How the Founder of This Multimillion-Dollar Food Brand Found the Confidence to Be CEO
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In this series, Open Every Door, Entrepreneur staff writer Nina Zipkin shares her conversations with leaders about understanding what you have to offer, navigating the obstacles that will block your path, identifying opportunity and creating it for yourself and for others.
Amy Lacey would have pizza and game nights with her husband and three kids every Friday, but on Saturday morning, she'd be in debilitating pain. For the longest time, she didn't know why.
In 2010, a Lupus diagnosis solved the mystery of her symptoms, as the autoimmune disease often presents with gluten intolerance. But with that information in hand, she had a new mission: find things to eat that she enjoyed, would help maintain her health and not send her back to the doctor’s office. It was out of that goal that Cauli’flour Foods was born.
Six years later, Lacey launched her first product, a pizza crust made out of cauliflower, cheese, eggs and spices. Her hope was that she could generate buzz for the brand online and build a solid ecommerce following, which would then carry her company when its products went into grocery stores.
That focus has paid off. Lacey says the business ended the year negative $269,000 in 2016. But it finished out 2017 with $5.3 million in sales. In 2018, she say it's on track for $16 million in ecommerce sales and $4 million in grocery stores
Cauli’flour Foods now makes five products and counts celebrities including Halle Berry and SNL’s Leslie Jones as fans. The company also donates all proceeds from its apparel to The Mentor Project, the American Diabetes Association and Lupus Foundation.
Even though the company comes from a personal place, in the beginning, Lacey says she struggled with believing that she was the leader the business needed to succeed. “One of my biggest mistakes was hiring a CEO early on because I didn't have the confidence that I was CEO material. I did it out fear,” Lacey tells Entrepreneur. “When you make decisions out of fear, you make mistakes.”
Lacey says that it was a costly mistake. Bouncing back from it required developing a routine of meditation, journaling and seeking out advice from advisors and fellow entrepreneurs. Having built up that foundational confidence, she says she was able to right the ship, boosting morale and quadrupling sales in the process.
She noted that part of taking on that leadership role has been motivating herself to get out of her comfort zone, by getting in touch with influencers who could potentially partner with the company -- even if their stature might make them seem out of reach -- and going to conferences to build out her network.
Even if you might be feeling laid low by the stressors and loneliness of entrepreneurship, Lacey says that going to an event with likeminded people in similar positions can give you a boost of energy. “Refueling yourself, just going on your hunch and taking a chance sometimes pays off big time,” she says.
Stepping into the role also required her to rethink how she approached the business. Lacey thought that sending emails to customers would be a waste of time. She never liked getting them, and thought they would feel similarly. But after listening to a favorite podcast, Donald Miller's Building a StoryBrand, she figured it couldn’t hurt to try.
At 9:30 p.m. on a May evening, the company launched an email campaign to its list of 70,000 addresses. “By noon the next day we had sold $86,000 worth of pizza from that email alone,” Lacey recalls. “I might have it in my mindset that this isn't going to work, because I personally hate it. But when you listen to other people who are more experienced than you and you're open-minded, things like that can happen.” The company now sends out three emails a week.
Ultimately, Lacey says her advice for new entrepreneurs is to stick to your vision. In the beginning of the company's life, she was asked if she would make a pizza crust with fillers to make the manufacturing process less expensive.
“I said no. I just wouldn't compromise that. I'm glad I stuck to that,” Lacey says. “I could've made a lot of money by now, a lot more money than I'm currently making if I would have cheapened the product. But I didn't want to mislead the public. I don't want to put out a cauliflower pizza crust that isn't healthy. … I want to be a resource [for our customers].”