They also should ask for help from mentors early and often to keep from burning out while also keeping their companies on track, adds Loren Brill, whose clean-label and allergen-free refrigerated cookie dough company earned a spot on Inc. 5000’s 2019 list of most successful privately-held businesses by growing 3,000% in three years from March 2015.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Investing in the Future of Food, Brill shares strategies for letting go and leaning on others for fast-paced, long-term success.
Responding to consumers fueled growth
Like many emerging brands, Sweet Loren’s was created as part of a deeply personal journey and unmet need, but what drove the brand’s rapid growth was Brill’s willingness to listen to her consumers and expand her dream to include theirs, too.
Brill created Sweet Loren’s chocolate chunk cookie dough after recovering from cancer at 22 years old and discovering how “eating well just makes the cells in my body happy,” she said. She explained that at the time the desserts and treats available were either not made with whole ingredients or, if they were, they didn’t taste good to her.
After launching, she quickly learned how many consumers – like her – wanted better-for-you options that met their dietary needs. Rather than launch different SKUs tailored to each group, she revamped her original recipe to be inclusive of as many people as possible by making it vegan, Kosher, gluten-free and free of tree nuts and peanuts.
Building a rockstar team
The popularity of Sweet Loren’s revamped Chocolate Chunk turbocharged Sweet Loren’s growth, and despite Brill’s best efforts she quickly realized she could not manage everything alone.
“We went form kind of small to national overnight,” she said. “I literally feel like we have been running 100 miles a minute for the last five years. It just doesn’t slow down, but instead it is super accelerating.”
While the growth is exciting, she said also felt overwhelmed as a one woman show and realized she needed teammates who were just as passionate as she was, but offered complementary skill sets and much-needed experience.
Now, she said, “I really try to delegate everything. We have a VP in every department” who reports to the team each week about their progress on pre-established goals so that nothing falls through the cracks. This allows Brill to have a high-level view of everything without becoming bogged down in the details.
Mentors are must-haves, not just nice-to-haves
Even with a “rockstar” team that Brill said she could trust, she said she also felt the heavy burden of navigating the company as its sole founder – which is why she says she has always looked for mentors who can help carry the load.
“I can’t stress enough how valuable having mentors are. There are so many people who start business based on their innate talent … and they just kind of plough forward,” but Brill said, “I have learned so much from mentors.”
She notes that to make the most of mentors, she meets with them once a week and sets concrete goals that they help her achieve. Different goals and different situations sometimes require different mentors, so she adds that she has worked closely with several people at various stages in Sweet Loren’s development.
Brill notes that finding and making the most of a mentor takes just as much dedication as building a business.
“It is an interesting thing to figure out how to find a mentor because … there is no perfect platform for that,” but by joining business groups and networking constantly, entrepreneurs will eventually organically meet someone with whom they connect, Brill said.
She added that for a mentorship relationship to succeed, the mentor must also benefit, whether that means a stake in the company, a contracted consulting position or because they want to give back. Whatever it is, though, she says it should be clearly established at the outset so the relationship can be built on a strong foundation of trust and transparency.
Baking at home likely will remain a top activity for 2020
While the pandemic’s chaotic impact on the food and beverage sector has made it difficult for companies to project for the remainder of the year, Brill predicts that sales of Sweet Loren’s refrigerated cookie dough will remain strong as baking provides comfort and entertainment for people staying at home.
“Thankfully, we are able to add some joy during this pandemic to the world and also help people stay healthy as they stay at home. This also allows us to keep people employed, hire more people and contribute to the economy,” which is also suffering because of the pandemic, she added.
In addition to meeting heightened demand, Brill said that she is using the time at home during the pandemic to innovate new products for Sweet Loren’s that she says she looks forward to launching when the time is right.