How Bocoup Got Its NameOctober 30th 2012
I'm often asked where the name "Bocoup" comes from, and I pretty much always just make something up. What I've never told anyone is that my mother came up with it.
When I was eleven, I got it in my head that I wanted a pet chicken. What I really wanted was a baby chick. I thought they were really cute.
It was 1996, so my mother had a Macintosh with a 56k modem in her office that she let me yahoo on. I found a place in Texas that would ship a dozen day old chicks to your address for something like fifty cents each. I even found a guide for raising chickens written by a woman named Bobby from upstate New York and began corresponding with her frequently.
I begged my mother to let me raise chickens. When she asked me how I suggested we pay for it, I didn't know. So, she told me to put together a business plan, and if the numbers worked, she would "back me". I remember her saying it like that.
I had already been driving a small concession cart with my neighbor Paulie called "Bople" (for Boaz and Paulie). We would tie Paul's Radio Flyer to my gold and burgundy Univega, and ride around selling discount candies and sodas from BJ's to landscape and road crews. My mother really liked that I was doing Bople, and said if I could make the numbers work for "BoCoop" (Boaz's Chicken coop), she would let me do it.
So I wrote a business plan. My mother taught me how to calculate startup costs, make a projective balance sheet, identify risks and write up a business case for all the farm-fresh, delivered-to-your-door eggs opportunity in our neighborhood that I was keeping on about.
She also told me the French meaning of beaucoup, and then the definition of "coup", and suggested I change it to Boaz's Coup, and play on the mis-spelling of beaucoup. My mother considered raising chickens in the suburbs of Boston to be a coup against suburbia. I liked that, and so I went with Bocoup.
The numbers worked, and I bought two dozen female-sexed chickens. I built a coop in the back yard with my father. One of the chickens turned out to be a rooster, and I named him Bob after my pen-pal from upstate New York. My best layers were Henrietta and Matilda. I made chintzy business cards and fliers and papered the whole neighborhood. I sold farm-fresh, flaxseed-enriched eggs at four dollars per half-dozen and cleaned up. I bought metal letters that read "Bocoup", and made a sign. Those letters now hang in front of the entrance to Bocoup's downtown Boston office.
Last week, my mother died suddenly in the middle of the night of a massive subarachnoid brain hemorrhage. She lived a very full life as a social capitalist, founding at least thirteen companies and the Entrepreneurship Center at MIT. She lived four or five lifetimes in one, and so I wanted to take a moment to enumerate the achievements of my hero.
My mother, Florence Sender, was born Florence Storch in 1940's Brooklyn to Holocaust survivors from Vienna and Nuremberg. She grew up at 603 Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. She married her first husband in 1960 when she was seventeen, and enrolled in Hunter College (then the girls school for City College of New York). After college, she moved to France where my eldest sister was born. She spent her years in France falling in love with food and art. I will always remember the joy with which she ate cheese, and with which she talked about painting, sculpture, cinema, books and architecture. She loved Degas' ballerinas and always took me to see them, but above all, my mother loved to garden and grow things, to cook, to eat, and to feed people.
My mother moved from Paris back to New York in the late sixties and had my eldest brother. Two years later, she moved up to Boston, had another son, and started baking carrot cakes on the side for local restaurants. She was just an incredible chef.
She once said in an interview:
"I started my career at a time when women had few choices [...] I was very well educated and totally un-employable, so I started my own company."
Florence opened her first bakery in early seventies Boston in the fashion of a French charcuterie. She started selling prepared foods the French way before anyone in the United States sold prepared foods at all. Along with her cakes, she sold roast chickens, quiches, breads, jams, and of course, fresh cheeses. People used to come in and ask:
"What's a 'kweechie'?"
Following her quick success, Florence opened a second bakery in Boston, managed to get her cheeses regionally distributed in supermarkets, and founded a natural cheese manufacturing and distribution company in the early eighties around the same time she met my father and had her fourth child, me.
Florence revolutionized the deli section in US supermarkets. She became nationally distributed in every US city, was a runner up for INC magazine's Entrepreneur of the Year and sold her cheese company to a multinational cheese conglomerate in 1988. When you walk into a supermarket in the United States today and there's a cheese case by the deli, that's because of my mom.
After the cheese company, Florence went to teach at the MIT Sloan School of Management where she co-founded the MIT Entrepreneurship Center, designed the Lemelson Prize for Invention and Innovation and eventually became the Executive Director of the East Asia Management Program.
While at Sloan, Florence also raised an independent international development fund focused on building American owned businesses that would sell products domestically in developing countries. Through the early nineties that fund brought her to Brazil, Costa Rica, Singapore, Taiwan and China. She built fair trade programs, farm cooperatives, an agricultural school, two ice cream factories and a dairy processor.
In 1997 when she was fifty four, Florence left MIT and founded six more companies before her death; an international food importing company, two more supermarket industry manufacturing and distribution companies, and three national food-based ("vegan") consumer skincare brands.
Florence died with a desk full of paperwork, thousands of emails in her inbox, and messages on the answering machine. She never stopped fighting. She was an overworked entrepreneur until her last breath and she died of a brain aneurysm. It's like the last scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. She went out with a bang.
My mother created billions of dollars of value in her life. She revolutionized the supermarket and skincare industries more than once. She paved a way for women in business. My mother changed the world and I am so proud to be her son. My mother lived so large. She was an impetuous optimist. She only took risks. She never stopped.
May her legacy live on through the people she mentored, and the opportunities she created for all of us.