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My Tech Failure Helped Launch My Salt Enterprise

I started a really, really unsuccessful internet company and lost almost all of my savings. Luckily, I was really into kayaking and started collecting salt water, which has transformed my career into a whole new business enterprise.
Photo via Flickr user Michael Porter

I've bounced all over the place.

I was born in Virginia and then I moved to Vermont. I went to high school here in Oregon, and college in Seattle, and then moved to Scandinavia, and then finally came back here, where I would come to found Jacobsen Salt Co.

When I was in Scandinavia after college, I ended up as the head of global marketing at a software company out of Norway. Then, I started a really, really unsuccessful internet company and lost almost all of my savings. The gist of the start-up was mobile app discovery, which was a great idea, but it was terribly executed. It was definitely a bummer, but I learned a lot from it.


During that time, I was making salt for fun. I used to go out kayaking and crabbing on the coast a lot, but I'd never catch any crab. I was like, Screw it—I'll go back out there for salt water.

I'm fascinated by salt, and at the time, there was virtually nobody making it in the Pacific Northwest. So I started bringing saltwater back with me and trying to make salt. At first, I was only successful at making really bad salt. It began a process of about two and a half years of trial and error.

In the beginning, I knew it had to be some sort of evaporation process, because with saltwater, the salt is clearly there. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as just boiling water, and that's what took years to figure out. Once the process was successful, I went and tested more than 30 spots of water along the Oregon and Washington coast, with the idea in my mind that if a winemaker is making great wine, she wants to source the best grapes possible. I wanted to try to find the best water possible.

My salt is handmade because we filter the seawater, boil it, and then move it into stainless steel evaporation pans that are custom-made. All of our equipment at this point is custom-made, because it has to be—it's not like we're a brewery and there's a brewery supply store to buy from. We then hand-harvest the salt crystals from the pan, drain and dry them, and hand-pack every single crystal that goes out to customers.


We've just been really fortunate in getting support from chefs up here in Portland, but also nationwide at this point. I didn't start three years ago with a business plan saying OK, we're gonna start a salt company. It was very much an evolution.

Our salt is super clean and briny-tasting, and has no bitter aftertaste. It dissolves quickly, so you're not left smacking your mouth. If there is a salt trace, it just dissipates really beautifully. It's very light and delicate.

I'm a very average home cook. But the one thing I definitely have picked up over the course of a few years is obviously the use of finishing salt. It can be as simple as, you know, mash up an avocado on a piece of toast and sprinkle good salt on it and some hot sauce and you're good to go. Or fry an egg on toast. Or cook up a hamburger steak at home and finish it with good salt.

There's no single better way to elevate any bite of food than with a good salt. You can spend 30 bucks on a bottle of wine, and it will last you an hour. But you spend, you know, $12 dollars on a package of salt, and it will last you for months.

Ben Jacobsen is the founder of Jacobsen Salt Co., based in Netarts Bay, Oregon.