Joining me on the show today is Jennifer chow!
One of the co-founders behind Nurture Life. A company that’s creating pre-ready healthy, nutritious meals for babies, toddlers and kids.
Growing up learning about healthy food, and watching her mum build her own entrepreneurial pursuits, Jennifer saw a gap in the market for pre prepared, fresh meals delivered to your door that busy mums and dads could whip up quickly for their kids rather than turning to food packed with nasties like sugar, salt and saturated fats.
We have such an interesting conversation about what it likes to manufacture fresh food and how she approaches building her business.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Sure. Um, so my name is Jennifer Chow and I am one of the Co founders of Nurture Life and Nurture Life is a direct to consumer subscription service that provides fresh, nutritionally balanced, ready to eat meals for babies, toddlers and Children, yum sounds delicious. I want to go back to what you were doing before nurture life and what led you to starting the business in the first place, Why food, Why kids, why everything? Absolutely. So prior to nurture life, I worked in the technology industry for 17 years, so I worked in the saN Francisco Bay area at a variety of different startups as well as large enterprise software companies.
00:05:23Edit So I've always had um you know, definitely a, a progressive tech oriented, you know, bug and orientation and um, I've always loved the startup and the entrepreneurial world, what led me to start nurture life is our eight year old son. Um, so when he was first born, I was running marketing for a high growth startup and I found that it was definitely challenging managing both being a new mom as well as working full time and making sure that he was eating um in the way that I wanted him to eat um which for me really meant, you know, fresh nutritious food, real food, not processed food and when he first started eating solids, um I looked around at what was available, particularly, you know readily available, convenient and it was mostly, you know, shelf stable um or frozen food and I thought, you know, I'd prefer not to feed him something that was older than him. And so I started making all of his food from scratch and I was doing as I was doing this, I was finding that, you know, because of my work schedule, I would frequently be spending a lot of time late at night making his food for the next day and um you know, as I continue to do this, I just thought, you know, there's got to be a better way for parents to be able to feed their Children, the type of food that they want to um that is fresh, it's healthy, you know, this, this minimally processed um that's pretty much the next best thing to cooking yourself without having to actually do it all yourself.
00:06:52Edit And um and that's really how the idea of nurture life was born. It's incredible because when I think about everything that you're saying, it just seems like of course there would be that solution, you know, of course there would be options for parents who are busy and who are working full time and want nutritional options for their Children. It's, it's crazy how did you know that other people wanted the products, were you going out and asking like other moms in your group or how did you kind of confirm like, yeah, we're going to do this and we know there's a big opportunity here, It's not just me. Yeah, that's such a great question because a lot of times you can take a personal experience and extrapolate it out and you know, and feel that my gosh, you know, all parents must be experienced in this, but I think it's so important to, you know, really try to validate it. Um, so we have quite a few friends who are in a similar life stages us, um, you know, working both parents, working full time with young Children and so what I started by doing and what my co founder started by doing is just asking our friends, you know, and also family members like what do you do to feed your Children?
00:08:00Edit And what we found pretty universally is that, you know, there were a lot of solutions that, you know, our friends, our family expressed, they felt were compromises. So, you know, a fair amount of like shelf stable, you know, food like boxed mac and cheese or you know, frozen dinners, um, a good amount of take out, you know, a good amount of, you know, fast food and then the much rare cases, they would either cook for their Children or they would have a family member, like an aunt or grandparent cooked for their Children. And so what we're finding is that there was just a tremendous amount of guilt, but on the other hand, like, you know, parents today have such busy, crazy lives, like all of our friends and family, like they absolutely want to feed their Children the best food that they can, but it also has to be practical and if they don't have the time to plan to grocery shop to prep and to cook they're going to find, you know, the solutions that work for their family and so what we found was that just almost universally you know, families wanted to do better when it came to feeding their Children but they didn't have the time or the wherewithal to do it all themselves and so they were turning to these other types of solutions.
00:09:06Edit Mm crazy. And so once you've validated that idea and you were you were a full steam ahead, you're going to get started, what came next? How did you actually start the business? How did you fund it? You know, what does it take to start a food business? Yeah, so a lot more than I talked to a multiple of questions in that. No, no, no, no, that's okay, that's okay, let me know if I missed any. Um so definitely a lot more than we realized, especially since my co founder and I came out of the tech industry and didn't have experience in um you know, building a food bread and becoming a food manufacturing company and so you know, the very first thing that we did is we, you know, decided you know, where did we want to be and we actually relocated from san Francisco to Chicago, Chicago is a very centralized food hub. And we also knew that we wanted to start as a director consumer business. So by nature of it being in the middle of the country were able to essentially reach um you know the coast as well as the center part of the United States um through the Chicago shipping and logistics network.
00:10:09Edit So we decided to start in Chicago and um we started by you know, you're Typical, you know, we rented a small co working space, it was a shared office with four people and the first person that we hired was somebody who is still with the business who's amazing and um you know her name is Katie and she is a person that I previously worked with, she's very, very strong and marketing very, very strong in you know having just an entrepreneurial and very visionary mindset but also loves Children and absolutely loves food and really, really knows food and healthy food. And so we hired her and then the other person that we hired is a VP of culinary operations who had extensive background in high end restaurant and hospitality. We did feel strongly when we started nurture life that we didn't want to be the typical kids food brand. Um so we didn't want to do food that was you know very carb or protein heavy, high and high in fat and sugar and salt, which is what you typically find with kids food that's readily available.
00:11:11Edit We wanted to really reinvent kids food with nurture life and set a new standard and and feed kids everything from, you know, if you were going to do a mac and cheese, it was going to be our healthiest version of mac and cheese with a full serving of vegetables all the way to things like teriyaki salmon or chicken branding, which you never find on a kids menu. So we hired a VP of culinary operations to essentially help us in terms of designing all of our, you know, initial recipes and formulations. And then we also brought on board a pediatric registered dietitian. So we partnered with one of the leading pediatric registered dieticians in Chicago, who's still with our business and um, she essentially helps guide all of the nutritional tenants of all of the meals that we develop and pretty much that's how we got started. So, small co working space. Um, we spent the first few quarters essentially establishing, you know, all of the different foundational elements of the business, whether it's, you know, what our product line would be, what our formulations would be, um, you know, figuring out how we would do packaging myself and and K the individual that we hired, who is a very strong background in marketing.
00:12:17Edit We started figuring out, okay, you know, this is what we want in terms of our brand, our site, you know, the development of our sales channel through e commerce technologies and you know, pretty much we laid out all of the different elements that we would need to launch in market, but also to, to start by launching a beta program and really testing, you know, all aspects of, you know, the product, the meals, the subscription site, things like that. And then we literally just rolled up our sleeves and dug in and got started, wow, this is so cool. I have a lot of questions about the digging in and getting started, but just quickly, you mentioned the teriyaki salmon on the menu for kids, how did you know, kids would eat that because often kids are picky, you know, I know it's something you've spoken about before, um Children don't want to eat all the things, how do you know that they were going to eat that kind of stuff? So we didn't, we didn't, so you know, one of the things that we have definitely worked very, very hard on over the past few years is research and development and taste acceptance and so, you know, it's exactly what you're saying, most Children are, I think it's something like 70% of families or parents in the US, they self identify their Children as picky eaters and um you certainly have by nature of that, just the vast majority of Children who want to eat the same things over and over again and, and typically don't like to experiment with new types of food and new types of ingredients, new cuisines and so much of that is really based off of familiar Children like to eat what they're familiar with.
00:13:49Edit And so, you know, one of the things that we absolutely encourage, you know, our families to do is to really focus on, you know, understanding how you would expand your child's palate. So you know, if they always want to eat mac and cheese, you know, start with maybe like one additional side in addition to mac and cheese, a side of vegetables, the side of broccoli, something approachable and have them, you know, gradually start to become familiar with it. You know, maybe the first or second or third time they're going to reject it by the fourth time, a lot of times they'll actually start to like it and by the seventh or eighth time they'll grow to love it and they'll start asking for it. And so, you know, one of the things that we definitely encourage families and sorry, I'm not exactly directly answering your question, but I absolutely will is um, is to not settle for your child being a picky eater because one of the things that's so important is, you know, we always hear from registered dietitians that, you know, the Children and adults too should should be eating the rainbow, they should be eating a really wide variety of foods.
00:14:50Edit And so much of the reason for that is making sure that they get the right vitamins and minerals, the right macro micro nutrients that we can't necessarily get that if we're eating the same things over and over again. So we definitely encourage families not to settle for picky eating, but knowing if you're not going to settle for picky eating, it's not a flip the switch type of situation, it takes trying and introducing the same foods over and over again until your child becomes familiar with it and then grows to love it in terms of the teriyaki salmon specifically. So we, we absolutely didn't know that the Children, Children would love it. And, and there are definitely a lot of Children that don't like teriyaki salmon and for that matter don't like fish. And so one of the things that we've done with our menu development over the past two years is we've really introduced a good variety. And so we have everything from, you know, picky eater favorites like your mac and cheese or your chicken bites, But, but with our mac and cheese, it has a full serving of vegetables, it has whole wheat noodles and not, you know, refined noodles.
00:15:52Edit It has, um, just minimal processing because we make everything in house. So it's, it's one of those situations where if we're going to have a picky eater favorite, like a mac and cheese or chicken bites will make sure that it follows really strict nutritional guidelines that we have around, you know, balance and also around the full serving of vegetables and the quality of our ingredients. But what we also decided was that, you know, one of the benefits of using nurture life is being able to, you know, very easily without having to do it yourself, expose your Children to different types of flavors and cuisines and food groups that they are food types that they wouldn't necessarily eat. So we've had a lot of families tell us our teriyaki salmon or salmon slider is the very first time that their child has ever eaten fish. And one of the things that we've done when we introduced things like teriyaki salmon is we, we try to make it as approachable and as kid friendly as possible. So when we would do a sauce for salmon, you know the reason why we chose teriyaki was to give it a little bit of sweetness, but instead of using, say for instance, sugar, we use pineapple juice.
00:16:58Edit So you have a much more natural sweetness in the flavoring and then we paired it with a very approachable veggie fried rice, you're still with, with brown rice, so that you're still getting brown rice versus white rice and you're still getting a mix of vegetables, but typically, you know, a veggie fried rice is very approachable for a kid. And so we try to do a lot of things in the formulation of our recipes, especially when it comes to the more unique cuisines that are not as kid approachable and typically known as kid friendly to do them in the most kid friendly ways. That is so interesting and so clever to think about adding in different things like pineapple juice, so cool, I'm wanting to know how you funded the business in the beginning, have you had to raise money to kind of grow the business and scale what was the kind of financial journey for you? That's a great question because I think every every entrepreneur faces it when starting a business. So we started the business by bootstrapping it. Um so myself and my co founder um you know, funded the business for about the first year and a half to two years of our journey.
00:18:08Edit And then once we were well on our journey we we were starting to really prove market viability and market acceptance and adoption with our early customers. Um then we started raising external capital, we raised a, you know, we started by raising, um well I guess when we consider like an angel round or post bootstrap angel round, um and then we also raised a series a and what have you used that money to towards, is it to develop your team and get more people or is it more towards marketing, is it for the, you know, the production facilities, what do you spend money on? Yeah, that's a great question. So it's all of the above, it's all of the things that you've mentioned. So we are fully vertically integrated company. And so what I mean by that is that we, a lot of food brands use what's called a co manufacturer. So they don't actually produce their own product. Um, and nurture life. We have our own production facility and we produce all of our own product with our team members.
00:19:08Edit And so we've definitely invested heavily in our production facility in our equipment. We've invested heavily in our team and building out our team. We invest heavily in R and D and product development and making sure that we're continually bringing the best products to market. And we certainly invest in marketing to acquire new customers. Amazing. And I definitely want to talk about marketing. I want to go back to the beginning when you were just getting started and looking to find your first customers and how you're requiring acquiring them in the beginning. Yes, absolutely. Um, so in terms of our very, very first customers, we started by doing what we call a beta program. We called it the Founding families program. And um, we essentially used word of mouth to acquire our initial customers who were customers that essentially trial the product for a handful of weeks. One of the things that we did, um that that I would actually definitely advise other founders to do is my co founder and I, we specifically did not reach out to our network.
00:20:14Edit We had friends of friends reach out to their network because we wanted very objective feedback about all aspects of their experience with our products. So it was really through word of mouth, it was also through our registered dietitian, she was able to recruit a lot of our initial founding families. And then from there we um, we started with early entries, um, you know, with the press and with public relations. So very early in our journey, um, we went to market in September of 2016 and in October we had a great article that was published on nurture life in Martha Stewart magazine and that really, really helps propel us and put us on the map and you know, and raise awareness for the service that we're providing among many families. And so that certainly helped us acquire quite a few customers. And then we also started to advertise on, you know, the different social media platforms like facebook and instagram um, and then also and things like Google, which really helped bring more awareness to our business and help us acquire our initial customers. Mm Yeah, the mouth of Stewart piece was, that was a really good one.
00:21:19Edit Thank you, moving to kind of where you are now in the business, obviously being quite established. I'm assuming you have a really huge customer base, how do you acquire new customers at scale and how do you expand to be able to cover, you know, more of the United States? Yes, absolutely. Um, so in terms of acquiring customers, you know, we, we do use a lot of the primary channels that a lot of other um, direct to consumer businesses use whether they're in, you know, the food and beverage industry or the, you know, or a whole host of different industries. Um so I would say certainly, you know, the social media channels that paid social channels, so things like facebook and instagram, you know, have been really successful for us for a very long period of time. We're starting to, you know, experiment more with other social channels as well. And then we also have had a lot of success just through search. So both paid search and organic search. So, you know, parents tend to be a group that really heavily research is when it comes to their Children.
00:22:22Edit Um and so we certainly find channels like google to be very productive for us. We've also found certainly that, you know, having really strong press coverage is very helpful because what we are doing is so unique and we are the largest, you know, direct to consumer food business, specifically for babies toddlers and kids. We do get a lot of really strong press coverage. And um and that certainly helped us acquire more customers. And then one of the absolute best channels for us really has been word of mouth. And so our customers, we have so many, so many really, really wonderful customers now. Thousands and and they continually spread the word to their friends and family about nurture life. And so we do get a lot of customers through for all as well, wow, that's so amazing. And it's so interesting to insight into and it makes so much sense the insight into google and and moms especially being big researchers I know for sure that's um the case with my best friend, she has become the ultimate research and now that she's a new mom. And on the topic of, of moms, I read that your mom is a really big inspiration to you and I want to know what you learned from her about her journey of being a female entrepreneur.
00:23:31Edit Oh that's that's such a great question. So my mom, my mom is absolutely my biggest inspiration. So she was a registered dietitian and an immigrant who came to the U. S. From china for college and you know essentially built her her life and career in the US and um you know, I would say a few things um certainly when it comes to, you know, food, healthy, eating healthy eating is absolutely critical from the very very beginning. So we grew up in a very food forward household always had, you know, fresh produce, fresh proteins, different kinds of cuisines, variety spices, all those types of things, you know in our home. And um we always tended to do a good amount of shopping um together as a family on the weekends, in places like china town where you know everything would be laid out in front of you and you could talk about like what you were seeing, whether it is you know american broccoli or chinese broccoli like bonk choy and so you know she really taught me from a very early age about the importance of the association with eating and health and that's something that I've definitely you know benefited from throughout my entire life and also is so critical for you know, a country like ours where you know the state of childhood nutrition is absolutely not where it needs to be and and needs a tremendous amount of improvement um certainly in terms of you know being an entrepreneur herself, there are quite a few really, really strong lessons that she taught me.
00:24:57Edit Um So I would say that the first one is to always be more prepared than anyone else in the room, so do your homework, make sure that you show up to the table very, very prepared, don't wing it. Um you know, don't expect other people to do your preparation for, you do it yourself really, really understand what it is, that you need to understand what it is that you're trying to accomplish. Um So always be prepared, she used to always tell me like you know there always be people you know that are smarter than you, there will always be people that bring, you know different skills that you you won't necessarily be as strong at, but what you could do is you can be prepared and you could be willing to work harder than everyone else and that will always help you excel in life. The other thing that she taught me is to really, really focus on people um and that's something that you know, especially being an entrepreneur, you know at a company, you know where we have over 50 employees is you know, you can never you can never spend enough time focused on your team and your people and really helping to nurture them and grow them, you know in their careers and um and that's something that you know, I I really learned in space from her and then um the other thing is to just be passionate about what you do if you do something and you invest your time and especially with work where we, you know we spend so much of our waking hours working, really be passionate about it, do something that you care about, do something that you wait, you know, you wake up every morning and you're excited to be going to and to be contributing to?
00:26:30Edit I love that how great our moms Oh for sure mom shoutout to your mom, thank you what does the future look like for nurture life, are you wanting to expand in different countries, what does the next phase look like? Um So so for us, the next phase is really um you know, introducing more product categories, I would say is the nearest term next phase. Um So, you know, one of the things that we hear from our customers all the time is that when they're buying a nurture Life product, they trust it, they trust that, you know, it's nutritionally sound that the ingredients are, you know, the highest quality um you know, that it will never have any ingredients that they don't trust or wouldn't wouldn't want in their Children's meals and um and so they really trust us when it comes to, you know, choosing, you know, the best meals, the best products to feed their kids. Um So what we continually hear from our customers is that they want more lunches, they want more breakfast, they want snacks from nurture life. Um So the area that we're the most focused on right now is bringing new product categories to market um where we really have focused on over the past few years really, since our inception has been more dinners and lunches, um And so the whole idea of being able to provide, you know, all the different types of food that a kid will eat throughout the day, um you know, whether it's breakfast, lunch, dinner snacks, um you know, maybe desserts, who knows um are what are what we've been focusing on.
00:27:59Edit Yeah, that's so interesting because I'm sure where people go wrong is snacks and desserts. Yes, a lot of time. That's so true. That's so true. We definitely live in a nation where Children are our snacking a lot in between meals and a lot of times, you know, the majority of their calorie intake is coming from snacks and it's not coming from the real meals. But if you look at, you know, a lot of the content of snacks versus a lot of the content that that should be. And you know, your breakfast, lunch and dinner. That's really where you should be getting the maturity of your calories. And it's really where you're getting um you know, a lot of the a lot of the nutrients that you need. Mm That's so interesting. So interesting. What advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to start their own business? So I would say the first thing is to make sure that they're really, really passionate about the idea because starting a business is challenging at the beginning. But one of the things that I've definitely found is it gets more and more challenging as you continue to build and grow the business and bring on team members and you know, acquire customers.
00:29:09Edit Um And it's challenging in ways that I would have never expected. Um So you know, so make sure that it's an idea that you really, really believe in and that you're incredibly passionate about and that you want to really be in for the long haul because you're gonna have ups and downs and if you are passionate about your idea, you really believe in it, then you're gonna want to stick with it and you're gonna want to put everything that you have behind it to really make it grow and foster. Um so I would say that would definitely be um you know, be the first thing, in terms of the second thing I would say, you know, definitely have a strategy. Um so one of the things that we found is that it's so important to have a strategy, so no, you know, beyond the big idea, what what are you trying to accomplish and what do you think the critical milestones will be to actually realizing that idea and making that idea come to fruition. And then once you have a strategy put in place in, you know, approachable, achievable pieces, what are the different steps to achieve? Um the different points in your strategy?
00:30:11Edit And that that also I think, you know, helps one stay on track because when you have a big idea and you're just starting a business, it's so easy to get lost in, you know, 100 different sub ideas, 100 different directions. Um but it's so critical to have a strategy to have a plan and to really stay focused and to try not to get lost in all the different directions that you're going to be pulled in. That's such great advice. I feel like it's so relevant to me right now, so I really appreciate that. Thank you so much. We are up to the six quick questions, which is so much fun question. Number one is, what's your wife? So mike? Why is definitely the mission behind nurture life? So our goal as a business is to really improve the nutrition of Children in our country. And the why is, you know what it is that we're doing with our products with the families that we're serving with the Children that were feeding, you know, and really just, you know, give parents food that they can be proud to serve their Children that their Children love, but also have the nutrition that their Children need to really grow and develop, you know, in the best way possible.
00:31:25Edit And then I would say my other wife, it's okay to have two eyes. This is certainly our team. Okay, thank you, nurse your life over the past five years, we've really built an amazing team and so my other y is just waking up every day and you know, and and working with our team and nurturing the team and you know, and fostering the team and giving giving our team members, you know, a place that they're really, really proud to work out with a mission that they're really, really passionate about. That is so nice, such a lovely message to leave for them as well. Question number two is what's been the number one marketing moment that made your business pop. I would have to reference that Martha Stewart article again. Um so uh yeah, I would say what what definitely made our business pop from a marketing perspective was was a press article of Martha Stewart that we got um you know, a month after we came to market it just, you know, it put us on a national profile, which we didn't have previously because we're small startup in Chicago and really put us on the map as you know, as the first, you know, kids direct to consumer meal meal subscription service.
00:32:34Edit And I imagine she would also have like a really loyal readership and people who listen to what's going on that website. Absolutely, absolutely. Question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading? What are you looking at, what are you listening to? That's such a great question. So I love, I mean I love to read, I would say that you know, definitely where I hang out to get smarter is is by reading um you know, I I love to read whether it is, you know books or you know, podcast or you know, I guess that's not reading, listen, I love to listen without a doubt to podcast. Um I love to listen to audiobooks. Um and I loved it. I mean I I am you know, new york Times Wall Street Journal etcetera etcetera junkie. So I have both apps on my phone and I love to read the different articles and pieces in them, but I would say definitely where I hang out to get smarter is primarily by reading, do you have any recommendations that we need to add to our reading list? So there are, okay, so there's a book that I recently read that was amazing called Hillbilly Elegy and there is a book that I'm currently reading called Educated which is also equally amazing.
00:33:51Edit So I would say those two, great, I'm going to note them down, I haven't heard of either of them yet, so that's super exciting, you've got to check them out there there there there the types of books that you absolutely won't put down um once you start reading them, love those kind of books, Question number four is how do you win the day and that's around your am and your pm rituals that keep you feeling happy and successful and motivated. Um so I would say two things. Um the first is that I always start my day with a plan of what I want to accomplish, you know, one of the things that I find is you know, just as an entrepreneur and a co founder, like you're constantly pulled in a million different directions. So you know when I start the day, I know what I want to get done and then at the end of the day um I always kind of visit what that list was and you know I've either accomplished what I what I said to accomplish in the day or I have you know I I understand why I wasn't able to and and you know when I will um and then the other thing is you know it's just back to putting you know putting your team in people first and and really making sure that you dedicate you know a good amount of time during the day um to your team and to the people who you know might have a pressing issue or or challenge that they want to address or something that they need guidance on and always making your people and your team of priority.
00:35:11Edit I feel like you can never lose the day if you do that. for sure question #5 is if you only had 1000 dollars left in your business bank account where would you spend it? Um So I would say that I would spend it on our products and our customers um So definitely on product development or on you know customer testing um You know we're just always so focused on developing new and innovative products that our customers love that their kids love and and so it's definitely where we we love to spend our time and our resources. And last question Question # six is how do you deal with failure and that can be around a personal experience or just your general mindset and approach. Um so I'm a big self introspect, er um so I would say the first thing is to definitely you know, look inward and self introspect and you know and understand like why um you know why I failed at something or why you know a specific concept or initiative failed to try to understand it and you know, understand you know what, what could have been done differently to either avoid the failure or what could be done in the future to avoid repeating the failure, I would say also you know just having a very open mind when it comes to failure, um understanding that you know failure is in the vast majority of cases inevitable, but it's something that we could really learn from and we can also learn if it is a collective, you know, or collaborative failure, learn from others, other people on the team in terms of you know, why, why do they think that it failed?
00:36:45Edit What could have been done differently? What could have been done to prevent it and you know, and and really um you know, I know this sounds so cliche but really learning from it and understanding that failure, you know, is something that we not only learn from, but it also does make it stronger for sure, absolutely, jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time to be on female startup club today, I have absolutely loved getting to learn about your brand and what you're doing and what you're creating for the world. I think it's so important and it's really a great mission that you're on. Thank you so much. Well, thank you so much for having me on today. I really, really appreciate it.