young entrepreneur. "I can go on and on with examples like that where cash gets tied up in ways that you wouldn't expect," he said.
Build the right team. Auerbach says all small business owners should try to learn that building a strong team of workers takes time – especially when trying to do the "hard but necessary" task of separating from bad employees.
"I'm an emotional guy, and I take my friendships and loyalty very seriously. In business, sometimes the right person when you're a $5 million business isn't the right person for a $30 million business, and it's really hard to come to that realization," Auerbach said. "When you do, though, it's good for your business."
Be a positive leader. Building a positive workplace culture ultimately helped Red's Best over the hump, Auerbach said. Part of that included realizing how important his body language and mood was as the head of the company. "We needed to become more polished, and it took me a while to realize how important I was as the leader ... on other people's ability to work," he said. "It sounds obvious, but I had to learn that."
With more than a decade of entrepreneurial experience now under his belt, Auerbach said he looks at his company with the same amount of pride that he did when he first headed to the docks in his refrigerated truck.
"It's pretty common in 2019 to make producers the heroes, but it takes a lot of heroic people to feed a community off of a wild natural resource like seafood," Auerbach said. "It's what drew me to this industry, and it's still really important to me."