Thinking Beyond the Jar

I recently spoke with Shazi Visram who is truly changing the baby food industry with her company Happy Family. Since she started her company, Inc. Magazine called Happy Family the second fastest growing food company in the country, President Obama honored her at a White House ceremony, and American Express featured her story in a Super Bowl commercial. Here are the four lessons from this amazing entrepreneur that can hopefully help you with your own entrepreneurial dreams.

1. Find people who believe in you

A big part of Shazi's success was finding the right mentors who provided her with great advice, while also introducing her to the right people. One of her early mentors was Seth Goldman, co-founder and CEO of Honest Tea, who introduced her to several people in the food and beverage industry that provided her with the support she needed. She also received mentorship from John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. When John was speaking at Columbia Business School, she spoke with him after his speech about what she was trying to achieve with her business. She was pleasantly surprised to find that he was very receptive and ended up introducing her to key people within Whole Foods who helped her along her journey.

Sometimes we focus so much on the product or the technology that we forget how important it is to find the right people to support your idea. Every successful person I know has some version of this story - a mentor or that right person who believed in them and helped them out.

2. You have to be very different from your competitors

Since the 1930s, baby food has been delivered in a jar loaded with all kinds of bad ingredients because it's cheap and efficient. When Shazi created Happy Family, she created a baby food product that she would want to feed her own children: organic, less sugar, and packaged in a shelf-stable pouch that's convenient for on the go lifestyles. Rather than doing what was industry standard at the time, Shazi took a radically different approach that resonated with mothers who wanted to feed their babies with the same healthy food they would want to eat themselves.

One downside of being very different from your competitors is that it takes longer for the public to understand and accept what you're offering. It took Shazi almost 6 years from starting her company to gaining mass appeal. However, once the public understood the quality behind her products, sales grew exponentially.

3. Don't make fear based decisions

At one point, Shazi had doubts about her own ability to take her company to the success she envisioned. In this moment of doubt, she looked into taking an outside investor's money, which would've likely meant losing full control of Happy Family. She ended up rejecting this investor and credits this as one of her best decisions and one that almost happened because of fear.

Very shortly after this, she found out that American Express was going to air her story as part of its 2009 Shine a Light campaign, which aired during the Super Bowl and the Golden Globes. Additionally, Happy Family had become the #2, #3, and #4 best-selling baby food products at Target. It was at this point Happy Family really started to take off. If she had let her fears take over her decision-making and accepted the investor's money, she would have lost control of the vision and mission of Happy Family and missed out on this amazing success.

4. Perseverance pays off

This is what impressed me most about Shazi and her story. The idea behind Happy Family began in 2003 when Shazi was in business school. The company launched in 2006, but it wasn't until 2009 when she really started to see significant success, and those 6 years from inception to success were extremely challenging.

In fact, Shazi felt broke all the time. She had maxed out most of her credit cards and fundraising became a big part of her job. Money became so scarce that her husband would celebrate when he won $200 at a local bar's pool tournament! But she credits this to her success because it was the hard times that made her stronger and forced her to rely on creativity, rather than money to innovate. Shazi also questioned whether she could impact the baby food industry when sales were low, but because she knew deep down that there was a need for her product, she persevered.

Conclusion

Whether it's starting your own business or creating impact in a different way, I hope Shazi's story helps you along your journey.