Lessons learned through tough decisions with Haven’s Kitchen Founder, Alison Cayne
Updated: Aug 25, 2021
Joining me on the show today is Alison Cayne, the founder of New York based biz Haven’s Kitchen.
Originally a cooking school that started out in 2012, Haven’s Kitchen is now helping cooks of all kinds in the kitchen with their ridiculously yummy looking, vibrant squeeze sauces.
I highly recommend jumping on the website to get a taste for what these delicious pouches look like. As soon as you see them I can guarantee you’ll want them in your life! I’m keeping faith that they’ll make their way to a wholefoods in London someday soon.
In this episode we’re covering Ali’s 8 year journey and so many lessons she’s learned along the way including the major moment she realised she would have to close down the best performing side of the business earlier this year due to the pandemic.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Alison: Well, I try I'm not very good at the elevator pitch because it's like a long winded introduction. But taking my name's Alison Cayne. I have a company called Haven's Kitchen.
Brand. Our first product
Line is a line of fresh squeezed sauces and pouches, their cooking sauces, simmering sauces, marinades. They kind of evolved out of my first business, which was a cooking school in
Manhattan in Chelsea,
Which I just closed because of the pandemic, but that I opened in twenty twelve. So we like to think of ourselves as
Best friend in the
Kitchen and we
Kind of do that through classes, our cookbook and now this product
Line. I love that.
The best friend in the kitchen. That's so nice. Yeah. I want to set the scene and go way back to when you were just getting started pre twenty twelve. What was happening in your life that kind of led to the light bulb moment of you wanting to get into this space of cooking, of bringing people together, of community. You want to hear all about it?
Well, I got
Married at twenty three and had five children in eight years,
So I had
My own community at home and I was cooking a lot and I was always really into cooking and always really into
Food, always hosting
People. I started teaching cooking in college just to friends and friends of friends
Because people didn't
Know how to
Or roast chicken.
And it was
Always, for me, just this really comfortable, happy place where I felt creative and I felt
Empowered and I
Felt like I had, I don't know, freedom. And a lot of people had this sort of like opposite feeling about the kitchen.
When my youngest
Son was going into nursery school, I decided to go back to get a master's
Degree in a program
At NYU that's focused on food sustainability, food justice, food policy and sort of food systems and the history of trade routes and religion and food and gender and food and race and ethnicity and food. Really fascinating
But as a part of that, I had a requirement to get
An internship, which was sort of
Funny because I had five kids
10, I think, at that time. And I just was kind of
Like, is this a joke?
Like, who's going to hire me? I haven't had
A real job right.
Since I was twenty four.
But anyway, I
Ended up getting the job as the head of the education station at the Union Square
Greenmarket. So my
Job was basically giving school tours to everyone from three year olds to 18 year
Olds, all about
Farm labor practices, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, how their food
Choices really do impact not only
Health and their community
Health, but really the
Larger good. And what started
Happening was the people that I was teaching cooking started wanting to go on market tours and the people that I was giving market tours to. The grown ups who are with those kids on the tours, started asking me for
Recipes because they
Understood that they needed to start buying locally and understood that, like shopping at the market was good for the local economy and for the environment. But they didn't know what to
Do with a yam. Right. So I thought, hmm, there's something here.
And like in many places around the world, there are super cooking schools that aren't culinary professional schools. They're just you visit, you go to the market, you learn how to make the regional cuisine. You have a fun day of it. You drink a bottle of wine. And that really didn't exist in New York. So I opened Haven's kitchen in 2012 and it was just
Idea to connect people with the joy
Of eating well
And cooking and taking the fear and
Loathing out of it. What ended up
Was because it was
This beautiful old carriage house, it made a lot of sense to have a cafe in front and two stories of private event space. So the business ended up being profitable
Almost accidentally, like
Year two, because we started doing three
Hundred private events
A year. So everything from weddings to three day corporate retreats to brand launches, book parties, closing dinners, bridal showers, you name it. And we built this incredibly, really strong community in the
Cafe because it was just this marvelous
Really felt like
Nothing New York had to offer. And of course, the heart of the business were the cooking classes that we were doing six nights a week.
And it just
It was just
This like ecosystem of
Food and learning and community.
And I mean, people met
In our classes and then ended up getting married there. People started their political campaigns and the cafe.
We launched a
Number of CPG brands when they were first getting
Started. It was
A really, really fun, dynamic
Place to be.
In twenty eighteen,
We launched the line of sauces,
Really as a
Response to our students, just saying, like, we don't
Need kids, we just
Need a good, fresh, healthy sauce. And everything in the supermarket is in jars, in bottles, in the middle of the store,
Preservatives, lots of salt, added
Sugar. And we just
Want the things that we're learning how to make in class. Why doesn't
So we made it exist.
Wow, that is so amazing, it's just such a special time in your life as well when you go from zero to one hundred. Really, really quickly without kind of that even foresight necessarily to think it would be that.
And I was reading something about that time in your life when you actually were looking for a different kind of space and then you stumbled across the carriage house. Can you share a little bit about that?
Yeah, I know. I mean, my original plan was just like a little walk up, maybe a thousand square
Feet, build the kitchen.
Have I certainly didn't
And I didn't think I was going to be a
But then I fell in love. I it was it was this old carriage house. It was built in early. Eighteen hundreds on 17th Street. The block was very. Nice at that
Point, and it just needed love,
Was it was like
Singing to me and I walked in and I knew exactly where the kitchen would go. And I was like, of course, we have coffee and scones and retail goods. And then upstairs it was like there was a living room space, which made perfect sense for a bar.
And it just it just was all there.
And fortunately for me, it was the better. Way to go, because I don't know that the cooking classes in and of
Themselves would have been
A successful business
The way that
Out to be.
Totally, yeah. And when you were in that phase, were you still funding the business or did you have to go out and raise money to be able to get into that carriage house?
No, I mean, and I think for your audience and this is something that I don't think people talk about openly
Enough, I was
Very privileged to have the money to self fund. I did the renovations on that building. I basically took care of any difference between what we made and what we spent in year one. And I was fortunate that we were able to make a profit in year two. But that's because my family wasn't depending on this income.
I had a
Nest egg that I could
Spend know. If you're
At least in America, no bank would have funded
That small business
Loans do not cover that kind of business and even other sort of more scalable businesses. They really they need personal guarantees and a lot of covenants. And they're not your go to and candidly, I don't think investors would have been like this is a great idea. Right. So I think talking about the
Money is really important because
I could not have done it had I not been willing
To spend, I mean, a million
All in myself.
And that's a lot of money.
Yeah, it's a lot of money and it gets for you as well. You're really going on your intuition. You had this vision, you were super clear on it. But of course, it's a risk. It's a really big risk to jump in and do that.
Yeah. And I think asking friends and family to participate in
Your risk, that has its
So, you know,
I think there's
A lot of sort of entrepreneurship
Worship out there
In the world. And I think everyone's like, you go you go live your dream,
But keep your day
Job until your dream has a little bit of traction. And then once it does, then you're in a position to raise money for it and to and to bring in other people.
But most people
I know that have had successful businesses that didn't have the resources to fund them themselves really did stay in
Their day jobs until the last
Possible minute that they could.
And I guess that's really taking a calculated risk because you're tipping the scales, you're still having your regular income coming in, you've got that safety net, but then you're really hustling to see whether there's something that and see whether this interest from outside is because, of course, it's one thing for you to be like, I would love this and that's great. It's good to start with you. But if the wider community don't want it and it's not the right fit at that time, then of course it's pretty scary.
Yeah. And I mean, there are a lot of great ideas that don't translate to great
Businesses, you know?
I mean, that's just the reality.
And there are
A lot of great ideas that are just ahead of their time. And people aren't quite ready, whether it's investors or consumers, they're just not ready. I happen to hit right at the right time
Where New Yorkers
Were starting to understand the connection between the food that they were eating and their well-being and the greater good and the environment, things
Policy and food justice were starting to kind of come on people's radars in 2012. You know, there was there we were post two thousand and eight. So we were in a really great time in the economy
Business in general, brick and mortar businesses are very challenging. So all the conditions really need to be right for them to succeed.
Yeah, and I guess it also sounds like there was really nothing similar in the market in New York for people to come and have this experience and have this community. And just the visual impact of having that big, beautiful space sounds absolutely amazing. Wow, what a time. I'm sorry to hear it shut down there like it's I guess. How does it feel? What's the feeling?
Well, it's been a few months, so I'm not going to tear up when we talk about it. We were having our best year ever. We went into twenty, twenty eight with more deposits for weddings and corporate events than ever.
Fairly obvious in March that
We were going to be
Closed for some time.
I think as the months
Wore on, it became more obvious that this is really going to be a long
And brick and mortar businesses
Operating at margins where we can handle a year of no revenue. It's just it no matter, it just doesn't work. That's why you see sort of like the decimation of a lot of small businesses, especially restaurants.
It was we
Tried we were like, maybe we'll do Milkins, maybe we'll do delivery, maybe. But at the end of the day, because the event space really was like the main generator of all of the income.
And we knew that that
Wasn't happening for some
It just made the most sense to close the school. Fortunately, I was able to pay everyone well. I was able to get out of my lease with just handing back the keys.
It wasn't a
Ton of sort of Kafka esque nightmarish paperwork.
But it was really
Sad because it was very abrupt and it was shocking to all of
Obviously, me talking about having to let go a team of over seventy five
People was hard
For me, but obviously harder for the people that were let go. And pretty much a really heartbreaking time,
But I think that I'm I'm happy
That we did it when we did it, I think it would have just gotten worse.
I think that
For me personally, having this business
This this really
That needs my time and
Attention has been
Really fascinating, just kind of realizing how much my brain was really in two places and now only in one, how much more
Effective I can be.
There's a lot of really good stuff that's come out of it. But for sure, it was really it was really painful.
Gosh, it sounds sounds like a really big decision. And obviously, like you said, it's bittersweet as things that have great to come out of it. But you can I guess you can never understand how to deal with those things until they happen. And you learn a lot in this process.
I think that that's the thing about the pandemic. I think it's just a pressure test for you personally. Relationships, businesses, ideas.
You know, you hear about
Are falling in love
And you hear about friends that are breaking up
People are either finding things
Getting them super locked and loaded or they're having some real crises in their sort of personal well-being,
Think it's I think of it like a house when it's when it's built on a really firm foundation and kind of moves when when the winds come. But if it's not, then.
It breaks and
That's OK when
Things break. That's OK,
Because sometimes things
Are kind of held
Artificially up. And so the breaking is sort of the first step in the rebuilding, which which is exciting, if you can look at it that way.
Yeah, that's really interesting. I like that. It's nice. Well, let's move on to talk about the sauce business. I want to change topics there and figure out when you were early on in building the sauce business, kind of what was the vision? What was it that you wanted to create and how did that kind of get started?
Yeah, so we've always been the mission from day one has always
Been there is
A cook inside
Of you and you
And empowered and all of those things that I was talking about, how I felt in the kitchen, you just haven't necessarily
Learned how you've been
Taught to think that this is something intuitive, that
You've been sort of it flooded with images of the most beautiful food and these incredible chefs. And so nothing you make is going to compare and it's just going to make you feel bad about yourself. So our job has always been the way to get someone to do something
More because it's good
For you and it's good for your community and good for the environment is not to say you should be cooking more, but to make it really fun,
Really creative, really
And so how do we make
Product. Right, that makes
That way? And it
With the way
That it looks and the way that it
Feels that the
Idea of squeezing a sauce is very fun. It's kind of like kindergarten. You feel like you're painting, you feel like I'm going to be creative. It's not about measuring out a teaspoon of this or whatever it's about just to squeeze here and maybe a little more squeeze there. It's about the colors of the sauce. It's about
And the vibrance of the flavors, which was really important to us. Obviously, we need to have a super clean label. So you know that you're putting good things into you. And most of all, it's really about the way that we. Educate consumers on you, all you need is a
Cauliflower, you can
Roast that, we're going to help you figure out how so that it comes out crispy and golden and delicious and then a squeeze of sauce and you've created a beautiful
Fast. You save time shopping, chopping, cleaning, but it gives you that feeling of empowerment.
So that was
Always the mission. It shifted a little bit because it went
From we think
More people should be cooking because it's so good for everything. And now it's like,
Cooking. So now how do we sort of say, like, OK, we've got you. We can help you out of your rut. We can help you with cooking fatigue.
You know, we can help
Make this more fun and exciting. Then I have to make dinner again. What am I going to make
All of that the
Grind? Yeah, totally. I am. I really love the pouches and that idea of squeezing it and splurging it out. This is a jar. And I also feel like it feels a little bit different in terms of throwing it away versus throwing the patch away. It seems a little bit different. Every time I throw big jiahua, I'm like, oh, I don't have any space, but maybe I should be keeping this.
Well, the thing is, again, also like at least in the US, you know, people think because they put something in in the recycling bin that it gets recycled.
You know, the truth
Is under twenty five percent of what you put in that bin actually gets recycled. Most of it ends up in landfill. So that's our municipal systems just being really anachronistic and far behind in sort of sustainability standards. So even if a pouch ends up in the garbage,
Amount of space that it's taking in landfill is significantly less. Not only that, but the production and the shipping. It takes twenty four
Trucks to ship
The equivalent of one truck of
Pouches of jars.
So when you think about just how thin and lightweight
They are, right.
The fuel use, the emissions produce, the water consumption, the food waste, it's so much better for a pouch. But we also have this great partnership with a company called
Terracycle where free to
Consumer, if you just
Sign up, you get an envelope, you put your passion and we guarantee one hundred percent that
Sort of like upstream
All the way down stream, we've definitely chosen the most sustainable packaging. So we feel really good about that.
Yeah, that's so cool. I love that. That's really cool. So how were you when you went to launch to market? How were you getting the word out there? How were you finding customers and growing that side of the business?
So we were fortunate because we had such a beautiful, loyal community already.
I don't know how people do it today other than just buying a ton of ads on Instagram. But we we didn't buy our first ad until April.
We basically just told our community that we were launched, we we kind of we're telling them along the way we're making this product. What do you think? What flavors do you like really bringing our community kind of into the process so that by the time that we were available at Whole Foods are available on fresh direct, they were invested.
And I think I think
One of the main things that I would sort of say, whether it's you trying to get consumers to try your product, you're getting buyers to to put you on the shelf investors,
You know, the
Person on the other side
Has a problem. They might not know it, but they have a need. And if you're building something to fill that need, then
Our job is to make it less about our
Us and more
About this is for you.
We've created this for you. We're answering
Your problem. These are your
Needs. And we're here to fulfill them.
Several years have been very sort
Of like founder
Centric, and for me, I just
Feel like it should be very consumer and customer centric. And so that's kind of how we've built it. From the very
We were asking our community what they needed, what sources were their favorite, what how do they cook? Why don't they cook? Why do they like to cook? What do they want to make? What do they never make? All those questions. And we had kind of a focus group every night of the week because we had classes and we were asking our students all the time and they were involved in taste tests and all that stuff of school. Then by the time we launched in March of
18, we sold
Out at Fresh
Direct the first day
That we were on their site. I mean, literally, we did a swipe up to buy and we got a new purchase order the next day. And they were
Similar with Whole Foods. We just had crazy velocity's very early on.
And then when we
Expanded out of the home region, we were nervous
Because maybe it's
Just our community. Maybe it's just people who know and love Haven's kitchen cooking school that are buying the sauces. But by that time, we had generated enough kind of word of mouth and
Enough sort of, you know, that sort of sprinkle
Effect of people telling people, I love this product and this is something new. And I think also there's just something to be said for a hard working package on the shelf. They really
They are different from everything around them. The color of the actual product is vibrant and there and the packaging is very simple. So I think that they they were their own little billboard also.
Certainly that's a nice way to describe it for sure. There are a little billboard. They do look very vibrant and very delicious. When I was browsing the products,
You was talking about you wanted to tap into people's fears, people's desires to solve that real problem and figure out what they need to. And you were talking to your community to be clear. Were you sending emails? Were you talking on Instagram? What were the ways that you were reaching your community?
Right. That's a very good question. It's funny because we were doing it primarily in person. Know we had three hundred and fifty tickets a day in our cafe. So we would put out three different sources and be like, if you if you fill this out, we'll give you a free coffee. Or in our classroom, we would say for those of you who are interested in doing a little taste test at the end of class, we'd love your opinion on the difference between this cost and this source.
Consumer research was pretty easy because it was
Touch and connected. I think that one of the things I learned about it is that you can't really ask someone, what is it that you're missing
In the kitchen? Because they
So I think a lot of what you're doing is, as an early researcher in that case, is is trying to tease out. And an intuition about what your consumer needs, they're not going to be able
To tell you, right.
There's that old famous quote I think attributed to Henry Ford. If you ask someone what kind of car they wanted, they'd say a faster horse or something like that. Right. No one knew that they wanted a car.
But they but what you learn
When you really engage with a community of people that you're that you're trying to sell something to. And the more that you ask them just general questions,
Questions about their experience in the kitchen, how they feel about cooking,
Help you, because they're not
Going to be able
To answer that, but really
Understanding of who you're speaking to and what would
So mostly it was in person. We did a lot of Instagram stories and a lot of polls and a lot of questions.
And I and I mean, I still d.m. hundreds of people a week.
And now it's like, why did you buy us? Why did you like us? Why did you decide to post about us? What what is it that we solved for you? Because we're still trying to figure out,
Is it because it's
So fresh? Is it because it's gluten free and vegan? Is it because of the. Which is
Why because once you
Understand why people love
You, then you're kind
Of locked and loaded and you're ready to go and you can keep following that. But if it's because you think that you know that you've made a great product and sure, everyone should have this, you're not really tapping into your consumer. You're just tapping into yourself. You know, oh,
So true, so true, I feel like that was just a bit of genius you've just said that.
Well, I mean, it's really neat. It's fun. It's fun to learn about. It's fun to learn about what you're what you're helping
People with, and I mean, I
Think for all of us who have packaged products,
There's no better feeling to this day,
No better feeling than someone on Instagram being like, I found this awesome look at what I made. And they feel like it's theirs.
It's not mine. It's theirs. And so if I'm going to
Get high on that feeling, then I want to know
What attracted you to us? Why are you buying us again? Again, it's very easy to get people to buy you once more. You can spend a lot of money on Instagram ads getting people to buy you once.
Matters is the second
Purchase, the third purchase, the purchase where they're like, I'm getting this for five of my
Friends. Those are the
Ones that really matter.
So why? You know,
I enjoy it clearly all the day long.
All the day long. Was there anything that has come out of those conversations that was more unexpected that you were blind to before?
I think I was
Surprised how many men love our
Then I did some further research into men in cooking, and I actually think it's really fascinating. There's there is some real research on the gender sort of difference between what men consider cooking and what women consider cooking. And as a rule, and people who identify as men are much more comfortable saying, I took pizza and I put packaged lettuce on it, and then I put dressing on it and I cooked dinner, then women and a traditional sort of like
They would say, I didn't really make dinner. I just took pizza and put some lettuce on it.
Are much more comfortable being like, look what I made and much more comfortable with hacks and
With with products like
Ours that they don't feel like, why would I ever want to make this from scratch and mince all these
With olive oil? And so they're much more
Comfortable kind of using
Us and saying
They made dinner, which I think
Is a really just sort of fascinating insight. And we're really leaning into like the men here,
Because men are
Shopping more than ever. And now I think it's actually flipped in the United States that more men are doing the grocery shopping for their families and women are.
Why more men than ever are responsible
For cooking, so
Insight to pick up on.
It's kind of fun.
And I think
Also the other thing
Sort of like I would I wouldn't
Say negative, but I was surprised
So there is still confusion about
What to do
Pouches. So for many
Consumers, you see this squeezy pouch of chimichurri or tahini and you're like,
Oh, I'm going to
Grill a piece of chicken and I'm going to squeeze it on top and dinner
Done. And it's
Intuitive. But for
A lot of consumers, they're sort of like, where's the
Recipe? What am I supposed
To do with this? How am I supposed to use this? And it's not so intuitive. And while I'm all
About we're agnostic,
If you only
Eat meat or if you never eat meat, if you
Only eat gluten, if you never eat
Gluten, we're here
For you because we can be
Everything, right. We can be a marinade.
We can be addressing. We can be a similar source. You can cook us, you can leave us uncooked.
That's a little bit
Choice for some
General. They have so many choices to make during the
Choosing that last thing of what am I going to do with this pouch is actually overwhelming
To some of them. And where I
See it as liberating and giving you agency over your dinner, they see it as kind of
Encumbering. And so trying to kind of find
The nice line between giving you good suggestions and giving you very easy meal solutions
Also leaving freedom for you to be creative and enjoy it and do what you want. That's kind of what we're trying to figure out now as a brand.
Yeah. And where that content comes into people's lives, how you reach them. Wow, that's so interesting. I love that. It sounds like a really cool journey that you're on at the moment with switching focus a little. Kind of like wrapping up one era, starting another, but also like learning all these new things, new insights, new people to target.
Really cool. Yeah. I mean, I feel like I'm in school again. And I will say also just closing up one era, we always had a little bit of a problem with
We were booking weddings, we were booking cooking classes, we were selling the cookbook. We had a cafe menu that everyone needed to know about. And we also, by the way, have resources.
Product. We have one
Message. We we have one thing that we're all focused on. And the messaging is so much clearer. And that's been huge for us, not only for me mentally, just kind
Of, as you said,
Sort of like clearing one part of my brain and really going all in. But for my team, for our Instagram, for our website, for our email newsletters, there's nothing else to
Confuse people about what we are. And honestly, people in Birmingham,
Don't care if we're cooking school. They want to know how the chimichurri is going to help
Them make dinner.
And so we feel
Like our we're
Doing a brand refresh right now, which is a super fun experience. I would recommend it to anyone. It's. It's so much fun having actual
Professionals looking at
You, helping you with strategy and then taking that strategy and launching it into design
Visual, because the package is basically right now are like our store logo from two thousand
And twelve on a patch.
So we need we need some help,
This room for growth,
Room for growth, but yeah, it's there's something to be said
Someone. The founder of Spindrift, a guy named Bill Krizelman, who's really smart. He uses this expression simplify to
Really focus in on what you are, what you're selling, what your vision is, what your mission is, how you're going to tell that story,
Who your people are and
And lean into that and everything else. Just kind of clear away for now because this will be able to get
Bigger and all
The other things just become a little bit noisy.
Totally, I definitely see that. Wow, I love that, so cool when you look back over the last eight years, almost a decade. What is it that you think has made you successful? Like what do you attribute your success to?
I would say that the key for me has been empathy.
I think that I am genuinely,
Put myself in the
Shoes of the people
With, the people
I'm selling my socks
Anyone on the other side
The more that
I understand where they're coming from, how they're thinking about
Clearer I can be. And my communication
More straightforward I think. I think most of the problems that happen, whether
It's like between
People or between companies or with service providers,
Is not that
Anyone's like that
To be a jerk. It's just that there's a lack of communication. Something's got
It's usually well, that wasn't in the
Scope of work, but we thought it was or
I didn't realize that you needed this by Friday. But I needed it by Friday, and
So I think
Over the years, I've learned
That being a
Isn't the thing being a nice person
Is great for your friendships and for your relationships, but in terms of being a good business leader, having
Empathy is the key, because
Then even if I'm talking to the buyer at Target. I'm not just trying to sell him my product. I'm looking at him and being like, what are his needs?
What does he need
To do this year? What is his boss asking from him?
What goal is
He trying to reach? And that way I can genuinely try to fill it. If I'm just like, this is amazing. And you should take this product. And here's how many Instagram followers we have. I'm not really looking at him or listening to him. I'm not really
With his situation.
He has a job.
He has a certain number he has to hit. He has a boss who's giving him pressure, all of those things. And the more that I understand about
Him as a human, not only the better I can be for
Him. But the truth is, you know, when things
Do go wrong, if I have a relationship that is built on genuine trust and genuine empathy with this human
Being, he will be
More likely to give me
A break, will be more
Likely to give me a
Pass. So I think it's
Been part of my
Building a reputation and building a business.
But it's also
Just been my success in
Human behavior and making myself a better
You'll never hear me say I need this without
Saying when you'll never
Hear me say this is what I'd
Like, but not with
Like this is the goal of why I would like this. And this is what Dunn looks
Like to me, because I don't
Want to put anyone in a position where they're anxious about giving me something that they think I need.
You know, and
That's just empathy.
That's so cool, I love that that's a really interesting answer, and it's also that thing of like that puts the Sprinkel all over the world as well, because it creates better relationships. It creates better experiences day to day it someone might be hating their job. And then they've actually got a really cool meeting where they're actually, you know, happy about that meeting and then it brightens their afternoon. This there's a a deep, like, ripple on effect from operating in that way.
I fully believe it. And I, I. I don't care what business you're in the
Human beings and
Human beings have relationships and human beings are
Complicated. We have billions of neurons.
We have billions of
Into the world with your eyes sort of open and looking how you can make other people feel better and knowing that the way that you communicate with them will have an impact on their day and that they'll go home and that will have an impact on their partner and their family and the next person on the phone with them. Just being aware of that power.
I don't know if it's karma or if it's juju or what it is, but I definitely I want to go through the
World that way. I never want to
Be the source of someone's. Pit in their stomach or tightness in their chest. I've had enough of that in my life, I certainly don't want to be that for anybody else. Totally.
Absolutely. What advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to launch their own business?
I do think it goes back to sort of the earlier discussion I think
I am all
Go you and
Follow your passion.
I know that I did, and I
Would never tell anyone
Not to, but
I think that you have to balance that with
Reality. And I think you
Have to understand
Entering, the consumer
That you're approaching. I have a podcast about building consumer brands, and I talk a lot about this, like Phantom Black being kookie. For some reason I use it in all of my discussions is like the example.
Have the most delicious
Cookie in the world. It could be the
Healthiest cookie in the world. It could have every adapted gene on the planet and literally make you smarter and blow
If it's next
Cookie that is three dollars
And yours is thirty
Dollars, it's not
Going to sell. It's not going to work for a supermarket
Buyer, you might be able
To get people on the Internet to buy it, but there will
Be a cap at how much
Will want to buy that. So you have to be aware of what's around you. I think a
Lot of people are like, this is my dream. And I've been told that I need to single mindedly follow my dream.
That that's really faulty
Advice, because I think
If you single mindedly follow your dream without looking around you at who else is doing something, what the market is like, what people can tolerate, where is this going to go in
The store? How are you going
To market this? How much is it going to cost to make this right?
That cookie could have
Gross margins of four
Percent. That means that you will
Constantly be on the hunt for fundraising. That means that you, at the end of your business, when and if it sells, will own under five percent.
Do you want to work
For the next 10 years to own three percent of something? Right. That sells for,
Let's say, best
Scenario, one hundred million dollars. Right.
So these are just there
Are I remember
When I was opening the cooking
School, there are just some
Rules about retail restaurants,
Especially your annual
Sales should be more than 10 times your
Monthly rent. Right. So when you
Are first getting into it, you're like 10 times like, what are their costs? Are there, right?
Like, oh, it's going to be fine.
It'll be fine if it's but
It's not fine because
All of these things happen. You have labor, you have insurance, the toilet breaks, whatever. There are some rules that it can be 20, 20 or it can be 19, 14. And the rules
Are the same know.
And then there's everything else that's changed. All of those variables,
How you reach
Your target consumer is totally different now than it was even
Two years ago, certainly
Different than it was five or 10 years
Ago. But building a
Never going to be a good
And you aren't you can't sort of assume that the margins are just going to magically get better as you get bigger, which is very faulty assumption that a lot of people make. Well, with scale, I'll go from 20 percent gross margins to 60.
That's not how it happens. So I think my advice
Is follow your dream. But in so doing, do as much research as you can. Understand everything that there is to know not only about your
Product, your competition,
The market size, the way that people in that market consume the dynamics of
What happens to that market in a recession? What happens when we come out of a recession? There's so much you can do just on
On your desk, while you're doing your other
Things, learn as much
Possible. And then that would be my advice.
Totally, basically be like really financially literate and really know your numbers and have everything superglued before you jump in.
Look at look
The branding, because
There are a lot of companies out there, especially when you're scrolling on Instagram. They look amazing. They look like they're killing it, quote unquote. Right.
But there's a lot
Going on behind the brand. Right? There's actual business. And if you're not building a fundamentally strong business and again, margins for every category are different.
Me, having 40 percent gross
Margin as a
Fresh, refrigerated brand
Is great. If I were
A beauty brand, it'd be terrible.
So it's different,
But learning those things and those are things you can easily research.
Totally, thanks. That's great advice. I love that. OK, we're up to the six quick questions part of the episode. Question number one is what's your why?
My wise to make people feel great when they're making a meal. I love that
Simple, I love it. Question number two is what's been the number one marketing moment? That's media business, pop.
I have to say, it might be
Because it's so recent, but we started doing insta card
August and we
Saw some of our stores
Volume almost immediately. It was just like a flip of a switch
And boom all of a sudden just
Selling a lot of sauce at a certain number of retailers.
What's an instant cut?
Insta card is a it's a grocery store delivery platform. So basically it's a it's a massive business. Now that's got a lot of funding, but it is
Mechanism that a bunch of grocery stores use around the country that don't
Have their own.
So in the middle of a pandemic, when people are not going into the
Supermarket and they're not
Milling around, when they do go into the supermarket
And they're not like
Tootling around and look at those patches, I think I'll buy those. But they're on their computers buying groceries from their local grocery store through insta cart. We now have search word ads. So we come up
If you type MISSO or Soss. And that
Has really been massive
So anyone in America that has a product that isn't doing enough to cart ads, I would seriously do them.
Yeah, that sounds amazing. Wow. Question number three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading? What do you listen to? Who you chatting with?
Well, right now I'm reading a book called Cast.
It's one of
The best books I've ever read in my
Life. It's about
Sort of the caste system in
How. Race has been used to sort of
Beings as lesser human beings and how systemized and sort
That was, it compares the American caste system with the Indian caste system, which is much more familiar to people. And, of course, Nazi Germany, which had a short lived but very
Powerful, very sad caste system
Of itself. So it's beautifully written. It's also really, I think, important reading right now as America is having sort of a reckoning with our race problem. It's definitely opening my eyes to a lot of things that I, as a privileged white
Woman, didn't didn't necessarily
See. So that's been
Fascinating. On the business side. I'm reading
This book. It's called.
Who solve your number one problem? It's about
Finding the right people for your team. We are going to be growing our team. I am very nervous to hire because I love my team so much and we're so close.
But it gives
A really good framework for that process and for really vetting people well and for for going through it and not hopefully making a hiring mistake, which is hard to
Totally. They both on super interesting. I'm going to link them in the show notes of this episode for anyone who wants to listen very well read or listen to question number four is how do you win the day? And that's around your AMPM rituals that keep you feeling happy and motivated and successful.
So I start every morning with a eucalyptus shower. I have eucalyptus essential oil I like.
I don't know
How to what this word is that I'm destroying, but like dum dum dum dum dum, the oil into the shower. I let it get steamy and I get in and I immediately feel like I'm at a spa even though I'm home. Usually I take a walk with my dog. I try to get some vitamin
D, I have a rower that I
Just kind of put
Down and I row
For twenty five thirty minutes to try to get
Heart rate going.
That's my morning at night.
I like to take a
Bath and read. It just
Helps. I take an Epsom salts bath. I usually a friend of mine has a really great skincare line. It's called Gold Goldi and she makes a really great
Mask and I put
The mask on and I get in the tub and I read
Trinity. Right. Trinity, she's been in the show. I love Bit. Yes, she's wonderful.
She's a good friend. And I love I love that green mask. I love playing with it in my hands and putting it on.
Cook dinner every night, but mostly those are
Those are how I roll.
Yeah, totally, I actually do the same morning shower thing, but with the lavender oil, like, really calms me down and just is like, well, not that I need calming, but for me that is just the best smell. I love lavender oil so much.
That's how I feel about eucalyptus. And it makes me just feel
Like clean and happy,
Totally. Absolutely. I'm going to give it a try. Question number five is, if you only had a thousand dollars left in your business bank account, where would you spend it?
Full. I think I would divide
The team and call
It a day
If we only have a thousand. I would be like, thank you, I love you. We're not spending any more money. You guys can just
Take this and go buy
This is it. Thank you.
But this is it.
Perfect. And last question. Question number six is how do you deal with failure?
Well, I mean, if
I'm being totally honest, I get
Into bed. I like
Probably most women
My first reaction is in their problem. Their loss, huge mistake. It's what did I do wrong?
Where did I
Say the wrong
Thing? How could I have
Differently? Maybe I'm
Worthy. What am I doing
In this business anyway? Who do I think I am? So honestly, that
Happens all the time.
That that happens has gotten shorter and shorter as I've gotten older and older, thank goodness.
But after that, sort of like
Licking my wounds,
To look at the
And I think that that's what I've been taught to do by very smart mental health professionals. The facts are I've raised this amount of money. The facts are I've grown my business ten times since the last round of funding. The facts are I have a team that works really hard, that respects me. The facts are we have a great product and it's just
Going to get yourself out of a mental. Real with another
Mental, real, you're going to get
Yourself out of the mental real by looking at the hard core facts and I have them
Written now in the notes
Section of my
Computer so that when I
Remember them, I can read
Them to myself. And that usually gets me out of that.
That's really clever. Really, really clever.
Sometimes you have to remind yourself because you know that when you're amygdalas all fired up and you're feeling
Sad, you're not going to get to resources
That you need in your own mind. So you need to kind of write to yourself. I know you're going to have a down time.
That's OK. And here's what
I'm going to tell you for when you're in that downtime self to self.
Love it. Totally love it. Well, Ali, thank you so much for taking the time to share so much wisdom and learning and just all the good things. I've so loved this chat and I feel like I really learnt a lot. So thank you very much.
Thank you so much for having me. I think what you're doing is amazing. We need more people saying, like brass tacks, not like I remember when I built this thing and now I'm
At the top
Of the mountain. So thank you so much for making this resource available to women founders. It's really Important.