How the granola firm that fed Google weathered the pandemic

As a solo operator, Erica Liu-Williams is aware of what it means to crunch. Fortunately, her enterprise is granola.

After four-and-a-half years, the previous operations and advertising and marketing supervisor’s aspect hustle, making and promoting granola, matured right into a full-time enterprise known as gr8nola (pronounced great-nola) as soon as employees at tech firms comparable to Google, Fb, and Twitter embraced her crunchy snack and demanded it of their places of work’ pantries.

“That enabled me to outsource and scale manufacturing and construct a high-volume, self-sustaining enterprise,” Liu-Williams tells Inverse. “I took the leap to pursue gr8nola full-time in late 2017 and have been bootstrapped since inception.”

That is NiMBLE, a collection the place enterprise homeowners open up their books and lives to Inverse, with useful recommendations on tips on how to maintain going.

Alongside along with her B2B operations, gr8nola can also be bought immediately on its web site, on Amazon, and at greater than 100 shops. Accessible in distinctive flavors comparable to Golden Spice, Cinnamon Chai, and Matcha Vibes, gr8nola is likely one of the top-ranked “wholesome granola” merchandise on Amazon and counts well-known followers like Halle Berry.

Most just lately, Liu-Williams launched a peanut butter taste that includes ashwagandha, a medicinal herb that’s stated to scale back stress, in partnership with United Nation’s basis Lady Up and movie star photographer Nigel Barker.

Erica Liu-Williams grew her gr8nola empire — then needed to pivot her enterprise mannequin when lockdown got here to remain. supplied by Erica Liu-Williams

However with a worldwide pandemic, many companies have needed to all of the sudden shift the way in which they function. What occurs to a enterprise whose major buyer was workplace employees throughout a shift to distant work? Liu-Williams talks about her funds and her latest enterprise shifts within the Q&A under.

This Q&A has been edited for size and readability.

Are you able to give us a tough overview of your revenues versus typical enterprise working bills?

As a result of I am a startup and make investments all the things again into rising the enterprise, I do not guardrail, optimize, and even monitor this ratio. Nevertheless, I do run leanly and do not have full-time workers, which retains my working expenses-to-revenue ratio within the 25 to 33 p.c vary.

How do you monitor your cash?

Every thing is captured in Quickbooks on-line. Whereas I usually take a look at my enterprise on an accrual foundation, I’m at all times monitoring my stability in my enterprise checking account to see money readily available.

What quantity do you take a look at to find out whether or not your enterprise is doing nicely?

Gross income and complete gross sales by channel (direct-to-consumer, Amazon, retail, business-to-business), projected annual run charge based mostly on month-to-month gross sales, and the way it’s trending versus final yr’s income. My purpose is to develop annually, and calculating my run-rate tells me if I’m on tempo to hit my targets.

In what conditions do you dial again spending or enhance it?

As many companies did, I dialed again on spending throughout Covid. As a result of the vast majority of my enterprise and money movement was from supplying gr8nola to tech places of work together with Google, 2020 was actually robust — and it was the primary yr I didn’t develop my income. The second Covid hit, this channel disappeared when workers shifted to distant work, as this meant no extra workplace snacks! In response, I lower any expense that wasn’t completely important to preserving money.

Conversely and to my profit, Covid has pushed an natural, sustained enhance in direct-to-consumer and Amazon gross sales, that are channels I’m leaning into way more at the moment. As I’m looking for methods to scale these channels in a worthwhile method, I’m rising spend and assets towards digital advertising and marketing (design, improvement, e-mail advertising and marketing, media spend/administration) to appropriately “check” and optimize this channel.

Erica Liu-Williams was used to stocking the kitchens of tech giants. However when employees moved, these cafeterias closed. Erica Liu-Williams / gr8nola

In robust instances, what’s the primary expense you cut back or get rid of?

Something that could be a “nice-to-have” comparable to further on-line content material or assets towards retail gross sales. On the content material aspect, I do a number of blogs and recipes for my neighborhood. Nevertheless, it’s not mission-critical and my on-line gross sales won’t considerably lower if I in the reduction of the frequency on these.

On the retail gross sales aspect, one thing individuals don’t notice is how costly it’s to get into grocery shops — many manufacturers aren’t worthwhile to begin as a result of there are a number of upfront prices like slotting charges (paying to be within the retailer), free fills (the place you actually have to provide the primary order to the shop totally free) and promos (reductions) each time you get a brand new door. Due to this fact, the extra shops, the more cash is required, and if instances are robust, I’m keen to chop retailer door depend development to protect cash.

What’s an expense you may’t spare?

Stock and different fundamental operational issues which might be important to “operating” or sustaining the enterprise that I can not or will not do myself: month-to-month bookkeeping companies and fundamental assist for managing my social media.

Since my merchandise are a bodily good, I would like to provide them to promote — there’s no getting round that. I don’t have any data of bookkeeping, so another person has to do it for me. With social media, it’s important to have a constant presence since direct-to-consumer is a important piece of my enterprise and far of it’s pushed by social media.

The place do you draw the road between enterprise bills and investing in your enterprise?

If there are expenditures that could possibly be used towards “testing” and probably unlocking a brand new gross sales channel, I take a look at that as an funding, and I at all times begin with the least amount of cash required to get knowledge to study whether or not it is a go or no-go. I additionally take a look at branding/packaging design and innovation (new merchandise) as investments, too.

These aren’t essentially important within the second, but when profitable, they’d repay in dividends over the long term. In any other case, I view most different enterprise bills as important.

What’s an uncommon expense that you simply consider provides worth to your organization?

I can not say any of my bills are “uncommon,” as I run fairly leanly and solely spend on probably the most wanted issues. Nevertheless, investing in design/packaging — whereas it would not really feel prefer it’s “mission-critical” — could make all of the distinction within the enterprise and has intangible worth that compounds over time.

For instance, the final model of my packaging design wasn’t damaged or dangerous by any means, however once I invested the money and time into packaging design modifications, it’s positively helped the product and flavors stand out extra on the retail shelf, which in the end will increase client gross sales and builds model fairness.

Why do you consider this expense is so worthwhile?

Model is an intangible asset that builds slowly over time, so it is essential to have the fitting basis in place, even once you’re a younger and scrappy firm. Even if you happen to can’t afford one of the best expertise, at a minimal, you may nonetheless put a number of your personal time and thought into it.

What was the most important expense that ended up paying the most important dividends?

That is going to sound so cliché, nevertheless it’s the a number of contractors who assist me handle the enterprise — be it my controller, social media marketer, or third get together logistics (just like the success warehouse that fulfills my on-line orders).

As a founder, I’m continually juggling so many duties, and though I hate spending cash, it is not value my time to do my very own bookkeeping, plan each Instagram put up, or pack and ship my very own on-line orders. The time I get again from not having to do this stuff is invaluable.

What’s a line merchandise in your price range that makes your enterprise uniquely your enterprise?

My manufacturing prices, particularly the frequency and low manufacturing amount per buy order. I outsource the manufacturing of my granola to a co-manufacturer (aka co-packer), and whereas utilizing a co-packer is sort of widespread in meals and beverage, I’ve a novel relationship with mine the place I can produce in low minimums, which is uncommon. I’m speaking 300 orders of a taste, versus a typical co-packer which may require 2,000 items per taste run.

This permits me to be extra versatile with money and at all times have contemporary merchandise readily available. Most significantly, it allows me to launch and check new flavors in a short time with little stock dedication.

What private sacrifices have you ever made on behalf of your enterprise?

I left my 10-year tech profession (and the wage, advantages, and profession trajectory that got here with it) to pursue my granola enterprise full time, which to any outsider — and even my household — might have been judged as loopy, random, and simply plain foolish.

As a result of I’m a first-time entrepreneur with no expertise within the meals business, I moonlit my enterprise for the primary 4.5 years as I constructed my data, community, and confidence from floor zero.

Throughout this time, I additionally made positive to save lots of as a lot cash as potential as a result of even to this present day, three years later after taking the “leap,” I nonetheless don’t pay myself since I make investments all the things again into the enterprise.

In some unspecified time in the future within the close to future, I do know I might want to increase capital since constructing a model on-line and in retail takes some huge cash — so giving up fairness within the firm would be the subsequent large sacrifice I’ll must face, particularly since I’ve lasted this lengthy as a bootstrapped enterprise.

Inverse evaluation — Enterprise homeowners should not simply depend on one gross sales channel. They need to construct a various basis so one channel can decide up the slack if gross sales are down within the different. And like Liu-Williams stated, model is a crucial factor for each firm to put money into.

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