It all began with a Belgian waffle, a seemingly humble origin for HappiCo, a company founded by Sam Rockwell (CEO), Justin Samuels (COO) and Jeremy Reich (Chief Strategy Officer), all graduates of the Wisconsin School of Business in 2010. In the startup’s early days, their venture was all about selling waffles to their fellow UW-Madison students. “The first waffle we ever sold was actually at the Mifflin Street block party” states Sam.
Today, HappiCo has evolved into a host of distinct brands catering to diverse food diets and food enthusiasts. “It didn’t make sense to make the brand one thing,” says Sam, “So now we have HappiCo, our parent company which provides infrastructure, resources and support to our separate, authentic, realistic brands.”
Setting out on their entrepreneurial journey, the founders of HappiCo committed to creating products they truly understood and loved. “When you build a brand, it needs to have a purpose and meaning. It needs to stand for something. If you try to have a brand stand for everything, it really doesn’t stand for anything.” For them, authenticity became crucial. They sought to create a deeper connection between their products and their brand’s message hence their name: HappiCo. They also wanted their brands to be accessible and to tell meaningful stories. Their most recent endeavor is a partnership with popular cultural figure, Snoop Dogg, to launch Dr. Bombay ice cream. Justin emphasizes, “It is one thing to claim partnerships with everyone you encounter, and another to truly live it.” He continues, “We take our partnerships, whether with individuals or vendors, very seriously. We aim not only to make our dreams come true but to do so for our partners.”
Today, HappiCo boasts a diverse portfolio of brands including a waffle brand called Waffle Waffle, an Asian fusion brand called Laughing Tiger, Keto brands, and dessert brands. From waffles to frozen foods, to meals, to ice cream – the remarkable growth of their company is not only a testament to their business tactics but also to the strong bond they share with each other.
Sam, Justin and Jeremy remain not just business partners but close friends who share their experience of UW daily. During their undergrad years, the trio lived in the same apartment complex. With this proximity, Sam and Justin were able to dive headfirst into the venture, with Jeremy serving as a trusted advisor. Says Sam, “The idea of going out and trying to get a job was something that wasn’t very easy. So, all three of us come from the school of ‘let’s bet on ourselves and if we are going to do so, let’s bet on ourselves to build a floor and not a ceiling.’”
Reflecting on their experience at UW, Justin acknowledges, “Our degrees at UW-Madison gave us a solid foundation in understanding how various aspects of business are interconnected.” From financial statements to operations and management, they believe their UW-Madison education is invaluable.
Every venture faces its fair number of struggles and in the face of setbacks, the trio’s approach is straightforward: “It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when things arise,” says Jeremy. And how you handle them defines you. If you want to harvest food, you must plant seeds. If you plant seeds today and want fruit today, then you’re going hungry.” They simply see their company as something to invest in, to grow in, to thrive in. He continues, “things that may seem to be challenging are often opportunities in disguise. One thing leads to the next. To relationships. To infrastructure, to investment and reinvestment. That’s what is so fun about entrepreneurship.”
“There is always this idea of the perfect job. Sometimes the most untraditional paths can be the most rewarding. For us, it is food.”