Today I’m chatting to Ali Bonar, Founder of the world’s first Granola Butter called Kween.
Kween is a food company on a mission to bring the fun back into eating & empower people to love their bodies, just the way they are. Their flagship product, Granola Butter, is the world's first oat-based spread.
In this episode you’ll hear how Ali started creating this brand alongside her co-founders, her top tips for running successful influencer marketing campaigns and how she’s driving growth.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
I'm Ali Bonar. I am CEO and Co founder of Kween. So we make a product called granola butter which if you've never heard of it before, you're not alone um were the first to do an oat based spread.
So I think the texture of a nut butters is sort of like an almond butter peanut butter, but it's actually totally nut free. So we use oats and flax sort of as our base. Um and really the whole idea around granola butter is to provide like a delicious and nutrient dense spread. So for people with nut allergies or people who you know, just kind of want to mix up their daily staple. Um and it actually came out of my eating disorder recovery, which I'm happy to dive into, but sort of never expected myself to be a food founder, um I was in health tech for a long time in san Francisco, so sort of just fell into this world and I'm obsessed and it's been such a fun journey, but you know, I'm still very much learning a lot as well. I'm not an expert, a lifelong learner, I love that I do want to go back to your time before starting granola bar to to understand what was happening in your life and what was leading you down this path of starting this business, definitely. Yeah, so I mean as I mentioned, I struggled with food in my body for as long as I can remember, you know, really back to middle school, like even earlier than that, I would say, and I think it was never really anything that, you know, someone said to me or a comment that was made about my body, which I know a lot of people have had happened to them, you know, some friends whose moms have told them they need to lose weight or have taken them to weight watchers.
Like I was lucky actually to never have that experience. It was really all internally driven. Um and sort of just a product of being raised in this, you know, society that's obsessed with in this and obsessed with, you know, putting supermodels and celebrities on pedestals. Right? And so, um I think that combined with sort of like my type, a, you know, perfectionistic personality type really was just like the perfect storm for an eating disorder. And so the interesting thing about my journey was that I never got to the point where I looked like I had eating disorder and it's something I'm really passionate about talking about, where, you know, all different body types can struggle with disordered eating. So, you know, you don't have to be this stereotypical, you know, underweight frail person to look like you struggle with food. And so for a long time that kept me really stuck where, you know, I didn't appear to be struggling with food on the outside. And so number one, I thought that I wasn't sick enough, I thought that, you know, I needed to restrict harder or exercise more and all this.
Um, you know, all these unhealthy behaviors. And then number two, none of my friends noticed, so you know it was much more able to hide it from them and you know, I was still going out and partying with my friends when I was in college even um but then secretly struggling with all of these behaviors around food and so kind of where my company comes in to all of this was through my recovery when you know, I started to finally introduce a lot of these food groups that I had restricted heavily for years, so you know nut butters, they're very calorie dense and for someone who's like you know constantly counting calories, they were just a huge no no for me um and so as I started to introduce you know those back into my diet, my gut just wasn't prepared to handle them because they are you know very like dense in nature obviously and so um and I was really you know going 0 to 100 and eating them with everything because I was like oh my gosh, like the honeymoon phase and like I can have this again. Um and so I was just, I felt sluggish, I felt tired um and so in the meantime my dietician recommended that um you know I find something that sort of was like a healthy fat replacement, still something I could throw in a banana before a workout but was not free and just as I started to heal my gut, then I could eventually add nuts back in.
Um and there was nothing out there, there was like sunflower seed butter, you know, or some of these like soy nut butters which you know on paper looked like they would be good options, but then I tried them and they just tasted like trash, this is not, this is not it, like I need something in between. Um and there was like cookie butter, you know, or be scoff I think uh in europe um Spec losers I think is the dutch. Um And you know, that tasted delicious but didn't leave me feeling very good because it was you know, packed with sugar and kind of those sort of unhealthier oils. So long story short granola butter was born is just like my personal need for something that was not free but also tasted delicious and then also left my body feeling good. Um And so that's sort of where my life was before I started my company and then I'm happy to share kind of how it's progressed from there. But a very unusual I think start to a business I'd say. Yeah, totally. It sounds like a really unique story and obviously it's it's such a great thing that you've had this come out of this whole journey, I'm wanting to know, how did you actually land on, you know this recipe?
And this formula was it you at home being like maybe I should throw in some oats and maybe I should throw in some flax. What was the kind of leading to that light bulb moment of this is it totally, I know it's like such a weird idea and I've always had sort of like a twisted mind when it comes to food, where I've always just been very curious like why, you know what happens if you mix like these two flavors together and a lot of failures obviously, like I remember being, you know, growing up and being in the kitchen and just like creating recipes all the time, which is interesting why I never went into like, you know, wanting to become a chef or anything like that. But I was just very curious like because I always thought, you know, peanut butter and jelly, like it's such a weird combination that everyone loves and I'm like, there's so many combinations out there that, you know, people hadn't even thought of and for whatever reason I started thinking more and more about boats and just, I think it was sort of the rise of totally and a lot of these goat milk companies that were coming onto the scene and I was just so infatuated by the idea that you could create milk out of boats.
Like it was just such a simple, pure concept to me and you know, a lot more sustainable and you know, obviously great for people that don't consume dairy and all that stuff. And so I started to think of other things that I could turn into a butter. Um and there's so many butters out there, right? Like I mean more than probably we ever need and so I was like, what, what does the world need another butter? Um but I just, once I tried it and you know, this was like thousands of iterations. So I guess kind of going back to your question, like how it started was, you know, I started just throwing in random ingredients um and oats just kept coming up for me again again as something that was a great option just because number one, they taste amazing, especially when toasted. Um and they sort of had this natural sweetness that just is very palatable and sort of like universal, you know, like a lot of kids just like oats is a very sort of easy flavor, it's not something sort of unique or obscure that kids wouldn't like the taste of. Um And then also nutritionally, I mean they pack a ton of fiber, um you know, great carbs for energy and um and so started kind of throwing notes into my vita mix and adding coconut oil and at first like the first iterations were just complete trash.
It was like, I didn't, you know bake the oats first, it was like this raw, like it was so gross, so dry, like I could barely choke it down. I was like this is a health hazard, like I can't sell this. Um And then you know slowly started to do some different iterations where I was taking it obviously baking the granola first and then blending it up, things started to get better and better from there. And really where I turned the corner was when we brought on my co founder, Ari. So he actually was out in paris um you know closer to you and I was in paris on vacation with my boyfriend who's also my co founder, so backing up there's three of us. Um And so my boyfriend ERic and I were out there and we were trying to wrap our brains with you know who in our lives is like a culinary genius, like I mean at that point we were like they don't have to be a genius but like someone who's better at cooking than we are. Um And he was like oh you know we're in paris. My friend Ari works at like a Michelin Star restaurant. Um and now he's like helping open a restaurant in Paris and all this stuff and he's like we should run the idea by him so long story short, he loves the idea, he's like kind of over his, you know 18 hour days working in a restaurant in Paris and ready to come home.
And so we actually brought him on as a third co founder and then he's the one that just like took the recipe to what it is today and he created the spice blend. He, you know, had the brilliant idea to add flax, which adds like a really nutty, you know, sort of buttery consistency because if you just have boats like dry, you know, overall um and so anyways, long story short after lots of iterations, we sort of came onto the recipe that we used today and leave a bunch of different flavors now and he's just like our culinary mastermind um like we just released for valentine's Day, a flavor called First Date and it was like medjool dates, cardamom, just so many, like he adds spices that I would never think to add and I'm like, I don't even know what you're doing in the kitchen, but like it's going to be perfect, so I just trust you. Oh wow, that's so cool. And I imagine like his credibility working in those kind of restaurants also adds a lot to the story of you guys being three partners and putting that story out into the media and things like that totally.
And he really helped too. I mean he's now like our head of operations, you know, obviously as well, still a co founder but you know his experience working in commercial kitchens and restaurants helped so much because you know, as any food founder knows like if you don't have a background in food and you have this awesome idea for a product, you either have two options, like you can outsource it to a co packer who will make it for you or you have to make it yourself and you know, which sounds fun and dandy until you get into scaling and you know, food safety and regulations and all this stuff that we had no idea how to do. Um and a lot of it, I mean I already didn't know either. Like we taught ourselves, we worked with consultants and all of that, but for the most part, it was just so helpful to have someone on our team that had that baseline of just like how to run a kitchen, how to create systems, you know, kind of that stuff that I had, like the only manual labor I had ever worked was in high school. I worked at a retail department chain, which was not manual labor. Um so I was just like, I'm such a wimp when it comes to all that and you know, here we are lifting like £50 bags of oats and stuff.
So it's very helpful to have him on our team. I'm sure I always love to dig in and find out a little bit about how long it took from, you know, the ideation kind of time when you were having that light bulb moment through to launch as well as how much did you have to invest in into the business to get it up and running and to get it to that point where you're ready to press go on the website totally. Yeah, so kind of a huge piece of my story and our founding story that I glossed over was that we actually worked on this as a side hustle for the first year. Um So eric and myself, we met in college, we went to U. C. Berkeley in the san Francisco Bay area together um and you know the first, I would say 4-5 months before we launched, so we launched March of 2018 And I would say from September of 2017 really to March, we were you know, thinking through, we were testing a ton. So we were, you know, I remember driving around like the streets of San Francisco just like throwing jars that are friends and texting them like come outside, we like we created this product, you know like what are your thoughts?
And then from there obviously we wanted unbiased feedback because our friends are going to be like, it's amazing, good for you, you know? Um and so I remember so at the time kind of going back to what I was saying, you know, we were both working in tech, I was working in health tech and I had started my instagram account, like I had a food in stuff and my all my co workers knew about it, it was just like a fun little side thing and so what I told them was that this food company sent me samples of their new product before it launched and I was like, they're paying me like 100 bucks to get, you know, customer like unbiased customer feedback. And all of my coworkers were like, yeah, sure, like free food, I'm down, Right? And so they gave me really, I mean brutal feedback, like, because the first iteration, as I mentioned, we're so terrible. Like they kept saying, you know, oh, it tastes like wet sand. Remember what sand came up a lot? Um just like, you know, they're like, what is this? Like, it doesn't make sense. And I think to like, when you don't have any context for what a product is, where you put it in your mouth, like, you know, they're just like, what is this trash?
Um but it was really helpful to get those sort of 1st, 1st iterations out there and get testing from unbiased people because you know, my mom wasn't cutting it, she was just like, I'm so proud of you, whatever you do. Um and so that was like the first, you know, up until we launched. And then finally we kind of got to a place where around, you know, february March before we launched were like, I feel like we have a really good recipe, you know, we um sort of identified the different demographics that we thought would be interested, you know, in our products, we thought we thought we had product market fit. So two of those were, you know, health conscious millennials as well as, you know, moms of kids in nut free schools just because tons of schools in the US are becoming more and more nut free. I don't know how it is in London, but just because allergies are on the rise and you know, when you're younger, obviously you're sharing food and it's just really dangerous. Um, and so we're like, these are two awesome customer groups that I think would be really interested in our product. And so, um, around that time my food instagram had about 20,000 followers and we thought, you know what better way to launch it to like my test market of followers um, than launching it on instagram.
So in March we opened pre orders and we launched it to my instagram audience and it was, you know, it was okay. It wasn't like, we've had no idea. We were like, is this going to be something that like explodes it goes viral like, or is this something that like our friends and family are only going to purchase, you know, to support us. Um, and it was sort of more towards like the friends and family side of things. Um, it definitely didn't go viral, but it was like friends and family plus like some random people that follow me on instagram as well, gorgeous intrigued, right? Because the whole concept of granola butter is just like a weird idea. So they're like, let's give this a shot. Um, and then at this point Ari is actually down in san Diego. So southern California and eric and I are still up in san Francisco, working full time in tech. And so we haven't invested really like any of our funds or savings into the business at this point because it's purely just like, let's see how this goes, like very, you know, no skin in the game, kind of just like, this is a fun idea, but we're not ready to leave our tech jobs by any means.
Um, and so we start sort of like continuing to pimp it out on social media and I would say from, you know, March until june is really like this inflection point where all of a sudden Um press Juice three, which is a huge, you know, juice bar over here in the states um becomes interested in our product and we get word from them that they want to add it as a topping on there. Um, it's called there freeze. It's like a frozen yogurt thing, I'm sure you've seen it and they want to add it as a topping on there, freeze nationwide. And we're like, oh, okay, so this is like a real thing now that we have to make products for a nationwide chain. Like we had no idea. We weren't even really producing it at the time, I remember we had like paper labels, you know, it was still very like first iteration, it was so embarrassing. Um and so suddenly ari was like, you know, you guys have to move down to SAn Diego or like we can't do this, you know, I mean san Francisco to san Diego, it's like an hour flight, you know, eight hour drive, it's a long distance and he was like, we need to be in the same city first of all. And also like, I'm not the only one that's, you know, down here, making everything like you guys have to come down here.
So I remember from, you know around like june eric is just flying down on weekends and this whole time we're still working. And then a few months after that, we got word from the whole foods fire because I was kind of reaching out to different retailers. Um and whole foods was always a dream retailer bars and it was just like one of those things that I had no, like no idea how the food industry works. Like I was just reaching out to retailers and I didn't know there was this whole system and ecosystem of like brokers and category managers and all these things. I was like, oh, I'm just going to find the buyer on linked in and reach out to her and send her samples, She loved the idea, I was like, why not? She loved the idea, she understood the concept right away and so they were interested in bringing us in and so at this point it's, you know, probably around july august and I was like, I need to leave my job, like we, you know, we're in a nationwide chain. Um, we were about to be onboarding with whole foods and everything just happened so quickly and then also our e com, you know, sales were growing.
Um, and so at this point, I left my job in tech about six months later, um, but eric stayed working, you know, as a side hustle for a little over a year, which was crazy. Um, he was in consulting, so a little easier to, like work on it on the side because they didn't really know what he was doing and in terms of how much money we put into the business, you know, we probably initially, you know, ERIC and my savings collectively probably put in about 50 or $60,000. And then, you know, my mom like kicked us 10-K for some machinery. ErIC's parents kicked us a little bit, but it wasn't, you know, a massive amount and I think we really attributed that to just running super lean and, you know, doing pre orders. Um, when we started to produce the product, we were working in a shared commercial kitchen down in SAn Diego. So it was paid by the hour, you know, we didn't have this like, huge, fixed overhead costs, which is really helpful because in the beginning, I mean, sales are super volatile, like we had no idea, we couldn't predict anything and we actually stayed bootstrapped until a few months ago so we just closed our first round of funding um just like a small friends and family round and so we've been bootstrapped, you know, and we bootstrapped our way to over a million in sales this past year just because again, implementing those principles and doing things super lean.
You know, this is just my experience, like there are so many different ways to run a business. I will say it's definitely a difficult route because you know, you're doing everything yourself like it's really hard as a founder but yeah, I could go on and on about that. But long story short we definitely took more scrappy sort of like food strapped approach. Love that for you. Mhm. How do you think you got on the radar of that first national retailer that wanted to put you on their yogurt? Yeah, so it was actually that was an interesting story too. So they have a like a digital magazine called the chalkboard magazine um where they share like different health articles and stuff like that. And so when we launched in March, I actually reached out to their health editor and I said you know, hey um we I have this new product, it's never been done before. Would love to send you some samples and my goal with that outreach was that she was going to write an article about us and maybe we'll get some like free pr out of it. What happened was we sent her the product and I guess the head of R. And D.
You know, was in the office with this editor and saw the jars on her desk and was like what is this? You know, tasted it and it was like, I need this on our freeze nationwide. And so she reached out to me and was like, hey, like let's talk basically. And I was like, oh that's not how I expected that email to go, but I think like me the learning out of that is really just like, you know, be a pit bull and you never know what can happen. Like I will say that was very serendipitous, that's not the case with, you know, most of our outreach and like, I don't want to, you know, lead people to believe that everything is that easy. It's definitely not. But I think it just showed me that, you know, you never know and like explore all options, you know, reach out to as many people as you can, you know, without like spamming people. And also just I think having a unique product really helps like catching people's attention, but that's also our biggest challenge, you know, educating customers as to what granola butter is is probably our biggest, you know, hurdle and a lot of people think that the more unique and more creative your idea, the more successful you will be as a business.
And I don't think that's actually the case. Like it's very eye catching and it's something that piques people's interest at first. But the education piece has been a challenge for Sure. Mm totally. And I can understand that people are interested but they're not sure if they're interested enough to try it. They kind of need that word of mouth recommendation or someone else to like put it in front of them and be like this is it. And then fall in love with the product totally. I imagine for you, sampling is really important. Yeah, sampling. But actually more than that, I would say influencer marketing is much more important for us just because as you mentioned, it's like that best friend that you follow on social media and you trust what they say and you know, maybe they're not your actual friend but it's, you know, the influencer you sort of look up to. Um, so that's been huge for us. Kind of having that, you know, validation and um yeah, just influencers sharing about us and kind of that third party recommendation has been really big, especially with Covid, um demoing and sampling, you know, and whole foods has been big for us in the past. Um pre Covid, but it's just not scalable. It's not, you know, as a three member companies like, you know, it's only us, three founders like dividing and conquering and trying to scaling, trying to scale a demo program.
Um that wasn't really, you know, sustainable for us. So actually influencer marketing has been huge and we haven't paid any influencers to date and we've gotten influencers with millions of followers to share about us and um I have a ton of sort of insight on that just because you know, not with my personal account. Um I guess, I mean I'm considered an influencer, I really hate that word, but like, I don't know, it's how I pay my bills, a person of influence, it makes sense. Yeah, I don't know, I like content creator or whatever, but yeah, I guess that's actually how I've been supporting myself through this whole journey because you know, part of being bootstrapped is we haven't taken on a salary, so erIC and I haven't paid ourselves, you know, since we started um and so the way that I'm able to support myself is through my instagram and getting sponsored, you know, deals with other brands, so I've kind of seen both sides as an influencer and as a brand and um you know, I think brands could just be doing so much more and not having to spend as much money as they think I'm working with influencers.
So I'd love to hear what your kind of key learnings and key takeaway advice is when it comes to influencer marketing. I know that, you know, it's something that a lot of young founders and early stage entrepreneurs are looking to do, and it would be great to hear kind of what those key takeaways are. Yeah, absolutely. Um, so I'm going to share, I'll share, sort of my learnings on the influencer side as well as on the brand side. So um I have about, I haven't checked lately, but I think I have like 55 1000 followers on my personal account, so, you know, I'm not one of these that has millions of followers, um I would probably be still considered like a micro influencer to some people, I don't know, um, but I, you know, have been doing this for about three years and just really have so many learnings of what brands, you know, should do and shouldn't do. Um, so I would say, you know, the deuce and don't, um, first thing, you know, when you're approaching an influencer, I would actually argue that the influencers with millions of followers, like don't be drawn to just the number of followers because, you know, and on the brand side we've kind of felt this as well, like when you work with such, you know, huge people in the public eye a lot of times they're following isn't very loyal.
First of all, it's a lot of thoughts and like, you know, not even real accounts, um and then also it might not even be your demographic, so, you know, our name, demographic is women, mom's health conscious, female millennials. Um, and so if I'm sending product to, you know, a swimsuit model, then all of her followers are likely male and you're not going to see that conversion. Um, I guess that's more of a learning from the brand side, but from the influencer side, you know, someone who has 55,000 followers, my followers are super, super engaged, super loyal. They feel like I'm their friends. You know, they feel like someone that I respond to as many GMS as I can during the day. So it's like, there's that, you know, communication and so they don't feel like it's this sort of person up on a pedestal that's just like, you know, advertising different products all day. Like they actually take my recommendations and you know, and trust me. Um, and so when brands reach out to me, you know, number one, I want them to treat me like I'm a person, like a lot of brands will slide into my DM and they'll be like, hey, you know, we'd love to send you this pair of underwear if you know, you post eight times and it's like, oh, okay, number one underwear doesn't pay my rent, you know, as much as I would love that to happen.
Um, and so as a brand, I would really recommend, you know, first building that relationship with the influencer, maybe it's commenting on their, you know, on their stuff engaging with their content, Um, learning what they're about. So obviously I have a huge past with disordered eating and orthorexia and you know, if I get spammed for some reason with all of these detox teas and like skinny, you know, laxative teas, I'm like, did you even take one look at my page because like I am, so this is not me. Um, So obviously, you know, take a look at what they're posting about. But also what I was saying was, you know, don't be afraid to work with micro influencers, even people that have 5000 followers, 10,000 followers. You know, sometimes they have the most loyal engaged communities of anyone. Um, I would also like to Tiktok obviously that is exploding right now. Um, that's like my number one source of anxiety is like not having enough time in my day to also, you know, start posting on Tiktok, I have an account but it's like always an afterthought for me with running the business.
But it's like, that's a huge, you know, that's where all of gen Z is. So that's a huge 12. And then I would say on the brand side for your own, you know personal, like instagram trying to grow your own following, treat yourself as an influencer. So if you take a look at, So I have to clean my personal account queen and co is our brand page if you watch, you know, our brand um, instagram stories even today, I literally just did a selfie of me taking a podcast interview from the bathroom floor of our facility, you know, like hashtag startup life um and it's really treating yourself as an influencer also, you know, us shipping out packages, I'll show myself crying in my car after a long day, like I'll talk about how the ups and the downs, you know, and of course there's gonna be brands that are multi million dollar brands and like that's not their day to day, but you know, you can show the behind the scenes what it's like working for your company and you know, different highlights of yours on your team and what are they passionate about and really just giving your customer a face to the brand.
I think so often people are just, especially during Covid, like we're all on our phones more than ever and we're searching for that, you know, Shred of humanity and just a face to some of these big organizations, so that's been really powerful for us. Um, and then when you go to work with influencers, you know, especially with the micro influencers, you can send them product and a lot of them are super excited about it, you know, they don't need thousands of dollars of payment. Like a lot of them probably have full time jobs and this is sort of like a fun thing they do on the side, which is what I did for a long time and so they'll be happy to share about your product and I think that's a really great way to go and if you're confident in your product and you know, you believe in it then you know, you should be confident enough to just send them products, no questions asked, like never send product expecting them to post about you or even, you know, requiring that because that's just not the way it works. Like, you know, if they are giving you free marketing then that's the exchange. So yeah, that's sort of like in a nutshell, I I've written articles on this for some different companies, I have one coming out with Forbes in a couple weeks, but like just from the top of my head, I think those are sort of the most important ones I can think of right now.
Thank you so much. I love that advice and that's so key. I think when you send to influence is not having that, you know, pressure asking them to post and making that relationship a bit a bit weird because also they need to like your product, they need to actually want to talk about your product rather than that pressure of it being not authentic and putting something on their page that they they don't want to represent after all when you do your influencer marketing, How many influences are you reaching out to on a monthly basis, say, and sending out to on a monthly basis, What's a good benchmark to aim towards? Yeah, so another, I guess that kind of reminds me of another tip to if you can, I actually reach out from my personal account. Um so if you have, you know, maybe you're still a super small business and you are the founder and you are doing your social, like it's perfect. Um you don't have to reach out from your personal account because I know my situation is a little different, but reaching out and saying like, hey, I'm so, and so I'm the founder.
Um it's just, number one gets people's attention, doesn't feel like you're just, you know, an agency reaching out on the company's behalf, it adds that personal touch. Sometimes I'll even send a video of myself talking to the person and say, you know, because that's just adds that personal touch or voice memo is really powerful. Um Side note, voice memos are great when you're super busy, sometimes I'll do it when I'm driving. I actually don't know if I can condone that, so don't come for me, but if you're, you know, like commuting or whatever. Um I think that's a great one, but in terms of benchmarks and you know, how many per month I sort of do it, you know, very ad hoc. And I would say like it's something that we need to have more of a system around and um we're about to hire someone in like the marketing position sort of just like an extension of myself, which I'm super excited about because right now it's like when I'm sitting on the couch watching the bachelor, I'm reaching out to And it's like something I do sort of at the end of the day or if I'm in the car and you know, it's driving and we have like a 40 minute commute, then I'm like, all right, I'm gonna take these 40 minutes and just reach out to as many as you can.
Um, so a trick that I use is I try and hit the different sort of leaders in each like sphere. So whether it be the weight watchers community, um, you know, whether it be, there's like fat saturated fat loss, um, soul cycle, you know, whole 30, these different tribes that people really associate themselves with. You know, there's sort of leaders pelton, I, I do pelton, you know, workouts every day and the instructors I follow on instagram and like I find them to be influencers, so kind of hitting those leaders in each group and sometimes maybe it's, you know, mommy bloggers or you know, moms of kids with allergies, like it doesn't have to be this massive organization. Um, there's, you know, real life influencers in each one of those fears. So I'll try to go to them and send them products because what's going to happen is suddenly, you know, people in the peloton community are going to see their favorite instructor posts about it and then if I send it to all the peloton instructors, suddenly everyone is like, I feel like this granola butter is everywhere. Like I'm seeing this, this, you know, instructor posts about it and this one and then they're going to be like, I have to try this ship.
So it's sort of making people feel like it's everywhere because you know, when you're in a community like that, that is your world, you know, crossed it, right, veganism, like all of these sort of communities, you're like, oh this, I tie myself to that. So that's number one, number two. Um there's this feature on instagram, I don't even know what it's called, but it's like, it's a little down arrow and when you click to follow someone it shows the accounts and profiles that are similar to that person. I love that feature, like I will, you know, send like a stock message tailored obviously a little to the person, but I'll say, you know, hey girl, this is Allie and founder of Clean and Co um love your content, love what you stand for, love to send you some granola butter, let me know if you're interested, like no strings attached. Um and then you can kind of go through and see similar people that you might want to reach out to. So those are just a few tips that I use, I would say in terms of benchmarks like just do as many as you can. My goal really, once we kind of hire this person is to be just constantly reaching out constantly sending out products because just the R. O. I. Has been huge dress.
Mm So kind of you know, potentially sending out a few 100 a month say definitely. Yeah, I would say that's a good number. I mean I hesitated to give a number just because you know obviously everyone's size of their company is different, but the number one, if you're kind of, you know, if you're a smaller business and you can't send out that many, then I would look for you know, who's going to give you the biggest thing for your buck. So you know who are people that you know you follow, who are people that get tons of engagement? I would say look for engagement over number of followers. Got a great tip. Thank you, love that. Where is the business today? And what does the future look like for you? Yeah, so the business today, we um as I mentioned, I think before we started recording, so we just everyone listening, we just moved from san Diego California to philadelphia um in the dead of winter during a global pandemic. It was no easy feat. Um first time flying with my dog, that was a nightmare. Um but it's been really, really exciting for us.
So as I mentioned, we closed our first round of funding and that really is going to allow us to, you know, move into this new facility, the recently moved out of California was again in the spirit of being lean Bootstrap mentality. We have about four times the production space for like barely more rent per month because California is just insane because we have about 11,000 square feet now in terms of facility space, which is so exciting because we were just busting at the seams at our other space. They were just could not wait for us to leave. Um and so and then we're gonna be able to automate so we're gonna be able to get you know, some machinery and it's actually on its way coming next month um to be able to automate our line. So we've been doing everything by hand, you know, filling each dar ceiling labeling like dating everything, which at our scale is just you know, treacherous. Um not that were like massively insane, but it's just not ideal. And then in terms of kind of sales and where we are, you know, distribution wise, so we are considered a global brands with whole foods, which means unfortunately we're not in London yet, but it just means we're um four regions.
So I guess four regions or more you're like a global brand. It sounds like a lot more exciting than it is. Um and then we just hired our VP of sales today actually right before this interview which we're super excited about because I was doing all of our sales also a nightmare. Um and in terms of sales we did about 1.25 in 2020 and then we're projecting to do about 2.5 this year. And you know with Covid we, you know, we did about 400 K. In 2019. So with Covid we still were cranking um and I think I attribute a lot of that just for people who are listening to kind of you know, take away a valuable piece of information is you know, we were super Omni Channel. I know that's like such a cliche thing right now, but you know 50% of our business was calm. Um and while our food service definitely took a hit during that time aecom really, you know picked up The pace and we started experimenting with Facebook ads and you know, we were only doing like a couple 100 bucks a day for digital ads.
Um but seeing a really great return and so sort of you know, for 2021 really wanting to lean more into that. I'm seeing kind of what you com holds for us and then also with our VP of sales, seeing what we can get into more distribution um in like sprouts and you know, some of the more natural and conventional chains here in the US, wow, we it all sounds so exciting. That's crazy growth, So happy for you Love it. What advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to start their own business? That's such a good question. Um, so for women in particular, I mean I would say, first of all, you know, it's going to be even though, you know, I think it's so much better than it has been historically in the past with being a woman and sort of, you know, equality and all of that. Like I personally have still experienced a lot of negative type of things where, you know, just for example, you know, being in the wellness space, the majority of food and bev and wellness investors are still old white men and when I, you know, we're pitching our company to a lot of these investors, you know, raising our first round of funding, I'm a first time founder, I had never talk to investors before and I start sharing about my story and my eating disorder and they just were like, well it was kind of split in half here, Half of them were so uncomfortable, they were like, wanted to jump out of their seats and then the other half just like glazed over and just like could not care.
Um, and it was so interesting talking to, you know, the female investors that, you know, a handful that we found and all of them, 100% of them were like, you know, emailed me after the fact or um, if there was just even one woman investors sort of on the call and the rest were men. She reached out to me after and was like, I've struggled with body image to, or I struggled with this earlier in my life where I'm currently going through this and it just, it was such a deeper connection. I felt like, and you know, not that everyone who starts a company is going to have like a disordered eating history, but I think it's so important as a woman not saying every investor on your board or even if you, you know, bring on investors has to be a woman, but finding people who, you know, see you for who you are and see you for what you bring to the table. Um, and not just looking at the numbers. Like I think as women, we have just this amazing, you know, intelligence about us that is not only business sense and you know, acumen, but so much emotional intelligence that I've just found with my male counterparts to just not have.
And um again, I'm like stereotyping an entire gender, but you know, with eric and Ari and we talked about this all the time. We're very open about it, but Erica's like, he'll always go to me when there's a tough business decision and he's like, what is your gut telling you? Because he was like, I just don't have that gut intuition and a lot of times my gut is just so strong on something and I'm like, I don't know why, but this is just not, this decision is not right for us. And I'm like, I can't tell you why, but it is so strong and then it's like we avoided this huge thing and I know that's such a like broad, not scientific answer, um, that you're probably looking for, but I will say, you know, for women who are just sort of starting out, the second thing is really just have a support system of people who maybe they're not also female founders, maybe they're not starting their own business, but people that believe in you and that are supporting you. Um, maybe it's girlfriends that you can call and just meant to or a partner or significant other that believes in what you're doing. Um because being a founder in an entrepreneur is just, it's one of the most isolating lonely things, um, that you can do if you don't have people in your corner, especially the beginning when you're just like work in my course.
So yeah, I even say those are kind of my top two tips. Um, and then lastly just don't, don't be afraid to take time for yourself. Another sort of, I know it may be stereotyping an entire gender, but eric my partner is very much and we talk about this all the time. He doesn't really need that much self care for himself. Like he is the type of guy that loves to just like grind, you know, very v style, like you know, burn the candle at both ends of keith craves that he loves that and I need my hour in the morning to do my morning routine, I need at least a day off for my weekend, like just not thinking about work and that's when I'm most productive because when I feel burnt out then I'm just not my best self, I'm not showing up at work and for a long time I was afraid to ask for that because as the only female founder on our team, I felt weak for doing that, I felt shame around asking for that um and then slowly over time gain confidence in myself that you know, I need that and it's part of me being productive, so that's another thing, obviously everyone is different, but just my experience personally, I am also like that, I really need to make time and keep my own personal self care rituals and routines to make sure I'm feeling my best, especially during this time when the world is so weird and life is different and not normal, I totally get that we are up to the six quick questions part of the episode, some of the, some of the questions we might have covered already, but I ask every woman that I speak to on the show, these specific questions, so are you ready to go?
Let's do it? Perfect question number one is what's your why? Why do you do what you do? Oh, that's such a good one. I do what I do because I want to see a world where people that women in particular um love their bodies, they eat because it's a source of pleasure and enjoyment in connection. It's never stressful or anxiety producing. Um and they bring that they find the fun back in food. I think for so long, food was so scary for me. It was something that I avoided. It was something that, you know, stress me out and so my why is to create a product that reminds people that food is enjoyable and amazing and um emotional in a good way and it brings people together. Oh, I love that. Love that question. Number two is what do you think has been the number one marketing moment that's made your business pop who um influencer marketing.
I mean again could talk about this forever, but I think that was the, probably that's been the biggest, you know, contribution and social media to our success? Well, we're not a success but to our growth totally love that question. Number three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading to? What are you subscribing to? Are there any newsletters you recommend? Who? I love that? Um So I am part of a CPG slack group. Um It's you know, obviously this isn't something that would be applicable for everyone, but finding, you know, something in your niche or in, you know, your industry where you feel supported, like we have a whole founders channel where it's just everything is, you know, off the record, people are sharing, you know, really insightful helpful tips that, you know, they truly want to support other founders, even if we're in the same industry. Um, I found that to be just remarkable because, you know, the newsletters are helpful and, you know, I definitely subscribe to a handful of those, but I think really connecting with other founders, especially seeing other female founders and just like hearing what they're going through, trading stories, You know, trading contacts, warning people of like, you know, don't work with this person.
Um, and just like helping each other out. Right? Because like, especially, you know, in this day and age, it's harder to connect. There's no trade shows or ways to stay in touch. So finding some sort of like slack group or facebook group, um, people in your industry has been really, really great. Mm That's incredible for anyone who is in the food space. Um, are you able to put the name of the slack CPG channel so I can add it in the notes. So it's invite only is always got Yeah, I know, I feel that, um, that's why I hesitated sharing it, but um, because I think they're sort of not wanting to bring too many other people on. Um but all email email you after and like I have some different newsletters and stuff um that are really helpful in the food space. Amazing. Yeah. I can definitely link anything below in the in the show notes. Four people then in that scenario where something is invite only, how do people go about finding those particular groups or getting an invitation to that group? Totally. I would say for that.
I mean like the reason I got one, it's not because like, I'm a super cool person. Like my company is super big. I would say it's just who I knew. And so it was, you know, the reason that I was invited was because when I started working in the food industry, you know, as I mentioned, I came from tech and I didn't know anyone. And so I was just like reaching out to people on linkedin. I was damning people on instagram. Um you know who, maybe they were not the founder of these companies, but they were, you know, head of growth, their head of marketing at like a fun, you know, food company. And so I would say, hey, like I just started my, you know, my brand. This was pre covid. So I was like, can you grab coffee? Um but you could do like a virtual coffee. And I think like the biggest thing is always, you know, being respectful of other people's time, like, you know, making sure you're kind of providing them value in some way. Um because a lot of times, you know, not saying I'm like the most busy or important person in the world, but I'll get those emails from people being like, hey, we'd love to pick your brain, would love to grab coffee and I'm like, oh, like I don't have time for that and so, you know, providing value for that person in some way.
So for me at the time, you know, I worked in health tech, but I worked in a marketing role and you know, I was just beginning to learn a little bit about influencer marketing and so I would reach out to them and be like number one, I'll send you some of my products, so always like giving, giving and then, you know, I would love to share what I've learned at, you know, in the tech space that I think would translate really well to what you're doing at X, Y, Z. Food company. Um so sort of like providing some value because you know, people are super busy and like not to be frank, but like why would they want to grab coffee with you, you know, for them to give you valuable information? Um you know, so it's always kind of thinking like what can I provide value for other people and what can I bring for them has helped me sort of like secure those needing, totally making it mutually beneficial. I think that's a really key insight that makes so much sense that I hope more people do that question number four is how do you win the day and that's around your am or your PM rituals that keep you feeling happy and motivated and successful totally.
Okay so I'm not going to pretend like I have been doing this forever, this actually started last week, but I started waking up at five a.m. Which I know sounds like actually nauseating. I know it's so it's disgusting and it was not and this was after I moved to the east coast, so I was like the time change from, you know the west coast, the east coast just made it even worse. But I will say, I mean the first like six days, I was like this is so dumb, why am I doing this? Today was the first day that I woke up and I was like wow, like I woke up before my alarm first of all, which was crazy and then just the whole rest of the day like Like it's one pm here now or almost two and I was like, I feel like I've gotten so much done um but I think you have to know yourself so eric for example my partner, he says to me that he feels like his brain turns on after five p.m. So he is like, he's like I've always been that way like in college I would always study late into the night was never a morning person. And so for him, you know, we're sort of like opposite schedules where I actually always feel like I've been not like a morning person, but I would say my peak hours are like 9 to 11 And so I'm just like a little more geared towards the morning where after five p.m. I am worthless.
Like do not ask me a question. He asked me if the green beans in the fridge, we're still good the other day and I was like, I can't make another decision like stop talking to me um where you know, he's the opposite. So I think number one is knowing yourself like are you, do you want a morning routine or is it just something like you feel like you have to do because every other entrepreneur has the morning routine because you could have an awesome evening routine. Right? And so I would say for me, you know, like finding that and kind of knowing myself has been great because I would read all these morning routines and like meditation for example everyone, if you have to meditate and like maybe I still do, but it's just like I hate it like I really do and um I think that means that I probably need to meditate more like for now it's just not working for me. So um I'll wake up yeah five crazy and then I'll try to do some sort of movement really depends on the week because like this week is crazy in the facility and it's like I'm on my feet all day so I last thing I want to do is a workout but it really does help clear the head. Um and then I'm actually just started my period today so I'm going to probably be eating chocolate like the entire week but before then probably would try to eat somewhat healthy um because it just like makes me feel more energized and you know but I'm not too strict with myself obviously with my history I try to like you know incorporate balance however I can whatever that means.
So you never depriving myself. But yeah those are sort of my tips. I know they're sort of broad but I think finding again finding what works for you like don't look at this you know hot girl on instagram just because what she does that's what you have to do like really kind of go inward? Yeah. I really I really feel that when you said like meditations not your not your vibe. Did you read the five a.m. Club? Is that why you started getting up at five? So a lot of people ask you know the reason I got up at five was to be in the facility so early and you know to get all the ship done that we have to do this week. And I was just like, wow. Actually I really enjoy this? And I will say like the key to actually making it not miserable is you have to go to bed earlier, which I know, sounds like a no brainer. But I was like, oh yeah, yeah. And then I would still scroll on instagram for you know, an hour or something and all of a sudden it's like 11 30 so I'm trying to be in bed again. This is just this week. I'm like acting like I'm a pro at this. I try to be in bed at 8 30 then like asleep by nine.
So then when I wake up at five it's like, okay, I don't feel like I'm getting dragged out of bed, but it's nice so far. Will I continue? We'll see maybe check in with the state. Yeah, stay tuned totally, totally. I'm conscious at the time. So I'm going to speed through these last two questions question number five is if you only had $1000 left in your business bank account, where would you spend it? Oh um goodness. I would spend it on. Yeah, hiring a finance person to make sure that doesn't have to get no, I was on, um, I would say sending out product influencers honestly like I know that sounds last priority, but you know them posting about, you will just generate, you know, interests and marketing and sales from there. Nice, got it. And last question question # six is how do you deal with failure? What's your mindset and approach? Oh man, my mindset and approach around failure has changed dramatically.
Um I was actually three met in college And I had three tutors for organic chemistry and I failed organic chemistry once and then the next time got a c minus so I like just passed and it was like someone in my family had passed away like it was the, and in hindsight it's like ali like pre med medicine, it wasn't your path, it was a sign, but at that time failure was just not even a thing, like it wasn't something that happened for me and now I almost like there's something that someone told me one time which has resonated so hard, which was like you, all of the key learnings in your life come out of traumatic or stressful or failed events like no one ever kind of breeze through life just having like happy go lucky life and learned things about themselves. And so it was so true. Like every sort of failure and like you know, failed moment in my life, I learned so much and I know that's so annoying if you're currently going through a failure because you're like this sucks and it does, but I swear to you, like you'll come out the other side and you'll be like, oh my gosh, like I learned X, Y, z about myself, where I learned that this path actually wasn't right for me and I was swimming upstream.
00:57:26Edit Um so I'm sort of excited about failure, which I know is like, again super annoying, but I kind of seek it out because I know that, you know, I'm going to learn something about myself and I'll grow from that experience. Love that Ali, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show today and sharing all these amazing insights, especially when it comes to influence the marketing. I have absolutely loved it, thank you so much. Thank you so much. This is so fun.