Have you ever dreamed of getting your products into big box retailers? Maybe you’ve wondered what it’s like to start a business with your family. Kim Hehir, the founder of Brutus Bone Broth, has done just that. She started her sustainable dog food brand with her sister in 2018, and they are in over 4,000 stores nationwide, including Target. Its mission is to better the lives of pets across the US by providing a supplement-infused and sustainable alternative to standard food options.
- It’s All in the Family
- Finding the Right Partners
- Overcoming Roadblocks
- Bootstrapping is Working
- Being in Business with Family
- Getting Our Product in Big Box Retailers
- Eight Pieces of Advice for Women Entrepreneurs
Mimi: Welcome to The Badass CEO. This is Mimi MacLean, and today we have Kim Hehir, and she’s the co-founder of Brutus Broth, which makes dog bone broth and snacks. Brutus Broth focuses on nourishing pets and giving back to the community. Hehir walks us through how she bootstrapped the business, how she broke through the male-dominated pet food industry and her tricks of how she transitioned into e-commerce without using expensive ad campaigns and PR firms.
Mimi: Okay, Kim thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it. I’m excited to hear about your journey and your company that you started with your sister. So thank you for coming on.
Kim: Thank you for having us and thanks for the opportunity.
It’s All in the Family
Mimi: Yeah. So could we start by just telling everybody about Brutus Broth and how you decided to start it?
Kim: So Brutus Broth was started, it was basically around my sister’s rescue dog, Brutus, and she rescued him from a high kill shelter. He was a little bit older than most dogs. He was abused. He had no fur, he had mange, he was really sick. So she rescued him and basically she nursed him back to health. And when we were sick growing up, my mom used to always make bone broth for us. So she started incorporating bone broth into Brutus’s diet and throughout his life, he grew into this beautiful dog. He was 135 pounds, extra large breed dog. And throughout his life, people would always ask, “Oh my gosh, your dog is so beautiful. He’s a huge dog, but he’s super active. What do you feed him?” And she would say, “Well, I feed him bone broth, which my mom used to make when we were sick. And I just add it to the food that, regular dog food basically.”
Kim: And as he got up in years, my brother who was in the food industry said, “Sue, no offense, but how the heck is Brutus still alive?” At this point, he was about 12 years old. And as an extra large dog, those dogs live until they’re about eight to 10 years. So she said, “Well, I swear it’s love and grandma’s bone broth.” And he’s like, “I can’t believe you make that.” And she said, “Well, I know. It takes forever.” He’s like, “Well, why don’t you just buy it?” And she said, “I’ve looked for it, but there really isn’t anything on the market like it. There are a few, but they’re kind of these elusive products in the back storage freezer of a pet store, they’re super expensive. They’re not shelf stable.”
Kim: Long story short. He convinced her to bring it to market. So she approached me. I knew nothing about the pet food industry, my background’s investment banking, private equity and branding strategy. I did the research and I found that there was either really cool mom and pop, artisanal products that couldn’t scale or Purina. And there really wasn’t anything in between. It was a highly fragmented market. So I thought, “Well, this is a good opportunity to kind of fill that space.” So that’s kind of where it all started.
Mimi: That’s great. And so once you guys had that idea, was it your brother who helped you kind of find where to get it made? Or did you just kind of start small and make it out of your house? Or how did that work?
Finding the Right Partners
Kim: No. One of the things, people ask us all the time, one of the things that we thought was important was that we had the vision of where we wanted to be. I think when you start and you’re making it out of your house, it’s harder to grow and to scale. So for us, when we did the research, we looked at the market said “We want to be the scalable, but cool artisanal product.” So we went out, we called all these different manufacturing companies. We didn’t have the money to build our own factory nor the expertise. And we didn’t even know if it was going to work. So we partnered with a company. We had some animal scientists and [inaudible 00:04:48] as part of the group, but the company that we partnered to actually formulate the commercialized version of the bone broth is a company that develops nutrient rich crops for starving people in third world countries.
Mimi: Oh wow.
Kim: So it’s extremely high quality. We infuse supplements into the bone broth, glucosamine, chondroitin, and turmeric for joint health and digestion and inflammation. But it’s scientifically very difficult to do that. So there’s not a lot of people out there who know how to do that. So we basically partnered with some really great people. And then we actually also have a co-packer that’s based in upstate New York. It’s 100% hydropower. So the environment and sustainability is a big part of our company too. And they do a lot of very well-known human grade type food products. So they’re all human grade.
Mimi: That’s good. That’s good. So I know I’ve worked with co-packers before. I mean, they do have minimums, right? So-
Mimi: … You approach them. You’ve found someone to make it, found someone to pack it, but I mean, even to do the first run costs money and you also had to sell it. So at this point, had you sold any yet, even small, or was it like you were going full-out, they’re going to get the first run and then we’re going to go try to sell it?
A Symphony of professional strengths
Kim: So what we did … I mentioned that my background, I have a background in hospitality strategy. So I did that for 10 years. And part of that background, I was responsible for a lot of business launches and I knew that whatever you write in the business plan doesn’t always happen. So the importance of beta testing is key. So what we did, my brother, because of his background in the food industry, he had a relationship with Wegmans Food Markets, and he’s like, “They’re a great company. They’re family owned, similar values, great partners. This is the pet buyer’s name, just try to get a meeting with him.” So we literally called the guy like 25 times before he would pick up the phone. We got a meeting and he agreed to help us and do the beta test. And then we said, “Okay, this is great. They have a hundred stores they’re going to beta test.”
Then we thought, well, “If we’re beta testing, we want to find out, not just like, how does our packaging look? Where should we be placed on the shelf? Where are customers coming from, et cetera, et cetera, pricing strategy, all those things.” So we approached another northeastern supermarket chain with a different demographic called Big Y supermarkets. The daughter of the CEO went to high school with me and my sister. So we used our network, called her and she was like, “Okay, here’s the pet buyer’s name. Just tell him I told you to call him.” So we got a meeting pitched and he’s like, “Okay, this sounds interesting.” So we were able to actually, before we did our first production run, we had those two lined up to beta test. Yeah.
Mimi: So if you had not gotten those, would you still have gone and made the first run or would you have just stopped?
Kim: That’s a good question. We didn’t know if it was going to work. Our shelf life is three years. So that was huge, especially for a food product. I don’t know how people do it when they have a dairy product that’s going to expire in a month. I don’t know. Our strategy was never to do farmer’s markets. I mean, and like little tiny things. [crosstalk 00:07:59]
Doing thorough homework
Mimi: So you’re like, “Let’s just get into the grocery store right off the bat.”
Kim: Yeah. We wrote the check and it’s like, “This is real,” but the thing is with grocery, for us, we did a lot of research. We did our homework, we knew how to position it. We basically went in and pitched it. This is an upcoming trend. This is what the human market looks like. Pet follows human. There’s a big trend towards humanization of pets. People are feeding their pet what they want to eat. We also said, “You’re not replacing one product with another, this is an incremental sale.” So there was a lot of things that for us, we could then go in and pitch so that they basically were like, “Oh, well, this is interesting. Let me try this out.” And we knew that the supermarkets were trying to build out their pet aisle as well. So this is an innovative product and all of that. So we didn’t just go in there and was like, “Oh, we have this bone broth, hope you that you want to try it.”
Mimi: Right, right, right. So where does online sales work from here? At that point you were just focusing on grocery or were you also going to be like, “Okay, let’s get a website and start doing e-commerce”?
Kim: So we wanted to focus on grocery because we could get some data. The e-commerce piece, Amazon is a necessary evil. We launched our beta test in May of 2018 and rode the beta test out through 2018. November 1st, 2018, we launched on Amazon and then we subsequently launched our website. Our website is completely the low hanging fruit still to this day, probably five, less than 5% of our business comes through the website. Amazon’s growing. People just are Amazon shoppers and are just going to default to Amazon because of convenience. And especially with COVID so that’s doing well. And then on the bricks and mortar side, we’re a lot different than most people who go into a business like this, who start with a little local pet store or farmer’s markets. But our view is like, “Okay, I can either deal with like 100-”
Mimi: [crosstalk 00:09:52] Small mom and pop shop owners.
Kim: … Really high maintenance people, or I can deal with one Wegmans buyer. And for us also, we’ve gotten a lot of, I guess, pushback from the pet boutiques saying, “Oh, well, if you’re in Wegmans or if you’re in Target, we would never carry you.” But the reality is for us, our positioning is that we feel you shouldn’t have to be a millionaire to feed your dog good food. One of the things that we wanted to do is to bring affordable, accessible nutrition to the everyday consumer. We do get the raw feeders who, I feed my dog raw food. Bone broth is a building block of raw food diet. So you’re getting people who are raw feeders, who would never shop in a pet aisle, going into the pet aisle now, looking for our product, or you get people who have been feeding their dog kibble, who could never afford a raw food diet are like, “Oh, I can afford this. And this is giving my dog that little extra something.” It’s like giving your kid a multivitamin.
Mimi: Right. So what has been the hardest part launching thus far? What would you look back and say-
Kim: God. People like, look at us all the time. I mean, Sue and I’ve been doing this for two and a half years. We have had so many roadblocks. I can’t even tell you. The first six months we launched, we both had double mastectomies, my husband had a stroke. We had packaging issues. We had to come up with ideas, we printed all this packaging. It was like $80,000 to print our first run of packaging. And then the state of New York came back and said, “Well, you say with glucosamine, but it has to say with added glucosamine. You have to reprint.” And we’re like, “Oh my God.”
Mimi: What? Did you really? [crosstalk 00:11:30].
Kim: Oh, we’re making stickers. We’re making stickers.
Mimi: Oh my goodness. You can’t just flesh $80,000.
Kim: No. And it was $80,000. And our packaging comes from Sweden because it’s 100% sustainable. So it takes months to get here.
Kim: We’re like, “How do we pivot?” We’ve had so many things like that happen.
Kim: And my dad always says, “Well, if owning your own business was easy, everyone would do it.”
Mimi: It’s true.
Kim: For us it’s about mindset. Everything that happens, we’re like, “If a front door slams in your face, see if there’s a back door. If it’s locked, find the window.”
Kim: For us, there’s always a way.
Bootstrapping is Working
Mimi: Yep. Now have you, you mentioned financing. Have you guys just personally financed or have you looked for outside financing?
Kim: We’ve been kind of bootstrapping it. We’ve had some opportunities with companies to come in, but to be honest, unless it’s a strategic investor, it’s not interesting to us. And you know, we did a small friends and family round. We’ll be doing another friends and family round, because it’s expensive. It’s expensive to pay for the inventory to supply Target. And we launched in Target and March and it’s what keeps me up at night because even though people are like, “Oh my God, you’re in Target. That’s amazing.” We always say, “It’s one thing to get on the shelf. But the real work starts once you’re on the shelf.”
Mimi: You have to that sell through.
Kim: You have to get that sell through.
Mimi: If you don’t, they’re going to drop you.
Kim: Yeah. They’re going to drop you. And then who wants to pick up a product that’s been dropped by Target, right?
Mimi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kim: And in COVID, Target is kind of a place where I think people would go and browse and look for cool, new things. But during COVID no one’s browsing in a store. People are ordering [crosstalk 00:13:10]
Mimi: Yeah. So what are you doing to try to get customer recognition at this point or to get to sell through at Target? Are you using online or are you doing things there?
Trying Out a Variety of Marketing Strategies
Kim: Yeah. I mean, when everything kind of hit in March, we launched in March, we thought, “Okay, let’s pivot. We’ll do a digital ad campaign.” Well, guess what? You know, so was Purina and we don’t have the millions of dollars to compete. So we did dump a lot of money for us into digital ads and the return wasn’t there. But what we did find, we’ve tried a lot of different things in the marketing world. The thing that’s so far out we found has been giving us the biggest bang for our buck is influencers.
Mimi: That’s what I was about to ask you [crosstalk 00:13:50] to ask you, have you started sending stuff to the micro, the micro you need to [crosstalk 00:13:52]
Kim: It’s the micro. Exactly. It’s giving someone free product and just saying, “Hey, if you like it, we want authentic reviews, too. I think there’s a lot of influencers out there. I think influencers definitely have a shelf life as well, but people read through someone who’s just posting from a marketing sheet.
Mimi: Let’s talk about those influencers though. How did you … Are you just finding them and then you reach out and say, “Hey, would you be interested in receiving free product?” Or how are you going about that strategy?
Kim: Yeah. So that’s a good question. We have done a variety of different things. Some people approach us because they see our Instagram, which we don’t have a huge following, but they’re like, “Oh, you’re kind of a cool company, you’re two sisters and your mission is to give back to the community while nourishing your pet.” It’S all about quality for us and giving back. So people are like, “Oh, that’s cool. I want to try your product.” For us, it’S all about trial. We feel that people, once they try it, they’ll like it, but we’ve had weird stuff come to us, like the UFC came to us and they’re like, “one of our fighters who has two million followers loves your product. Will you gift it to the rest of our athletes?” I’m like, “Sure.” How much else is …” Because at first I was like, “Well, what is it going to cost me?” You know?
Finding influencers to help market
Kim: They’re’ like, “Just gift it.” I’m like, “Okay, I can do that all day long.” But then we found there are a lot of influencer companies out there that go and like vet the influencers.
Mimi: But they charge so much money. They’re like-
Kim: The ones we found, there’s one … My brother is actually launching a new brand. I said, “Listen, I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the marketing world. And I’ll tell you in five minutes, I’ll save you three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars and tell you what you should do.” And there’s one company in particular, we found called Apex Drop. They have influencers that are also like amateur photographers. So as a new company, you’re getting the influencer and you’re getting all this content because you can spend 25, 30, $50,000 on a photo shoot, which some of our marketing people have proposed to us. But the reality is, is you get the same background for the most part, you get the same few dogs, you get whatever. It’s kind of there’s a sameness to it, and it’s, whatever, $25,000.
Well, Apex Drop is like 200 bucks an influencer and all this content. So you’re getting kids with a dog, you get different demographics. You get, I have someone who has pitbulls in New York City on TikTok.
Mimi: That’s great.
Kim: I have all this content that is amazing that I can use. And I get all these people that are now learning about our product because someone tried it and they can speak authentically about it. And we don’t ever take people, we try not to take people who only just hawk product or are kind of fake about it, like you know they’re getting paid. And that’s the bigger influencers. I think people just know they’re getting paid whatever to talk about, to basically paste this product on their channel.
Mimi: Right? The whole social media and digital marketing world is so complicated and expensive. As you said, there’s a high learning curve and a big expense to it to make it work. So that’s good advice. I like that. You’ve achieved something great with getting into those big box retailers.
Being in business with family
Mimi: You went into business with your sister. So how has that been? I had another podcast of actually sister-in-laws, but you guys are the first two sisters. So how is that going? And any advice for that?
Kim: It’s funny. I always said I would never work with family and here I am. I had like a big career in New York. I live in Hawaii now. My sister lives right outside of DC. So we’re 5,000 miles apart. I spend summers on the East Coast as you know, so we see each other in the summer, but during the year, the school year, we’re both moms. We don’t really see each other, but we talk every day. I guess for me, I kind of … I had this big career in New York and then my next career, which is now in pet food, who would’ve thought, but I wanted it to be fun and rewarding and fulfilling in different ways.
Working with my sister has been amazing because she brings a lot to the table that I’m just not experienced with, especially on the nutrition and manufacturing side. Then I bring stuff to the table that she doesn’t have experience with. So for us, we really complement each other. And I think when it comes down to it, our values are the same. And we’re always on the same page about things. We have a board and sometimes a board member will be like, “Oh, we should do this.” And we’ll look at each other like “No, we’re not doing that.”
Mimi: [crosstalk 00:18:17] So have you ever had something that you don’t agree on. Like, how do you decide? Has that ever happened?
Kim: Knock on wood, it has not happened. But the one thing that has been great about us is that we both are completely burnt out and work all the time, but she’ll have a bad day and I’ll be like, “Oh, we’re going to do this. And we got this in,” and then vice versa, like when she’s down, I pick her up and when I’m down she picks me up.
Mimi: Right. Lift each other up.
Mimi: That’s good.
Kim: And that’s been, so far, knock on wood, so far it’s been good [crosstalk 00:18:46].
Mimi: So I know both of you were pretty active and involved and had big teams with a direct marketing company. Are you guys still doing that in conjunction with this? Or are you kind of put that aside?
Kim: No. No. I mean, this is our full time gig now. She was doing a lot of it. I was just doing it kind of on the side to help her. But, because I took a few years off from my career, moved to Hawaii to be with my kids because I never saw them when I worked in New York, really [crosstalk 00:19:12]
Mimi: I ask just because it’s, for people like, can you work on the side and be a CEO? People want to know like, can you do both? Can you not? It’s just kind of-
Getting Our Product in Big Box Retailers
Kim: Yeah. Where we are now, no way. People say, “What is your goal this year?” I’m like, “To have a day off.” I mean, it’s really just the two of us. We’re the only two employees. We’re in 4,000 stores.
Mimi: Oh my gosh.
Kim: We’re in Chewy, we’re in Amazon. We’re doing a lot – these are big box retailers. We work with over 40 shelters across the nation. We have a robust, philanthropic, educational mentoring piece to our company.
Mimi: So you obviously have other people working for you, but they’re all outsourced at this point and consultants?
Mimi: And how do you find them? Do you use Upwork or what do you?
Kim: A lot of it is word of mouth. It’s just … And we’ve had great ones and we’ve had some that just didn’t work out. And I think as a new startup, that’s kind of the low risk route is to just try people out that way, because you don’t want to like start up … I have big payroll expenses and you’re paying taxes and benefits and all that. And then someone doesn’t work out in a month. We’ve definitely had that issue. But then we do have a small team of independent contractors that are awesome and love to bring them on full-time and we’ll do that probably this year. So we’re starting this year to finally kind of build out our employee base.
Mimi: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Which is complicated. It’s like, who goes, how to divide it all up.
Impact on personal life
Mimi: Okay. So where … I love asking this question and I know it’s only been two years or so since you’ve started, but over the last two years, what would you say you’ve had to give up? Because I feel like when a lot of women come on, they kind of make it sound really fun and sexy and I don’t think it gets across how hard it is. And I know we touched on it a little bit in the beginning, but I think to run your own business, you can’t take it lightly if you’re going to decide to do it. And so what would you say you’ve had to give up the most?
Kim: That’s a good question. I know if you ask Sue, she would say her goal this year was that she needs to do more self-care. For me, I’m the type of person, I’ll talk to a board member. He’s like, “Are you running?” I’m like, “I am running. I have AirPods”. So I try to multitask. And for me, I work out every single day. That’s mental health for me. What do I give up? People ask, “Can you recommend a good book?” I’m like, “I don’t read anything other than contracts now.” I don’t go to ladies’ lunches. I don’t do all these stuff that maybe I used to do, but then it’s been COVID so-
Mimi: It’s worked out.
Kim: … All this stuff that … I think we’ve gotten so far because there’s no social engagements. And so I don’t know. It’s hard to say because our business, a big chunk of our business was occurring during COVID when nothing was going on anyway. So I don’t know. My kids probably say I work all the time. I don’t hang out with them as much, but they’re teenagers now. So they don’t really care about me. So.
Mimi: No, it’s true. Now, is there anything … It sounds like you do the, you’re working out, but is there anything, do you have a morning routine or some app or I think as a mom and trying to balance it all and to have a business and have the family and take care of yourself, is there any advice that you would give, if it’s something in your morning routine, if it’s an app you use, is it, I don’t know, some kind of secret that you would say this you must have.
The discipline of scheduling personal time
Kim: Aside from my AirPods and working out, to me, that is a huge thing. And again, living in Hawaii, being outside, going for a run, I play tennis, I play beach volleyball. Actually I schedule those things in as a meeting. So my schedule doesn’t get blocked. I used to do that when I was in New York, I used to take my kids when they were little, when I was working in the corporate world to a mommy and me class and scheduled it as a meeting. Because I feel like if you don’t schedule it, it’s not happening.
Mimi: It’s true.
Kim: So it’s not that I use an app. I mean, I have my to-do lists. I use my calendar and block things like workouts and important things like that because you just have to, otherwise it doesn’t happen.
Specific success story related to big box retailers
Mimi: That’s good. That’s good advice. So it’s true. It’s like blocking. And how did you get into Target? Was that hard?
Kim: Yeah. So remember how I was saying when the front door shuts in your face and then the back door’s locked, Target is a really long story, but at first they said no to us. And then we met someone through my brother who was a broker and we went to Minneapolis and we met with him and he’s like, “I don’t know about this. Sounds like …” “You have a dog?” And he’s like, “I have a dog.” I’m like, “Here, just take our product and try it.” And then he came back with like, “I really like your product.” And also our story, I think, aligns with some of the things that Target’s trying to do in terms of just being more innovative and supporting minority businesses and things like that. And he said, “Well, let’s give it a try.”
Kim: And we actually, we have our bone broth, but then we have dog treats as well. And we co-pack with a company that already is in Target. So he’s like, “Let’s try that channel because if we can basically just put your stuff on the truck with their order, it makes it easy.” So that is how we got in. It was through that channel. It was trying to figure out how can we make it easy for Target to say yes. And so they were like, “Okay, well we’ll try it out.” And then they came back to us because Target typically does a 40 or 50 store test. And they came back and said to us first, they were like, “Yes, we’ll do it. 50 store test.” And then they came back and were like, “You know what,” like two months later, “We want to do all stores.” And we’re like, “What?”
Mimi: Oh my gosh.
Kim: Because to make the inventory-
Mimi: I was going to say, how were you able to fulfill that?
Kim: That’s how we did the friends and family round. Because we had to make like basically $250,000 worth of inventory-
Mimi: Oh My gosh.
Kim: … In a month. Because they told us 40 stores. I’m like, “Okay, we’re good.” And then two months later it was like, oh, all stores.
Mimi: And have you found out if, is the sell through what they want it to be?
Kim: It’s interesting because it is somewhat of a new category. Some people have expectations about what the sell through should be. Wegmans is like, “If you ever sold four units per week per store, we’d be over the moon.” And we doubled that. Petco was similar. Petco was like, “Oh, we expect this.” And we are way exceeding those expectations.
Kim: Target, for us, we have high standards. We are not where we want to be at all. We got renewed and they increased our store count. So we were in all stores for our chicken broth and then we were in 900 stores for our beef broth. And then they’ve increased to all stores for both SKUs. I mean, it’s funny because so many people, and even pet buyers are like, “Oh, we just want to stock all chicken.” I’m like, “A lot of dogs have chicken allergies, beef outsells chicken two to one.” “Nope, Nope. We want chicken.” But then they’re like, “Oh, well beef sells a lot better. We should stock [crosstalk 00:26:15] beef.”
Kim: So yeah. It’s not where we want it to be, but we’ve gotten renewed. So that was a little bit of a relief. And they just got a new buyer who is a young, dynamic woman who we’re very excited about working with. So it’s just really hard. Like Target, you think about how many people are trying to get in front of the buyers. It’s hard to get into those big box retailers. So we were hoping to do a Zoom call or something with her, just so she knows who we are, but we’re one of how many products, and we’re not the big company with 40 SKUs. We’re a little company with two SKUs right now.
Mimi: Yes, yes. Oh, that’s good. It’s so impressive, what you guys have done in a short amount of time and the stores that you’ve gotten into.
Finding ways to get to “yes”
Kim: It’s a lot of hard work and it’s, again, it’s problem solving. Like I said with Target, they said no at first. So it’s just trying to figure out different creative ways to make it easy for them to say yes.
Mimi: So as an angel investor I always like to ask prospective investments this, what would you see as your exit strategy? If you want, maybe it’s like, “Hey, I just want to keep doing this with my sister forever and just live off of whatever the income is.” Or do you have an exit kind of wish or goal?
Kim: Well, you know my background’s private equity, so there’s always an exit strategy.
Kim: I mean, Sue and I have been doing this, people ask us all the time, “What’s next?” I love the fact that we found a trend and created a product and made it. It’s a great high quality product that’s affordable and accessible to people. To me that’s really fun to do, but it is hard. And I knew nothing about [inaudible 00:27:50] that whole grocery CPG world worked. So for us, I think it would be great to get a strategic investor we would then exit with, or there’s always the bigger companies that would look [crosstalk 00:28:04].
Mimi: To buy.
Kim: Yeah. There’s someone on our board who’s a pet food veteran. And he’s like, “Oh my God, what you guys have created is like a $30 million company already. And if you want to sell, the big guys might be interested because it would take them years to do what you’ve done and $30 million. And you guys have done it for a lot less than that in a short amount of time.” But yeah, I mean, for us, the bottom line is that, and I know that consumers hate hearing this, but it is really hard when you’re just this small self-funded company, there’s just certain areas where you just can’t compete.
Mimi: I haven’t really talked about this with anyone else, but you keep bringing it up, so I’m going to ask you. Your board, how many people do you have on it? And how did you pick people? Was it hard to go and ask for people? And then what do you have to give them? Do you have to give them warrants? You give them options or they just do it at the goodness of their heart?
Kim: No. No, When you’re in a for-profit world.
Mimi: I kind of know the answer, but I just was curious to see.
Keeping it in very close to the family
Kim: So we just built out our board last year. We still would be looking to add. It’s me, my sister, my dad’s our chairman. He always was our chairman. That was a big thing for us. And one of the big reasons why I actually decided to go into this business, my dad was always an entrepreneur. He had some health issues and retired from his business. And then was kind of like, “Oh, nothing to do.” And this was a good opportunity for him to be involved in something without having the day to day. And it, I think it’s important for people to have purpose. And this is exciting and fun. So he’s our chairman.
Kim: Then we brought in another gentleman who invests in a lot of CPG companies. He’s actually a lawyer by trade, but a retired lawyer. He invested in the friends and family round and then he get warrants. And then he asked if my brother would come in, which I’m like, “Mm, I don’t know.” But we said, “All right, fine. We’ll let him in.” And so my brother is on our board as well. And he has a lot of connections and background.
Then we actually met this gentleman named Elliot Haverlack at the Global Pet Expo about a year ago. And my sister met him, he is the pet food industry veteran. He’s amazing. He is semi retired, but he had done like a big M&A deal a year ago. And he said, “I would love to be on your board because I think you have a really cool company. I really like you guys. And I think there’s a lot of potential.” So for us, I was super flattering and we got super lucky that he believed in us. And he’s now part of the team and super engaged, which is really nice. Because I know some people get board members who you think are going to be engaged and then they don’t really have time for you. So that’s been a godsend for us because he’s really helped guide us a lot in the pet food space.
Mimi: Oh that’s good. And they usually want warrants.
Kim: Yeah. We, every board, the three outside board members, we give them warrants.
Big results in a short time
Mimi: So only 1% of women ever reach over a million dollars in sales, believe it or not. Such a low percentage. Obviously you guys are there. Why do you think you guys reached that point versus 99% of other female businesses do not reach that? Do you have any advice or reasons why you think women don’t reach that?
Kim: No, I think a lot of it is because there is a lot of intimidation in the industry, especially if you have to deal in the manufacturing world, I think Sue and I are just for better, for worse, we don’t take no for an answer. We’re very, very persistent. We find ways … A lot of people say to us all the time, “Based on what you guys have gone through, most people would have just said I’m done.” But I think for us, we just believe in our product. We know that we’re solving a problem for the consumer that maybe they don’t even know they have and we just don’t give up. And I think Target’s a good example. I don’t know … If we didn’t get Wegmans, first of all, Wegmans was huge because they’re a gold standard and then also … And again took 25, at least 25 cold calls to get that meeting and then Target and trying to figure out how to get into Target. I mean, those types of things give you credibility, but it’s multifaceted in terms of like just not giving up and having the right mindset.
Eight Pieces of Advice for Women Entrepreneurs
Mimi: Yeah. That’s true. Well, this has been amazing. I would love to end on you just giving one piece of advice or suggestion or any kind of tips that you would give to anybody who’s thinking to start their own company or they’ve started right now and they’re kind of in the middle of it, wondering why they’re continuing.
Kim: I think, I say it over and over again. I just said it earlier, it’s mindset and just having the goal and just getting it done. I think for us, we’ve been lucky to build the relationships. That’s important, build your relationships, dig up old ones, like our friend from high school that we hadn’t talked to in probably 20 years. And just like, “Hey, I know you haven’t heard from me, but this is what I’m doing.” And network. Networking is huge. Especially if you’re a woman, there are so many resources out there for women, other women entrepreneurs that will help you. I just introduced someone to Target and Petco, just because I’m like, “You’re a good person. You have a great product. I’m going to help you.” And so don’t be afraid to ask.
I get a lot of solicitations on LinkedIn, but I’m also, I went through the Forbes 50 top women in private equity. I’m like, “Who could apply to be a potential exit for me,” I’m going to LinkedIn with them. And so just doing stuff like that, just to just keep going, building the network and just be positive. Because there’s some days where you’re like, “What the heck am I doing? Why am I doing this? I don’t need to be doing this.” But then there’re days where, you have like these huge highs. It’s like, “Oh God, this just happened.” And it’s amazing. So you need to have the stomach for that too. It’s ups and downs as an entrepreneur. And if you can’t deal with that, then maybe you should find something else that’s a little more steady.
Mimi: No, this is awesome. Kim, thank you so much for coming on. This has been so great and I really appreciate it and go to Target or Wegmans if you live on the it’s the East Coast, right?
Kim: Yeah. We’re in a lot of the higher end supermarkets on the East Coast, nationally, we’re in target and Petco and then we’re, now we branched a lot into Texas too, and now Chicago next month with Jewel.
Mimi: Congratulations. That’s amazing.
Kim: Thank you. And thanks so much for having me.
Mimi: Thank you for joining us on The Badass CEO. To get your copy of the top 10 tips every entrepreneur should know, go to thebadassceo.com/tips. Also please leave a review as it helps others find us. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. So email me at email@example.com. See you next week, and thank you for listening.