This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Firstly, tell us a bit about you.
Hi everyone! I’m Marieke, mum to boys aged 9 and 6, and the founder of SNACKZILLA, a new kids healthier snack brand. I’ve worked in both the private and not-for-profit sectors specializing in project management, operations, branding and marketing, working with NGO’s, charities and luxury brands. Up until 2018 I was the COO of London Craft Week, but my love of food and branding took me on a journey to start up my own new business when I spotted a gap in the market.
Tell us about your business.
SNACKZILLA is a new kid’s healthy snack brand, with a shared purpose of creating products that are not just better for kids but also better for the planet. SNACKZILLA was born out of my frustration at not being able to find snack products for my kids that appealed to them both brand and taste wise, and were better nutritionally than the junk food they craved.
I took my Great-Grandmothers cookie recipe which I had grown up baking and reformulated it to meet the FSA nutritional profiling guidelines. Our deliciously chewy oat cookies are handmade in the UK, contain 40% less sugar than most other biscuits, are a source of fibre, with no palm oil and are wrapped in plastic-free compostable packaging. We have only just launched but already getting amazing feedback from children and their parents.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
I spent 6 months in research mode, scouring data in the British Library and talking to parents to find out their challenges when it came to their kids snacking. I guess I fully committed once I realised there was enough data and consumer demand to support the product and then went out to raise some investment to pay for development and branding costs. Once I’d spent that money there was no going back!
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
There are so many! The big ones were finding a suitable manufacturer, which took over a year and finding suitable sustainable packaging. The packaging to me was so important, and I knew from the start I wanted to use something sustainable. It was a very tough commercial decision to make due to the high cost, high minimum order quantities and impact on the shelf life. It has been a major financial commitment resulting in many sleepless nights!
However, I stand by the decision, as the pace in which public perception is changing with regards to single-use plastic has astounded me, especially the demand from children themselves. I hope we are trailblazing in this area and don’t think it will be long until many big brands will follow suit.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
I’ve just been nominated for the Best Children’s Product at the World Food Innovation Awards! We are up against some major big brands including Aldi and Piccolo, so as a tiny start-up it’s great to get that recognition that we are doing something innovative and different, really trying to challenge the status quo of junk food snacking for older kids.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
I’m a mix, I invested a lot of my savings initially which got me going in terms of paying to work with a food scientist, consultancy advice, and initial branding costs. Once I’d decided to continue I raised SEIS money from an angel investor who has taken equity. I’m now about to do another raise, and yet to decide if this is going to be via angel investment, loan or crowdfunding.
I’m getting lots of conflicting advice about which way is better but need to make my mind up pretty sharpish! It’s such an important step for me so don’t want to get it wrong.
What has been your best investment?
My best investment is probably both my branding (working with the brilliant guys at Kingdom and Sparrow agency based in Cornwall) and the investment in my compostable wrappers, which is now my key USP and gaining a lot of attention from both retailers and PR.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
So far there have been no major mistakes. I’m an impatient perfectionist, so as much as I want everything yesterday I’m also OCD about getting things done right. Little mistakes, like forgetting to order ingredients in time for production runs, are part and parcel of running a business, and I just try and learn from them and make sure I don’t make the same mistake twice!
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
Apart from a couple of experiences of sexist remarks from potential bakeries I visited (which are predominantly owned and managed by men) I have actually had an amazing experience in the start-up world. There is so much brilliant support for women now compared to 5 years ago, from places like The Allbright (their academy programme is great), The Wing, networking groups like MothersMeetings, Found and Flourish, AMotherBrand to name just a few.
Still only about 3% of VC money invested goes into female led brands, but I think this can only go up and I feel positive that the future is bright for female led start-ups.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
I’ve learnt that progress is progress, no matter how small. I’ve learnt to celebrate the tiny little wins and reflect at the end of each day on how I’ve moved forwards. Occasionally there is a blow, sometimes it feels catastrophic but I am slowly learning to put these into perspective and move on.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
I’ve been lucky enough to have had lots of mentors along the way. Fleur Emery is a great business start-up expert, who helped me at the start get my vision and purpose for the brand clarified.
Also a friend of mine was starting a business at the same time, so we sit on each-others boards and have weekly informal mentoring calls. It’s been invaluable as a sole founder to have the support of someone who knows your business, but can give an outside perspective as they aren’t involved in the day to day.
With the future in mind, where would you see yourselves in five years time?
In two years I hope to have the product in at least one major supermarket in the UK, building brand awareness across the UK and developing new products for the range. In 5 years I hope we can spread the brand further afield, into the EU and certain markets worldwide.
The aim is to be able to provide a healthier alternative for kids, and we want that to be as widely available as possible. With scale we can then drive the price down to help make it more accessible.
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
To launch into a supermarket!
What can our readers do to support your business?
Ha ha – buy some cookies!! Available on Amazon prime or on our website. Or if you know any lovely local delis or independents that you would like to see us stocked in do let me know!
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Talk to loads of people with a similar business before you start and try to calculate all the numbers in as much detail as possible, base your forecast on evidence rather than guessing. This is something I wish I had done a bit more of. I only truly discovered the full costs involved once I was quite far down the line.
About the Author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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