From fashion to vegan cheeses & the magic of serendipity with Monty's Founder Lauren Montgomery
Today I’m chatting with Lauren Montgomery about her company, Monty’s
We talk about her career pivot from fashion to vegan cheeses, what happened when she set out to be the best at something and the serendipity of changing direction from bootstrapping the business to bringing on a new business partner that grew the brand exponentially.
Monty’s makes plant-based cream cheeses and butters using only clean and flavorful ingredients. Made from real-food ingredients, Monty’s selection of plant-based essentials includes no additives and provides a nutritious foundation for living a sustainable and vibrant lifestyle.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
I am Lauren Montgomery Aka Monty's. Where Monty's comes from? I'm the founder and chief of Monty's, we make the purest, plant based dairy free essentials, cultured cashew cream cheese and plant based butter made with the simplest real food ingredients, yum, that sounds amazing.
00:03:51 I'm so excited to try it before you started Monty's and I'm rewinding back a couple of years here, you were working in the fashion industry, working for brands like balenciaga, and you're working for companies like barneys, how did you go from that industry to leaning into entrepreneurship by way of plant based cheeses and plant based products? Definitely a big change, I would say, you know, I've always been interested in health and wellness and nutrition and so many things and it really kind of explored all of my passions. I was working in the fashion industry and really felt called to come back to this passion of mine that I had, you know, since as long as I can remember, and it just kind of kept tugging at me. So I I pivoted, I I became health coach through I N and that kind of, you know, gave me the clarity to realize I could pursue a career that looked any which way and that really, you know, my personal and professional values could align and, you know, where I was really spending most of my, like free time was at the gym, you know, at taking healthy cooking classes, going to the best plan based restaurants in new york and you know, as much as I loved working in fashion, I feel like my true calling was in wellness and food and you know like that's that's where I was spending most of my free time.
00:05:21 So I decided to pivot and you know, it's a all of my experiences including that one have informed the creation of my business and you know, it's not always a direct path, but I would say you know, everything that I've done up until the creation of Monti's really helped inform the creation and its success totally. That's really interesting. I'm wondering like what was the actual moment that you were like, okay, I've landed on vegan cheese, like was that, you know, were you exploring other ideas? Didn't just hit you in the face one day and you're like this is it, did you try a really terrible product that made you think, surely this is going to be better? What was the, what was the moment? Yeah, it was, it was a lot of things. So I have been dairy free probably for 12 plus years in high school, you know, I got really interested in plant based and holistic living and just kind of experimenting with that way of cooking. And you know, like I said, I was trying every dairy free cheese, there was around everything on the market that wasn't done in like a restaurant setting was really awful and tasted horrible and you know had a lot of crap ingredients in it and things that I didn't want to consume.
00:06:39 You know, so when there's not something on the market, obviously you create it yourself. And I really feel like I've created something that didn't exist before because you know, they're they're really was nothing that met my standards in terms of quality and clean ingredients. And so to paint the picture, were you like making this yourself first and figuring out like a recipe to then be like, oh, you know, maybe I'm gonna start selling this, we'll see what my friends think. Or were you like, I'm just going to go out and find like uh you know, a manufacturer, I don't know what you even call them, but like someone to develop the product with. No, so I was making everything by hand. Right? When I started culinary school, I started taking food science classes and fermentation classes and really got specifically into nut cheese. So I was doing a lot of experimenting on my own. And really like the second week of culinary school, I told them like I want to start a nut cheese business and you know, at that time I was like, this is a preposterous idea. But by the time, you know, I went to culinary school six months later, I worked in a couple of plant based restaurants to hone my craft.
00:07:47 I did my culinary external ship at Blue Hill Stone barns. I visited some nut farms in Europe and really like learned everything I could about this particular thing, I was obsessed, you know, with becoming the best at it and making it the best that it could be. And then it started as, you know, me sharing my experiments with my friends and family and realizing, you know, that that it was something that other people enjoyed, you know, not, not just myself and not just people who ate very free. It was really something that I could share with everyone and that's how it started. One of my girlfriends told me to start selling it at a holiday market and it kind of just started from there. It was a very organic, like sharing of my passion, that's so cool. And I imagine when you're on that journey of, hey, I'm going to become the best at doing this and I'm going to know the most. What also would have happened is you would have built a really direct like network of people who in the industry knew what you were doing and becoming the best.
00:08:50 So you are able to then go back to those people when you launched and said, hey, I've actually developed this product and now it's awesome. What were the people around you saying when you were like, I'm gonna quit fashion and I'm gonna build my own business. Mixed mixture of use definitely a couple friends that were super supportive at the time, I was really surrounding myself with people that were doing similar things that were inspiring me that were starting their own businesses, I always say, you know when I was working at barneys, I started ordering Sekeras Plant based delivery service and it like changed my mind and open my mind to you know, wanting to do something similar and I think surrounding yourself with people that, that you really see yourself in, you know, it's so important to feel like you can also do it. So I would say for the most part, you know, very supportive, I think my parents were a little bit skeptical of me changing careers but you know, ultimately very supportive and you know, I definitely owe it to all of them to for helping me realize that that's what I wanted to do also at the time, right, when I was about to switch, I, I started seeing a life coach and that's something that really helped propel me and get over that like last fear hump of like can I do this, is this possible, am I good enough, do I know enough and I am and so is everybody else, They just have to believe it.
00:10:20 That is so true, I want to talk about your friend who kind of like inched you towards doing this holiday market and what happened at the holiday market? Like did you take a lot of early, kind of like product samples or were you like fully developed recipes, totally good to go, how was that early initial phase of putting it outside of your personal network into the world and saying, hey I have this brand come and try it? I think it goes back to, you know, starting before you're ready or before it's perfect. So, you know, I had at the time when I started, I was making these age cheese wheels made with all these beautiful natural diet colors and you know, that's not the products that we have now. So I would say, you know, it started that way, all my friends and, and everyone really came to support me and I was always open to feedback and to iterating based on the needs of other people to, you know, I think it's it's so important to not be so stuck in what you want to do, but really listen to other people and their needs because ultimately they're the ones you're serving and I always really valued everyone's feedback.
00:11:29 You know, my friend initially had me go to this market, but I, I just started after that gained the confidence to approach other markets and you know, it was very easy um ultimately to get into markets in new york, the original product was great, you know, but over time it's it's definitely gotten better with people's feedback. Mm Yeah, obviously customer feedback and customer research is just such a critical part of anyone's journey and making sure that they're creating the product that people actually want, not just what they want, like during this time when you were doing the markets, how much money were you making and were you able to sustain your lifestyle at that point or was it in the side hustle phase where you still were needing to do other things to support yourself? No, I went full force. I I really feel like for me personally, I have to go all into something to really make it succeed and you know, I feel fortunate to have been able to do that. I was self funded at the time and really made it, you know, it was my full time job and so you know, it kind of forces you to make a shift like this has to work and I made it work and does that mean you were doing like multiple markets then in a week?
00:12:46 Like I'm trying to understand how the brand kind of actually started to grow and how it, you know, started to flourish. So I only ended up doing a couple like holiday markets and then I kind of hit the ground running, hit up a bunch of retail stores in new york, I got my own kitchen very early on, you know, early 2019 in New york city just started hustling, you know, approaching a bunch of different retail stores, working with chefs, different restaurants and you know, that's that's kind of how it started, is is really just kind of like local markets, wellness shops and restaurants in new york city got it and when you look back now, like in hindsight, because hindsight is such a funny thing, what do you think was absolutely critical in getting this business off the ground and like, actually working, because, you know, obviously, so many brands start, so many brands fail like all this kind of stuff, but like what do you think for you? You attribute that kind of success in the brand growing and keeping on going a couple of things?
00:13:49 I think the product, you know, my ability to create a product that most people loved and I think the product spoke for itself and it just, you know, garnered its own traction at the time. I was using social media is my main source of marketing and that really helped showing my journey and my passion and you know, equally people loving the product and sharing it. One of the retail stores very very early on that I got into was huge kitchen in new york city and they had very similar ethos to myself, you know, they created really incredible clean line of chocolate and snack foods and had a very loyal following and trusted community. I started selling with them, became friends with the founders and we ended up partnering very early on and, you know, I definitely would say that was a huge critical moment for monty's in really, me leaning on other people's expertise and knowing when to ask for help and for working with people that had already done this before and and really have paved the way in this space.
00:15:00 When you say partnering, do you mean like a business partner relationship or you mean just partnering by going into their stores yet a business partner relationships? So one of the founders of Hugh Kitchen started a holdings company called Human Co who invests in healthier living and also creates their own brands, wow. And so to get clear on this, so do they then fund the business and help you grow in terms of like just the financial side or was it also distribution side? Yes. So they're my main financial and operations partner. Got it, wow, cool. And so when you partnered with this guy, what did that do to the brand in terms of like the growth that came from that? So I would say initially prior to that, you know, I was making everything myself and had kind of very small distribution and once I started working with them I really did see the potential of how much more people we could reach with in scaling the production, especially because, you know, I was so used to making everything by hand.
00:16:09 So really the work we've done initially was doing some R and D to scale the product and and really assess the feasibility of scaling a fermented products without making any compromises or you know, adding anything. So that was kind of the first step, but subsequently, you know, they're really helping with all operations and every aspect of the business got it, and I'm interested to also, no, sorry, I'm stuck on this for a little bit here, I've got so many questions. Were you actively looking for this kind of partner, and was this the vision for you, or was it more of like, serendipitous moment where you meet these people and you kind of organically be like, hey, what if we partnered on this and did it together? It was pretty serendipitous, you know, I wasn't looking for capital at the time, I, like I said, I was self funded and and was planning to do that, you know, just kind of bootstrap, my dad had a business of food business growing up and, you know, the old school mentality is like, you figure it out and, you know, that's what I was doing, I was just trying to figure it out and, you know, it was really this serendipitous partnership, like I said, I was selling it, their restaurant in new york city and I was just doing incredibly well, we obviously, you know, developed a relationship working together and had no idea at the time that we would end up partnering, but it really was something that felt very organic and, you know, we were so aligned in our mission and I knew that they would help me bring it to more people and I wanted to be part of something bigger and and really ultimately help give people access to more people access to products like this that they can trust.
00:17:52 Mm totally. And I think what's cool about this part of the story is that, you know, you had this one vision and you are going to bootstrap the brand, but then you weren't so closed off to not see these opportunities and be like, hang on, I can actually pivot a little bit here and go in this new direction and it can do wonderful things for the brand and I don't need to be necessarily the the sole business owner of this company. I can actually grow much larger and have, you know, incredibly, I guess faster growing businesses. The best way to say it with these other people on board. That's really interesting. I love that. Yeah, yeah. Hey, it's doing here. I'm just popping in to bring you a quick message in every episode of the FSC show you'll hear women who were just like you trying to figure it all out and hustled to grow their business. And I would know a lot of you might be sitting there asking yourself, but how do I actually scale my revenue and get to that next level from where I am now.
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00:20:09 D. S. And booking a call today, we spoke about, you know, in hindsight what was critical in the beginning, on the flip side of that in the beginning, what were the kind of pitfalls or things that you wasted time and money on that others would benefit from knowing about and could try and avoid. I would say, you know, the process did happen pretty quickly in my partnership with them. But you know, in general, I was so used to doing everything myself, I think in hindsight, I wish I had asked for help earlier, you know, to some extent, I think it's good learning every aspect yourself and doing it by hand and really like funding and really understanding how everything works um there's definitely a benefit to that, but I also think that I only know so much and you know, I want to focus my energies on certain things, that's where their best spent and really seeking out people that know more than you in other areas too to help you grow your business is just so crucial.
00:21:14 So probably hiring hiring people sooner, who was your first higher well, so I didn't hire anybody before we partnered, so I partnered with them, I had one girl helping me with actual production in the kitchen, I guess it was my first hire, but on the business side I partnered with them and since then they have helped me expand my team and we're now a team of five. Got it, got it, okay, and so when we think back, you know, you had this moment where you partner with these guys, you grow exponentially since then what has been the key kind of moments of growth or you know, those follow on explosions, you could say of growing the brand, I would say, you know, we're still very small and kind of like, I think a lot of those moments are yet to come, but you know, like I was saying up until this point, all of the social media has been very organic and I've had some incredible people just order the product and share on social media.
00:22:16 So I would say, you know, that is kind of where the biggest winds have come from is just like this organic spreading word of mouth, definitely, you know, there's nothing like people advocating for you and your Brandon and truly loving it. Absolutely. I saw some of the re shares or the repost on your instagram stories, everything looks so cool, so much love out there for the brand. I'm also wondering like what's coming up for you, the things that you can shout about when it comes to any partnerships or any marketing campaigns or any new product launches, what's on the horizon. So a lot has been happening. We actually just launched direct to consumer shipping a few weeks ago, so that was a huge thing for us. Um now everyone can order throughout the U. S. You know, that's been something we've been working on for a long time when people have been asking where they can get it. So, you know, that's, that's definitely the biggest thing we expand that we're expanding our distribution now on the west coast. We just got into a few key retailers which I'm super stoked about. So we're getting some great traction.
00:23:19 We're in bristol farms and lessons Erawan now in California and harmon's in Utah so really kind of, you know, working to get into some more retailers and make the product more accessible to everyone. Uh, so exciting. Hopefully it's not too long until you are shipping to London and it's stopped in London supermarkets or grocery stores. I can't wait, what is your key piece of advice for women who are on the entrepreneurial journey? But a few steps behind you, I would say, you know, my biggest piece of advice is to really just go for it to start, you know, to not get paralyzed by not knowing and to really continue following your curiosity is doing what you're best at focusing on that and, and really leaning on other people on experts for things that you don't know and to really just keep the momentum going because I think, you know, it is so easy to, to not begin or to stop, you know, because you don't know where to go or you don't know the answer and it only happens if you make it happen.
00:24:31 So you just got to push forward, learn as much as you can and lean on other people for things that you don't know totally. And I think of it as like thinking of it as the long journey, like go for it for the long term. So then, you know, don't give up, just keep pushing through and take those small steps towards your goals every single day and eventually you'll wake up and be like, well how did I get here? This is crazy. At the end of every episode, I asked a series of six quick questions, some of which we might have covered already, but I ask them all the same so that I can look back in a few years time and see what the data shows like, the insides that may have come out of it. So question number one is, what's your, why? Why do you do what you do? I do what I do to ultimately create more consciousness through food through everything that I do. You know, I want to give all people access to clean ingredient life, giving trustworthy food that they don't have to question made with intention, products that are the best for people and for the planet.
00:25:37 Mhm Yeah, absolutely. That's so cool. Question. Number two is, what do you think has been the number one marketing moment so far that made your business pop? Like I said, you know, I think the best is yet to come, but probably, you know, the natural advocacy of people on social media that loved the product like Melissa would everybody loves her, Kristin Cavallari and another just incredible bad ass women in business, I'm so grateful for them and they're supportive Montes. Ah I love that question. Number three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading or listening to? What groups are you subscribe to that others would benefit from knowing about, I would say this is probably more of an unpopular opinion but where I'm hanging out to get smarter is with myself in my own head in nature. I would say you know of course I listened to two podcast and listen to audio books but I would say that everyone has what they need within them and it is easy to like look outside of ourselves, what other people are doing to try to get the answers.
00:26:49 But you know, in order to really create something unique in this life, we must find it within ourselves to bring it out into the world. You know, I was saying nobody is you and that is your power and you really you really have everything you need inside of you. So I think it's so important to spend time with yourself and and go inward and pull that out. Mm I love that no one is you and that is your power. I love that. That's so true. And I also think cutting out the noise because there is a lot of noise through our days these days. You know work, we're distracted with our phones were distracted with calls were distracted with tv were distracted with all these things and we're getting a million messages a day and yeah, you really need to take time to just have quiet and to think and to ponder Absolutely, absolutely question number four is how do you win the day? What are your am and PM rituals that keep you feeling happy and successful and motivated? I would say definitely, you know, having, having a morning ritual is, is kind of my main thing for winning the day.
00:27:54 Lots of coffee, meditation and movement, that's, that's really what I, I attribute my success to really knowing yourself and when you're most productive is key. You know, I definitely, I love waking up before everybody else and you know, hopping on zoom calls and just kind of like spending some time with myself and thinking through and clarifying what needs to be done without all of the noise like you said is so, so critical and you know, really like feeling fueling with all the right foods throughout the day is obviously something I'm a huge proponent of and lots of sleep. I always get to bed super early earlier than I care to share, but please shit, tell us I'm gonna be so jealous. I mean I could go to sleep every night at 8, 30, I would. you know, that's my kind of vibe. I wish I went to bed that early, I'm such a tired person, but somehow I always end up going to bed at like 11, which is just not enough sleep for me. I want to go to bed at 8 30 that sounds like heaven, Question number five is if you were given $1000 of no strings attached grant money, where would you spend that in the business?
00:29:06 I would say first and foremost sharing the product with more people. You know, like I really think that people love the product if they try it and really getting people to try it is the key. You know, other than that, I would say I'm super passionate about this organization wellness in the schools I've, and as Jeff volunteer with them always, you know, love supporting them and food education for kids that I think that really is the future of, of changing our world is teaching kids where their food comes from and making that connection. So that's something I'm really passionate about. Two. That's really cool. So did you say that's a program that you're part of at the moment? It is, I just recently moved to L. A. And it's based in new york. So I was a chef, volunteer for them. You know, prior to covid times we would go in and and teach kids cooking classes and and really emphasize, you know, real food ingredients and how to cook with them. That's so cool. I love that, wow question number six. How do you deal with failure?
00:30:09 What's your mindset and approach when things inevitably don't go to plan all the time? Uh not always perfectly. I deal with failure. You know, I, I admit that and, and that's okay. It's, I'm definitely practicing non judgement over here, but I'm incredibly motivated by failure. You know, initially it's kind of like it's heart wrenching and it's not easy. And I would say though in general, I am very motivated by it. You only get the number of, you know, yes is as you do 10 times more nose and everything is a numbers game. So you know, you have to be driven by the failures because you only get success after a certain amount of failure. I love that. I love that you say it's a numbers game because it so is, it's just literally, I feel like sometimes building a business is just creating lists and just working your weight like chip, chip, chipping away through every list and like ignoring the nose celebrating the yeses and moving through it totally.
00:31:12 You have to expect it as a part of the process or else there, there is no moving forward. It's all part of the territory. Life is up and down. That is so true. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, Lauren and talking about Montes and what you're building in the world. I can't wait to try it. This was so cool. Thank you so much. Thanks so much for having me. Can't wait to get you some.