Ready SeafoodPhoto: Inc.com

John and Brendan Ready are the founders of ReadySeafood.com and CatchapieceofMaine.com. In a short time they have build up their seafood business to millions in revenue and have been featured in things like Inc’s 30 under 30 list.

The duo spent summers learning the business when they were younger and even left college on the weekends to sell lobsters. It was hard work as John explains sleeping on the office floor for the first year. But both of them don’t regret a second of it and have achieved their dream and created an empire off the coast of Maine…

What were you doing before you started readyseafood.com?

Brendan and I grew up in Cape Elizabeth Maine and were introduced to lobstering by our Uncle Ted who was, and still is, a commercial lobsterman.  He took us out lobstering when we were 6 or 7 years old for the first time.  We worked with him during the summers as his helper on his lobster boat and were paid in old lobster traps instead of cash.  In the winters we would fix up the old traps and then began lobstering on our own the following summer.  We bought a small wooden skiff and lobstered in front of our house in a small cove called Alewife Cove in Cape Elizabeth.  Our parents would watch us through binoculars from the house to make sure we were ok.

As the years went by, we grew our small lobstering business and went from fishing only a few lobster traps to fishing many hundred, by the time we were in high school, with large fiberglass boats.

Both Brendan and I wanted to become full-time lobstermen, but our parents pushed us to attend college.  Reluctantly, I left for college in 1999 and Brendan in 2000.  We both received great educations with a much more diverse view on how business works, but we also learned how to carve a nice niche for our future businesses, especially Catch a Piece of Maine and the direct to consumer business model.

What the hell got you into lobster? Does not seem like the average company for a 25 year old!

Good question!  Sometimes I wonder the same thing.  The lobster industry is a very old-fashioned industry that has changed very little over the past 50 years.  After first experiencing lobstering with our uncle, we were “bitten by the bug.”  Harvesting lobster has that romantic mystique and uncertainty of not knowing what you are going to catch.  The other side of the industry involving sales and marketing is a monster within itself.  That gets us into what Ready Seafood is.

What’s the story behind readyseafood.com Was there a moment where you decided to go for it? Did it almost not happen?

While at Northeastern University before graduating in 2004, I competed in the 60k business plan competition based on the launch of Ready Seafood.  Ended up winning the competition, and a week after graduating, Brendan and I launched Ready Seafood.  Ready Seafood is a wholesale lobster company based out of Portland Maine.  The business model is based on high volume and low margin.  We purchase live lobster directly from the harvesters, as well as indirectly from contracted buying wharfs that are located up and down the coast of Maine.  The product then comes back to our facility daily to be graded into different size categories depending upon customer needs.  Since we started out as lobstermen, we had great knowledge of the industry before we ever took a step in the direction of distribution and sales.   Today we sell Maine lobster all over the world.

(The sacrifice in starting Ready Seafood:  For the first year and a half, I slept on a cot on the floor of our office.  I did this because the hours of work were so overwhelming and by the time I finished up each day, I only had an hour or so before I had to start all over again.  Crazy lifestyle to endure in launching the business, but had to do it to survive)

(Horror story:  Going on our second full year in business we began doing somewhat well.  It was probably one of the few nights I was not sleeping at the facility.  It was the night before Christmas and we were holding a large inventory of lobsters in preparation for huge orders for New Years.  A winter storm going though the area with high winds took out our power, killing our pumps that circulated the water in our tanks to keep the lobster alive.  The next morning our Christmas present was thousands of pounds dead of lobster.  Our Christmas was spent cooking and picking lobster meat to minimize the loss of tens of thousands of dollars.  Despite the all-time low in business we learned if we could experience that type of loss and survive, we could make it through anything.)

You mention that you spent the weekends at Northeastern catching and selling lobsters. How did you have that motivation and not fall into the college party and social scene as much?

I would be lying to you if I told you I did not party and have one heck of a time attending college in Boston.  Brendan was the same, but at the same time we learned to play hard and work even harder.  I was very motivated to learn about business and applied what I was learning in the classroom to the passion I had for the Maine lobster industry.  Brendan felt the same way.  Like I said before, both Brendan and I were very competitive and we always wanted to be the best at whatever we did.  The same applied to our business.

What would you contribute your success to?

Our educations for sure, as well as all the support from our parents and our uncle.  Today we have a powerhouse board of advisors as well as a team of employees that are second to none.  Our team is what I devote to the success we have experienced this far.  I am extremely grateful and fortunate to have found such a great bunch of employees (team).

What do you think is the best and the worst part about running your own business?

The worst is never being able to turn the phone off.  It’s a full time job at work and away from work.  I can’t tell you how many nights I have been called in to work by the night crew at 2 or 3 am because of problems.  Its part of the business and you have to deal with it.

The best is watching the business grow and seeing team members grow as well.  Success to us is providing a work environment where we can say, “The sky is the limit,” and mean it.  At the same time its great being able to create a lifestyle business based around our personalities and likes.  It’s also not bad being located right on the ocean overlooking Portland Harbor.  (I’ll send you a flip cam video to show you our location.)

Could you explain catchapieceofmaine.com?

Catch a Piece of Maine was created, with the help of family, friends, and fellow lobstermen, in part as a response to the financial realities of the lobstering industry and as a means to introduce you to our traditions, trade and the sea. Through Catch a Piece of Maine we have toppled the barriers between lobsterman and consumer, allowing those who love to eat the freshest most delicious lobster a chance to get to know the dedicated lobsterman who harvests their dinner. Bringing the consumer closer to the dock allows us to sell direct so that we as lobsterman earn a premium and effectively preserve the traditional working waterfront.

We offer the freshest, most delicious, Maine lobster delivered anywhere in the country. We allow customers to own and receive their very own “share” of the catch direct from their personal lobsterman. Our delicious lobster gift baskets come complimentary with a map detailing exactly when and where your lobster dinner was harvested. A complimentary DVD accompanies all shipments. You or your gift recipient will be amazed to see and learn about the lobsterman who caught your lobster basket. To top off our unique offerings from the sea, you will receive a handwritten note and photo from your personal lobstermen along with recipes and detailed cooking instructions and recipes. And one more thing, you or your gift recipient will actually receive a phone call from a real Maine lobsterman the day your gift basket arrives (available for the “lobstermen share” and “premium partnership.”

Care to brag at all?

We have done a lot in our short number of years in business.  The best place to get a look at what we have done is to check out our press page at www.catchapieceofmaine.com

Catch A Piece of Maine has gained us much publicity and most importantly, provided more knowledge of what the Maine lobster industry really is like.  We have created a model for the rest of our industry to learn alternative ways to add value to an already strong brand.  Check out www.catchapieceofmaine.com to learn more about our program as well as who really is catching your dinner!

What are your next steps either business or personal?

Well we just relocated to a new facility on the historic Maine State Pier where all the cruise lines dock in Portland Harbor.  We just installed one of the largest lobster tanks in the state, allowing us to pack and ship up to 250,000 pounds of lobster per day.  We have some really big promotions coming up this summer and fall.

Personal level:  Learning to relax a bit more.  Still as hungry as we ever have been but want to be able to step a bit further away from it.

Where can people best contact you or your business?

Best place to see what we are up to is at www.catchapieceofmaine.com.  We are also on Facebook and Twitter.

John made a quick video of the facilities at Ready Seafood: