What’s the inspiration behind Mighty Monkey?
Mighty Monkey was inspired by my food allergies. In 2012, I was diagnosed with celiac disease which changed my life profoundly. I’m one of 32 million Americans who struggle with food allergies and sensitivities. After years of failing to find better-for-me, allergen-friendly snacks that also tasted good, I decided to make my own.
In 2017, I left my job in finance and began testing recipes in my studio apartment. By January of 2018, we were officially on the shelves at three Whole Foods in NYC. By 2019, we had expanded to the entire Northeast and North Atlantic regions. There was no question I had found a market opportunity.
What drives me is my passion to make people smile. Every time I bite into a dry, grainy, or stale-tasting gluten free product, I think of all the kids who are diagnosed with food allergies at a young age and have never tasted a proper cookie, piece of pie, or even a simple slice of bread. I want them to know how exciting, fun, and wonderful food can be. I want them to be able to experience the symphony of flavors that the world has to offer. A cookie should make you smile, and I hope that Mighty Monkey does that.
How do you handle risk and competition?
That’s a great question! I used to be a stock broker, so I think that I have a very good handle on risk. Risk is the flip side of reward, so I personally find taking risks exciting. The trick is to take good risks. A good risk is a risk you can recover from; it’s a calculated bet based on experience, research and trends. At times you will lose, but as long as you don’t give up or panic, you’ll profit.
Competition is a whole other topic. I wish there was more competition out there doing what Mighty Monkey is doing. There are always new gluten free products that emerge, but to be honest, the product differentiation isn’t there. To answer the question, I think that competition is great. Competitors drive you to be better and show you what’s possible. I hope that in a few years from now there are more brands committed to both being better-for-you and tasting great. I hope I inspire a movement.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
Our biggest challenge has been finding qualified partners. Baking gluten free is completely different than using traditional wheat flour and it requires a level of sophistication and understanding of chemistry to do it well. As I searched for manufacturing partners, I realized that one of the problems in the industry is a lack of knowledge when it comes to the science of allergen-free baking. Once we found the right partners, magic happened. Now we view the complexities of our baking process to be an advantage. We have unique processes and recipes that are proprietary and very hard to replicate.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd via Republic?
For a CPG brand, raising from the crowd has so many more advantages than traditional venture avenues. We are a brand for the people and our success will be determined by their demand for our product. By raising through Republic, we get access to the capital but we also get both direct access to the feedback we need to grow as a brand and the consumer base we are targeting. Once I fully understood how regulation crowd funding worked, it was the obvious choice for us.
Do you expect to stay focused on the gluten free cookie market in the long term, or does Mighty Monkey have the potential to expand into other spaces?
We are always going to be a gluten free company, but our goal is to be a leading better-for-you lifestyle brand. I have so many more recipes and ideas to share with the world. There are so many more products and categories that need innovation and a direct infusion of fun and flavor. Our next product launch will be our gluten-free flour blend; we just need the capital to purchase the packaging. There is only one brand of gluten-free flour on the market that is any good, in my opinion, and it retails for $16.99. That’s not only sad, it’s outrageous!
We also want to make bread, muffins, brownies, pizza, and ice cream. All of these are products that are very hard to find gluten-free. We want to make them edible for all, and better tasting.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
Yes. I’ve learned that I am really calm under pressure. Despite the global supply chain issues and workforce shortages the economy has been facing, I’ve continued to innovate and quietly grow the company. Before business school, I was a supply chain and logistics consultant. I worked with the US Airforce to optimize their supply chain for the C5 Cargo Plane. Back then, the supply chain disruptions were being caused by Al-Qaeda. I learned through those experiences that there is nothing you can do about things outside of your control. All you can do is pick a new path and keep going.
What’s your team culture like?
Our team culture is founded on diversity and inclusion. We want everyone to feel valued and important. I created this company because I was tired of being treated like an afterthought by companies whose products lacked differentiation and creativity. We want our company to have a broad appeal across demographics. But most importantly, we try to have fun.
What is your superpower?
My superpower is getting to “yes.” When you are starting out, you hear so much “no;” “no, we can’t do that”, “no, it’s not worth the time”, “no, come back when you are bigger.” And ultimately, I just don’t accept “no” for an answer, especially if it’s standing in the way of growing my business.
There’s always a way to get to “yes”, you just have to find it. Recently, my co-packer told me we would have to delay an order. He sent me a short note letting me know he was behind schedule. I called him and inquired into the cause of the scheduling delay. It turned out that he was having trouble hiring workers. I asked if we could hire a temp agency to add a second shift. He said yes, we could do that, and we got the order out. There’s always a way to get to “yes”, sometimes you just have to ask the right questions and be creative.
What’s your kryptonite?
Gluten. If I sprinkle cinnamon on my coffee that has been cross contaminated with gluten at the factory, I react in less than 3 minutes.
From a business perspective, my kryptonite is my belief that I can do everything myself. Growing at the speed we have been growing at has really forced me to put my trust and faith in other people. I’ve had to learn as a leader how to empower the people around me to take on responsibility and have authority.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I spend a lot of time dreaming. I can actually sit through an entire movie or TV show and have spent the whole time dreaming. My dreams are what I build my reality from and how I create inspiration and motivation in my life. When something really hard happens, or it seems like nothing is going my way, I spend a good amount of time dreaming about all the good things that are going to happen. This usually brings me out of a negative head space and builds my confidence.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to travel and to be outside. I’ve lived in Washington DC, Rome, Geneva, and NYC. I definitely suffer from a bit of wanderlust. Both my wife and I work out.In her spare time, she is a Crossfit coach and I am an athlete. We love to check out the local boxes in all of the places we visit - it’s amazing how international the community has become. Since quarantine, I’ve also begun really getting into home improvement projects and customizing furniture. It’s become another creative outlet for me and allows me to make my daydreams a reality.
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
My kitchen scale! When I first learned to bake using grams and ounces it literally changed my life. If you love to bake but are using measuring cups, you have to try a kitchen scale. It’s the only way to replicate a recipe, exactly, every time. If you bake gluten free, it’s really the only way to bake effectively.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Find meaning in your life. For most of my life I was on a fast track going places that had been predefined. It took me a while to realize that I had never taken time to consider if the destination I was headed towards was where I wanted to be. Once I found something that I was truly passionate about my whole life changed. It’s like I am living for the first time and everything that came before seems like a dream.
What’s your experience been like as a female founder? Any advice for women looking to start their own company?
My experience as a female founder has been great. We are taught to believe that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things and that you want to keep every door open. But that isn’t necessarily the case. If I meet someone whose values aren’t in line with my business or our culture, I simply walk away. There will be other opportunities down the road and I don’t have to compromise if it’s not what is best for our company. One of the best things about being a founder is that you are literally inventing and reinventing the wheel. It’s been an incredibly empowering and rewarding experience.
My advice for anyone starting their own business is to trust their intuition. There are plenty of people who will have opinions and who will want to tell you how things work. In the beginning, this will be intimidating because these people will have decades of experience. But trust your instincts; you are filling a market gap or redefining an industry, which means that what you are bringing to market doesn’t exist. So all of the people who think they know actually don’t fully understand, and that’s okay. Just keep doing what you do.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Don’t buy too much packaging. I know this isn’t what you were expecting me to say, but very early on someone told me not to spend my cash on packaging and I never did, and I never went bankrupt. This is a subtle way of telling founders to defend their cash flow. That’s what I did and it’s allowed us to grow even when the economy was crashing.