Keith Belling Talks Popchips
By April Walloga
At the age of 10, while most kids his age were building forts in the backyard, Keith Belling was selling envelope labels door-to-door, painting addresses on curbs, working in his father’s furniture store and hatching business plans with his older brother. “We used to go buy out neighborhood garage sales on Sunday afternoons,” says Belling. “We’d clean them out and take everything to the flea market.”
A self-described “serial entrepreneur,” Belling—who grew up in Piedmont, CA, and attended UC Davis—has no shortage of businesses under his belt. He nearly scooped Howard Schultz’s success with a San Francisco-based coffee-bar chain in the late ’80s, and in 2000 Belling sold allbusiness.com, of which he was CEO and founder, to NBC Interactive for a cool $225 million.
Last year Belling’s current company, Popchips, saw revenues of more than $40 million, more than double that of the previous year. Here, he tells the Popchips story
Where did you get the idea for Popchips?
KEITH BELLING: There’s a deli by my office I go to regularly. I’d go in and get my sandwich and my bag of fried chips, and I found myself hiding them under my sandwich when I was waiting in line. So being an entrepreneur, I just thought, There has to be something better.
What exactly is a Popchip?
KB: It’s mostly potato, but we actually turn a potato into the equivalent of a kernel of popcorn or a grain of rice so you can pop it.
What are the most popular flavors?
KB: It depends on the market. LA tends to be original and barbeque, but on the East Coast sea salt and vinegar does well. We get lots of requests for jalapeño, chili lime and chipotle, so we’ll have more Popchips flavors by the second quarter of the year.
What does Ashton Kutcher bring to the table as your “President of Pop Culture?”
KB: First of all, a lot of fun. [We did] a search with Ashton for a “Vice President of Pop Culture.” [It’s] a real, paying job.
What’s your advice to entrepreneurs?
KB: Being an entrepreneur is twice as hard as you’d expect. If you don’t have passion for what you want to do, you’ll never survive.
photograph by philip harvey for alyssa pizer management