As 2018 comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on my first calendar year as a full-time food entrepreneur. While it’s so tempting to keep working and never take a pause (I’m so guilty), I recognize how important it is to take moments like this to celebrate wins and most importantly, learn from failures, in order to strive toward progress.
Thank you all for being part of my journey, and I hope everyone had an amazing 2018!
Four gr8 new flavors. Can you believe that just a year ago, we only had one flavor? In January, we launched our superfood trio: Matcha Green Tea, Golden Turmeric and Coco Cacao; and in October, we released our Limited Edition Charcoal Chia. When I was brainstorming seasonal flavor ideas, I remember worrying if the market would be turned off by a black granola. However, without risks, there’s no reward: Not only is Charcoal Chia bold and differentiating, it's become everyone’s favorite flavor!
We’ve expanded markets. Gr8nola began by selling to Bay Area tech companies, which has been an awesome channel to grow volume and sales. This year, we expanded beyond NorCal into the Pacific Northwest (fueling gr8ness at companies like Facebook, Palantir, Stripe, DocuSign and more) and most recently, Arizona. Along with it came some fun business travel: Here’s some #BTS from my Seattle trip this past year.
Gr8nola in the news. We received some amazing press features this year, most notably, but not limited to: Business Insider, Entrepreneur (two features here and here and a published byline), and podcasts on The Side Hustle School and Beyond Your Wildest Genes. Oh, and we’ve also become a favorite snack of Jo Jo, Jordin Sparks and Nigel Barker (not sponsored). Watch out, 'cause you might catch gr8nola on America’s Next Top Snack! ;)
New website launch. This was a project that took a lot more time than expected (so many hours spent copywriting and QAing the site), but I'm proud to share that our new gr8nola.com launched in October. Not only is our new site more “on brand”, this is a critical building block for online sales since the user experience is more optimized and seamless than before.
Retailers are coming to us. We never intended to go into grocery stores at all this year, but gr8nola got "pulled" into a few stores without pursuing them, showing how the brand is growing! While this is a very humble beginning, we are now sold at three Bay Area markets: The Market, Alameda Natural Grocery and Berkeley Bowl West. Even more surprising: Walmart.com started to sell gr8nola without us knowing.
Note: this doesn’t mean we are going to actively pursue the grocery store channel, but we will definitely support these stores to collect data and learn how to successfully launch in more down the road.
What goes up must come down. After launching our superfood trio in January (Matcha, Turmeric, Cacao), we had a HUGE spike in online sales, starting 2018 with unexpected growth. However, sales started to dip the next few months after, and with it, my enthusiasm. It was my first “lull” as a full-time food founder, and it took awhile for me to realize that you can’t expect crazy growth to sustain itself. While it’s important to celebrate wins, it’s even more critical to endure plateaus without losing momentum mentally. Dips will happen, but never lose sight of the end goal and stay focused on long term drivers like innovation, brand and community building.
No one will pioneer like YOU. Earlier in the year, I hired outside help (via a broker) to help expand gr8nola into new regions outside of NorCal. Thinking I could outsource this, I remember how excited I was about the potential. After six months went by with no wins, I started to take things into my own hands. One trip to Seattle to meet face-to-face with my potential customer made such a huge impact in opening up new opportunities—I only wished I took that trip sooner! Lesson learned: When it comes to new opportunities or channels, pioneer it yourself. Then once the channel is established, hand it over to someone else.
Packaging is just as important as a gr8 product. I rolled out mini packs of my flavors in clear bags with a sticker label on it instead of going with custom branded bags because I wanted to be scrappy with my funds. As my minis got in front of potential buyers, it didn’t have the same perception of “quality” as my Standard packs, even though buyers knew it was the same product. It took months to manufacture and ship custom printed mini packs from Asia, which cost me time and opportunity, but better late than never. Branding is critical in the food industry: People need to be drawn to your packaging first before they taste your product, so make sure to put your best face forward.
Old Mini Packaging:
New Mini Packaging:
You don’t know what you don’t know. As a first-time entrepreneur, it’s hard to find the right hire or solution when you've never experienced the problem before. Earlier this year, I felt really reactive with my bookkeeping and knew I needed a better system to track my business in real-time. Once I hired help, I discovered another huge gap in my process that I didn’t anticipate: tracking inventory. Yet again, I found myself in the same position looking for another bookkeeper, but this time with a more refined skillset. As an entrepreneur, it's important to leverage your network and gather as much data as you can in order to make educated bets. But most importantly, don’t get locked into long term contracts, so you can pivot quickly if and when deficiencies arise.
There are a ton more wins and lessons from the past year that would just take too long to write, but this is what I love most about entrepreneurship: the constant learning. For those of you who are (or aspiring to be) on a similar path, my biggest takeaways are:
- Enjoy the process (and don't forget to reflect)
- Surround yourself with smart, supportive people
- Have passion for what you're doing
Thanks for an awesome 2018, and I can't wait to achieve gr8ness with you in 2019!