Cue the dramatics. Does it make you more human if you do not fear the “valley of the shadow of death” but you still get a little down about being in it?
Remember what I promised those of you who follow us along this journey? An unedited (content wise and grammatically for that matter) look into what it takes to build, or at least try to build, a lasting company. Even if it paints a less than rosy picture of what you imagine the life of a founder to be. So if I’m being candid: I’m tired. Not physically tired per se, although I am, but that has more to do with having 3 young kids in the house. I am referring to being mentally and emotionally spent. No book or business magazine or even this blog can adequately capture the emotional toll starting one’s own business will take on you.
If you are coming from a career where you have always worked for someone else, then deez parts be uncharted territory son. You see the thing is everything is personal. When something goes wrong it directly impacts you, your family, your investors, and in our case the non-profits we are serving. When the line blurs between you and the company you’ve started, the highs are exceptionally high, and lows depressingly low. That begins to take its toll on someone who by and large has coasted through life not really caring about anything.
Then there is money. Money is a mercurial beast. I’ll resist the urge to make a Mo Money Mo Problems reference. Money as the ability to make things easier and at the same time more complicated. It can empower you while at the same time enslaving you. I remember declaring when I was younger after having watched my parents fight over a financial issue that “I hate money and I don’t care to be rich”. My mother responded pragmatically that “money should not be our main focus in life but that without a certain amount of it life’s everyday challenges become even more so”. When you are starting a business and raising funds you get all kinds of advise like “take the amount you think you need and double it because that’s what you’ll really need”, or “triple the number you have down because it won’t be enough. Trust me”, or my favorite piece of advise because I think the person was actively trying to get me to scrap the whole endeavor altogether ”you’ll never raise enough money to fund your company”.
The thing is that last quote is pretty accurate with the important omission of the word “successful”. You’ll never raise enough money to fund your company if it is successful. Those of you that I didn’t lose 2 paragraphs ago are probably scratching you heads thinking what the what (love you Liz Lemon)? To rehash something we may have covered earlier, the food industry is not structured (as are many markets) to reward the best products, but rather to reward the organizations who have the necessary funds to buy their way onto enough shelves and who are able to do so long enough for their product to stick. I see this post getting ready to descend into a detailed expose of food manufacturing economics. So I am going to stop myself here and just say if your products proves popular the demands to “purchase” more shelf space will eventually begin to outpace the revenue being generated by said product…in the short term.
That short term period is the valley of the shadow of death. So even though you don’t fear it, and you know you will come out of it, you still sometimes think “man this sucks”. In the end I think Bon Jovi had it right when he said “Whoa-oh we’re half way there! Whoa-oohh living on a prayer!!!!”
P.S. I’m going to try and bring back the teased hair look for men.
P.P.S Someone in the office just reminded me that I’m bald. So scratch that.
Expo East is in full swing and this year since we decided not to exhibit at the show I got the rare opportunity to just walk the show as a visitor. I looked and sampled dozens of products but only one stood out at that is the 2 new flavors of hummus from Cedars pictured below. Trust me you will not be disappointed.
It always amazes me how perception changes based on the circumstance. The events are exactly the same but how you perceive it is a function of many things: what happened immediately before, your mood, prior experiences in a similar situation, all of them contribute to how you will react. I’ve always tried to be as transparent and honest as possible in this blog as I’ve navigated the highs and lows of the food industry.
There comes a time in every small business’s development where they face an inflection point. It usually happens when the company has experienced some growth and has invested more money than they budgeted to achieve that growth. The big question many owners face is “if I want to continue on this trajectory how do I secure additional funding?” Or “do I throttle back and grow at a slower more sustainable pace?”. Bet the wrong way and you could sink your business before it ever takes off – cue Queen/David Bowie (Whoa, I just had a Vanilla Ice flashback!)
I’ve seen many people under this type of pressure begin making irrational, short-sighted decisions. Even worse some people begin letting this pressure effect they way they deal with people, becoming overly agressive and demanding. I found myself in similar situation trying to collect invoices from one of our distributors. The invoice was 45 days past due and even though I had sent the invoice twice the AP person I was speaking to did not have it in her system. Normally this is when I begin assuming that I am dealing with systematic incompetence or fighting against a singularly evil plan to destroy my business. Before I could respond I remembered something I used to tell the youth at my Church back when volunteered “A brick is not inherently good nor bad. The same brick that can be used to build a home can also be used to smash a window”. After that thought flashed across my mind I asked the AP person “How are you doing today?” “Oh, I’m hanging in there, I guess” was her response. “They keeping you pretty busy over there?” “Yeah, it’s already 4 and I still have 38 unanswered emails/requests.” “Oh, that stinks. You guys sound short staffed.” “You have no idea. Don’t get me started.” I ended with “I’m really sorry about that. I can’t imagine the pressure you must be under. I won’t take anymore of your time but if you can, when you get a chance, can you look into those 3 invoices I just resent?”
The world is not out to get us…Well, maybe it is but we all face our own pressures and how we relate to one another can mean the difference between building a lasting company or smashing a window for the quick cash.
Below is the song that inspired this post. It’s by the artist Aloe Blacc and he’s currently in heavy rotation a the TaDah offices.
A lot of what we focus on here at Eat Good Do Good is how we can give people “TaDah” moments. Those moments when something pleasurable surprises you. The other week we had a customer write to tell us that even though she now lived in the burbs, that eating our falafel wrap took her back in time to when she was attending school in NYC. I sent her email to everyone in the office with the subject line: We Are Doing It.
Today being Friday I decided to surprise my 2 sons by bringing them lunch at school. I picked up a grilled cheese for the little guy (he’s pretty much a vegetarian with the exception of nuggets), a hamburger with ketchup, pickles, and meat (my oldest insists I order his hamburger with “meat”), some fries, and lemonade. Went to their school to deliver their surprise lunch with Dad, and to my surprise I was told ”I want to eat alone with my friends”. Basically thanks for grub but I’d like to chill with my toddler posse without you cramping my style. Hmmm, I wonder where E got his too-cool for school attitude?
No worries, I hopped in my car and started eating my lunch on the way back to the office. As a bit of background I maintain a heathy and balanced low-carb diet, reserving my carb splurges for times when I’m travelling, or celebrating with friends, or in close proximity to a really good food truck…ok so I’m not really low-carb and just like to pretend I am. The point behind all of that is that I don’t normally eat (at least not enjoyably) french fries, but when I got to my office parking lot I found a bunch of the boys fries had spilled, coincidentally (wink-wink), to the bottom of the bag. On the occasion that I do eat fries I am greedily dunking 3-4 of them into ketchup and then stuffing them into my face. Yet here I am in a parked car with fries sans ketchup or any other accoutrement. So I began to eat said fries by themselves in my parked car with nothing else. At first I was distracted, mindlessly eating them while I thought about the various issues I needed to address back the office, but then the proverbial click. I began to eat them one by one with deliberation. Doing so allowed me to enjoy the distinct flavors and textures: the slightly mineral tasting crispy potato skin with a soft, sometimes dense interior tasted almost too good to be true.
The french fry which ceased to exist, consciously at least, was now front and center in my waking mind. When I was done with the bag I had experienced my TaDah! moment. I thanked God for the opportunity we have to give our customers similar types of moments. I then proceeded to take the stairs up to our 4th floor office. Twice.
One of the net outcomes we hope will come out of Eat Good Do Good, besides driving funds to local non-profits, is a motivated and mobilized group of do-gooder brand loyalist. The thinking was we could through our actions and efforts inspire our customers to do the same. But sometimes you get customers who are already making a positive difference in the world. Sometimes you get customers like Emma who truly inspire. I wouldn’t be able to adequately describe Emma, and her daughter Calla’s, awesomeness so I am going to let our email exchange and her wonderful photographs do the story telling. If you have a story to tell please do because you never know who you will inspire.
Dear TaDah Foods,
Name : Emma,
Message : I love your food. I am a vegetarian and have avoided the \”fast food\” in the local natural food store because it is always variations on an unimaginative theme. I tried your Falafel Wrap on a lark and I am smitten. How can I purchase them in bulk so my whole family can enjoy these at school lunch (for the Ethiopian children -contingency) and in the professor\’s office (for the poet) and in my studio (for the photographer)
Please do tell.
And many thanks for doing what you do. You do it extraordinarily well.
Lark, smitten, contingency? We’re dying to know what you got on your SAT’s. So much pressure for us to respond with an erudite message becoming of our parents educational investment.
We have a feeling you would see (maybe a an f-stop reference would have been more apropos) right through that so we will just be ourselves.
We is real happy dat you likes our wraps…ok enough fun and no more espresso for the rest of the day.
Emma, we really are happy that you inherently get what we are trying to do. That is, to challenge what people think about prepared frozen foods by using an imaginative-modern approach to the ethnic food we know and love. I have to ask, and in the process breaking every rule of business, is the Ethiopian contingency you are referring to “Orthodox”? Just curious because many of us here at TaDah! are Coptic Orthodox and that would practically make us related .
Anyway to answer your question there is no economical way to purchase bulk directly from us because frozen air freight is extremely expensive. I would suggest you go to the store you first encountered our product and ask the manager to order you a case or two of your favorite flavor. Most managers would be happy to do so and will often extend a discount when you purchase by the case.
It’s funny that you are a photographer because we are finding that many of our fans happen to be in the creative fields.
We won’t begrudge you if you decide to apply your visually talents towards a TaDah! inspired composition. Nor would we mind a tenured poet’s ode to falafel.
Thank you so much for the lovely note and please help us spread the word. The more we grow to more we are able to give to the non-profits we support.
Well I just ate another one for lunch and I ordered two cases although 8 in a case will not last long in a family of four!
If wishes were horses you would make cases of 100 or more and send them north to XYZ, USA for us!
My Ethiopian contingency is a king (four years old) and a queen (eight years old) both adopted from Addis when they were infants.
Your food is awesome and I love that you are doing good in the world with the funds. My daughter Calla and I just got back from volunteering in Tanzania all summer -we were teaching English to street children and got a massive lesson in love all the while. We are lucky to have had such a summer.
You are wonderful.
Keep doing what you are doing and send more food to Four Seasons here in Saratoga!
EMMA DODGE HANSON
P H O T O G R A P H Y
We’ve made it no secret here that we are apple fans (with the exception of one of our partners who insists on aggravating me by using android products). Today was a great illustration for me as to why I’ve remained loyal to them all these years, and why we even though we are a food company will pride ourselves on the customer service we provide to our customers. About a week ago I upgraded the operating system on my laptop and began to experience serious issues within my mail client. Now even though my laptop is over three years old and well outside of its warranty range, Apple customer care stayed on the phone with me for over 2 1/2 hours to walk me step-by-step through various solutions until they had resolved my issues completely. I joked with a customer care rep that if I were dealing with any other company I’d still be searching for a phone number to try and get through to a real live human being. That personal attention is one of the many reasons why I continue to pay double sometimes triple for Apple made products.
One of the things I don’t dread doing -AHEM dealing with logistics – is responding to customer emails. I enjoy responding to back to our fans/critics and extending our brand voice in a more personal way. I mean they bought our product and took the time to write us, the least we can do is listen and write back. One of my fears is that as Tadah grows I won’t be able to invest as much personal attention to customer service issues as I do now. So here’s to companies that care and to my partners android phone dying on him in order to prove me right. Happy Tuesday!
Today I was in Costco doing some market research for a new product we are developing. As I was walking to the back of the store I passed a couple of college kids who when they approached the Dyson’s vacuum display exclaimed ” God, I want a Dyson so bad.” Please think about that for a sec.
The college girl was gushing about a vacuum. Not an iPad. Or a video game system. A vacuum. It made me smile from ear to ear because never in my life would I have imagined such a mundane product being elevated to lustful must have status…and by the harbingers of all things cool – teenagers.
No seriously has it sunk in? We are talking about a company designing a house appliance that no one ever thought about except when it was needed into this brilliantly designed object that makes college kids swoon. The James Dyson story is well documented but this made me wonder what the world would be like if more people relentlessly pursued the “art of better” (I’m copy righting that). The reason I say that is James Dyson did not seek out to design a cultish vacuum cleaner. He sought to engineer a better one (self serving shout out to engineers – Check).
You don’t have to be an engineer or designer or even an entrepreneur to pursue the art of better you just have to be committed. Maybe your goal is to be a better husband, wife, mom, or neighbor. Maybe you relentlessly pursue helping those who need help. We all have things that we wish were better. Lets stop wishing and start engineering our own change.
The world of natural food sales is wacky & wonderful place. Like all industries it is full of passionate people trying something new that they hope will set the world on fire. Unlike most industries the natural food scene has a higher percentage of what i like to call “characters”. Just a couple of weeks ago I attended a food show for the hundreds of people who work in co-ops across the country. At one point as I scanned the show I thought I might be the only person there without a beard, a ponytail, tattoo, or wearing sandals – it’s that kind of crowd. It’s also full of some incredible dreamers who care deeply about the communities they serve. I listened to one of the organization members discuss their plans to make wholesome foods available to low income families by having stores subsidize the difference in food cost. In their mind natural, nutritious foods should be affordable to everyone; I agree. Now granted some of them take it to an extreme “I’m sorry but we only carry foods that are non-GMO, have 5 ingredients or less, and are grown on farms within a 50 foot radius of our store which also serve as an endangered species preserve” – I laughed but they weren’t kidding.
But without a doubt the highlight of this show was Aviv. Aviv is Israeli, and he is the Health & Wellness buyer for Los Alamos Co-op in Santa Fe, NM. He is a bundle of nervous energy which is somewhat betrayed by his laid back look – Aviv also has a ponytail (yes I am hating because I am folliclely challenged). He comes by our booth and samples one of our wraps. He seems to like it, then with a concerned look darts off but not before a couple of indecisive jerky hesitations, as if if didn’t know which direction to go. Aviv comes back but this time with Teo the Frozen buyer. Teo tries the wraps and seems genuinely shocked by the quality/taste and that he hasn’t heard of us before. We start talking and joking a bit with Aviv literally bouncing up-n-down back-n-forth saying “Buy it…Buy it…Order it already”. Teo explains to me that Aviv tracked him down after trying the sample at our booth and insisted he had to try it as well. Teo started asking some follow up questions when Aviv, maybe feeling that their was some hesitation proclaimed,
“It’s the only frozen lunch I’ve ever had that doesn’t taste like crap.”
I looked at him and said “if that isn’t a ringing endorsement I don’t know what is”. Everyone at the booth burst into laughter because that was as honest and authentic of an endorsement as you can get. Try our Falafel. We promise it doesn’t taste like crap. I told Aviv I was going to quote him on our website and he said “Go ahead, write it down.” When I couldn’t get the phrasing exactly as he said it, he took my pen and wrote it himself (see pic).
So to Aviv and all the characters of the natural food industry thank you for making this journey memorable, fun, and less crappy.
Compliments of my 3 kids I get exposed to all sorts of non-adult fodder. Things which continually inspire me to keep my eyes and spirit attuned to a world that ceased to exist for me many, many years ago. Today’s lesson came when I was listening to some Prince, trying to instill a little funk in my boys*, during our car ride to school. When my youngest son (3 1/2) says “Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy…dad, dad, daddy, daddy”
“I want to listen to Jungle Book”
“I don’t have Jungle Book in the car. Just listen to this song it’s one of my favorites**” Silence for 14 seconds while he thinks of a response.
“Daddy, daddy, dad”
“You have Jungle book on your phone”
“No I don’t” Now for background purposes only I will tell you that my wife is an Auditor and my youngest son has inherited some of her “finer” qualities.
“Let me see” – E doesn’t believe something unless he can physically confirm it himself – conduct his own audit if you will. I hand him the phone and after a few deft screen swipes he holds up the phone and points to the YouTube app. “Daddy you can play Jungle Book from here and connect it to the car”. And just like my wife he tends to be right. “Ok, do you want to start with Bare Necessities?”
He’s smiling and we are now listening to a great song from a classic Disney movie. Towards the end of the song I hear the following lyrics:
“And don’t spend your time lookin’ around
For something you want that can’t be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin’ about it
I’ll tell you something true
The bare necessities of life will come to you” – Baloo
So I guess what I am saying is you can’t have a TaDah! moment without allowing a little bit of 3 year old sensibility and love of Disney back into your life. That, and avoid going to the Apple store to see the new MacBook Pro w/Retina Display…they don’t have those in the Jungle.
*Northern VA is a little uptight
**I Would Die 4U
It’s trade show season in the food industry and that means lots of time on the road, lots of samples, smiles, and gritted teeth as you listen to shelf righteous “food people” lecture you on how you should change this or that about some obscure ingredient on your packaging. Here’s the thing about trade shows: they’re not cheap. To secure a booth at one of these shows you’re spending anywhere from $3,000 – $5,000. Add to that the cost of shipping out products, airfare, hotel, and other miscellaneous charges and you are spending close to $5,000 – $8,000/show. For larger companies that is a drop in the bucket, heck, companies like Hains Celestial probably have marketing budget rounding errors larger than that. But for us its a big deal, and because of that I tend to sweat the little things like ROI or what would we need to sell in order to break even.
At this last show it was slow. I mean 100% organic Vermont maple syrup slow, which would have been ok had we not heard from everyone in the industry that this show is so busy that our pens were going to burst into flames from writing so many orders. Of course I had already calculated what we needed to sell in order to make this trip worth it. As we worked the booth I started to voice my concern to my partner, who is extremely even keeled. In his very Ying (to my Yang) way he reminded me to take the long view and have faith. You never know which domino piece is going to set the whole thing in motion. “Don’t underestimate the value of adding one new store. Because we may not break even right now but as they reorder from us we will end up ahead”. When he said this I was immediately taken back to my Partner Marketing days at AOL, where we had these complex models for determining the life-long value of an AOL subscriber and therefore the appropriate acquisition cost. That is what is that customer worth to you over their average buying lifespan and is it more than what you spent to get them. A few moments of silence past as I ran some numbers on my iPhone and then blurted out “5″. My partner smiled and asked “5 what?” I told him it would take 5 re-orders from each of the new stores we had just sold at the show in order for us break even. Before we could discuss any further a Domino piece was heading our way.
The vendor booths started to buzz as a buyer from one of the large grocery chains began walking our aisles. This was a chain that was large enough to prove to the larger chains that we weren’t some niche product but not too large that it would break the bank to support a product roll out. In addition to that my partner had went and pitched our line a few months back but we hadn’t heard anything since then. We weren’t holding our breath because he was the last vendor to present that day and when everyone ran over their time he was only given 5 minutes to present.
Being at the opposite end of the aisle we watched with anticipation and amusement as she made her way down the crowded space. I say amusement because we got to witness various vendor tactics. There was the “act nonchalant as you adjusted everything in your booth”, or the “here how does my food sample look as it is shoved 3 mm from your nose” approach, but my personal favorite was the “corral” maneuver. In this maneuver the vendor or their brokers, or both, would stand in the middle of the aisle forming what could only be described as a human corral in order to guide the buyer to their booth. This buyer being the pro that she is navigated the aisle like a humming bird. She briefly paused by booths that might interest her and deftly flew by those that didn’t. Unfortunately the booth across from us had corralled her and kept her longer than she wanted to be there. I looked at my partner and said whenever that happens the buyer is quick to get on with it and will often skip over the next set of booths so as to not get cornered again. But to our surprise before exiting our row she turned and came to our booth “I think we are going to have room for these at our next cut-in”. And just like that she was on to the next aisle to be mobbed by eager vendors. I looked at our brokers a bit confused and ask “That’s good, right?” They told us she is not one for blowing smoke, and it sounds like she wants to give the line a shot.
We were silent for awhile. Then as I handed out another sample I told my partner “This show was totally worth it”. He smiled and responded “I know”.