The First-Time Founders Of This Growing Organic Baby Food Company Share Why You Can Doubt Your Choices But Not Yourself
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Editor’s Note: Inspire Me is a series in which entrepreneurs and leaders share what motivates them through good times and bad, while also sharing stories of how they overcame challenges in hopes of inspiring others.
Like so many entrepreneurs, Angela Sutherland didn’t know that she wanted to start a business until a problem was staring her in the face. Sutherland was working in private equity when she got pregnant with her first child. She soon found herself looking for information about the best baby food options -- but kept running into conflicting information about the healthiest brands and seeing products that were high in sugar.
After reading about how vital nutrition is during the first 1,000 days of life, Sutherland, who had been looking for a career change, took on the challenge to make it easier for other parents to provide healthy food to their babies. With her friend Evelyn Rusli, the two cofounders launched Yumi, an early childhood meal delivery service.
Rusli, also a first time entrepreneur, comes from the world of journalism. She had spent years writing about innovation and startups as a reporter for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, but it wasn’t until she heard what her friend was going through, that she decided to make a big career change.
The pair officially launched the company last summer after raising $4.1 million from investors. They work with a team of physicians and dieticians to create the meals, which range from your more standard apple and carrots puree to the slightly unexpected kale and dragon fruit blends. Customers can order six, 10, or 12 meals per week, and the company uses solely recyclable and compostable materials to ship and store the food and donates unused perishable to a Los Angeles-based non-profit Impact LA, which works to feed hungry communities in the area.
As first time founders, the learning curve has been steep and, often times, extremely tiring, but Sutherland and Rusli say when they start to feel themselves waver or give into the exhaustion, they are gratified by the responses from their customers and lean on each other for inspiration.
Women Entrepreneur caught up the two to learn more about why their partnership is an integral part of the success of their business.
What are some of the day-to-day pain points and long term goals that require you to seek out inspiration as you run your business?
Angela: Fundraising is a stressful period that is very top heavy. It's only on the leaders of the company. And as a founder, you also have to deal with all the problems that are occurring in company at the same time. So you can't sleep on either of them. And in that process it really helps immensely to talk to founders that have raised money. You get perspective on what you're actually asking for, what you're doing, what you're handling -- and what you should be delegating versus what you should be taking on. Without that network, I think it would have been a much different process.
Evelyn: Other founders will help you set expectations. Even the best companies get lots of notes. And so you have to steel yourself to that. And I think that for first-time founders, that can be challenging in terms of setting expectations of how the fundraising is going to proceed.
I think from that [network] you get a lot of strength. On the one hand you get some tactical advice on how to move through the problem. On the other hand you also get a sense of relief. I think founders tend to gloss over the difficulties, especially in large groups or in public. But when you get to talk to someone one-on-one and go through how they have suffered through pain points, you get a sense it's hard for a lot of entrepreneurs, [and it’s not just you].
What is a quote that inspires you and why?
Evelyn: It's from this Greek mathematician Archimedes. "Give me a lever long enough and fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world." The thought is really fascinating, because from the vantage point of an entrepreneur, that is what you're trying to do. You're trying to find these levers that you can pull and this point of leverage where you can scale something and create impact and massive scale. I've always thought that it was such a beautiful, eloquent way to say it. Because as a startup you're so small. You look at these markets and these big players and these Goliath's -- how do you take down Goliath? You have to find those levers.
What is a book that inspires you and why?
Evelyn: I love reading books from founder's perspective. I recently read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. It was so relatable, his prose and the way he wrote and all of his trials and tribulations. You don't even realize how big the company is growing as you move through the book, and [it was comforting] to know that he had his valleys, really deep valleys, where he thought the company wasn't going to exist tomorrow. But he was so persistent and found ways through his grit to pull through [to build Nike into] what it is today.
Angela: Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. I love the idea that you can have an innate talent, but it's nothing without a lot of hard work. If you put in that work, you put in that effort, you actually can surpass anyone and become an expert.
Was there someone who told you you could launch the company?
Evelyn: It was my fiancé who actually introduced Angela and I many years ago. He's also an entrepreneur. He and I had long conversations about the transition out of journalism. I had been thinking about that for a while, and he was one of the first to be like, ‘I just really see you as an entrepreneur.’ [It’s so important to have] those partners or people who see the potential for all sorts of greatness in you in ways and moments when you see that in yourself. And so I think [my fiancé introduced] a different kind of framework to think about my life and what I would be capable of. As a journalist, I was certainly bearing witness to all these entrepreneur’s stories and found it really fascinating and inspirational. But [to start a company], it was a combination of that and finding a partner in Angela.
Angela: For me, one of the biggest reasons I started this is because I had Evelyn. We quit [our jobs] together. It's almost like if she didn't, I wouldn't have. Knowing her dedication, her passion and her force of nature, she was going to will it. And so I couldn't be the one that didn't. I actually feel like just because I had Evelyn, [our company] would have happened. You choose it together. We're going to push forward, and one of us is going to carry the other at certain periods.
Who is a woman that inspires you and why?
Angela: Mine was my mom. She passed away a few years ago. But she was a refugee from Vietnam from the war. She came here with $50 from the Red Cross and decided that she was going to make it. So she took every job from bond trader to maid to blackjack dealer. And then raised her brother and willed herself into the largest female auto parts manufacturer. I've always looked up to her. And that's what I think about when I think about my kids. It's important for kids, women and girls, to see other women in places of power, having willed themselves in that position. Because it stays with you, that feeling that you can make it, that it's possible.
Evelyn: I met Angela's mom briefly that first year [we were in business]. I was just in awe of this woman. To meet her was such a privilege, to know her in the brief time I did. She was a force.
What inspires you at work?
Evelyn: I joke that I have never been more tired in my life, because of our schedules. But I've also never felt more energized. I think you get that from the people who work with you and the shared mission that you have. [I also get energized] every time I see a customer email or talk to someone in person. Sometimes when you're racing, you can feel a little removed from the day to day of what's happening. People are getting these boxes, and they're nourishing their kids. And so it's always so wonderful when you actually talk to a customer, and they tell you about their life and how they feel the product impacting their kid. I can last on that for days
Angela: I think it goes back to our partnership. Having a co-founder who is so mission driven and really passionate about it does push you forward. When one of you drops the ball, you actually can trust the other person has it so that not only makes you feel comforted but also have a great sense of responsibility for that other person. You're in it together, and that does motivate you.
Are there lessons from earlier bosses or mentors that you think back on when you need an extra boost or bit of encouragement?
Evelyn: The mentor I'm thinking of was Jane Perlez, my bureau chief when I was just starting out in journalism. I worked for the Southeast Asia bureau of The New York Times. She's an incredible journalist. One of the things she taught me that was instrumental for the rest of my career, was to constantly be humble and recognize that you're never operating with a complete set of facts. You don't always have the perfect picture. You don't understand everything in this story. And to always be intellectually curious and rigorous in your questioning. You have to make bold decisions in the course of being an entrepreneur. You're trying to push your company forward, but at the same time you have to maintain a sense of being humble and being open to the idea that you can be wrong or that you don't have all the information. That helped me achieve what I was able to do in journalism and allows me to learn pretty fast as a entrepreneur.
What has inspired you to be a better person?
Angela: My kids -- they gave me a perspective of what it means to be a participant in the greater world. What I'm teaching them and what they are going to teach their kids. What you do and how you act and what you put into the world changes things. And so [having kids] was the first time I was confronted with that realization.
When you are feeling at your worst, what inspires you?
Angela: I always try to tell myself that everything is temporary. Moments of low or moments of high, both are very temporary. When something feels terrible, it's only going to last for a little bit of time, so it's not that bad.
Evelyn: When I feel really stressed, I think about the things that I'm incredibly grateful for. There's so much inspiration every day, and I do feel incredibly lucky. It's a privilege to be able to be an entrepreneur. Being able to keep that perspective and knowing that this too shall pass. There is going to be another day.
For those women who are looking to start a business, or have begun one, what advice do you have for them to keep going?
Angela: Women doubt themselves a lot. I think at the end of the day, you can doubt things or doubt choices, but you should never doubt yourself. If you believe that you should make this leap and make that path for yourself, do it. You can accomplish things. Choices along the the way can be wrong. But you can correct yourself, because you believe in yourself. I think that women often conflate doubting choices with doubting yourself. That's what leads to inaction.Evelyn: It is also recognizing that you're not alone in your doubt, and keeping that in perspective. There is a lot of self-doubt, whenever you're doing on a grand adventure, and you shouldn't let that limit you.